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The voice inside your head

This is a true story from a few years ago, but still resonates today. I stood in the hallway of an unfamiliar building, not sure which direction my meeting was. No one was around. “Darn it! I don’t want to be late. Managers get to meetings early.” As I shuffled through my notebook to find the printed Microsoft Outlook invitation with the room number, I saw a sentence instructing attendees to plan to provide a one minute introduction about themselves. “Great (insert sarcasm)! How did I miss that? I didn’t prepare anything. I’m going to have to wing it AGAIN. It’ll be ok. One minute isn’t long. I’ll think of something on the elevator ride up.”

I got off the elevator to find 3 familiar faces and each appeared lost. No one knew how to get to the conference room. I felt relieved I wasn’t alone. After a few minutes of confusion, another familiar, smiling face appeared and guided us to our destination. At the entry to the room, I laid eyes on the many professionals: managers, directors, and officials. “Do I belong here? Absolutely.”

There were about 30 of us crammed in a small conference room. This was the first meeting of its kind. The introductions commenced, and to my dread, they were starting at my table plus we each had to stand up. As an introvert, I’m usually uncomfortable talking about myself. I decided, “I can do this” as I have many times. However, the stakes were higher this time because of who was in the room. I recalled my boss telling me in the past, “It’s time to shine.” I always resented her telling me that because I shine on my own accord, not by command or pressure. My boss was in the room, at my table. Even though I had my elevator speech ready, thankfully, the facilitator decided to go to the other tables, so I would almost be the last person to speak. I claimed my stake and told myself I would be relaxed and make an impression. As I listened to the years of experience, wit, and honesty, I began to feel inspired and privileged to be in the room.

With each person who spoke, I’d think of something else I wanted to say about myself and add it to my imaginary list. By the time it was my turn, I was poised and relaxed. For a moment, I questioned my attire, particularly my top, because when I stood up, eyes seemed to have laid on the tie at the base of my denim blouse. I was imagining curious looks. I knew I needed to call attention to my words not my attire so I amped it up. I blocked out the thought about my blouse because let’s face it, I couldn’t do anything about it at that point. It was cute. It just didn’t look as conservative as shirts other people were wearing. I said a couple of things that made people laugh, even my boss. I allowed myself to be vulnerable. I felt exhilarated after the meeting.

The meeting lasted four hours. I’m sharing because I want to emphasize how important positive “self-talk” is. Do you hear what you are telling yourself? I too have moments of insecurity and doubt, but I’m actively working on being more self-compassionate and putting less pressure on myself.

I believe most people wouldn’t tell their best friends the negative things they say to themselves so why do we do it? For some, it can be oddly comfortable wallowing in negative emotions and self-talk. They might not even notice the negative mumbles, which is why it takes self-awareness and intention to do the work of change. It also takes courage.

If the voice inside your head is mostly negative, then it’s time to change that.

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Day 3 & 4: Post Surgery

MAMA BEAR has been down, but I’m slowly getting better. The recovery process is in full effect. For two days straight I’ve layed in the bed for most of the day, dozing off periodically as I attempt to binge watch shows on Netflix. With each day, I’m more alert. Though it hurts (pain is concentrated in my abdomen), I’ve gotten quite good at getting myself up out of the bed to go to the restroom with no help. I use my strong arms to prop me forward then I turn my legs around and push them down. Our bed sits way higher than the hospital bed so it’s a challenge. It also hurts to get back in the bed and to walk, but I know the pain will ease with time. My husband, Bryan, has been caring for me nonstop. If he’s busy, I’m able to get my kids to help with things like pouring some water into my water bottle on my nightstand or pouring a glass of prune juice for me. I’m so thankful I have the help and feel very loved.

I know I’m living a privileged life because I have everything I need at my disposal. I’m a planner so I made sure some things were in place so all I would have to do is rest and heal. Some things I did in the days leading up to the surgery which put my mind at ease were:

  1. Cleaned my spa-like bathroom – Bryan is capable, but no one cleans our bathroom like me.
  2. Watered/pruned my 60+ plants – This is one of my favorite mindful activities because it puts me in a zen mental space.
  3. Prepped a few more nutritious smoothies – It’s a priority for me to feed my body with healthy options. The cover photo shows a mug of my warm almond milk drink with turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, cayenne pepper, and maple syrup. This drink is soothing and healing.
  4. Took inventory of my vegan/plant-based options in the freezer – Same reason as previous…months ago I began freezing nutritious soups/meals.
  5. Laundry- I wanted to make sure my comfortable items were freshly laundered. Bryan bought me several, comfortable loungewear outfits.
  6. Packed my hospital bag- The only thing I used from the bag was my waist trainer.
  7. Took off work the day prior to surgery – I could have used at least 2 full days to decompress from work, but I at least had one. January has already been a stressful month so the one day was better than nothing.
  8. Met with my therapist the day prior to surgery – This session helped me talk through some things and get my mind focused on surgery and recovery.
  9. Exercising – This was important because I knew exercising would be off limits for several weeks post surgery. I wanted to release some of the anxiety with dancing and strength training.

In the coming days and weeks, I’ll provide more information on the steps I took to plan for this major surgery….a hysterectomy. One of the best light lessons I can give in the midst of fear of the unknown is to arm yourself with information. Knowledge is power and I used that to quell my fears.

Until next time…

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Do hard things

These three words have been ringing in my ears: “DO HARD THINGS”. I know it’s easy to do “familiar things” and “comfortable things” but what about “hard things”? Well, silly rabbit (nod to the Twix cereal commercial from back in the day), there’s a reason why doing hard things is hard, but there are also benefits.

What comes up often in my job is being asked to present to groups of various sizes and audiences on programs I oversee. This was a task I could delegate to someone on my team though public speaking is one of my responsibilities. Like many people, I do not enjoy public speaking because I’m mostly an introvert, preferring to be behind the scenes. However, I’m strong in representing my programs so when duty calls, I often perform.

There are people on my team who don’t like public speaking even more than me. I decided I would do the presentation with backup. As I was reviewing the presentation content with my backup, I literally said “it’s because I do hard things”. I don’t recall the exact thought that led me to say it, but she agreed, with relief. Otherwise, she would be the speaker for the presentation.

Some may think it’s not difficult for me to do public speaking because I do it well, but OH CONTRARE. I’ve learned long ago if I wanted success as I’ve defined it for myself, then I had to do things I didn’t necessarily want to do. This means I do activities to ensure I have a successful outcome such as preparing and practicing. Doing hard things doesn’t mean it gets easier over time either. Sometimes it does, but sometimes it’s hard EVERY SINGLE TIME.

Deciding to undergo a major surgery with the hope that I’ll have a better quality of life on the other side of it is a HARD THING. The anxiety, the pain, the discomfort, the lack of control, are what I’m working through now, I believe it will be worth it. (See more information about my surgery in the post Fight).

As you embark on this day or week, think about what hard things you will tackle. The hard things may be just what you need to boost your confidence so you can do more hard things.

What hard things are you thinking about tackling?

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Day 2: Post Surgery

With these posts, I’m chronicling my experience of undergoing major surgery to remove my uterus and other female productive organs due to fibroids. The purpose of this procedure is to improve my quality of life. My gynecologist, who performed the hysterectomy on Wednesday, said I did great. I can tell you I don’ feel great just yet. In fact, I’m mostly in pain despite taking pain medications. BUT a milestone happened today that I’d like to share.

I spent one night in the hospital mostly because I had a very difficult time waking up from the anesthesia. My surgery started at 8:00 am & it was a 3 hour procedure. Hours after the surgery, I still kept falling asleep and my bladder was very sleepy also. The doctor didn’t want to release me until I peed on my own which was something I couldn’t do after trying several times. My husband, Bryan, told me there were 30 surgical procedures performed that morning but, only 2 patients were ordered to stay overnight….I was one of them.

To my dismay, the nurse inserted a catheter for a second time and discharged me with an appointment to see my gynecologist Friday morning. One good thing about the catheter is I didn’t have to get up to use the restroom in the middle of the night. I was already in pain and it takes a lot of effort to get me out of the bed. My appointment was early. It was an ordeal to get me in the car. Thankfully I planned ahead and ordered a waist belt to wear under my clothes to keep my tummy steady. I also ordered a pillow that attaches to the seat belt in the car which helps shield the impact against potentially bumpy car rides. Bryan passed a couple of speed bumps that made me holler due to the pain but, we got to the doctor’s office safely.

While walking to the office once we parked, I got really dizzy and disoriented a few times. The nurse checked my catheter and inserted fluids to see if I could pee on my own and GUESS WHAT??? I did it! No more catheter. All day today I’ve been getting out of the bed alone to go to the restroom. I’m so looking forward to getting passed this initial pain.

I will be on bed rest for the next couple of weeks. Bryan has been taking great care of me. If you’re interested in my progress I plan to post a few lines everyday as long as I feel up to it. You can review my previous posts to learn about what led me here.

Overall, I’m proud of myself for undergoing this major move to improve my quality of life. So many people live in suboptimal conditions because they’re afraid. And I was afraid of the needles, cuts, blood, pain, but, I did it anyway. See you next time.

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Day 1: Post Surgery

My gynecologist told me the hysterectomy went well. The anesthesia kicked in on the way to the operating room so I don’t remember anything about the surgery. When I had my breast reconstruction surgery, I actually got to see the operating room before I was out. I don’t think I dreamed about my beautiful dancing uterus either for this surgery…oh well. When I woke up, I was in the recovery room and laid eyes on my husband, Bryan, and a couple of nurses.

Yesterday was rough because I was so drowsy from the anesthesia, in a lot pain, and my bladder wasn’t cooperating. I tried to walk to the restroom with the walker several times but I wasn’t steady. The nurses got me to the toilet, but I would sit down, forget what I was doing, and fall asleep. So my doctor said I needed to stay the night in the hospital. I slept well with the pain medication.

Today, I was more alert and walked the floors of the unit with and without the walker. My main tasks were to drink more liquids and go the restroom. I drank a lot (for me), but I could only pee a little bit each time which was not enough. Unfortunately, my doctor ordered that I leave with a catheter. I see her in the morning to see how long I need to wear this thing.

In the mean time, I’m at home in my comfortable bed. I ate, took a very nice shower, and drank a green smoothie. These last few months I prepared and froze several soups and smoothies to ensure I have healthy, nutritious food while I’m recovering.

I’m looking forward to sleeping in my bed although I wish my bed was adjustable like the hospital bed. I’m going to make due with several pillows that will prop me up.

I’m so grateful for the medical team because they were so kind and patient with me. I’m so grateful for my husband, Bryan, because he is my caretaker throughout my recovery.

I’ll provide another update tomorrow.

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Fight

In a few hours, I will be checking into the hospital for surgery. I didn’t think I’d be here again because a little over 5 years ago, I wrote a similar post about my breast reconstruction surgery and I vowed no more surgeries. Well, sometimes despite your best efforts things don’t go as planned. So my life is on a temporary pause as I do what needs to be done to take care of me.

I now understand why cancer patients are referred to as warriors. I do think this applies to other patients too. I didn’t embrace this concept for a long time after my breast cancer diagnosis because I thought I didn’t have a choice but to fight. And it is most definitely a fight and a choice. For me, at times it’s a reluctant fight…a fight to stay postive, a fight to face fears, a fight to face the needles, a fight to heal, a fight to rest, a fight to get up, a fight to advocate for myself, etc. I’ve had to fight to live the life I want.

Do you remember the kid in elementary school who got so mad right before a fight with another kid that he started crying? Maybe you were that kid? Were you thinking this is the time for fighting NOT crying? Well, I think crying doesn’t necessarily mean you’re weak or you’re going to fail. I prefer to look at is as summoning up the courage for what’s about to happen. It’s the realization that you know what you’re facing. You know you have to gather up all of your weapons so you can be armored up to fight for your very life. And my therapist told me that crying is actually good for you. It helps cleanse you.

A few years ago when I began having problems with heavy bleeding during my menstrual cycle, my gynecologist presented me with options, one of which was a hysterectomy. At the time, she let me know it was my choice based on my tolerance for the symptoms. I decided I was not interested in undergoing another surgery ever again, especially after my lumpectomy and breast reconstruction surgeries in November 2016. I could live with this considering it occurred sporadically. I did have a couple of fibroids but they were not overly large or troublesome. My primary care physician also agreed surgery wasn’t necessary.

In about June 2019 (approximately 6 months after the visit with my gynecologist) my oncologist, with a very concerned look on his face, said my blood work indicated I had become anemic and asked me if I experienced heavy bleeding. I said yes and explained the situation. He prescribed iron pills that I’ve been taking every since.

Over time, the periods of heavy bleeding became worse in terms of being more heavy and occurring for longer periods. This was affecting my quality of life tremendously. At my gynecologist visit in December 2020, she told me a hysterectomy was my best option because the fibroids had multiplied and had gotten very large. One was pressing against my bladder. She said my uterus needed to go. She acknowledged I had tried other methods including an endometrial ablation two years after giving birth to my daughter. At that time, my periods were long, not necessarily heavy and I had a few fibroids then. However, the outpatient laser procedure was effective and I had normal periods again for several years after.

Fast forward to March 2021…I received a second opinion from my primary care physician and she confirmed the fibroids were very large and said the situation was only going to get worse not better. So I made the brave decision to go through the surgery hoping for a better quality of life.

I’ve been doing so much research on hysterectomies and menopause because I will be in a medically induced menopause at 48 years old after this surgery. In fact, I’ve been experiencing menopausal symptoms for months now due to a medication my gynecologist recommended I take by injection for 4 months to shrink the fibroids to increase my odds of the doctor performing the least invasive surgical approach. This would allow for less bleeding and less recovery time. My last injection was in November 2021. I’ve had no menstrual cycle since July 2021.

I’ve also made some lifestyle changes such as changing my diet to mostly vegan and plant based. I look forward to documenting my recovery and what I’ve been learning.

Starting 2022 off with major surgery means there is no where else to go from here but up.

Five years ago, I blogged about dreaming of dancing, flawless boobs while under anesthesia. That didn’t happen. This time I might dream about my dancing beautiful uterus. I’ll keep you posted.

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Stay above the fray

This blog is an extension of me being trained in social work, working in an administrative leadership role, and wanting to share some wisdom with you. Social workers are change agents, fighters of social injustices, and are advocates. I’m my biggest advocate.

So as is true in life, it’s not all fun and games. This post isn’t about food or a recent adventure. I want to share some points that came up for me regarding leadership. I hope you pick up some light lessons as you read.

I’ve been told (and have heard) I’m viewed as calm, sharp, a person who can have hard conversations, I have good ideas, I’m a person of few words, and I’m the voice of reason. In one instance, the “calm” characteristic came up because I’ve had poignant discussions with some team members recently. My mentee asked me, “how can you be so calm?”

I’ve learned to harness my anxiety over the years. When I tell people, I struggle with anxiety, they don’t believe me. The first thing they point to is my calm demeanor. Yes, I’m an anxious person, and as I get older and learn more through working in public health, about trauma and its impacts on people, I can appreciate how my early life circumstances contributed to my anxiety.

I’ve been working on self-compassion and I think it’s lifelong process. You can’t always foresee triggers that spark the anxiety, or may not even be aware of specific triggers. Yet, these triggers can set the stage for some much needed work to get through issues that seemingly pop up randomly.

I’ve been reading the book Rewire Your Anxious Brain and have been learning about two parts of the brain, the amygdala and the cortex, and how they can trigger anxiety. I’ve learned that anxiety stemming from the amygdala can have triggers you have no control over. Anxiety stemming from the cortex are the result of faulty thinking patterns. There are various approaches to managing anxiety for each. When I complete the book, I may blog about what resonated with me. So far, it’s a very informative read.

One major way I’ve harnessed anxiety over the years is exercising 6 days a week. I exercise mostly for the brain boost of endorphins. I absolutely love my cardio, dancing, and free weights but core exercises…not so much. My blood pressure is a “dream” for many as I’ve been told by my doctors for years. In addition to calmness, the other fruits of my exercise are peace, contentment, confidence, happiness, and ARM MUSCLES.

In terms of calmness as it relates to my leadership style, one particular class in graduate school made a significant impression on me. In this class, our professor invited a different leader from a different agency to speak to the students on a regular schedule. One particular leader was the head of a major federal department. During his leadership term, a catastrophe occurred that resulted in the loss of life….many lives. It was mind blowing. It was an unrelenting mess for years. What he said got him through was an expression I had not heard or used before. He said the biggest lesson in that circumstance was to “stay above the fray”. It was a phrase he’d learned while being a pilot in the military.

“Staying above the fray” in my opinion means to stay above the chaos. Don’t let the chaos seep inside of you. Don’t contribute to the chaos. Otherwise, you may lose your objectivity and problem solving sensibilities. The leader should have the level head. The leader should have the calm demeanor. It doesn’t mean you don’t feel emotion or empathy, but you’re not taking it in. There is strength in being calm, especially for people you are leading. Calmness means not overeacting, which may contribute to someone else’s anxiety. Calmness allows for quick and nimble thinking.

My calmness doesn’t mean I’m going to blow up once I get through whatever it is either. You may have heard the expression “calm before the storm”…? That’s not me. My calmness doesn’t mean I’m not anxious on the inside. Again, I intentionally harness my anxiety, so I can operate in calmness.

The light lesson here is to protect yourself from taking on other people’s anxieties, problems, etc. You have your own stuff. For whatever situation is going on…”stay above the fray”. And invest (time, money, effort) in doing the mental, spiritual, emotional, and/or physical work needed that will allow you to function at optimal levels.

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Confidence boost

How do I get women to have the courage to be bold, confident, and work in their own power? It’s not by coincidence I’m asking because not only have I struggled in the past with this personally, and quite frankly, I still do in specific situations, but I oversee a team of mostly women. I see women struggling with confidence and speaking their knowledge with authority. Some goals I have for women are to be empowered to share their ideas with confidence, to stop second guessing, to step out of their comfort zone, and to speak with authority.

I propose the following strategies (in no particular order) to help women gain more confidence in the work place and in life:

  • Do your homework- Educate yourself on the topic at hand. In my work environment, the core workforce are called subject matter experts (SMEs). SMEs learn everything there is to know about their particular program, including learning what other states are doing. I’ve found the more I learn about a topic, the more confident I become.
  • Practice – When I was in high school and college, I used to rehearse my presentations with other students, or solo by looking in the mirror and literally reciting my script out loud. In my line of work, these techniques haven’t gone away. I make lots of presentations and still need to rehearse, but not to the same degree as I did when I was a student. For group presentations with my team and/or others, we plan on who will say what. You might even record your voice and listen later to hear how you sound. You might want to rehearse asking for a promotion, for a job interview, and for delivering bad news.
  • Believe in yourself through positive self-talk – We all have the inner critic in our heads judging everything we do. Train your critic to be your cheerleader. It takes practice, but replace, “I can’t do this” with “I will”. I’ve trained my inner voice to be kind and it speaks to me as if I were a friend. That’s not to say the critic doesn’t come out every so often, but I work hard to make my cheerleader my main voice.
  • Make time to do things you enjoy – my love of exercise and Zumba fitness, on the surface doesn’t appear to impact my job, but the energy, calm, and joy I draw from these activities, spill into other areas of my life. In fact, becoming a Zumba fitness instructor, and the act of dancing in front of others has boosted my confidence in ways I couldn’t have imagined. That boldness has helped me in my current leadership role, which leads to the next strategy.
  • Set goals for yourself – As you accomplish your goals, you’ll develop more confidence. I had the goal of completing the training to be a Zumba fitness instructor for my 40th birthday. That was five years ago. I also had goals of earning advanced degrees, losing weight, spending more time with my family, etc. The more goals you accomplish, the more your confidence increases. Keep setting new goals.
  • Just do it – This Nike slogan has been one of my favorite mantras. Sometimes, you’ve just got to put yourself out there and “do the darn thing”. It won’t be perfect. It may not be as rehearsed as you would have liked, but put yourself out there. Take a chance. We only live once. I work in a fast-paced environment where we often sacrifice 100% quality for getting it done and out the door. If perfection is holding you back, let it go because nothing is perfect. I, myself, am a “recovering perfectionist”.
  • Channel all parts of you – I’m a parent, wife, daughter, sister, friend, aunt, cousin, niece, manager, mentor, exercise enthusiast, cook, reader, etc. As a parent, I’m used to raising my children, being nurturing/loving, setting boundaries, and teaching and directing them. Parenting is hard, but I’m confident that I’m raising my kids the best I can. I channel the parenting part of me in my role at work. I’m confident in my relationship with God and His purpose for my life, which I channel in my work. The confidence I’ve developed in the various parts of my life adds to my overall confidence bucket and greatly impacts how I demonstrate my confidence to the world.

My assumption in writing this post is that women are working in environments where they are expected to share ideas and contribute knowledge which will ultimately impact a company’s bottom line.

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Bowls of self-care

We are living in strange times indeed. The COVID-19 pandemic is one for the history books. The silver lining to me is we’re being forced as a human race to collectively slow down and rethink how we go about our lives, which I hope allows for lots of self-care.

My type of self-care is nourishing myself with nutritious foods. Three of the four people in my household are high risk if we somehow catch this virus. I’m focusing on our health.

The epitome of comfort in my book is a bowl of soup.  As I’ve written many times, the activity of cooking is soothing to me. Here are two nutritious and delicious soups I’ve made often for my family: chicken tortilla and black bean soup. I used to make chicken bone broth every weekend but I’ve switched to vegetable broth since nowadays I eat mostly vegan/plant-based. My pantry and freezer staples always help me rise to the occassion.

Black bean soup. LPC

I hope you make time for self-care and whatever that means for you. I’ll continue to cook and share, hoping you get inspired by my recipes and even share some of your self-care ideas with me.

What steps are you making to care for yourself?