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LOVE Yourself

As most people focus on romantic love on this Valentine’s Day, I’m sending a gentle reminder to everyone who reads my post to also focus on demonstrating love to yourself every single day. Valentine’s Day is cute and sweet, and my husband, Bryan, and I take it in stride. It is a commercialized holiday and just from stopping at a few grocery stores earlier in desperate search (slight exaggeration) of a special type of Asian dipping sauce, we could see the stores were all decked out with flowers, balloons, candies, and gifts.

We know every day counts for showing love to each other and our family. It doesn’t take a holiday to remind us. We did celebrate a little this year with Bryan giving our daughter some treats, buying me some flowers, and making us some delicious margueritas. I made a lovely dinner of pasta and salmon. However, I do think we all need some reminding to love on ourselves because we can often be our own worst critics. And it’s really difficult to love others without loving yourself first. It may not even be possible to fully love others if you don’t fully love yourself first.

As a step towards demonstrating some self-love and self-compassion for myself, several months ago, I created a list of how I will be more compassionate with myself. I keep this list in the notes in my phone and refer to it whenever I need to. Maybe you’ll get some ideas on what you might want to focus on for yourself. You get double points for writing it down.

I will show some compassion for myself by:
*Prioritizing sleep and rest when I’m tired
*Not pushing myself so hard, especially when I’m tired. *Don’t delay eating and going to the restroom when I need to
*Replacing my internal dialigue with more positive, gentle, & calming statements
*Ending circumstances/relationships that don’t align with my values and/or cause me distress
*Reminding myself I’m doing the best I can
*Stop judging myself harshly
*Appreciating who I am, my body, and my accomplishments
*Replacing time thinking about how much I have to do with thinking about things I’ve accomplished
*Slowing down
*Sitting down and breathing
*Stop comparing myself to others
*Meditating daily…sometimes several times a day

This is just a sample list and I add to it as I get more ideas. I receive enough judgment, pressure, high expectations, and comparison from others for reasons of which I can’t control. I’m tired of being hard on myself too. Adhering to this list is something within my control. I choose to demonstrate love to myself because I’m pretty amazing when I think about it. I hope you choose the same for yourself because you’re pretty amazing too when you think about it.

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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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What therapy is teaching me

It took me a few minutes to realize the inevitable as I lay in bed moist and warm from my hormones being out of control. I tossed and turned as the thoughts started flooding my mind. I finally glanced at my watch to see it was about 4:00 am. “Why am I up?” “You know you’re awake so you might as well get up.” “Why don’t you read a book so you can get sleepy again?” “What should I do now?” “What was my homework assignment again?” “You know what??? I should write a blog post!”

So here I am, up early in the morning wanting to share my epiphanies from the last few months. I’ve been consistently inconsistent with writing my blog posts. This is where I am in life right now and that’s okay. I always have a story or lesson to share. Capturing them in a blog post has been challenging because I only have so much time in a day. In fact, this is true for all of us. I’ve chosen to prioritize other things but always return to blogging because it’s a form of self-care for me. And whoever reads this, gets to ride with me on this journey.

Shortly after we moved into our new home earlier this year, I decided it was time to revisit what I had been putting off for a while. Also, a conversation I had with my nephew helped me to move forward with the decision, which was to seek therapy. This big wonderful thing happened in my life – a new house, new surroundings, and new beginnings. However, there were some personal challenges I’ve been wanting to work on related to my relationships, career, and health. On top of that, I was also realizing the toll the pandemic was taking on me. The move encouraged me to do other things to improve the quality of my life. This was the perfect time because my life wasn’t in crisis mode and things were settling down.

I work in the mental health field and understand the benefits of therapy. It’s not a stigma to me but mental health is still a stigma for many. However, I think the tides are changing. More people have access to and are seeking the mental health help they need. I see signs that therapy is being normalized. Some of my young adult family members have or are participating in therapy. I mentioned my nephew earlier who is very open about it. He also encouraged me to consider a therapist who would understand the unique cultural and racial challenges brown skinned people face.

I decided to take the steps to find a therapist. It took me a few weeks to find someone I was interested in through the Therapy for Black Girls website. I was able to peruse the websites and information for the different therapists in my state. It was important for me to work with a woman, slightly older than myself. I contacted her, we connected, and the rest is history.

It’s been 4 months now since I’ve been in therapy and it’s one of the best investments in myself I’ve made. I attend bimonthly sessions. Here are just a few thoughts on what therapy is teaching me about myself:

  1. I need to constantly work on boundaries – setting them, refining them, reinforcing them, and communicating them. I used to pride myself on setting boundaries. This is how I’ve established and maintained a place of peace since my early twenties. I have boundaries that are firmly planted; however, over time, I’ve allowed people and circumstances to erode some of them. I’m back to setting, refining, and reinforcing boundaries because they keep me safe and in check. They also teach others how to treat me.
  2. I had no idea how to demonstrate self-compassion. It was a foreign concept to me but I’m learning. I was not taught to show compassion for myself. I’m an overachieving, recovering perfectionist, constantly on the prowl to do better/be better, and to do things/do things for others, but what about self-compassion? And self-compassion is different from self-care. Self-compassion means I don’t mentally beat myself up because I can’t figure out how to relate to someone close to me. It means I don’t keep pushing myself when I know I’m tired. There is so much more to this.
  3. Validation is so important. I’m in a leadership position at work and it’s true that it can be lonely at the top. My workload is heavy and I don’t have the capacity to meet with my peers on a regular basis. Not only that, I’m not always sure who I can trust at work. Having the outlet from my therapist to be able to express my thoughts and be validated has been very helpful to me. Also, the validation helps in my personal life too because I don’t want to burden family (and they probably won’t understand anyway) with the particular challenges my husband and I experience with our health issues.
  4. It’s OK to retrain your habits and thoughts; in fact, it’s necessary if you want to change. A lot of what I’m working on is retraining habits I picked up over time and building new ones. Is it frustrating? YES! Is it hard? YES! Is it worth it? YES!

What I’ve shared are the biggest relatable lessons but there are many other things I’m learning about myself. If you’re interested in pursuing therapy, I hope you move forward with it. Really consider who you would want to work with, how much it will cost and is it within your budget, and your availability to attend regular sessions.