Tuesday, July 17, 2018

How I Practice Self-Care: What Self-Care Means to Me

My life revolves around taking care of myself.

I don't think you need to have a chronic illness for self-care to be your highest priority, but managing my mental health symptoms has forced and encouraged me to put such high stock in it.

I tried for over a month to write this post, but kept finding myself overwhelmed with the seemingly impossible task of summing up every aspect of self-care that keeps me going. So, I'm breaking it into a couple different posts. This first post will detail how I define self-care for myself. I'll follow up with two more posts further elaborating on how I specifically practice self-care.

A disclosure: I am not a mental health professional. I cannot advise what will help with mental health symptoms beyond sharing what has helped with mine. Everyone is different and experiences their symptoms differently. What I have to say about self-care comes from my personal and academic experiences, but not professional by any means. If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental health symptoms that poorly affect their lives, please seek professional help.

Self-care, for me, has four main dimensions. The first is unconscious, the second is conscious, the third is daily, and the fourth is as needed. For me, self-care looks like one of those graphics that rates the cross of two separate scales. I have unconscious daily habits, like checking in with myself; unconscious as-needed actions, like meditative exercises; conscious daily habits, like feeding myself; and conscious as-needed actions, like dunking my head in a bowl of ice water (I swear it works).

Unconscious habits:

In the eight years that I've been in regular treatment for depressive and anxious symptoms, I've been learning and adopting healthy coping mechanisms. These coping mechanisms replace the approach to life that I'd developed in desperate self-preservation. My habit of eating sugar developed when I didn't have the energy to plan/shop for/cook good meals but still needed the energy to get through the day, but it only serves to make me more tired and less likely to eat well in the future. Other unhealthy coping mechanisms include toxic thought patterns and isolating social behavior.

When I first learn these unconscious, healthy coping mechanisms, they take attention and effort to practice. It can be difficult and even annoying to institute these coping mechanisms into my life, no matter how small. But the more I practice them, the less attention and effort I need to put into them. These coping mechanisms have largely become habits that my brain leans on without my prompting.

Conscious actions:

When I'm learning new coping mechanisms or I'm in a particularly emotional/triggering situation, I have to sit down and think about how to utilize this kind of self-care.

They can be as little as reminding myself to floss or as big as developing an emergency plan to keep myself going when I don't feel safe.

This includes the kind of activities I think people usually think of when they think of self-care. Going out of your way to incorporate a nice bath, a shopping spree, etc. into your day is absolutely a valuable conscious form of self-care. But that is a slim percentage of what self-care actually is. I'm going to keep bringing that point up throughout this series. I don't mean to rain on spa days or curling up with a good book. I simply mean to expand on our understanding of what it means to develop lifestyles that allow us to take care of ourselves.


Whether once or dozens of times a day, I practice these self-care habits regularly. This is the self-care that gets me through life without just feeling like I'm barely keeping my head above water.

Sometimes, though, it does enable me to just barely keep my head above water. This is less-than-ideal, but still ok. Sometimes, I have a lot of days like this. Sometimes, I have very few. I am doing what I need to to stay alive, I think, and working on finding even better ways to stay alive in the future.

As needed:

In all honesty, there's a lot of overlap between conscious self-care and as-needed self-care. Most of the as-needed self-care I engage in IS conscious. It has to be conscious, or I wouldn't know to just do it occasionally.

Engaging in as-needed self-care requires me to do a lot of routine work to stay in touch with myself. How am I feeling at any given moment? What are my 5 senses experiencing? Am I hungry? What are the words I can put to the emotional state I'm in? How long have I been feeling this way? 

Being aware of how I'm doing all the time does take a lot of energy, but the benefits (including the energy I gain by addressing any negative feelings) absolutely make the work worth it.

Now that I've shared what self-care means to me, I'm going to write an additional two posts detailing the daily and as-needed forms of self-care that make up my routines. Will you have to wait another 3 months to read the follow ups? Quite possibly. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Broke, Fabulous, & Traveling: What I Learned in Bali

Over a month ago (I know, I'm late publishing this post, but if you know me you know I'm always running at least 15 minutes late), I spent 10 days in Bali with my parents and one of my siblings. My family went to Bali for 3 weeks when I was 18, and my parents went back during their first extended trip to Asia last year.

We spent a couple days in Canggu, a recently touristy beach town in the southwest, and about 5 days in Ubud, a popular destination closer to the center of the island. During these 10 days (well, 8 — we spent more than 2 full days traveling), we ate great food, revisited some favorite places, played cards for hours on end, and generally just chilled the f out.

One of my favorite things that I got to do in Bali was have some quality one-on-one time with my family. I get to see my family a couple times a year, and our time together is becoming more and more significant the older I get.

At coffee with my mom one day, I told her about how I wanted to do that cliche thing white women do when they travel to Bali and really find meaning in my life. I'd been struggling all winter to feel like the life I was leading was significant in any way, and wanted to take advantage of this extended free time to buckle down and Figure Shit Out. I didn't know how, but I wanted to sit down and write a bunch of lists that would tell me what I could do to feel happy.

My mom didn't offer any advice on what to include in this plan I wanted to have.

"You've been using so much of your energy to stay alive for so long. Now that you don't need to do so much to make it through each day, don't feel pressured/act on that perceived pressure to use that extra energy you no longer HAVE to use," she told me.

"You're not going to figure out exactly what brings you joy," she said, "in the next year. You're going to spend your whole life searching for meaning, and that's going to be one of the biggest themes in your life."

If you read my last blog post, you might have an idea of the mindset I was in when I went to Bali.

One common thread in my life is that I try to plan everything. I write list after list after list and tell myself that all I need to do is take action on what's on the lists and everything will work the way I want it to. This urge only gets bigger when I'm feeling stressed, anxious, depressed, or otherwise emotional.

Like I told my mom, I've found myself struggling to find meaning in my life lately. I don't know why. Another instinct when I'm having a hard time is to buckle down and figure out WHY, but I'm learning that sometimes feels more like solving a problem than it actually is. When appropriate, I'm trying to let myself experience and work through emotions without extending them by dwelling on them.

My immediate response to my perceived lack of meaning was, of course, to make a bunch of lists and buckle down to get shit done. "I'm just stressed," I told myself, "because of some work stuff. All I need is time to make a plan to be happy and then I can do all those things and then I'll be happy."

But my mom was right: making a plan to be happy was impractical and unnecessary. I wasn't going to be able to figure out how to be fulfilled in the period of 10 days, nor should I push myself to try. I'd never even considered that I could take a step back and relax a little bit once I'd gotten to the point of safety in my mental health.

I definitely find myself working on a plan to lead a meaningful life, but I'm trying to give myself credit for everything I already do and give my future self some benefit of the doubt. I'm going to keep trying new things and sticking with things I already know I like. So, I guess, just living life?

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

OOTD: Setting Goals After School

Photos by Cassidy Hopkins

As long as I can remember, I've loved my to do list and planner.

It all started with those school-supplied agendas we got in elementary school. Ours always had messages about productivity to inspire us 10-year-olds to make sure we were getting as much done as possible, which, looking back, was a little weird.

I've spent years developing my personal organization system (you can skip down to the bottom if you're just here for the organization tips). I've experimented with all-paper systems (one of which required me to carry around 3 notebooks at all times) all-digital systems, and a mix of both.

As long as I've spent working on this system, I've always worked within the confines of the schedule assigned to me by my school. The benefit of being in school was that my life had built-in structures for my time. I had due dates for assignments and applications, and I always new what my next 5 steps looked like. Next quarter, I had to make sure to take the next stats section, and I needed to apply for internships by the end of the quarter.

Life post-grad is a completely different story. Sure, I receive due dates at work and I'm supposed to go to the dentist once a year, but my life is largely up to me to structure.

It's so easy to lean into this freedom, a freedom I have for the first time in 22 years. It's so easy to address problems only when they come up — to only go to the doctor when there's something wrong, only evaluate my career path when I need a new job, only think about my financial future when my bank account is running on empty.

Going with the flow and addressing problems as they come up is not by any means a wrong or bad way to live life. It simply isn't the way I choose to live. One of the most important things I realized in my 22nd year was that I have control over a number of things in my life. Making attainable long-term goals is an important way for me to exercise control over my own life.

This year, I'm experimenting with a system of setting measurable goals and less-quantifiable intentions, both short-term and long-term. I've broken my goals and intentions into 4 sections: yearly, quarterly, monthly, and weekly/daily.

Before I describe how I utilize this system, I want to explain what I mean when I say "goals" and "intentions," because I am not using these words interchangeably. Good goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. As one of my professors once put it, good goals are SMART. I like to use the word "intentions" when talking about the kind of person I want to be and the kind of daily habits I want to form. "Be healthier" is an intention, then, while "run a marathon" is a goal.

The first list I started on was my yearly list. I talk about my intentions continuously with my social support system and in therapy. This year, I want to work on not shying away from necessary confrontation and finding enjoyment in things without having to be good at them.

Going into this year, I had a couple goals for my future that I think I could realistically achieve this year. Among them are moving ahead in my career, visiting a couple friends, and setting up a health network for myself in New York.

From here, I can break down my goals into bite-size pieces to achieve throughout the year. My quarterly goals to help me on my way to moving ahead at work are to introduce a new kind of content to my platform and analyze our top-performing videos. One of my monthly goals for the month of January was to schedule appointments with a dentist and a dermatologist.

I break these goals down even further in my daily/weekly to do list. Last week, I knew I'd have some free time on Friday, so I gave myself the task of putting together a presentation outlining the kind of content I'm proposing for the reference of my team.

I'm hoping that instituting this system will help me get organized enough to be able to accomplish what I want to do in life. I'm finding it hard to set goals for myself when others aren't setting goals for me (take these classes, find a job, complete this assignment, etc). I'm nervous, but I'm also excited to spend this year and the rest of my life figuring out what I want to do and figuring out how to do it.

This top was provided by Top Tier Style

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

One year in NYC

Welp, a year has come and gone since I moved to New York on January 4, 2017. I've dreamt of moving here since I was 13, and was honestly a little overwhelmed by the opportunity to fulfill a nearly lifelong dream.

One very important lesson I learned when I studied in Spain is that, no matter how picturesque and dreamy a location may be, living anywhere still means a lot of things in life stay the same. Living in New York is amazing, but I still have to pay bills, deal with a (often delayed) commute, walk my dog, go grocery shopping, go to the doctor, and lots of other things that make life so dreary, but that are necessary to be able to keep living.

It's important to me that I don't get caught up in simply living life. I want to make sure I take advantage of the amazing place I live in. So, I took the same approach to moving to New York as I did to my last quarter in Seattle: I made a bucket list, and tried to do something new every weekend.

Some weekends, I did something new that wasn't on my bucket list. I went to East River State Park, I walked through Union Square and Madison Square Park every day, and I walked the streets of my neighborhood week after week. Some weekends, I didn't do anything new at all, choosing to revisit a favorite spot or simply stay home. But I set a goal for myself and made an effort, and have certainly had a number of positively memorable experiences as a result.

January 16: The Met

One of my first Mondays in New York was a holiday. Tomi, one of my roommates, and I headed to the Met to take advantage of the day off. I've been back twice since then: once when my friend Maddie visited, and once when my parents were here. Every time I go, I make sure to check out a different part of the museum. I keep track of which rooms I've already seen by coloring them in on a map.

February 4: Whitney Museum

A friend from college set me up on an art date at the Whitney with my friend Sydney, with whom I've since visited several other cool landmarks.

March 3: Museum of Natural History

When Evelyn visited, one of the top destinations on her list was the Museum of Natural History. We spent the whole day there and went to every single exhibit. I got to see a neuron under a microscope for the first time here.

April 29: Central Park with Luxe

Luxe and I walked all the way from 81st street to SoHo when my friend Claire came to visit at the end of April. I've gone back at least 5 times since then.

April 29: The High Line

Part of our walk from 81st to SoHo included walking part of the High Line. I went back 6 months later for a photoshoot with my favorite photographer, Cassidy Hopkins

July 15: Coney Island

After adamantly declaring that Coney Island was a "literal garbage fire," Cassidy Hopkins (the eye behind this photo) agreed to take me and Tomi there for a photoshoot. We had so much fun running around the amusement park and the boardwalk, eating cotton candy and pretending to be in "Uptown Girls."

September 16: Prospect Park

I can't believe I lived in Brooklyn for 9 months before visiting Prospect Park, Brooklyn's Central Park, for the first time. I took Luxe the first time I went and walked her around the entire park while listening to one of my favorite childhood books ("Eragon", if you're interested). This particular day was one of my favorite New York memories. I've been back a couple times since, including on a nice fall day as the leaves were changing.

September 24: Brooklyn Botanical Garden

My friend Sydney took me to the Botanical Garden on a surprisingly warm day at the end of September. We saw all sorts of different plants and even some fish in the koi pond. It was a great way to spend one of the last warm days of the year.

October 8: Strand Bookstore

I first heard about the Strand when I was 13, reading the "Gossip Girl" series (books before TV show, always). I never realized it was so close to my office until I was wandering around one rainy day and stumbled into it. As far as bookstores go, it didn't hold a candle to my precious Powell's, but it was still nice.

November 6: Eataly

I've actually been to the Eataly in the Flatiron District twice: Once with Evelyn, and once with my parents. I ate some of the best pasta I've ever eaten here and got to see raclette in person for the first time ever.

November 6: Staten Island Ferry

Here's an embarrassing fact: I've only spent time in 2 of the 5 boroughs in the year I've lived here. Sure, I've technically been to Queens (like when I went to the beach for the 4th of July and when I go to JFK). I technically went to Staten Island on this ferry, but I spent all of 3 minutes on the island before immediately turning around and getting on the ferry back to Manhattan.

November 13: Mood Fabrics

The Monday after my birthday, I took a comp day (perks of working as weekend editor once every 9 weeks) and took Luxe to 3 of the places on my bucket list. First stop: Mood Fabrics, a must-see for any Project Runway fan. I don't mean to brag, but Swatch and Luxe totally hit it off. 

November 13: Bryant Park

In all honesty, I added this location to my bucket list after seeing a particularly cute picture of one of my favorite bloggers in the park. It was a cute little park with a holiday market set up. It's perfectly conveniently located between Mood and the library, so it was easy to do a quick walk through.

November 13: New York Public Library

I've always loved libraries, and this was one of the most exquisite libraries I've ever had the pleasure of visiting. I walked around for an hour listening to one of the "Series of Unfortunate Events" prequel books. I was even able to get a library card!

December 30: New Museum

This was the last destination on my bucket list in 2017. My friend Kyle told me about this museum after she'd had a particularly uncomfortable experience visiting with her parents. It hadn't been on my radar before, but the exhibit I saw about gender definitely made it worth the trip.

It's now 2018, and I've already visited 2 more destinations on my bucket list (MoMA and the love sculpture). I can't wait to continue exploring my city as I become more comfortable being a New Yorker.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

OOTD: What I'm Not Thankful For

I am thankful for so much. I am also pointedly not thankful for some of the things in my life.
Whenever I'm confronted with something inconvenient or difficult for me, my initial reaction is to be bitter and/or feel sorry for myself. Unfortunately, neither of those emotions help me or the situation.
It's important to acknowledge and validate my initial emotional reactions, but I don't need to give them any more power than they deserve. This is easier said than done, but it's true nonetheless.

My parents always told me that if I don't like something, instead of moping or whining about it, I should change it. Problem-solving is a useful tool to use when confronted with something that makes life more difficult, but it's not the only tool. Accepting that which you do not like is important both in situations when you can make a change and when you can't. 

When you can change what you don't like in your life, acceptance is the first step to acknowledging something is off in your life. From there, you can truly address the problem head-on.
When you can't change what you don't like in your life or the changes you can make are slow to take effect, acceptance can help you go through life without being bogged down.

When my therapist first started talking to me about acceptance, I had a hard time accepting (lol) this as a method for dealing with things that make my life harder. For one, it sounds like it means you have to invalidate your emotions. For another, it sounds a lot like giving up.
True acceptance is neither invalidating nor giving up. Society often preaches ignorance disguised as acceptance, but that is not true acceptance. True acceptance does not mean ignoring your feelings or the problem. It means openly acknowledging and validating your feelings, being honest about the problem, and accepting the reality of the situation. From there, you can start to live without being weighed down by the misery of a problem you can neither solve nor, in your mind, live with.

This was supposed to be my Thanksgiving week post. The Monday before Thanksgiving, however, I was put into a really difficult situation with the lease on my apartment. What it boiled down to was that I would need to move out the week of December 1st, a full month before I was expecting to have to move out. I'd been leisurely looking for roommates and apartments under the impression that I had until the end of my lease at the end of December, but I hadn't even so much as arranged to meet anyone or see anything yet. I felt scared, angry, and hopeless at the prospect of having to move out in 12 days without anywhere to go.

Luckily, this was a difficult situation I could change. I could (and did) look at a number of apartments before the real estate offices closed for Thanksgiving. I could (and did) arrange a fall-back option if I couldn't find a place to sign a lease. But before I could do any of those things, I had to stop wasting all my energy by thinking about how I didn't want to leave my apartment, how I wasn't ready to look for places, that I was scared I wouldn't have enough time to find the right place or the right roommates, that I was angry I had to do any of this in the first place. I had to accept the situation I was in so I had the energy and mindset to be able to find myself (and Luxe) a place to live. Even though I didn't want to, I had to move, and I had to move soon. Accepting that made it so much easier for me to look for a place in a time crunch and start packing up to move with so little time.

Acceptance is a tool I'm still working on. However, it's something I feel content to put the energy into, because it's a tool that really helps me so often.

This belt was provided by Top Tier Style. If you would like to purchase your own, use the coupon code BLOG15 for 15% OFF everything on their store!