Hard Truths About Self-Improvement: A Snapshot

The past several months have been incredibly transformative. Everything about me: all of my insecurities, vulnerabilities, and old ways of thinking have been exposed, examined, and explored with gentle curiosity. Thank God for the gentle part, because this postgrad program has been intense in every other way. The long hours, the demanding workload, the constant critiques, and continuous collaboration with the same people everyday has been nothing short of exhausting.

Sure, it’s definitely one of the best choices I’ve ever made, and I’ve grown so much from this experience. But I can’t help but wonder how I’ll be able to handle this dramatic shift in my perception of myself.

Specifically, the bouts of depression I’ve faced (back in December and on and off every month since) have been the worst I’ve ever experienced. And because of this discovery, I’ve been very mindful of how I treat myself and how I spend my time. I go to therapy now. I have a daily routine that involves writing, meditation, and reading. I go to yoga more often. I’ve cleaned out a shitload of stuff from my home, and cleaned out my social media accounts. I spend less time on social media, actually. I spend more time alone, contemplating my life and the next steps. I’ve become more spiritual.

And while all of this is great, it’s also been incredibly isolating. My current set of friends don’t quite get it. I’ve actually dropped a few friendships these past several months because I’ve realized that I spend so much energy trying to force things to happen instead of letting things be. Let go, and let come. That’s what the speaker at Creative Mornings Toronto had said back in March. I’ve been trying to practice that.

I didn’t expect for all of this to happen. And while I can’t quite see what the end result is, if there even is an end to this, I know that it’s happening for a good reason.

It’s about time that I take my life back – really, truly, for real this time – and live it on my own terms.

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Uncontained

I went to see a psychic about a week ago. I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing; it felt like this was a precious secret and moment I had to keep to myself.

As soon as she opened the door to greet meet me, I felt a wave of love and energy. I won’t get into everything we talked about – and we talked about a lot – but I will share one of the first things she told me:

“You cannot be put into a box. Even if the box is big, it still can’t contain you. You are too big and too unique to be put into a box.”

That was a recurring theme throughout our session: being uncontained. It was something I’ve known all along, from the way I feel out of place and restless no matter where I was and who I was with, to constantly asking myself and the Universe how I could be more. A different kind of ambition from attaining accolades or adding letters to my name, dollars to my bank account.

Brene Brown wrote in her latest book, Braving the Wilderness, that true belonging is paradoxical. Quoting Maya Angelou, Brene shares how she has finally come to understand what it means to belong and to be free, and to be in the wilderness:

“You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.”

I did not realize I’ve been in that wilderness pretty much all my life until I read this book. Re-learning about my unique gifts and purpose in life over the past few months has been such a signficant thing to experience. Learning what it means to let go, to be abundant, to live lightly, and most importantly, to love yourself… these are lessons I’ve struggled to remember, and I sincerely hope that this time I finally understand.

These past few months, while supporting a rich inner world, have also seen some of the most isolating and lonely periods of my life. I’ve felt so separated from others, simultaneously wanting to shut out but also let in people. It was confusing, and to be honest it still is. But I guess this is what it means to be in the wilderness, to live uncontained. High price, great reward.

It wasn’t burnout.

December 2017 (literally a day ago) had me in the most confusing and terrifying mental and emotional spiral I have ever experienced. I was doubting myself, giving myself negative self talk, and was overall unsure of what my life had become.

I lost sense of who I was, what I wanted, and my reasons for everything. I lost sight of my why.

It was so scary, mostly because I didn’t understand where these thoughts and feelings had come from, and why my body decided to crash at the same time. I knew I was getting sick, but I didn’t know what was happening.

And so I went to a counselling session at school. I explained the exhaustion, the sadness, the confusion, and the profound sense of emptiness and overwhelm. I barely finished telling the counsellor what was going on, when she said, “this isn’t burnout. This is depression.”

I burst into tears. I had somehow known, deep down, that I was going through depression, that I have already experienced depression several times over the past couple of years, that I have been pushing this truth away, burying it. But it resurfaced with a vengeance and wreaked havoc on my spirit and body.

I’m still reeling from the truth being spoken by someone, and from me beginning to accept it. I want 2018 to be the year that I cultivate the seeds I had planted – the seeds of self compassion, healthy habits, loving kindness, and living out my truth. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be worth it.

Where is the magic?

Right around this time of year, I look around and can’t help but feel a little disappointed. This feeling creeps up sooner every year, sometimes just within the first week of December. It’s a feeling of disappointment in not seeing magic.

It was so much easier as a child to marvel and wonder at all of the amazing things that Christmas had to offer: the TV specials, the movies, the sweet treats, the decorations, the gifts, the music, the sheer enthusiasm and genuine joy that you could actually feel in the air.

But I don’t feel that anymore.

Instead, I’ve felt stress, annoyance, frustration, and a desire to just get it over with: the gift shopping, the party planing, the entire thing. I kinda hate it.

I so wish I could call back the magic of the season, and I’m going to try this month to do so. But it’s just not the same anymore.

So what can I do differently in order to feel the magic? What can I do as an adult to feel like a child again? I can’t get rid of my responsibilities and obligations. So what would I need to add or take away or change in order to bring back that awe and wonder?

I hope I can find this feeling again.

Wait for It

On Tuesday, my dog got sick, and I got scared. It was digestive issues: she had diarrhea and was vomitting a bit. She was never sick like this before in her 5 years of life, so I got scared. I didn’t know what was happening and couldn’t really help her other than sitting by her side while she tried to get some sleep.

She’s okay now. But the next day, while she napped by my room after taking the medicine the vet had prescribed, I got hit with the lovely realization that her health and well-being was always her number one concern. It was so easy for her to just sleep off the pain and sickness. What a nice life, my family likes to say about pets.

But the thing is, my family jumping to take care of her was really nice to see, and again reaffirmed the signs I’ve been seeing about slowing down and prioritizing self-care. I get so caught up with work, volunteering, projects, ideas, outings, conversations, and life in general – and I get pretty damn excited about it – that I forget to slow down and collect myself and be still in the chaos and passion. I’m working so hard and am so focused on an ideal or end goal that I forget that life is always full of surprises and won’t always give us what we want and when we want.

Perhaps it’s a 21st century, first world millennial problem, but instant gratification and our fast-paced lifestyle has made us expect for everything and everyone to be ready at the slightest tremble of our fingertips. Which is ridiculous and rude, if you think about it. We are all moving at our own pace, and we shouldn’t compare our speed or direction to another person’s. Our journeys are our own, and we often forget how precious and significant they are.

I am quite guilty of taking my personal journey for granted. I see my peers and family and friends moving at different paces and taking on their own struggles, but I usually focus on the ones who are relentless in their race to riches, whatever these riches are. Looking at these people, I yearn to be as energetic, as focused, as smart, as non-stop. And that’s where the stress starts. Another lesson that needs repeating is to stop comparing myself to others, to continue to believe in myself – because that is where the answers lie and where I get my strength and validation. I also need to trust myself and the process, and wait for it, whatever “it” is.

Before, whenever I heard the words “wait for it,” I would get reminded of Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother. Now, I get reminded of the song from Hamilton. A much better pop culture reference, in my opinion. It’s a song that will likely resonate with other 20-somethings as we go about our own journeys. Aaron Burr is the foil to Alexander Hamilton, and compares himself to Hamilton in the song, but I think that there can be a healthy balance. We’re not completely alone in life, after all. We just have to figure out how community affects our sense of individuality and well-being. And we must remember that we are inimitable and are able to control how we go about our journeys.

Let’s go.

Lion Heart

Around this time last year, I started to become more out-going, more extroverted. I’ve chalked it up to working with kids and having to yell and be enthusiastic all the time, but when I re-examine 2015, I just happened to have become exhausted with being silent. I grew weary of waiting for my turn to speak. I knew that I had so much to share with others, and I wanted to be around others more. I grew to love the constant stimulation of different voices, opinions, ideas, and stories. And I came to expect and crave that interaction.

I took the Myers-Briggs personality test several months ago, and got INFP, same as usual. But deep down, I wasn’t 100% okay with that. I felt a strong need to continue asserting myself, to connect with others more.

When I re-took the test a couple of months after that, I got ENFP. Huh. I thought I was quiet, introverted, private. Wasn’t I shy growing up? Didn’t I redirect the spotlight whenever it hovered close to me? I was confused and refused to accept that result (even though I am fully aware and appreciative of how a test cannot define me, that I am more than four letters).

But then, I realized that I shouldn’t let my past define me. Just because I was a certain way before doesn’t mean that who I am was set in stone in that period of time. The people around me accepted this fact so easily that it made me realize that I was clinging onto something that may have been true then but is not now.

Around the same time, I also became more of a Gryffindor. Growing up, I knew that I wouldn’t completely identify with that House, even though I desperately wanted to be bold and brave. I suppose the extraversion and the Gryffindor-like tendency to stand up for what I believe in came into play last year. What’s cool is that my friends have been telling me that it makes sense for me to have Gryffindor as a secondary House, because I do stand up for what I believe in, and I have a strong moral compass that I like to think always points north.

Thinking about these two developments has made me wonder if I’m finally developing that idealistic lion heart that I’ve seen in my favourite characters, especially women. Hermione, Anne, Leslie… they’re so fearless in what they want and what they believe in. They keep pushing forward despite all the obstacles and failures, and I admire that so much. I hope I’m reaching that point. I hope that people compare me to these characters, with the newest addition from Hamilton: An American Musical.

Elizabeth Schuyler-Hamilton, or Eliza as she’s called in the musical, is such a lion heart. I strive to be more like her. She’s fierce in her convictions, she doesn’t take bullshit, and she always asserts herself in every situation that life puts her in. And yet, she remains soft. In the way she sings and speaks, in the way she interacts with her husband, sisters, and everyone else around her. And her line, “look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now” is aligned with my personal philosophy of gratitude and awe.

I love being able to surround myself with inspirational, strong, fierce women, both fictional and real. I love exploring these parts of my identity, especially since I admire these traits in others. Perhaps I could use some falling in love with these parts of myself.