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Life is a beautiful mess…

Near the end of January, my dear friend sent a text asking how I was doing. We first met in the 7th grade and our friendship was sealed in high school. She moved to Texas some years after I did, so now we live just 2 hours apart. I caught her up quickly on my cancer treatments because she didn’t realize that I had already started and completed radiation treatment. Naturally, I was honest and indicated that I had been feeling moody and not wanting to be around people, more so than the usual. I attributed it to the hormone therapy I had started a few weeks prior. Her reply was an unexpected, pleasant surprise to the tune of taking me on a spa retreat. We scheduled it and it was AH-MAZE-ING! She picked me up on a Friday night in February and I returned that Sunday. Yup…a whole weekend of spa wonder, relaxation, exquisite farm to table food, and most importantly time spent with my dear friend catching up on everything.

First and foremost, I admire my dear friend as she is very successful in her field. She’s always been very generous. I attribute this to her parent’s example of generosity and unconditional love, which made a tremendous impact on me in high school. If I’m honest, I will admit to being envious of my dear friend at certain points in my life. As I’ve matured, I no longer feel that need to compare. I’m simply so proud of her. We each have our own paths, but we have an undeniable bond. Friendships ebb and flow with life’s milestones and we’ve experienced that in our frienship as well. She works hard, travels frequently, and takes great care of her family. We don’t talk all the time, but when we do, it’s like continuing where we left off. I know she has other friends. I have other friends, but nothing compares to this.

That weekend was beyond wonderful. It was what I needed – time away from my day to day busy life…time away from my husband and kids. After breast cancer treatment, I wanted to be lighter, not worry as much, and not take things so seriously, but something has been off and old ways of coping were creeping back in. That weekend, I was fed well and pampered. My dear friend and I caught up where we left off with ease, revisiting our history, talking about our relationship, catching up on our families, sharing our current struggles, and expressing our appreciation for our friendship. 

Have you ever experienced something so beautiful and thought that everyone should experience it? That’s how I feel about this. Sure, its great to be whisked away to a spa and be pampered, but that’s not the norm. That was evident to me as I was sharing the spa experience with my coworkers and telling them they have to visit at least one time. One coworker responded non-convincingly that it MIGHT happen one day WAY in the FUTURE. I thought about that and acknowledged that not everyone can afford to do something like this. Hell, I couldn’t afford to do it at the time that we did. Therefore, I contemplated what about that weekend made it so special. This blog is about self-care and our weekend at Travaasa Spa will go down in my book as one of the pinnacles in my self-care journey. The massages, facial, pedicure, manicure were amazing. The massage therapists were knowlegeable and caring, offering me tips on managing possible side effects of breast cancer treatment. Every meal was fresh and delicious. The equine experience with our guide and very own horse, Pete, was therapeutic and unforgettable. The service was impeccable. Despite all of that, hands down, the most meaningful exchange was the time spent with my dear friend. It was the fact that she carved out time in her busy life to spend a WHOLE weekend with me. That was the greatest gift.

That weekend reminded me how important friendship is, especially with regard to self-care. Spend time with your friends. Make time for your friends. Get to know people so that you can make friends. WARNING: It does require the willingness to be vulnerable at times, but that’s how you get people to know the real you. The benefits outweigh the risks. The return on investment is high. I consider my husband to be my best friend, but there is nothing like friendship outside of marriage. I only have two people who I consider dear, close friends and they’ve known me before I met my husband. We’ve maintained our relationships since we were adolescents and have been there for each other through life ups and downs. That is something special. That is something to be cherished. I’ve also developed other friendships over the years.  We make time for each other by having lunch once a month (with one group of friends) and having breakfast on the weekends after Zumba fitness class (with another group of friends). Solitude has its place, especially for an introvert like me. However, friendships provide support, comradery, fun, and love, among many other things. 

Courtesy of the staff from the spa, “Life is a beautiful mess, made better with friendship.” Get out there and spend some time with your friends. 

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You can change the atmosphere

Last month, I went on my first business related travel in months – a sign that my work life is back to normal. I welcomed this trip because I was in a work “slump”. My attitude has not been the greatest due to some recent decisions made that were out of my control. Those decisions impacted one project that I had been working on for about 3 years. I often use the travel time on these trips to reflect and regroup, and boy, did I have some epiphanies! Intellectually, I know that the I have the power to change the atmosphere with a positive attitude, but it takes work. Sometimes, it feels comfortable to mope around and not do anything about it, but it doesn’t provide any long term benefits. Here’s a personal example from my business trip of changing the atmosphere.

This incident occurred at the airport on my way to my destination. Yup…I hadn’t even left the city yet and I was faced with a lesson. I tend to require extra screening when I go through TSA and that day was no different. I was so annoyed because I got called to the side even after they practically make stripped me down to the basics – shirt and bottom. I was told by security that the following areas on my body were of concern: my left wrist, my waist, my groin area, my left breast, my knee, my right hand, my right kidney, my second toe on the right foot, my lungs and my thyroid gland (not really on the last few, but you get my drift). I don’t normally get embarrased when they pull me to the side. My outlook has been that this is routine, but this day was just ridiculous with all of the friskinh. It seemed like it took forever. I partially kept my gaze on my items that were in the bins waiting for me. I didn’t want anyone to walk off with my stuff. I was impatient and annoyed with all of the questions and frisking. 

By the time it was over, I was outdone with irritation. I went to grab my stuff, reached for the shoes and the security guard asked just as I managed to put one on my foot, “are those your shoes?” I looked at him and said, “Yes.” There was a slight delay in my mind registering what he had actually asked, so I came back with an “I hope so since I’m putting them on MY feet.” We exchanged a laugh. He said he was trying to cheer me up since I looked so serious, but he could see I didn’t get it at first. He was only joking and knows that people only reach for their own shoes. I attempted to explain that I was annoyed with the whole frisking process. What’s interesting is that saying it out loud made me question why I made a big deal about it. He asked me a follow up question and then we parted ways. 

That security guard changed the atmosphere in my mind because I was on my way to a full pity party due to that experience. I walked away from him asking myself why I had been so annoyed. I know this is routine. I arrived at the airport early to account for the process. Telling me that I “looked so serious” reminded me that this was the opposite of how I want to carry myself, especially after recovering from a chronic, life altering health condition – breast cancer. I strive to be lighter in mind, spirit and body. Even the use of the word “light” in my blog title, Enlightened Social Worker, provides a clue to how I want to be. That experience did ENLIGHTEN me to my attitude. I’m not immune from reverting back to old ways. Also, as part of my breast cancer treatment, I’m required to take a medication for at least 5 years. The medication is essentially hormone therapy and I believe that it does affect my mood, which is a side effect. I’ve been more conscious of it and make adjustments as needed (I may decide to be more reserved and stay to myself at work or home to avoid spewing my agitation on some unsuspecting soul).

Someone may believe that I was justified in my feeling that day. My point is not to berate myself because I realized that my attitude was not what I wanted it to be. The point is that with humor, the security guard said something that sparked a change in the atmosphere of my mind. He changed the trajectory of my attitude and I loved that. That’s how I want to be for others. Even the Bishop at my church has preached on this in the past. You have to believe that you have that power and you do because it doesn’t take much. This can be accomplished through simple acts of connecting with people even if for a brief moment. You can do it for yourself with postive self-talk. Out of habit, you may be feeding your mind negative messages (like I do) and not realize it. However, I catch myself and when I do, I change my self-talk to encouragement or whatever is useful for that moment. 

I’m so glad that I received that reminder that day. And I can be funny too, so I need to channel more of that, especially when I’m stressed. How do you go about changing the atmosphere? 

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Cat nap

In my quest to open myself up to more love and joy, I acquired a pair of adorable, male kittens – Beignet and Cannoli. In case I didn’t tell you before (I’m pretty sure I did), that was one of the best things I did in 2016. I love them! I traveled on a business trip a few days last week and I missed the kittens more than I did my own kids (it’s the truth!) My kids are getting more independent (16 and 11 years) and don’t want to be around me as much, but my kittens can’t seem to get enough of me. Both kittens got neutered the day I flew out last Wednesday, so I wanted frequent updates from my husband on how they were doing. Beignet had it rough. They had to get my husband’s permission to give him extra anesthesia because he was biting and wouldn’t allow the vet to insert the IV.

My husband didn’t know know what he had gotten himself into because he was getting calls practically the whole day after he had dropped them off early in the morning. Had I brrn in town, I would have been receiving those calls, but I was in Lubbock, Texas anxiously waiting for updates. The kittens did fine and are recovering well from what we can tell. They definitely missed me while I was gone. I love receiving their cuddles.

It has definitely been an adventure with two kittens and I’m having a hard time imaging our lives before them. They’re lovable, adorable, comical, frustrating, fun, mischievous, and calming. In the featured picture, Beignet had fallen asleep in my TJ Maxx shopping bag next to a pile of my dirty clothes. I’ve learned from my kittens that when the urge for a cat nap hits, any place is fair game!

 

 

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Imperfection Part II

Isn’t it interesting how upon learning a new concept, you see it vividly in others, but not necessarily in yourself. Well, that’s not the case this time because I know all too well how perfectionism has played out in my life. I do see it in others too. I’m done with it although this is easily said than done.

  • Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgement, and blame.  

  • Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because there is no such thing as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal. Additionally, perfectionism is more about perception-we want to be perceived as perfect. Again, this is unattainable-there is no way to control perception, regardless of how much time and energy we spend trying.

  • Perfectionism is addictive because when we invariably do experience shame, judgement, and blame, we often believe it’s because we weren’t perfect enough. So rather than questioning the faulty logic of perfectionism, we become even more entrenched in our quest to live, look, and do everything just right.

 

  • Feeling shamed, judged, and blamed (and the fear of these feelings) are realities of the human experience. Perfectionism actually increases the odds that we’ll experience these painful emotions and often leads to self-blame: It’s my fault. I’m feeling this way because “I’m not good enough.”

This is Brene Brown’s definition of perfectionism from her book entitled The Gifts of Imperfection. As a recovering perfectionist, I’ve experienced the pain of perfectionism for most of my life. I’m all too familiar with shame, blame and judgement. The definition of perfectionism is both liberating and frightening to me. It’s liberating because by choosing not to live like this anymore, I am free from being so concerned about what other people think. It’s frightening because I see it in my family and how I was raised. I can see that so many people are needlessly torturing themselves (not that there is ever a “need” to torture yourself). As I’ve developed more self-compassion, I’ve realized I’ve become my own worst enemy based on my thoughts. I’m a work in progress.

Self-care entails practicing self-empathy and self-compassion. Stop worrying about what other people think because they will have their own perception regardless. Brene already confirmed (see above 2nd bullet) that there is no way to control perception. The idea of being perfect is an overwhelming weight to carry on your shoulders. Don’t be so hard on yourself.

If my rational logic has not swayed you from your perfectionistic tendencies, I suggest that you do some work to challenge your thoughts. By way of work, I mean maintain a journal so that you can explore these concepts further. How does perfectionism manifest in your life? Is it harmless (I need to get the recipe just right so they’ll enjoy it) or causing you grief (if I don’t get the recipe just right, they’ll think that I didn’t learn how to cook the cultural dishes that were passed down and I won’t be able to pass them onto my children)? What are you afraid people will find out about you? Practice visualization. Imagine how much lighter you’d feel without the burden of perfectionism.

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Full Circle Part III

Here’s something I noticed, I get the most views on my blog from my Facebook followers when I write about my personal life. Either I have some nosey followers, we share a similar story, and/or you can relate, or all three. Whatever the case, I will continue to be as transparent as I feel comfortable because I’ve had ample learning opportunities. Believe it or not, there are some private lessons that I’m not willing to share, especially as they concern others that are close to me and that’s ok.  My first blog post in this series that I’m calling “Full Circle”(you can read it here) was prompted by self-empathy as I reflected on my life experiences after I completed radiation therapy due to breast cancer last month. My contemplative state of mind can also be attributed to the fact that it’s still somewhat the beginning of 2017 (I still have not finalized my goals!).  At the conclusion of radiation treatment in January, I wanted to rid my body of the toxins I’d been exposed to since my cancer treatments began. Therefore, I completed two green smoothie challenges (one of which included a vegan detox meal plan by Simple Green Smoothies). Currently, I feel myself transitioning into another phase of life. I’m in the midst of a metamorphosis. I’ve been thinking about everything. Thoughts that have been buried away for years have resurfaced. I’ve had new epiphanies and perspectives on old situations.

At the end of that first “Full Circle” blog post, I asked my readers to stay tuned for the strategies I used to get through that difficult time of confusion and depression. I was lost. And although I had not consciously decided to sleep my life away as my previous coworker indirectly suggested (you can read about it here in Full Circle Part II), I wasn’t living. I was afraid to make any more moves. I was stuck.

When I think about how I overcame that time in my life, I think about my frame of mind, the thoughts that sustained me, and the actions I took that got me through it.  I attempted to make this list as comprehensive as I could. After rereading, I can very well say that I continue to embody this process as I am constantly evolving. This has worked for me in the past and continues to work for me.

  1. I Didn’t Give up
  2. I Prayed and Believed
  3. I Was Patient
  4. I Had a Positive Mind
  5. I Dreamed
  6. I Had an Honest Conversation with Myself
  7. I Gathered Information
  8. I Created Measurable Goals
  9. I Filled Out Paperwork and Followed Through
  10. I Set New Goals as I Crossed Old Ones Off My List

Some of these items are self-explanatory, but I will give my spin on what they each mean to me.

I Didn’t Give Up

I think by far the most important decision I made was not to give up on myself, especially having felt that some people had given up on me. I want to emphasize that it was a decision…a choice to not give up. I believed that if I gave up on myself, then it was over. Who else would believe in me? I had hope that I would get through it. Sometimes, hope is all you’ve got until you can gather more tools. My hope wouldn’t allow me to give up.

I Prayed and Believed

At that time, I prayed often for God to reveal his purpose in my life. I was very familiar with bible scriptures having grown up in the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion and Catholicism (long story for another time). I believed that God wanted the best for me. I just didn’t know what that “best” was. Even though I could not see my future, I knew it was laid out for me. I listened to what God was telling me to do. It was not always easy to hear His voice, but I tried really hard to follow his steps.

I Was Patient

And I still am. There were times that I wanted to see progress immediately, but to some degree, I had dug a hole for myself. I wasn’t coming out of that in a matter of months. There was satisfaction in knowing that I would eventually get myself together and the naysayers (a.k.a. haters) would have to give me my props. There was also a time that I would pray for patience, and boy, I kept getting challenges that tested my patience. I’ve since stopped praying for patience. I’m a pro. 😉

I Had a Positive Mind

I read quite a few self-help books on personal development. I mentioned in the initial Full Circle post that, at that time, I went to a therapist once and was too afraid to go back because of the backlash from my family. I was embarrassed and ashamed and actually convinced myself that a therapist wouldn’t be able to help me with the mound of mess that I was in. I thought a more gentle approach would be for me to spend time doing this on my own. I read books on positivity and personal growth. I practiced what I was learning.

I Dreamed

I have quite the imagination attributed to years of being in environments that I didn’t want to be in so I had to do something with my mind. Just as I had daydreamed under those circumstances, I dreamed of the day that I would accomplish my goals. Visualizing myself being accepted into a college, in my graduation robe, or accepting my college diploma helped to keep me focused on my goals. I would also visualize myself having tough conversations with my family and friends. I’ve spent a lot of time in my head. As an introvert, it’s my favorite place to be.

I Had An Honest Conversation with Myself

I messed up too although I didn’t have the best dealt hand in life to work with either. However, I was not going to have a pity party. I was done sulking and sleeping all the time. I decided that I would attempt to change the things that I could control (insert Serenity Prayer here). I didn’t beat myself up, but looked at the situation as objectively as I could. I had some work to do.

I Gathered Information

I love libraries and my favorite was the Harold Washington Public Library in downtown Chicago. That is where I discovered many of my self-help books and also where I researched careers. Prior to dropping out of college, I was a business major, but that didn’t feel right. When I worked in downtown Chicago, I would spend my lunch breaks walking over to the library and researching the field of “social work”. I was fascinated.

I Created Measurable Goals

I’m a goal setter. I wrote down on paper what my goals were and systematically took the steps to get accomplish each goal. Smaller goals fed into the larger goals. I remember applying at Roosevelt University in downtown Chicago because I had known all along (but didn’t accept) that I would thrive in a smaller university. I would set goals to fill out the application (not available online back then…mind blowing), turn it in, meet with an admissions counselor, etc. SMART goals are the way to go – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time Specific (SMART).

I Filled Out Paperwork and Followed Through

Boy, did I fill out paperwork – college applications, job applications, personal journal entries, letters to friends, school writing assignments, etc. I wrote a lot and still do. I also followed up and through with my commitments. I wanted to become a FINISHER. I wanted to complete a big goal and that entailed constant follow through.

I Set New Goals as I Crossed Old Ones Off My List

Here’s where the overachiever in me comes in. That euphoric feeling that you get from achieving a goal is addictive, so you want to have that feeling over and over again. I’m also addicted to learning new things, learning new things about myself, and becoming a better version of me. Hopefully, I will finalize (or start) my 2017 goal list. On one hand, I’m surprised that I haven’t done this yet, but on the other hand, I had a lot going on. I just set the goal to complete this list before the weekend ends. It’s a SMART goal.

This blog post is a little longer than my usual, but my early twenties were a defining moment in my life and I had a lot to figure out at the time. I’m very pleased with how my life is blossoming. I acknowledge that it has taken great courage for me to move forward. That courage gives me the confidence to keep going.

What’s interesting is that I am at a crosswords again. I feel like I am birthing something, but I’m not quite sure what yet. A metamorphosis is happening within me. I will get it eventually. Sometimes I’m a little slow with figuring things out and I don’t always hear God clearly, but I’m patient. Stick around with me on this journey and we could learn together.