One of my favorite poets is Langston Hughes. I always loved the way I could use his poetry in class to help to attempt to convey the feeling of African Americans during the post-WWII era. "Harlem" is one of my personal favorites, and though its meaning is rooted in the frustrations of the African American population as society was continuing to force them to delay their dreams and aspirations, I think it can resonate with everyone in a sense (hence, why I LOVE Langston Hughes).
BY LANGSTON HUGHES
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
The poem itself is pretty straightforward: what happens when we can't fulfill something we desperately long to do? But, without getting too nerdy, his use of similes really help the reader visualize what exactly a deferred dream could look like.
This Friday, I'm being inducted into my high school's Girls Basketball Hall of Fame. In 40 seasons, only 20 women have earned this honor. At first, like I always do, I tried to downplay it because I'm really bad at being proud of myself. However, as I've been processing this, I realize it's quite an honor. However, for me, it's a double-edged sword. Beside my high school accomplishments, my statistics from my single season in college are displayed, and they are some pretty stellar statistics and honors. When I was playing basketball at Bluffton, I was on pace to break career records and potentially lead the team to conference championships...if I could have continued playing.
As I haven't been shy in sharing before, I struggled with debilitating depression in college. That depression manifested in extreme disordered eating and weight loss. I got to the point where I literally couldn't play because other girls could push me on to the floor. Quitting basketball was one of the most traumatic moments of my life. It was my identity. It was what I'd worked for my whole life. I was so good (I really was, and it's hard for me to say that). My coaches begged me to stay. My teammates begged me to stay. And, I couldn't. I still tear up typing that.
I had a dream, an achievable dream, of setting records and playing on an awesome team for 4 years. The definition of "defer" means "to postpone." The only problem with deference is that if you postpone something too long, your time passes. To the average person, it might seem silly that a decade later, after I've accomplished so many other things, I still feel the "heavy load" of that deferred dream. But, in order to respect ourselves, our work, and our dreams, we have to acknowledge that the expiration of time to complete a dream is something we have to mourn.
I believe my induction into the hall of fame is a way of the universe completing a circle for me. I've been carrying this "heavy load" and nursing this festering sore for 10 years. I had expectations for myself. People had expectations for me. And, I didn't fulfill them. And, that hurts. This week, I have been working hard to make peace with that deferred dream, so I can put down the load I've been carrying.
Here's how what I'm saying can apply to you: When you lose a chance, miss a promotion, quit something you love, leave a career, take time to mourn. You had a vision. You had a dream. You worked for that dream, and it didn't manifest itself into what you expected. Respect yourself and your efforts enough to grieve, so it doesn't fester for decades, and you spend valuable time in your life regretting how things didn't turn out.
**Trigger Warning: I discuss suicide and mass shootings in this post.
Suicide is now the leading cause of death for children ages 10-14 in Ohio (I'll post the link to the article at the end of this post if you'd like to explore it yourself). Let me repeat myself, SUICIDE is the LEADING cause of DEATH for CHILDREN aged 10-14. This statistic feels like a gut-punch. As a mother and a former educator, it terrifies me.
Last week, we also learned of another school shooting. Some of you may have scrolled past articles about this shooting or flipped the news station reporting about it because you're numb and tired. Some of you may have immediately started yelling about gun control. Some of you may have immediately started yelling about mental health reform. Some of you may have immediately started yelling at the people yelling about gun control and mental health reform. All of those arguments are valid and noble, and it is certainly clear something needs to change. But, if you're like me, you took a step back from the news article or report and furrowed your brow because you know this problem is bigger than yourself, and yet, you also feel this overwhelming urge to take control of what you can. You may have thought about homeschooling your kids. You may have considered researching bullet proof backpacks. It hurts to be human right now.
For those of you like me, those of you who simultaneously feel a paralyzing anxiety and a strong desire to make a change, I have a micro suggestion that may have macro implications if enough people can get on board. I passed a colleague on campus yesterday, and I said, "Howareyou?" (not a typo.) They replied, "Fine. And you?" And I replied, "Living my best life" (my instinctual response). And, we went on our way. The whole conversation was about 8 seconds, but the question is so important. You all know how it goes. You see someone in passing. You politely ask how they are. They tell you they're fine. You tell them you're fine. And, you both continue on with your life. Sometimes we truly are fine. But, sometimes the honest response to that question is, "I'm a little anxious today. But, I've been practicing some self care, so I hope tomorrow is better."
Take a second and imagine how you'd respond if someone answered your question in that way. I'm sure you'd be taken aback. You'd be taken aback not because you would be thinking any less of your colleague or friend but because we're not used to our fellow humans sharing their vulnerability with us. I am very passionate about showing vulnerability (hence, my entire blog about my struggle with mental health). I found as an educator, students were often moved when I shared with them that I battle anxiety. I'd always see a head or two pop up in the back of the class when I'd say things like, "There are some days I'm so anxious that I can barely stand in front of you." I'd ALWAYS (and I mean ALWAYS) have at least one student stop after class or leave me a letter discussing their own battle with anxiety. At the beginning of my career, I thought it was unprofessional for me to practice vulnerability, and the first time I did, my heart was beating out of my chest. But, as I lost former students to suicide and I watched current students battle with their own struggles, I realized there is no other option but to model to them how imperfect we can be.
You hurt. I hurt. We hurt. This isn't going to solve every problem. This isn't going to put a complete end to gun violence or suicide, but when we truly express concern about the well-being of the people around us and we are vulnerable in sharing our own struggles, I believe there will be a depressurization of our collective tension. Next time you pass someone you know, replace your "howareyou" with "how are you?" Look them in the eye. If they tell you they're fine, but you see some pain, ask them again. And next time you're not "fine," I encourage you to share a nugget of your stress with someone who cares about you. Kids are watching us. My daughter and son are watching me. We have to teach them that we aren't meant to carry our loads alone; too many young people think that's the case. And when their load gets too heavy, that's when the unthinkable happens.
Keep fighting the good fight, friends!
On Tuesday, I slid through an intersection and almost hit a turning semi-truck. I decided immediately that I needed new tires and brakes ASAP, so as soon as I got to work, I told my boss I was dropping off my car at a local body shop. They assured me the car would be done in a reasonable amount of time. Fast forward to Thursday morning, and I still didn't have my car back. My husband had to drive from Delphos to Lima to Van Wert to take me to work each morning. It was less than convenient for anyone. When I would call the body shop, they would tell me they were waiting on the parts. And though it inconvenienced me, I always responded, "Alright. Call me when you know something."
Yesterday, they finally called and told me the car was done. When I arrived, they informed me they gave me a discount because "very few people would have been as patient as you were." I could write a whole blog about how grateful I am about the discount (and I'm so grateful because it was already EXPENSIVE); however, I really focused more on what he said to me.
"Very few people would have been as patient as you were."
Two thoughts went through my head:
1) I asked myself, "Am I too passive?"
2) But then I asked myself, "Why are other people so aggressive?"
My passivity is something I've waffled over my entire life. My passivity has caused me to be taken advantage of on multiple occasions, but it's also allowed me to be someone others feel able to approach and confide in. I've been told by plenty of people close to me that I need to "stand up for myself," but truthfully, I don't know what that looks like because there are very few situations that bring me to anger (and I'm talking ANGER...not "why won't anyone help me pick up the house?" frustration). So, I really thought last night: was this something I should have been upset over?
You might disagree with the conclusion I came to. I asked myself a few questions that I challenge you to ask yourself next time you feel your blood starting to boil. Or if you're like me, ask yourself these questions next time you feel like your blood should be boiling, but it isn't
To my fellow pacifists out there, keep being graceful, BUT make sure you're asking yourself the questions that will keep you from being a doormat. To my bolder friends, I envy you, BUT make sure you're also asking yourself the questions that will keep you from taking out your frustrations on people who have no control over the situation.
Life is hard. It's hard for everyone. If we meet in the middle, we can all enjoy a little peace.
Mother. Wife. Daughter. Sister. Runner. Success Coach. Vegetarian. Teacher. Survivor. Advocate. Friend. Scholar.
The list above is fluid, but I would use all of those nouns to describe myself at any given time. There are also nouns which aren't included that people would use to describe me. I still classify myself as "young," and I know I have a lot to learn. However, I also know that I've grown and adapted throughout my life, and I've evolved my identity to help navigate through my particular roles in life.
Day 10: Create Your Own Identity
If you look at a dictionary (you won't because you probably can't even find one, but go with my metaphor please), you will find the word, the part of speech, the definition, and if your dictionary is fancy, some synonyms below the definition. Without getting too "Englishy," there are connotations and denotations for a word. The denotation is the dictionary definition. It's pretty objective, and most of us wouldn't argue about the dictionary definition of a specific word. The connotation of a word is a little more complex. The connotation is the way the word makes people feel - it's based more on the feelings and ideas the word evokes when written or spoken.
When I say the word "mother," there is a specific dictionary definition: "A woman in relation to her child or children." If you're a mother, I bet you just blew a bunch of air out of your nose because that definition is laughable. The reason it's laughable is because of the connotation of the word. You will personally define motherhood based on your experiences with your own children and mother. And if you're not careful, you will place your definition of motherhood over someone else's experiences and then define them as a mother based on your subjective background. We do it every day. We can't help it. As a matter of fact, it's a biological function meant to help us survive - we need to classify things, and we need them to fit into our classifications. There are also synonyms for "mother": parent, child-bearer, creator, mommy, source, etc. Each of those words evoke their own connotation in society as well.
I hope you can kind of see where I'm starting to go here. I used "mother" above as an example because my blog is supposed to be about motherhood; however, this lesson actually applies more to my career. For 5 years, I was a "teacher." A teacher, by dictionary definition, is "a person who teaches, especially in a school." For 5 years, I would be in any given store within a 30 mile radius of my home and hear, "MRS. KRIEGEL!" I would be scrolling Facebook, and I'd see an article about Betsy DeVos, and I'd be an idiot and click the "comments" button only to be enraged by inflammatory comments about teachers. Teaching became my identity, and how people felt about me as a teacher became a veil I stood behind. I was Emily Kriegel, mother and teacher, because that's how the world perceived me.
It becomes very dangerous when you let society's perception of a role become your identity - especially when that role is extraordinarily consuming (teacher, mother, father, doctor, etc). But in the chaos of every day life, it almost becomes easier to let everyone else define you. Heck, it's one less thing you have to put on your "to-do" list. In teaching, I lost who I was. **DISCLAIMER: I impacted a lot of lives, and I will never discount my time as a teacher.** I devoted every minute of every day pouring my time, energy, and emotion into what I perceived to be expected of me in my identity as a teacher. Above I said, "I was Emily Kriegel, mother and teacher," but the fact was, I was "mother and teacher"...there was no "Emily Kriegel" about it. It is noble and beautiful to give selflessly, BUT when you give selflessly to others before you give to yourself, you run a high risk of burnout. When you burnout and have to walk away from the identity you let others give you, you walk away with what feels like nothing. Who was I if I wasn't a teacher? I didn't know. And, that hurt. That made me resentful. That made me look back over my very successful 5 year career and see it as a loss.
It wasn't until I realized that I could create my own definition and apply my own connotation to my identity that I realized nothing is done for nothing. So, let's return to the word "teacher." Some synonyms for "teacher" include coach, advisor, scholar, and tutor. I'm still a teacher. I will always be a teacher. I just may not fit into the conventional idea of a teacher to all the people I meet. If I let them define my career, my passions, my identity based on their connotations of the roles I carry, I lose all control over who I have been and who I will become. If you've been letting people define your identity, be honest with yourself. If your career or hobbies went away right now, would you still be able to identify who you are? If your answer is "no," it's time for you to write your own definitions. It's time for you to find out who you truly are. This might sound pessimistic, but I see it as inspiring: in the end, if everything else disappeared, you'd be left with yourself. Are you comfortable spending time with just her?
There are 2 major routes I can take to get to work. One route is a highway followed by back country roads. I can take this path when the roads are clear, or I'm in a hurry. The second route is through Lima. I take this route when the roads are bad or when I want to swing by Dunkin's and get a coffee. The Lima route is just a bit slower, but the drive times are pretty comparable. Neither route is "right" or "wrong." They both serve different purposes; however, choosing one of those routes is something I do every day fully aware that my choice could be completely benign, or it could be a choice that becomes problematic (an accident, a car issue, a delay). And, what makes it so difficult is the fact that I don't know what the route has in store when I make the decision to take it.
Day 9: Choose routes. Don't make choices.
Those of you who know me well know that my career path has taken many detours. When I began my undergraduate career at Bluffton in 2008, I had my sights set on social work. However, I experienced some personal trauma that made the classes difficult to handle emotionally at that time, so I switched to English education. The emotional toll the trauma had on me intensified as I continued my education, and it made student teaching impossible. So, I dropped the education major and stuck with English. Upon graduation in 2012, I realized the job market for English majors was pretty ugly, so I prepped for the LSAT and earned a full-tuition scholarship to the University of Toledo's law school. Here's a free piece of advice: Don't rush into something just because you're scared of appearing to be stagnant (I'll divulge more in a bit). A semester of law school made me realize I didn't want to do that either, so I told myself, "If I get anything less than a B- in Property, I was going to drop out." My Civ Pro grade came in: A. My Contracts grade came in: A-. My Legal Research and Writing grade came in: A. Property was the last to come in: C. That was it. I sent an email to the dean that morning and withdrew.
Colin and I were living in Toledo, and we had been living off my student loans and his income (You aren't allowed to hold employment while in law school). And, I quit. I quit with absolutely no plan, and I went straight out and picked up 3 part time jobs. I waited tables in the morning, scanned pillows and As-Seen-on-TV products at Bed Bath and Beyond during the day, and I delivered pizzas at night. I would come home and put all my tip money in a Pringles can, and I'd dump it out at the end of the month and pray we had enough to pay rent. During that time, I saw that the University of Toledo had a program where I could get my Master's in Education while also earning my teaching certificate. I completed that program in 10 months, and I started a job at Toledo Public Schools the next fall. That's it, right? Teachers teach forever. It's a career.
We ended up moving back home, and I taught at a couple local districts. I remember telling students, "I don't think I'll be a teacher forever. I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up." They were always dumbfounded because, like I said before, teachers teach forever (actually, statistics show the turnover is insane). Last school year, I taught at an amazing district with amazing staff and amazing students, but it still just didn't feel "right." On a whim, I applied for a job as an Academic Success Coach at a local community college last spring. I had no qualifications (except my M.Ed), and I had no clue what to expect. I broke my ankle 3 days before the interview, and Malcolm puked all over me the night before the interview. I wasn't going to go, but I did. And, I somehow snagged the job. It was a 50% pay cut, it was a longer commute, it was unfamiliar - I had every reason to not take the job, but I did.
That was a long-winded back story to get to my main point. When I graduated from Bluffton in 2012, I refused to take a second to breathe. I did this because I perceived taking a period of unemployment or taking a job I was overqualified for as the "wrong" choice. Our society leads us to believe that if we aren't making money, pursuing our dreams directly, and working in a "rewarding" career, we are failing. Of course, I wasn't going to work at the local factory; I had a degree, dang it! I am ashamed of the way I thought about life in 2012. Fast forward to 2019, and I was facing another fork (I have had so many forks that my life has started to look like a plastic cutlery set). At this fork, I had an epiphany. There was nothing "right" or "wrong" about choosing success coaching at Rhodes over teaching at Shawnee. I wasn't making a choice; I was deciding on a route. My final destination is helping people, and both jobs can get me there.
My morning commute through Lima takes longer, but I can get warm delicious coffee. My route on the highway lacks coffee, but man, the sunrise is beautiful. Both routes contribute to my happiness in some way, both routes have bumps and barriers, but both routes get me to my job. Some days, the route I choose might slow me down, but ultimately, I end up in the same place. When you're faced with career decisions or major life changes, stop thinking about "right" and "wrong" choices, and start thinking about your options as paths. It removes the pressure. It removes SOME of the fear. And, it allows you to assess where you truly want to go. If both of your choices can get you there, then all you have to do is decide if you want coffee or a sunrise. And, the current state of your own life will help you decide. Some mornings you'll wake up after 3 hours of sleep and desperately need a coffee, and some days you'll wake up needing a sunny reminder that life is beautiful and good. As long as you get to work, it doesn't matter which route you choose.
I'm not saying it's easy, and sometimes your route might lead to an accident. But, if you know where you're going, you'll always choose a path that can get you there (even if that path takes a little longer).
Friends, I'm writing this one while home alone with my 2 kids, so show me some grace if this doesn't all align. My oldest is in the bedroom watching Bob's Burgers (judge me - I dare you). The youngest is standing across from me yelling, "MOMMY, ELMO" (normally when my computer comes out, he gets to play Sesame Street games). It's actually really fitting that I'm home alone with them while writing today's message. So far this morning, I've already given 110% to them: I ate 1/8th of the last Poptart because Malcolm wanted it, I helped them both brush their teeth WHILE I was going to the bathroom, I am swatting at little fingers trying to type on MY computer, I washed all their little cups and plates for when we eat lunch, I stopped in the middle of this to change a disgusting poopy diaper, and I did all this after I held Malcolm the entire night even though my back protested with raging spasms. I'm not saying any of this because I think anyone owes me an award; this is par for the course. I say it as a cautionary tale to other moms: you don't have to be a martyr all the time. You can do everything I just listed and STILL find things that make you feel human again (who are we kidding? No human could do what a mom does in a single day).
**Sidenote: I say "mom/mother" in this because I identify as one. If you are a parent who sacrifices everything for your child, you are a saint and a hero and the world is better because you're in it. I don't mean to leave anyone out or gender any of these experiences.
Day 8: Go On A Run
I know you have all heard something like "You can't pour from an empty cup," or "Put your oxygen mask on before trying to help others." And, we all know that means we have to practice self-care before we can truly enrich the lives of the people around us. In theory, we all nod our heads, superimpose those quotes over beautiful pictures of serene lakes, and share the hell out of them on Instagram. We say we practice self-cafe. We encourage our friends to "do you, boo." But if I asked you to write down the last time you did something truly for yourself, could you do it? The difficult part of true self-care is doing it for YOURSELF.
I'm going to speak in regard to motherhood, but I think this applies to anyone who is expected to show up and deliver actions and attitudes of which other people feed on a daily basis. You get caught up in the day to day: planning dinner, making dinner, doing dishes, folding laundry, giving baths, playing kitchen, brushing teeth. You don't lose yourself all at once; it happens slowly. Some people might start to shift with discomfort in their chair as I go down this route because we live in a "martyr mother" society. We believe or are influenced to believe that if we aren't sacrificing our own happiness for our children (or job) 24/7, we are horrible mothers (or employees). I would lay down my life for my children; I know you would too. However, that doesn't mean that we have to slowly deplete ourselves as we make continuous sacrifices for the people we love.
The good news is that it's far easier to "refill your cup" when you make it a conscious practice. My advice is to "go on a run." But, it doesn't have to be a run. I told you to "go on a run" because running saved my life. A friend introduced me to running a few years ago when my anxiety and depression were hitting an adulthood high (postpartum anxiety is real and scary). Running belongs to me and only me. I share it with my husband and daughter in the form of races because it's a joy to share your love and passion with the people you love, but on a daily basis, running belongs to me. I get up at 5:22 am every day, so I can pound 3 miles out on the treadmill before I go to work. I imagine myself like a video game: the little green diamond above my head slowly (or some days quickly) depletes, and as I'm on the treadmill for 30 minutes every day, that green diamond fills up again. You don't have to run. You can read. You can write. You can knit. You can meditate.
I only have 2 rules for what you choose:
1) It has to be for YOU AND YOU ONLY - If I were running for anyone else, my diamond wouldn't fill back up as I ran.
2) It has to be relatively healthy - Your diamond can't refill if you're engaging in activities that leave detrimental residual effects.
You are a great mother, daughter, father, son, friend, wife, husband, employee, and you can continue to devote hours and hours to everything listed above. You can know full well that you'd lay down your life for the people and things you love and believe in. But, that doesn't mean you have to continuously deplete yourself. It's not selfish. It's not irresponsible. It's not unkind. Find 30 minutes (or an hour) and fill that diamond back up...so you can deplete it again in the next 24 hours :)
**Trigger: I discuss anxiety, depression, and eating disorders here**
This one is a little deeper than some of the others have been. Since I've started this blog, I've vowed to be honest. You can't talk about mental health, title your blog "Mentally Healthy Mom," and then hold back when referring to your own experiences with mental health. I've dealt with mental health issues my entire life, and until recently, I would often try to keep my experiences at arm's length. As I've accepted it as PART of my identity, I've actually noticed it has lost some of its power to control me. But, that is not to say that I still don't have days when its powerful grip doesn't wrap itself around me and convinces me I'm going to suffocate.
Day 7: Remind Yourself That You Are Worthy
I recently started writing my chapter/essay about mental health for my "book." I've written chapters about my trauma, and for some reason, this chapter about mental health has been really hard to write. I hypothesize that it's difficult for me to write because I've never really sat down and processed how many parts of my life have been touched by my anxiety, depression, or disordered eating (yep, I'm coming out and publicly saying that I have had seasons of life when I've certainly punished my body in an extraordinarily unhealthy way).
I believe my brain is hard-wired to be anxious because I can't remember a time when I wasn't. My parents didn't cause it. Trauma didn't cause it (though, it has certainly amplified it in my life). It's just the way I was built. I can remember having panic attacks in grade school, but since it was the early 2000s and we hadn't had the wave of acceptance and understanding of mental health issues, I was often told to "Get over it" or to "Go back to class." And sadly, I know that this is sometimes still commonplace today. When you tell someone with anxiety to "calm down," no matter how well-meaning you may be, it causes an anxious person to associate shame with their anxiety. As an elementary student, the people around me were communicating a message that said, "Your feelings are within your control," when, in fact, they weren't. I began to develop mostly unhealthy coping mechanisms (internalizing my anxiety) so that I was able to function as "normally" as possible. **Sidenote: my wonderful parents did take me to a counselor growing up, so don't throw any shade there.**
As I got older, and experienced some trauma, the anxiety increased exponentially, depression started to creep in, and my coping mechanisms matured into dangerous habits. Everyone wanted me to "control" my emotions, and I couldn't. So to cope, I grabbed everything I could control, and I buckled down on those. And what can you control the most in your life? What you consume. My disordered eating in college was rooted in my anxiety. I could control what I did and did not put into my body. It became quite a slippery slope.
I'm aware that none of what I said above is motivating, but I have multiple purposes in sharing it: 1) I know for a fact there are people reading who have a similar story, 2) it shapes the way I interact with my children and young people, and 3) I have fostered habits and HEALTHY coping mechanisms that assist me in keeping those villainous thoughts as I've transitioned into adulthood.
The greatest residual effect of my battles with mental illness as an adolescent is that it taints many of my memories, and if I'm not careful, my brain convinces me that it's my WHOLE identity. I ruminate over everything I lost in my mental health battle, and it keeps me from appreciating what I have now. Some days, I don't feel worthy of the life I have because I feel like such a damaged individual. This brings me to my tip for today: Remind yourself you're worthy.
From encouraging post-it notes to surrounding myself with inspiring people, I have a lot of healthy coping mechanisms I use now (but for the record, I'm not perfect, and I have people who are honest and help ground me when I start to slip - find those people). One of my more specific and favorite habits is carrying one of my daughter's bows around with me. I keep it in my coat pocket. Some days my anxiety starts to win. It tells me, "You're failing. You can't do this. Why did you even try?" And in those moments, I can stick my hand in my pocket and remember that I've been given a life, a purpose, and a reason to always combat those invisible enemies. It tells me, "You have this tiny human who loves you unconditionally and sees you for the person you truly are." It also reminds me to be the adult I needed when I was struggling. To be patient. To empathize when possible. To say, "I hear you. Your worries are valid."
You might be struggling today. You might struggle tomorrow. I encourage you to find what makes you feel worthy, and implant a symbol of that worthiness somewhere you can always find it. That little bow has become quite a weapon for me to use as I battle some of my intrusive thoughts. Find your weapon, friends, because sometimes it's dangerous out there.
I'm going to make a bold statement here: there is nothing worse than wearing tight pants. That feeling when they're digging into your gut and you have to wedge your fingers in the band to pull them above your fat roll is unrivaled by any other feeling - except MAYBE a hole in the big toe of your sock. When my pants are tight, it impacts every part of my psyche. First of all, it's just physically uncomfortable. Secondly, it makes me feel like the Michelin man. And, that's only the beginning. It leaves marks on your gut, it makes you fearful to bend over and pick up the paper clip you dropped, it makes you waste your whole day dreaming about going home and putting on leggings, it makes you snap at people, it makes you second guess every dietary choice of the day...any day you're wearing tight pants is just not a good day.
Day 6: Set Yourself up for Success
The rant above is the product of the pants I wore on Monday. If you read my previous blogs, you're aware that I've put on some weight recently. I discussed the impact that has on my self-image and attitude. On Monday, I ironed a pair of my black pants. But when I put them on, they were too tight. They buttoned. They didn't look "bad." And, I'd already spent all that time ironing them, so I was committed. I left the house in them, got in my car, and within 5 minutes of my drive, I realized my mistake. They were digging in, and I was already cranky.
It would have taken me about 7 more minutes to find my other pair of black pants, iron them, and slide on a far more comfortable set of pants. However, I went with the more convenient choice, and I set off for the day knowing full well I was already starting with a barrier between happiness and myself. I know it sounds silly, but I also know you know the exact feelings I'm describing. I went with the more convenient choice in the moment instead of sacrificing a little time at the beginning to be happier in the long run.
Your choice of pants is symbolic of your choice between happiness and glum every day. And, I do believe it is a choice. Some days, we set ourselves up for failure. We wake up ruminating over the mistakes we made yesterday. We wake up and choose to open our social media as soon as we open our eyes instead of spending 10 minutes in calm quiet. We wake up and let the fact that our children need 1000 things before we even get to pee spill over into our day at work. The difficult part is that, in the moment, it feels easier to ruminate or overstimulate or stay frustrated. It's "easier" to mindlessly scroll Facebook than to take time to sit in the calm and begin your day peacefully. It's "easier" to hold on to grudges. It's "easier" to assume that your whole day is going to be garbage because your kids made your morning difficult. Just like it's easier to keep the tight pants on because changing them would mean more work in the moment. However, you're setting yourself up for the rest of the day based on the effort you put in at the front end. Take the time and effort you need to set yourself up for success and happiness. Spending 7 extra minutes ironing a new pair of pants changes your entire day. Start peacefully, and if it's not possible, find ways to rework the way you think so you don't lose a whole day because your pants are too tight.
If you've ever worked with a team, coached a team, or led a team, you know that one person who wants all the success but doesn't want to put in the hard work. The basketball player who wants to shoot 80% from the field but doesn't want to shoot 10,000 shots over the summer. The student who wants to score 100% on the test but doesn't want to study. The coworker who wants to be respected in the field but doesn't want to put in the time. It's easy for us to want to reap rewards with as little effort as possible; however, this lifestyle isn't conducive for prolonged success. The same can be said for our relationships with others.
Day 5: Know Yourself Before You Engage with Others
I've always felt like I was just outside the circle. All my life, I've had tons of acquaintances: teammates, roommates, coworkers, and casual friends. However, I've never felt like I fit anywhere. I always felt like people kept me at arm's length and pulled me in when they needed my support. When you see someone like me from the outside, it looks like all is well because that person is always surrounded by people. As I'd gotten older and I watched my high school and college friends stay close while I drifted away, it became a little lonely. And to be completely honest, I was doing what I'd mentioned above: I was gauging my relationship with others without a scale to measure it on. I was expecting to have fulfilling relationships with others without having a reasonable relationship with myself.
I don't think it's abnormal for our friend circle to shrink substantially as we age. We go through seasons of life, and we don't go through them at the same pace. So, people ebb and flow in and out of our lives as our seasons match up and digress. Recently, I learned that I was a highly sensitive person, and this was life-changing for me. I shared a bit about this on Facebook, but to provide a brief summary, it just means that my brain is wired in a way that causes me to be more physically and emotionally affected by stimuli in the outside world. For example, I could be sitting in a waiting room and be simultaneously noticing the flickering light in the corner, listening to the conversation of the woman beside me whose husband is in the hospital, getting chills from the song playing on the radio by the desk, and contemplating whether or not the stray cat I passed on the way in is too cold. Twenty-percent of the population is believed to be a HSP, and it comes down to actual wiring of the brain.
As I was processing this revelation, I took the time to get to know myself. And, I came to a few startling and comforting findings: I need to feel emotionally connected to the people I have in my circle, shallow relationships drain me, I notice nuances that cause me to read too deeply into people's actions, and my expectations in relationships are based on how MY brain works which causes them to be too high. Prior to understanding my qualities and characteristics, I'd often find myself becoming frustrated when friends wouldn't provide emotional support which I perceived to be easy to provide. I'd find myself thinking people were mad at me based on their responses or actions. I'd often get upset or feel left out because I was holding my friends to a standard that was subjectively created based on my personality and characteristics.
To put it simply, you base your expectations on what you would do or try to do for the people around you.
**DISCLAIMER: This is not me saying that people have the right to abuse, take advantage of, and hurt you because it's their norm!**
However, I am telling you to give your friends a fighting chance by understanding that your emotions and expectations are framed through your own lens. We all develop emotionally, socially, and mentally at different paces and with different norms. A relationship is actually far more complicated than it appears. It's two people with two very different minds and lived experiences who are trying to contribute positively to the lives of each other while also pursuing their own growth and development.
To give your relationships with friends, family, coworkers, and significant others (I made that plural so it would be parallel with the rest of the list, but if you have multiple significant others, you may want to reevaluate your situation) the highest likelihood for success, make sure you're aware of your individual expectations. What do you expect of what you would define as a "good friend" or a "good coworker"? Are those expectations reasonable? How did you construct those expectations? Are they aware of the expectations you're holding them to? What do you contribute to them?
Getting to know ourselves, our flaws, our experiences, and the way all of these things contribute to our relationships is not easy. It requires you to be honest with what you've experienced, who you are, and how these both contribute to how you engage in relationships. However, your relationships will be more fulfilling for both you and the people in your life when you're giving everyone a fighting chance.
Maren Morris and Hozier are easily my two favorite artists, so when I saw a collaboration between the two of them, I was obviously ecstatic. However, I was also a little nervous because my high expectations meant I could be delivered some severe disappoint. Spoiler alert: I was not - this song is straight fire. The metaphor in the song refers to a relationship being as strong as the foundation of a house. While I am a big fan of strong relationships (shout out to my husband for being my rock even though you can never manage to get your socks in the laundry basket), I also think this metaphor can extend to us on an individual level.
Day 4: Build your core from the inside out
Who here has gained 20 pounds? Anyone? Just me? My gastroenterologist prescribed me a painkiller/antidepressant about 8 weeks ago. I have been struggling with some pretty wicked gastrointestinal issues, and my doctor thought my chronic fatigue and pain from my POTs might be impacting me both physically and mentally. She approached the topic of a mood modifier gently, but I'm totally game to try whatever she thinks will work. It seems to have leveled off my stomach pain a little and curbed some of my general anxiety, but it has also brought about a 20 pound weight gain. To the average person, it's probably not extraordinarily obvious that I've gained 20 pounds. But you know as well as I do what that kind of weight gain does to a person's psyche. I'd love to tell you that I can embrace my body at any size and the specific number doesn't bother me, but it does.
As I was listening to this song, I realized that it can resonate in my current situation. The chorus says, "When the bones are good, the rest don't matter. Yeah, the paint could peel, the glass could shatter." Aesthetics are so important in our society. And we often hear, "You've just got to love the body you have." And this is a novel message, but I don't think it falls on our ears the way it's supposed to. Remember, you can "love" something and not "like" that same thing. For example, when things are good in my marriage, I both love and like my husband. However, when things aren't good, I may love him and not like him. This means that I would still lay down my life for him, but there are certainly some things we could work through to make our relationship better. Body positivity means you love your body and your soul, but it doesn't have to mean that you don't want to be stronger or faster or healthier. Body positivity doesn't have to equal stagnation.
I believe even the most mentally healthy people probably suffer from a bit of jealousy or envy during particular seasons of their lives. My frame has put on 20 pounds. My jeans are a little tighter. I'm squishier in certain areas (and it's never the areas you want it to be...am I right?!). But what I can maintain through this season is my foundation, my core, my bones. At the risk of sounding cliche or motivational speakery, whether I'm 165 or 145 pounds has no effect on the impact I can make on this world (however, I know that some people are certainly discriminated for their size in our society, and I'm sensitive to that fact). I am still meeting with students and helping them understand how to make decisions that impact their future. I am still helping build a beautiful life for my children with my husband. At my core, in my bones, I am still strong and compassionate and capable of making this world better for myself and the people around me.
And I know what you're thinking: "Okay, Emily. That's cute. And it all sounds good in theory, but what does it look like when I've actually gained 20 pounds and don't 'like' myself?" That's a question I've been asking myself every day for the last 2 months, and here's what I've figured out. We worry so much about the aesthetics. It's funny because as I've gained this weight, I've continued to run. I've continued to practice most of my same physical habits, and my body still keeps changing.
All this time, I was focusing on the wrong part of my body. I was focusing on how my body looked from the outside when true comfort could have been found by working on my body from the inside. Just like your relationship with your spouse, you can love him or her (your body) and not necessarily like everything he/she does (your weight, your speed, your hair). In practice, it looks like looking in the mirror and forcing yourself to truly find one part of your body that you like. And, just like before, talk to yourself the way you'd talk to your significant other: "Hey Emily. Your hair is getting really long, and it is framing your face really well." Now, that you've boosted your confidence, you do the hard stuff. Compliment yourself on the things people can't see: "Hey Emily. I'm proud of how hard you've been working to help your 1 pm appointment understand thesis sentences."
Build your bones. You're going to gain weight. You're going to get saggy. You're going to acquire some laugh lines and some thinkles (those wrinkles at the top of your forehead that you get from looking at your kids when they do that thing you just told them not to do). The paint is going to peel. The glass is going to shatter. But, your house will keep standing if you build that foundation.
Keep fighting the good fight!