A smile is a gift you can give each day

I thought I’d take a small departure from my normal subject material today and talk about something I’m equally passionate about: treating other people with respect.

I made the mistake yesterday of reading the online comments below a talk shared by TED on Facebook. Big surprise: Half of them were derogatory. The worst part was that they weren’t even criticizing his talk, but were personally attacking HIM. One even made a jab about his weight. I guess I should be used to this sort of behavior from people in online forums by now, but it always surprises me. I mean, the guy was a Buddhist monk talking about happiness for crying out loud. Some of the commenters even dragged Mother Theresa into the ring and started bashing HER.

SIGHHHHHHHHHHH. Sometimes humanity really depresses me.

I just have a hard time understanding what it is that makes people feel compelled to disrespect other people. The Buddhish side of me realizes that the very same people who are so cruel to others are really just themselves hurting on the inside. They’re likely dealing with something difficult or feel insecure or hate their lives for whatever reason, and lashing out and disrespecting other people somehow makes their own problems seem small.

But whatever. It’s still wrong. (that’s the other side of me speaking ;p)

Hopefully I’m preaching to the choir here, but even the most well-intentioned of us seem to forget sometimes that every single person we pass on the street is a human being. A HUMAN BEING. Someone with feelings, beliefs and concerns. Someone with VALUE. You have no idea what’s inside another person’s head and heart, but I guarantee you they would appreciate being acknowledged as an equal. In our hurried lives, we easily forget to look into one another’s eyes and smile. We’re too busy paying for our coffee, checking our phones for messages, hurrying to get home after a long day. We forget that something as simple as eye contact and a smile can go a long way. Granted, sometimes people are themselves too busy to notice a gesture of kindness, and it can admittedly be discouraging when 9 out of 10 people you pass on the street don’t return your smile, but when that 10th person SEES you, really SEES you, and smiles back, it’s magical. It’s a form of communion. An “I see you, fellow traveler, and I’m glad to be on this earth with you.”

I saw this video created by the Cleveland Clinic the other day while attending a volunteer training at the hospital. I think it sums up what I’m trying to say here quite nicely.

 

So get out there and give out some free smiles today. Acknowledge someone you don’t usually acknowledge.It doesn’t take any extra time and may even make YOU feel better.

And thanks for reading. I see you fellow travelers, and I’m glad to be on this earth with you 🙂

Your Voice is Your Most Powerful Weapon

I was going to call this post “lessons from Rumpelstiltskin,” but then I thought that might be a little too hard to explain.  Partly because I’m not sure what age you have to be to pick up on that fairy tale reference, and partly because I know that my brain just tends to operate on different wavelengths than the rest of the world and the reference may not even make sense…

But now I feel compelled to share my reasoning, so here’s the condensed version of the story, with assistance from Wikipedia:

1. Insecure miller brags to a king that his daughter can spin straw into gold.

2. King locks girl in tower and gives her straw and a spinning wheel, threatening to cut off her head if she hasn’t spun the straw into gold by morning.

3. Girl is in deep shit. Luckily, an elf comes along and spins the straw into gold for her in return for a piece of jewelry.

4. Elf does this two more times, ultimately getting the girl to promise him her first born child.

5. When the child is born, the girl (now the queen, go figure) freaks out and manages to get the elf to agree to give up his claim if she can guess his name.

6. Surprise! She guesses his name! Surprise! His name is Rumpelstiltskin.

So, the moral of this story, for my purposes here, anyway, is that when you say something out loud you take away it’s power over you. When something is not a secret anymore, you can defeat it.

Untitled design

In real life, I think this applies to a number of things. It applies to secrets about yourself that you’re afraid to share with others, fears you have but are afraid to voice out loud, things that have happened to you that you haven’t told anyone about… basically anything you feel compelled to keep inside out of shame or fear of judgment.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I become more comfortable speaking my OWN story out loud. While it’s scary as all hell, it’s been incredibly freeing. And believe it or not, empowering. Because when I share my experience with other people, I’m also communicating to myself that there’s no reason to hide. Because really, all keeping something inside does is reinforce your belief that you HAVE to keep it inside — that there’s something inherently wrong with you and you must, AT ALL COSTS, keep other people from learning the truth.

Well, people, I’m here to tell you that that is complete B.S. There is NOTHING wrong with you. Despite how put together they may seem on the outside, everyone has some kind of secret they’re afraid to share. I agree, sometimes this is hard to believe, but my therapist assures me it’s true. Personally, I know a few people who seem so perfect that I would love to go up to them and shake them until they divulge what their secret is, but I digress. The point is that you are valuable just as you are, no matter what your story is. Even if some people ARE perfect and don’t have anything they feel the need to hide (it does seem that way, right? It’s not just me?), that doesn’t make the rest of us any less valuable. Perfection is not a prerequisite of value. Embrace yourself, whatever secrets you’re hiding and whatever stories you hold inside, and try to share your story with at least one trusted person this week. Stories that are not allowed to see the light of day turn into ulcers that will eat you from the inside out. Shine the light on your story. Not only do you need to tell it, but the world needs to hear it.

 

Links to related TED talks that have inspired me:

Ash Beckham: We’re all hiding something, let’s find the courage to open up.

Kevin Breel: Confessions of a depressed comic

Susan Cain: The power of introverts (the last 5 minutes especially)

Brené Brown: Listening to Shame (her other talk kicks ass too)

Spreading Hope in 30 Seconds

What if when you were feeling hopeless, all you had to do was dial a number or visit a website and you’d be connected with the exact message you needed to hear? With Project Hope Exchange, you can! The project collects, aggregates and shares 30-second audio messages from people who have dealt with some form of adversity and shares them with others who are currently struggling with the same adversity. How wonderful is that?!

Watch this short video for a more thorough explanation:

If you want to leave a message of hope for someone else, you just call the Hope Line at 855-975-HOPE (4673) or visit the website at projecthopeexchange.com.

And if you could use a shot of hope unique to your situation, just visit the website’s “Get Hope” page.

Personally, I LOVE this idea, because we could all use a little hope now and then, and every so often, we have some extra we can share 🙂

 

Thanks to Laura Collins over at Laura’s Soap Box for bringing this to my attention!

 

When Doing Nothing is Something

I’m a do-er.

Or in Fraggle Rock lingo, a doozer.

Down at Fraggle Rock

Down at Fraggle Rock.

Remember them? Those guys were always busy. Working, moving around,  building things. I never really knew what they were building, or if the work they were doing had any real purpose, but man could they go to town.

In fact, if my sources are correct, these little green guys purposely built their structures out of something the Fraggles liked to eat, basically ensuring that they would never be without work. So their work really had no purpose other than to provide them with a constant stream of something to do.

Sadly, that sounds a lot like me. And I’d venture to say I’m not alone.

We live in a doing world where our actions define us. Think about it. What’s one of the first questions you’re asked when you first meet someone?

“What do you do?”

Not “what do you enjoy?”, “what are your hobbies?”, or even just a friendly “tell me about yourself.” Nope. It’s always “Hello. Nice to meet you. What do you do? 

This question is especially hard for me to answer right now since from the outside I don’t appear to be doing anything. I guess I could say I do a bit of freelance writing, which I do, but essentially I’m unemployed. I have tentative plans to go back to school for a masters degree next fall, but right now? Nada.

Except that’s not really true either. For all intents and purposes it may look that way, but if you could see the work I have to do every day just to stay sane and continually moving toward this thing I call “recovery,” you would think differently. I may not be employed as a doctor, lawyer or teacher, but I’m working my butt off, doing the most important job I’ll ever do, and that’s reclaiming my life, my health and my sanity. I guess you could say I’m taking a sabbatical to focus on ME. Something I’ve avoided for the better part of my life.

Except how do you explain that to someone you’ve just met?

I do wish it didn’t seem so important to people, but it’s only natural when we’re indoctrinated from a young age to believe that what we do is who we are, when really who we are should define what we do. And personally, I’d like to answer that question of who I am before I go off blindly doing other things.

I was thinking about this a couple of days ago after a conversation I had with my therapist. She works a lot with me on mindfulness, and that particular day she asked how I would feel about practicing some techniques to help me bring my anxiety level down. Basically this consisted of sitting still, scanning my body for sensations, and paying attention to my breath. I don’t know about you, but to me, that’s not doing anything. When it comes to me and my recovery, I have a tendency to want to get down to work and really get my hands dirty. Let’s tear this sucker out by the roots and be done with it, you know? And yet this lady wants me to sit quietly and notice how I’m feeling? What kind of bullshit is that? Let’s get to work!

In this case, though, what seemed like doing nothing was in fact just what I needed. When I get anxious and wound up, the last thing I need is to rev myself up even more by being in constant motion. I need to slow down, take a breath, and BE. It sounds simple, but when you’re in panic mode, it can be the hardest thing on earth.

I had a chance to try it out the other day on my own when I was facing some unwanted thoughts. They wanted me to do one thing, but the real me wanted to do something else. So I stopped. And I didn’t DO anything. I just stood there, feeling whatever there was to be felt, and let it be. And you know what? It worked.

Sometimes doing nothing really is the greatest accomplishment of all.

 

 

A New Story

“Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control but for the most part it worked. Every time I heard a sound of unknown origin or felt something horrible cohering in my imagination I pushed it away. I simply did not let myself become afraid. Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power, And it wasn’t long before I actually wasn’t afraid.”

I happened upon this quote today while perusing some old papers. I like to make notes while I’m reading of passages that really stand out to me, and this one strikes me as much now as it did when I first read it. It’s taken from Cheryl Strayed‘s memoir “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.”  (GREAT book, by the way — a wonderful mix of adventure and personal growth. I highly recommend reading it if you haven’t already.)

Powerful, right? What story will you tell yourself today?

Anxiety ≠ Problem

This is probably going to sound like a rehash of a previous post, but if you’re anything like me, sometimes you need to hear things a few times before they really sink in. Or in my case, MANY times.

I’m actually a pretty quick study most of the time, but with the case of anxiety, I tend to be a little slow in learning the best way to handle it. The way I phrased that last part may even indicate part of the challenge: the fact that I view anxiety as something that must be “handled.” I think the challenge is compounded by the fact that anxiety isn’t just something you can figure out in your head. I mean, I’ve got the head stuff down. It’s when things migrate to my body that it gets hard. If you’ve ever had anything like an anxiety attack, you know what I’m talking about. No matter what you know in your educated, perfectly reasonable mind, when your heart starts racing, your stomach knots up and your jaw clenches, all of that flies out the window. You are in full down panic mode and you will do whatever you can to stop it.

This is great if you only go into this mode when there’s a real challenge around — being attacked by a mugger or chased by a 3-legged dragon, say. But many of us have more sensitive panic switches and we find ourselves getting triggered by everyday occurrences. With me, I just so happen to get anxious around food. Great. Something that I HAVE to encounter multiple times a day and that is practically the SOURCE OF ALL LIFE, also happens to freak me out. Lovely. (Granted, not every food or every meal sets me off, but if you think about how many times we eat or are exposed to the option to eat everyday, the odds are against me.)

Considering the fact that I’ve been dealing with this eating disorder/food phobia for much of my life, you’d think I’d be accustomed to it by now. But no, almost every time it happens it catches me off guard. It’s like each day I wake up thinking today will be the day that I experience zero anxiety and everything will just be splendid Mary Poppins fabulous. Spoiler alert: That NEVER happens. Yet my belief that it should happen means that when anxiety shows its face (usually at least once or twice a day), I’m almost always caught off guard.

Well, guess what? New strategy: Expect the worst. Not in a Debbie Downer everything sucks and will suck and the world is going to hell kind of way, but just in a, “yeah, I’m going to feel anxious at least once today” kind of way. That way, I’ll be prepared for it. If I can face the day in the awareness that anxiety will surely pop up to greet me a few times, I’m much less likely to lose my footing when it does.

It would probably also help if I remembered my own advice from that last post. Namely, that anxiety is not a problem! It’s just anxiety. It doesn’t mean something is wrong, it doesn’t require “fixing” and I don’t have to get rid of it immediately. I can let it be there. It’s not easy, but with practice, I think remembering that I have these two tools on my belt will go a long way in helping me to deal with it more constructively.

So, I wonder what form anxiety will show itself in today… I can’t wait to find out! Bring it on anxiety. I’m ready.