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Brave in Sunny San Diego

San Diego…what a beautiful place! I’m here for a few days to attend a behavioral health business conference. It’s been a positive experience. I generally love conferences because I walk away inspired and energized. I needed this considering I’ve been drained.

I admit the first day, preconference, was rough: a 3 hour flight and then I couldn’t figure out where to enter the hotel due to construction. I drove around several times. There was a slight problem with my hotel reservation, but it was resolved. My ears were plugged up for the rest of the day. I was tired and irritable. My nose was congested.

I felt better when I woke up Thursday morning at 3:14 a.m. My body still thinks it’s 2 hours ahead in Texas, so I woke up on time. On Friday, I woke up at 3:48 a.m. I’ve still been getting a little less than 6 hours sleep. My attitude improved after I wrote Thursday’s blog post.

I decided to make the best of this trip because how often do I get to come to San Diego? It’s a privilege I’m able to travel to interesting places for work. This is my first time in California. I’ve never particularly cared about visiting…go figure. I enjoy networking when it’s the right group and I had an inkling this would be that group. On Thursday, I made some connections, gave some compliments, passed out my business cards, learned some valuable information, and overall embraced the day. I also received a few site seeing recommendations from a conference participant I met from Minnesota. I had something to look forward to at the end of the day.

I spent some time in Seaport Village and I loved it. Although I can’t swim and am afraid of large bodies of water, the water had a calming affect on me. I took lots of pictures and soaked in the breeze.

I took my time strolling. I walked on a pier. I enjoyed watching other people taking in the view. In some ways, Seaport Village, particularly by the pier, reminded me of Chicago (my home town), on the Lakefront. Instead of the Pacific Ocean, Chicago sits right on Lake Michigan. In other ways, the location reminded me of Austin because of the open beautiful, blue sky.

Eventually, I was hungry, but indecisive about which restaurant, so I perused through menus until one felt right.

I landed on a place where my food was mediocre at best, but the window view on the water made up for it.

Thank God for smartphones and GPS because I rely on them so much when traveling. I got nervous when I missed a turn in this very unfamiliar city. For a moment, I thought, “just go back to the hotel”. However, I was determined and when I found my destination along with a parking space, I was relieved.

It was a relaxing and wonderful ending to a great day. I’m proud of myself for being brave enough to do a little exploration of San Diego. It wasn’t much and I won’t be here long, but I wanted to get back to Austin with some good memories of San Diego. The fact that I’m attending this trip solo confirms my commitment to growth. I’m so used to operating outside of my comfort zone, I seem to gravitate towards activities that do just that, without much thought. At the end of the day, I grow in confidence, knowledge, and experience.

Light lessons:

  • Be brave
  • Take responsibility for your growth
  • Live outside your comfort zone sometimes

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Awareness

For the past couple of years, I’ve become inundated with a flood of emotions this time of year for two main reasons: 1) I was diagnosed with breast cancer two days before Breast Cancer Awareness month and 2) my mom’s last visit to Austin was in late October 2016 when she came to support me through my two breast cancer surgeries.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, so there’s so much attention on breast cancer on my social media and elsewhere. I like reading the informative articles and the personal experiences of those affected. I’ve also been sharing information about my personal experience and have made small donations to the grocery stores and other places collecting funds for the cause. I like to say I’m a “thriver” rather than “survivor”, but I don’t fully subscribe to the language of how I move through this disease.

I find it interesting to read of people who have or will “beat” breast cancer. Have I beaten breast cancer? My oncologist told me I’m cancer free, yet I will still undergo hormone treatment (through oral medications) for up to 10 years. The reality is once you become intimately acquainted with the disease, you learn it can return. With every doctor’s appointment, blood test, and mammogram, there is a looming fear. This is a fight I didn’t sign up for, but I don’t feel sorry for myself or regret it. I’m simply doing what I do best: adjusting to life’s roller coaster, being strong, and making the best out of it.

I do need to be careful because I’m in a very vulnerable space. Upon receiving the confirmation that I had breast cancer, it was an extremely emotional experience, which I attribute to coming face to face with my mortality. I have children and a husband who need me. I have family and friends who love me. We all know we’re going to die, but when you know you have a disease which has killed many, it does something to you.

I am also vulnerable because my main source of support, my mummy, passed away 8 months after her last trip to Austin to come support me during my breast cancer surgeries. I can still hear her cries when I told her the news over the phone. Breast Cancer Awareness month reminds me my mummy was by side during the most difficult time in my life. I’ve been coping and have grieved her death, but there are moments where I simply miss her and feel sad she’s gone.

So here it is. Through blogging, I’ve uncovered this nagging, unsettling feeling that’s been plaguing me for the past couple of months. I thought I was just tired. Breast Cancer Awareness has triggered some emotions in me. What do I do now with this awareness? It starts with me being patient with myself and removing all judgments. I will extend myself some grace. I will rest. I will embrace myself with an imaginary hug.

Light lesson: Self-love is being kind to oneself in thoughts and actions. I hope you do the same for yourself.

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You need a tool box

As a grown up person, you have to realize you are responsible for charting your own course despite past circumstances and upbringing. If you want to gain more confidence, do the work to increase your confidence. If you are not fulfilled in certain areas of your life, do the work to become fulfilled. If you want to write better, do the work to improve your writing. If you want to lose weight, do the work to release the pounds. You get where I’m going with this…Light lesson: Ultimately it’s up to you to manifest the life you want, and to get there, you must take action. I want to empower you with this: You direct the changes/enhancements you want in your life, but not without putting in some work…at times, some soul stirring, gut-wrenching, sweaty, messy, frustrating, humbling, confusing, unpretty, exhilarating, rewarding, and satisfying WORK.

Some of us have done the work, but I believe we also need periodic refresher courses. When you have a professional license and/or certification, you’re required to maintain a certain number of Continuing Education Credits (CEUs) to maintain the license in a specific timeframe. This ensures you’re keeping up to date on practices in your field. I haven’t renewed my social work license yet because I’m short on ethics CEUs. Those are hard to come by, especially with my schedule. In essence, refresher courses, like CEUs ensure you’re keeping your skills sharp.

Over the years, I’ve studied to earn an advanced degree, worked jobs that took me out of my comfort zone, gained parenting skills, improved my fitness level, improved my cooking and baking skills, learned how to cook vegan meals, learned how to be a better wife, learned how to garden, honed my communication skills, lost some weight, and on and on. I’m a constant learner. I’m an action oriented person. I put in the work.

All I do to gain knowledge and enrich my life adds to my self-confidence. Occassionly, I need a refresher course because despite my high confidence, sometimes I have doubts mostly due to my damaged wiring. Yes, although we may put in the work to conquer past demons, resolve old hurts, forgive past mistakes and people, there may be some residual damage of which we learn to live with. It doesn’t mean we haven’t done the work. It just means there are remaining mental and/or psychological scars and damage. We can’t control the memory triggers, but we can work on how to cope with them.

About a month ago, I was thinking of writing a blog post on confidence because I’ve encountered several women lately who lack confidence. They know it. I supervise a couple of them. I believe once they conquer the confidence factor, the sky is the limit on what they can do. This is important to me because I know how important confidence is in life and business. This blog post is really about how I’ve gained and maintain my confidence.

To help myself in my own periodic struggle with confidence, I recently opened my tiny purple tool box that rests on my dresser in my bedroom. It’s about 8 years old. In my field education class in graduate school, my instructor had each student decorate a tiny box. Once we completed the task, she had us write a positive message about each person in our cohort on tiny pieces of paper. We passed the tiny pieces of paper to each person, folded our own tiny messages, then placed them in our box. It was a brilliant and beautiful exercise. It’s like a time capsule in that strangers who bonded years ago shared their impression of you at the time. I read the tiny pieces of paper recently and a smile emerged on my face and heart. Talk about a confidence booster! I needed that refresher.

You may not have a tiny purple box filled with notes of inspiring messages from classmates, but my point is to find something that reminds you of what makes you FABULOUS. Also:

  • Take some life refresher courses, literally and figuratively
  • Create a tool box, literally (like my tiny purple box with powerful messages) or figuratively (books, activities, quotes)
  • Educate yourself
  • Plan and take action

We have access to so much information. No EXCUSES. Do the work.

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Cancer Strong

Altough breast cancer awareness month is not until October, I’ve been thinking a lot about my journey lately. The incisions have healed and I can feel the scars from breast reconstruction surgery extending from under both my left and right breast bones. The breast reduction and lift does not hide the dent from the lumpectomy on my lower left breast. September marks two years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. On September 28, 2016, my life changed forever upon learning my fate. You can read about my reaction to the news here.

I’ve been breast cancer free for about a year and nine months and have gone on with my life. Breast cancer is not at the forefront of my thoughts anymore. In reality, I’ve had no choice but to shift my focus because my family needs me considering my husband’s health issues. Back in the fall of 2016, I was totally consumed with researching everything about my disease. The follow up medical appointments that occur mostly every 6 months (medical oncology, radiation oncology, mammograms, primary care) and the medication I’ll take for another 3 to 10 years, remind me that it’s not entirely out of my life or that far behind me. However, it’s a part of my life and I’ve learned to live with it.

The thing about having a cancer diagnosis, at least for me, is it makes you keenly aware of how short life is, which can be a good and/or bad thing. I’d like to say because I’m keenly aware of how short life is that I don’t let things bother me, or say I don’t worry, but that’s not true. Things do bother me and I do worry…after all I have responsibilities. However, I work to put things in perspective daily and practice not being so hard on myself.

I’m physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally strong and that’s what will get me through this journey.

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Know your limits

No these are not tree trunks! These are my legs, tired and lifted on a bench, as I soak in this luscious breeze and watch my husband, Bryan, finish his last lap in our neighborhood park. I got my Fitbit steps 2 laps ago. I feel inpsired to write at this very moment, on a Tuesday, because stress is real and I’ve been overcome with it today. These daily walks with Bryan out in nature helps calm my nerves. I’ve employed most of my self-care strategies today: hot tea, head massage by hubby, Alleve, a walk in the park at dusk, and writing. Next is a hot shower. Am I better yet? A little…

My light lesson for the day is know your limits and work around them. My boss told me the other day that you teach people how to treat you. Inside my head, I was rolling my eyes because how many times have I heard and practiced this very thing? However, I have a new epiphany. I need to teach people how to use my calendar. My job requires me to be in meetings most of the day as we plan and strategize for our programs, but I need to be extra vigilant on days where I have long meetings and then other meetings. I already block off time to do work, but a little more planning would have prevented today’s debacle. It’s just too much. I was overstimulated…BIG TIME. I have a limits. I need to respect them.

Rant over and I feel better.

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R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Have you ever had the experience of minding your business, scrolling through your social media, and then witnessing something so absolutely shocking that it consumes you for like two to three hours? That happened to me recently. Friday night, after a very long day at work (7:20am-8:15pm), I needed to get home to some mind numbing activity. When I got home, I immediately undressed and paraded around my bedroom naked for a few minutes because nakedness is soothing to me. I didn’t bother to eat dinner although I was hungry. I eventually took a shower, got in the bed, with my phone in hand, and proceeded to scroll through my facebook feed hoping to temporarily erase my mind of the day’s events. My logic was flawed at the start because in the hopes of forgetting my day, I was scrolling through the feeds of other people’s baggage. Light lesson #1: Dont replace your baggage with someone else’s baggage. It’s still baggage.

I came across a post that had only been posted for a few minutes, but in it, the poster accused a fiance of not responding to her in a month….really… like A MONTH? My “drama” senses suggested I read the comments and explore further. What soon unfolded was a barrage of posts with inflammatory accusations and insults from each party, with other people chiming in. This went on for a while. It was vile, but I felt compelled to continue to read. It was certainly more interesting than my day. Hours later, the posts subsided, but only after both parties totally demeaned each other on a public, social media platform…for all to see.

I’m sensitive to the fact that this is the life of two people despite myself and other people tuning in as if we were watching a television drama. Someone even posted a meme of Michael Jackson eating popcorn from the music video “Thriller” to illustrate the sentiment. The social worker in me kept asking what breakdown caused this type of communication. I don’t want to be on a high horse, but I have thought about unfriending this “friend” on my feed before because I don’t agree with her tactics of telling all her relationship business on social media and sharing negative information. She’s done this to another boyfriend. I don’t want that energy on my feed. Whatever the case, she was still on my feed, I never deleted her, and here was another case.

I felt empathy for her because it sounds like she was being mistreated, but she seems to have contributed a great deal to her own situation. Sharing on social media only compounds the problem. She probably thought she was seeking help and sympathy on this very public platform, but in my opinion, she got slaughtered. Light lesson #2: don’t share intimate details of your relationship on social media. One day, I may devote a post to the phenomenon of social media and its affect on people and relationships.

The debacle made me think about my “soon to be” twenty one year marriage to my husband, Bryan, and why is it that in our many arguements and disagreements over the years, we’ve never resorted to name calling and sharing our business with everyone else. Last week, I made note of some ingedients that have been essential to my marriage (read it here). I also wrote a post last year on marriage intimacy, which you can read about here.

The bottom line is RESPECT. Light lesson #3: Have some self-respect and Light lesson #4: Respect your partner. No one asked me, but my assessment is both parties have self-esteem issues and could benefit from doing the work to unpack their own baggage, getting clear on what they expect in a relationship, and setting some foundational ground rules for their relationship and sticking to them.

The “friend” seems to have removed herself from facebook, which I think is a promising step.

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What makes my marriage work

Next month, my husband, Bryan, and I will have been married for 21 years. We often marvel at how much time has passed and discuss how it doesn’t feel as long as it has been. I usually don’t talk about my marriage to others because I learned a long time ago that marriage is a sacred relationship between two people and you don’t want others in your business…family or otherwise, with the exception of a marriage counselor or pastor, if you so choose. I’m sharing some gems now because I believe that 21 years is no small feat, especially considering the high divorce rate.

One thing that makes my marriage to my husband work is that I fiercely protect it and I protect my husband. I remember years ago when I was dating someone, who was not Bryan, and he did a hurtful thing to me. I told my friends. Big MISTAKE! One friend, in particular, wouldn’t let me, or him, live it down, even after I had gotten over it and forgave him. You can’t do this in marriage. I respect Bryan immensely and that respect causes me to want to manage things with him only. I also want him to be seen in a positive light. For one thing, your friends and family may want to fiercely protect you too, so you have to monitor what you tell them. You learn that in marriage there is a constant extension of grace, mercy, and forgiveness because you will hurt each other, unintentionally and otherwise. Some people in your circle may not be as forgiving in their own lives. Some people in your circle want to be right more than anything. Some people in your circle make things about themselves. Some people in your circle don’t understand marriage.

If you’ve read my blog, you’ll know that I’ve been faced with several challenges in the last few years and they’ve all put my marriage to the test. One significant issue is my husband’s health, which has caused him to have problems with long and short-term memory. We’ve gotten even closer because he’s in a vulnerable place and we realize how important our relationship is to each other. Don’t get me wrong, prior to this health condition, I’ve complained about feeling like I’ve been taken for granted at times and other things couples face, after having been married for so long. However, I communicate that to him and we work on it. I also pray constantly for our marriage and for him.

Last week, we were watching, with our 17-year old son, a television show about revamping failing family restaurants. The wife said that when she reached out to touch her husband, he moved his hand away to reject her touch. My assessment was that he was too consumed with feeling like a failure. He felt alone and like he wasn’t worthy of love because he couldn’t figure out how to fix their problem. He tried to handle things alone instead of reaching for his partner. You could feel the hurt she expressed and see the hurt in his eyes. Bryan and I instinctively made eye contact and grabbed each other’s hand tightly. We each have our own wounds, but we don’t ever want to be in that place. I’m glad our son witnessed our exchange.

A few ingredients that make our marriage work for us are:

  1. Love demonstrated by our actions
  2. Mutual respect
  3. Constant, intentional communication
  4. Being best friends
  5. Constant extension of grace, mercy, and forgiveness
  6. Patience and empathy
  7. Unselfishness, compromise, constant self-evaluation, and editing
  8. Treating our relationship as sacred
  9. Discussing our problems with each other
  10. Enjoying each other’s company