Not another cliche New Year post

A friend of mine, someone I’ve known basically since birth – we used to “perform” very elaborate imagined productions in our neighbor’s backyard, and then we got to actually perform together in high school drama club productions of varying quality, and now we volunteer together and also habitually eat delicious food and drink delicious cocktails while gabbing about anything and everything, and really, how rare is it that someone you’ve known for multiple decades persists into your adult life and you still somehow have shared interests and passions after all this time? Anyway, I digress. The point is, he’s a friend I’ve known forever and whose ideas I respect, and he recently pointed out that years are these totally random things that someone decided on a really long time ago, and so why do we invest so much meaning in them?

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I didn’t tell Brian I was stealing this screencap, so, sorry, Brian. If you like this particular brand of irreverent witticism, you can follow him over on Twitter at @brianmdudley.

I definitely feel where Brian’s coming from with that. I joined everyone else in bemoaning just how truly and completely terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad 2016 turned out to be, and I’m cautiously optimistic that 2017 could be a year of positive growth in my life, but I’m also not jumping into January 2017 declaring all the new resolutions and life-changing decisions I’ll be making to turn this year around.

Two songs have been playing in my brain these past few days: “What a Year for a New Year,” by Dan Wilson (I first heard this when it was included on Maybe This Christmas compilation released in 2002, which apparently does not legally exist anywhere on the internet, and I’m opposed to embedding YouTube videos that are 100% not authorized to be sharing the song, so you guys can go ahead and google this one), and “Lights and Buzz,” by Jack’s Mannequin (thanks for coming in clutch here, Spotify – give it a listen).

Dan Wilson may have had a premonition about what life would feel like, come 2016, when he wrote this song, though I suppose the early ’00s had their fair share of problems. The song opens, “What a year for a new year / We need it like we needed life, I guess / The last one left us lying in a mess / What a year for a new year.” It’s the bridge, however, that really rings true for me this year: “Hope we’ll forget about this place /  Let it go without a trace /  Wipe the teardrops from our faces.” I cried a lot in 2016. I cried too much. I don’t want to cry as much in 2017. Let’s work on that.

The Jack’s Mannequin track is gorgeous, melancholy, honest. Andrew McMahon wrote this song while battling cancer – specifically, it was the first track he wrote after receiving a stem cell transplant from his sister, which saved his life. The song opens, “I’m coming home from my hardest year / I’m making plans not to make plans while I’m here.” 2016 wasn’t my all-time hardest year, but it’s certainly worthy of an honorable mention. If nothing else, this year felt relentless, like I could never quite catch my breath before the next universal bitch slap descended.

That second line of “Lights and Buzz,” though, that’s the attitude I’m taking into 2017. I’m making plans not to make plans. I’m trying to free up space in my life for life to happen to me, in the hopes that perhaps the tides will change. I can’t get into specifics here, but there have been some positive developments that I hope will come to fruition in the next few weeks, and they’d bring about major shifts in my life.

The biggest change is one that I can share – I’m moving next week. While my cousin is in India for the next two years, I’ll be living in her condo, in a great neighborhood. I’m so excited about this change. I’ve been living at home and haven’t put myself first in a really long time – especially over the past year – so it will be really good to have some distance and space for myself. My family will still be only a 20 minute car ride away, but to not come home to that every night will be so freeing. I feel guilty saying things like that, but it’s the truth. I get to prioritize myself first, and I’ll have the room to do so.

So that’s the theme as we enter into this arbitrarily chosen span of time we call a new year – creating space, giving myself time, and not making plans. Letting things come as they may, and I’ll make the most of them. No expectations, either high or low – just openness and willingness to experience life as it happens.

Bring it on.

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Create your own joy

The world happens around us, every day. It happens around us and sometimes, it happens to us. There are any number of things that are totally outside of our control, and sometimes, those things are pretty terrible.

You know what’s totally within your control? The ability to create your own joy. You can give yourself permission to seek out joy. That’s allowed. It should even be encouraged.

picmonkey-collageI spent the weekend on the Cape, borrowing my cousins’ incredible home for a much-needed break. I took Friday and Monday as work-from-home days so that I could have some time to myself, to get some much-needed mental clarity and peace. For the weekend itself, friends came up from New York and drove down from Boston to spend Halloween in Provincetown. We got to be very stereotypical New England tourists for the day on Saturday, and when night fell, we dressed up in costumes, broke out the booze, and celebrated the holiday in truly ridiculous fashion. It was something of a social experiment, throwing together two separate sets of friends who had never met, but it turned out great and the weekend was a success.

Leaving the Cape yesterday for the long drive back to Boston, I found myself reflecting on how grateful I felt for the past few days – grateful to the family who let me use the house, to the friends who made the journey to the Cape, to the job that gave me the flexibility to work remotely, to the universe for giving us amazing weather. The key, though, is that I didn’t sit around and wait for these things to fall into my lap. I asked whether the house would be free at any point this fall; I asked my friends if they wanted to spend a weekend away. I created space for this weekend to happen.

If I don’t make a conscious effort to create space for joy, then yes, it’s really easy to let everything else overwhelm me. That’s the thing about stress, about exhaustion, about bad news and difficult experiences: they creep, they spread, they entangle you. You can let it happen, or you can do something about it. I’m choosing the latter; I’m choosing to invite in the light.

To that end, I’ve decided to participate in a Daily Gratitude challenge for the month of November. I’ve been using (and loving!) the Day Designer planner printables, and the company sent an email out this morning with a link to their free daily gratitude journal printable. They shared a blog about how to make gratitude a daily habit, and they’re encouraging followers to share their daily reflections on social media with the tag #DDdailygratitude.

joy-gratitude-quoteI’ll be sharing my daily gratitude posts on Instagram at @beingyourchange, and where appropriate I may expand them into a longer post. I’m hoping this will help to keep all of the dark-and-nasties at bay, while keeping me focused on the sources of joy and light in my life.

Learn to receive

I went on a podcast subscribing spree over the weekend. Lately my podcast habits have heavily skewed toward political content, but the closer we get to the elections, the less I want to listen to media interpretations of the absolute shitstorm that is the country right now. (For the record, I’m With Her.) (If you needed me to tell you that, you haven’t been paying attention.)

I poked around a bit trying to find some podcasts on health and wellness, skewing more toward mental health and wellbeing. I haven’t had much time to settle in with the stack of books sitting on my nightstand, so in the meantime, podcasts on my commute will have to be enough to help me along.

I stumbled across one this morning that felt like it was targeted right at me. The podcast is titled Women Wanting More, and I admittedly haven’t listened to enough to judge whether it will be a permanent addition to my list, but today’s felt perfect. Episode #183 is titled “I Receive This (and Why YOU Should, Too)” and it’s all about how many women struggle to accept, to receive.

When others pay us compliments, we brush them off or respond with a self-deprecating comment. When colleagues ask us if we need help at work, we decline – we’ve got this, even in reality we’re drowning. Friends tell us to reach out if we need anything and we nod, knowing that things would have to be dire indeed before we take them up on the offer, because we will have things under control even if it kills us.

In the podcast, the host, Karen Osburn, encourages us to learn to receive. Have you ever tried to just receive when others want to give? Whether it’s a compliment, an offer of help, a kind word, a gift – what if you just received it and allowed yourself time to enjoy how it feels not to be the one giving?

I’m working on it, and this podcast was a good reminder to be more intentional in how I react when I’m given the opportunity to receive. Give it a listen.

Another mimosa, please.

I spent the long weekend in my favorite place on earth with my favorite people, and I. Am. Exhausted.

Things I learned this weekend:

  1. When you’re out with a friend you don’t get to see very often and you’re ordering wine by the glass, it’s really easy to lose track of how much you’ve had, especially when the bartender has a heavy pour. Then you get the bill and you realize you’ve had a bottle and a half of wine. Each. Whoops.
  2. It has been four and a half years since my last marathon bottomless brunch (an especially memorable visit to Lasagna’s the day of our 5-year college reunion, when they finally kicked us out because the restaurant was flipping over to dinner and apparently that’s when the mimosas stop being bottomless). Turns out 31 is officially too old for bottomless brunch, especially when you approach it as a challenge. “Oh? You’re cutting us off after two hours? I ACCEPT THIS QUEST.” Again. Whoops.
  3. I know a lot of people get into trouble because when they’re drunk they start craving junk food and end up overeating. I am the exact opposite. I completely forgot to feed myself during Saturday’s marathon outing. There were the token breakfast foods consumed alongside the bottomless mimosas, but let’s be honest, those are only there to add an air of legitimacy to the quite frankly inhuman quantities of champagne you’re consuming. And then I forgot to eat anything else. For twelve hours. When we made it to Crif Dogs at 1am I greeted that hot dog like I had never seen food before. Honestly, I’m astounded I didn’t black out in a corner around 4pm. And once again. Whoops.
  4. I decided to stick around the city and drive home on Monday, officially giving “We’re going to watch the debate!” and “Who wants to drive in a hurricane?” as my rationale. The unofficial but very real reason: I fell asleep sitting up at a bar during the Patriots game at 2pm (luckily I remained upright and spared myself the indignity of face-planting into a plate of buffalo wings) and subsequently napped straight through the 4pm games. Driving four hours back to Massachusetts was a non-starter. The drive wasn’t much better on Monday, culminating with me getting pulled over at a toll booth on the Mass Pike (….and getting off with a warning because my last speeding violation was five years ago, almost exactly to the day, also received while on the Mass Pike on a Monday morning driving home from a weekend of NYC ridiculousness – noticing a trend here?) It turns out things that came easily at 24 are just painful at 31. Who knew?

I am in full on recovery mode. I fell asleep at 7pm Monday night after working from home for the afternoon, and I have slept like the dead the past few nights. I’m still dragging myself through my workouts, but I’m definitely not at 100%. And you know what? I don’t regret a single thing. I needed this weekend more than I even realized.

These past few days have really driven home how much your mental state impacts your physical well-being. I’ve been in a pretty dark place for the past month or so; the world has been throwing a lot my way, both at work and at home, and I wasn’t doing a great job of coping and finding balance. It showed up in my attitude, in my energy levels, in my mental health and in my physical well-being. I had no motivation to drag myself to the gym, I wasn’t eating right, I wasn’t treating my body well. I was going through the motions, but I wasn’t happy.

img_3237This weekend, I got to spend time with the types of friends who make you remember who you are and where you belong. Living in another city makes me appreciate these friends so much more when I do get to see them, and every time we get together I’m reminded of how lucky I am to have these people in my life. They’re my human reset buttons. And it’s not like we all sat down to have deep, soul-searching conversations about our lives – quite the opposite. We did multiple rounds of pickle back shots, we sang early 2000s pop-punk karaoke, and we sent ridiculous snap chat stories to the friends who couldn’t be there. But that’s what I need. I need to be reminded that I don’t have to be the responsible one all the time.

My life is so much more than my job and my parents and the myriad things that make me feel stressed and pressured and pushed to go, go, go, 24/7. My life is my stories and my experiences. My life should be filled with ridiculousness and irresponsible decisions and silliness and laughter and hugs and joy. It’s about finding balance and this weekend, with these friends, they helped me to tip the scales back in my favor.

Self care is not selfish

The one lesson I seem to have to keep learning, over and over and over and over again: If I don’t take care of myself, I can’t be there to take care of other people. It’s not a crime to take time for myself. A thousand other variations on a theme: Self care is not selfish.

It took thirty freaking years for me to start realizing this, and it has really only sunk in over the past year. I most certainly did not arrive here on my own – the friends who are closest to me (those single-name-in-the-cell-phone friends, the OG ride or die team) have been trying to hammer this through my thick skull for years now.

Apparently I haven’t learned my lesson yet.

I won’t get into details here, but it’s been a real fucker of a week. 99% of the time I feel pretty at peace with the universe, and then a week like this happens, and I just have to take a hot second to shake my fist at the sky and wonder if the powers that be are deliberately malicious jerk-faces, or if someone’s just drunk at the wheel. My constant refrain when things like this happen – and they seem to keep happening, again and again and again, with unfair frequency to the people I care most about in this world. We’re told, in trying times, that God only gives us what we can handle. Well, universe, I either need God to have a little less faith in me, or the dude needs to reevaluate his definition of “handling it.” 

Frankly, y’all, for the past week, I haven’t been handling shit.

I had to send my check in to my trainer today, and I almost skipped it, because I have been a trainwreck for the past nine days. I got some bad news, and then a little more piled on top of that, and then just a bit more for good measure, and all that translated to skipping workouts, eating like shit, sleeping terribly, and letting things slide.

And the thing is, I don’t feel any better. Eating cookies and drinking wine after getting shitty news just translates to a shitty workout the next day. Skipping time at the gym just robs me of an hour that I can throw on some loud music, ignore texts and emails and voicemails, and just be with myself and without my thoughts. Nothing shuts up the voices in my head like heavy plates on the barbell for some back squats or deadlifts.

I am realizing that I need to create more space for myself. I need to give myself permission to indulge in the things that bring me joy and help me to remain centered. Those are the first things to go for me – when I drop everything to try to fix things, I just end up hurting myself in the process. And maybe I made a difference in the short term, but I’m perpetuating a terrible habit.

I want to be the best daughter and friend that I can be. And I can’t be that person if I’m not healthy, and strong, and mentally sound, and I can only be all of those things if I give myself permission to put myself first, at least once a day.

Self care isn’t selfish. If I keep learning the lesson whenever things go wrong – and history shows that things will go wrong, because history repeats itself, and my family doesn’t get a magical pass from that, this I guarantee – then maybe, someday, I’ll actually believe it and the lessons will pay off.

Acceptance

Today’s word of the day? Acceptance. It’s something I’m trying to teach myself to be better at – and not exactly succeeding.

What do I mean? Well. There have been a few instances recently where I’ve accepted something in the moment rather than resisting or fighting against it, and I’ve felt all the better for it – and I want to reflect more on why those moments went the way they did, and what I can learn from them. And there are also many examples where I haven’t accepted something, and I look back afterwards and I kick myself for it, or I make myself miserable by actively fighting against something that ultimately is out of my control. So here are just a few of the things I need to accept.

Accept… that schedules are not set in stone. I live and die by my planner. I use the Passion Planner, and every Monday I get to work a little early so I can plot out my whole week, including my work commitments, my meetings, any social engagements, and all of my workouts. It’s a soothing process and I feel ready to tackle my week once it’s done. Nothing irritates me more than when my schedule changes and suddenly my neat, color-coordinated, perfectly structured planner is all thrown off. But here’s the thing: the paper doesn’t matter; my mental and physical health does. Monday night, my planner had 90 minutes blocked off to lift and get in some cardio, but when I got in my car, I immediately knew that there was no way I’d be able to motivate myself through a solo gym workout. I had nothing left in my tank. Rather than forcing myself to try to slog through it and ending up with a sloppy, half-assed workout, and instead of just giving up on the day entirely and heading home, I pulled up the SP schedule and grabbed a spot in the SPiit class that started in an hour, and I felt all the better for it. I pushed the lifting session out to Wednesday, and even though my planner looks terrible, I accepted what my body was telling me and I found a compromise that worked.

Accept… that I cannot control how my body responds to the work I’m putting in. I’m not going to lie. I’ve been feeling REALLY frustrated lately. The scale has. not. moved. in months – literally months, hovering in the same range of 3 pounds – and I’m starting to lose my mind. I full on cried in my office today after I sent Janie my check in for the week, because I’m just feeling so completely down on myself at the moment. I’m eating right 85% of the time, I’m sticking to my workout routines, I can feel myself getting stronger, but my weight won’t move. And that’s driving me crazy. I hate weighing myself and I’ve started to dread my check ins with Janie, because I know that the scale isn’t going to show what I want it to, and I’m frustrated. I’m trying really hard not to let it get to me, but it’s a daily battle. I have to trust in the process and trust that continuing to make the right choices, and continuing to push myself in the gym and get in all of my workouts, will eventually translate to the numbers changing. But it’s hard. And it’s going to take me a long time to get there.

Accept… that people are sincere in their compliments. This is sort of a continuation of the last point. I have serious body dysmorphia issues. I have a really hard time looking at myself in the mirror and seeing the changes that are taking place as a result of all my training. I can’t see it in myself, so my immediate inclination is to shrug people off when they comment on the changes they’re seeing in me. My first instinct is to brush off their compliments, or to immediately respond in protest (“But my ass is still huge!” “But I’m not losing any weight!” “But I can’t find pants that fit me right now!”) I need to learn to be more gracious when people comment on my progress. I need to trust that they really are noticing changes in me, and thank them for their kindness. I need to accept the compliment with grace, and then I need to help myself get to a point where I genuinely do believe them.

It’s a good sign that I know these are all things I need to work on. Rationally, logically, I can reason through all of this. But saying this (or writing about it, as the case may be) and actually living my truth are two different things. It’s a constant battle. It’s hard and it’s frustrating, but I’m working on it. I’m a work in progress and I think maybe I always will be.