Posts Tagged ‘personal growth’

From imagining others’ lives to finding my own.

I tend to write more than I post, so I’m working on finishing what’s in my drafts folder from the past few months.

Around five years ago, I used to work at a place on the San Diego harbor. There was a period of time where I didn’t drive, so I would take the bus to work. The bus would wind its way from where I caught it in Golden Hill, through the streets of downtown San Diego, and drop me off about two blocks away from the harbor. I would walk the rest.

This thought pattern may have lasted days, weeks, or months. But I would often look at someone during that walk and imagine what their life was like, and if I would be happier having a life like theirs. I would wonder if that woman was happy as she went to her 9-to-5 job; maybe it was one she had worked hard to get, a dream job. Maybe that man in a suit was smiling because he was looking at pictures of his children on his phone. At the time, I was working at job that wasn’t a good fit for me. My passion simply wasn’t there, and some of my values clashed with their mission. I kept telling myself that it was a temporary job, but temporary ended up lasting two years. I had a life that I invested a lot of my passion into after work, but that gradually lost its luster as well.

I think I was longing for something else, something more to fill my days, and I sometimes translated that into thinking that I wanted to be someone else. Maybe I would like someone else’s life better, maybe they were living their passion, maybe they felt more comfortable in their own skin.

…Or maybe they were miserable at that moment as well. I have no way of knowing.

It definitely is food for thought though, of how I would imagine these lives that were not mine and focus away from my own. How some of my personal growth work around that time ended up being on-point, but some of it ended up being me try to mold myself to be a certain type of person. I sometimes unconsciously went away from myself while doing work to try to find myself.

And maybe this is all part of the stumbling blocks of self-discovery. Perhaps I needed to learn who I was not in order to learn who I am. After all, I can’t be true to myself if I don’t know who that is — or isn’t. However, I also recognize that there may have been an element of disconnection/dissociation from my own experience as I looked outside of myself and imagined the contents and emotions of other people’s lives.

There’s definitely a difference between striving to be the best version of myself versus the person I think I ought to be. I’m currently doing much better on former, although I still struggle with “shoulds” sometimes or wish that I didn’t have sensory processing challenges, etc. In my current personal growth journey, I strive to focus on my own strengths and challenges.

These days, while I may sometimes be curious about those around me, I’m not longing for someone else’s life. I’m grateful for the the life I am currently living, with its ups and downs, struggles and wins — my own life.

 

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Life: celebrate, honor, live.

Life paintingI posted this on my social media pages along with this caption:  “Painting/drawing in honor of life, of choosing to live, learning to thrive, and being true to myself. On this date three years ago, I was severely depressed and hit rock bottom. Today, I honor my healing and all the choices that led me to where I am today.”

On May 25, 2013, I was hospitalized for severe depression and suicidal ideations.

I’ve been feeling the anniversary energy this month – more strongly than this time last year, but less strongly than the first year. In this energy, there’s an intensity, sadness, grief, determination, and more. In time, that energy will likely change or fade. In any case, I hope that I’ll take many more moments to acknowledge and celebrate my life, to celebrate living.

Year One.

Year Two.

Softening the hard edges of self-judgment

I have been hard on myself in the past. Over the past few years, I’ve softened quite a bit. I’m also more aware when I feel the hard edges of self-judgment. I remind myself to step back when that happens. Present-tense, I am softer.

When I look to the past, with this particular situation, I struggle with softening towards myself. In the past, I was sometimes unthinkingly callous, unkind, explosive, etc. towards my now-husband. I still find myself in moments where I apologize for how I behaved then. Sometime,s when he expresses gratitude for something in the present, I realize that I didn’t do that in the past and feel bad. And I realize that I likely behaved this way in the past in other close relationships as well.

My love says that apologies aren’t needed. He acknowledges that my behavior was sometimes unkind in the past, but it isn’t now. He is grateful for the growth we’ve both gone through. We’re both grateful for DBT, which has certainly helped me be more mindful, less reactive, more relational, and what I learned and passed on to him has helped him, too. We’re both so grateful that we know about my sensory processing issues, because they often largely contributed towards my reactivity, my meltdowns, etc. We have a wonderful relationship now. We have more exchange and give-and-take; we talk things through and we actively work on our relationship.

And even acknowledging all that, I find it challenging at times to fully forgive myself for those times where I lashed out, where I critical or unkind. I’m hoping that writing this out will allow me to soften a little bit, or at least accept that that’s where I’m at. I have grown so much. I am still growing. I am learning from my mistakes. I cannot change the past, but I can be mindful in the present and carry that into the future. Hopefully, in time, I can hold my past self with more compassion.

When something feels like a big deal…

I’ve had the realization that it’s often not helpful for me to tell myself that something isn’t a big deal.

Something that’s small and easy to do for someone else may be more challenging or feel bigger to me, and vice versa.

Sometimes, it takes me a lot of energy to do things like make a phone call (to someone I don’t know) or go to a potentially crowded store. Other things come more naturally to me: for example, it’s easier for me to communicate through writing. It’s fairly easy for me to motivate myself to exercise regularly. That may not be true for everyone.

I know when I tell myself that something isn’t a big deal, but the energetic cost of the task is high, it often feels harder to do. I can end up blaming myself for getting worked up over something that “should” be small. At the same time, it’s important to check the facts and acknowledge when task at hand is not truly threatening to my well-being – but to do so without putting myself down.

So, here’s a validation mantra for myself: if something feels big energetically, no matter what the size or duration of the task, to give myself enough – or even extra – credit. To allow myself to feel its bigness, to acknowledge it as something I need to do without trying to convince myself that it should feel or be easier. To celebrate accomplishments, no matter what their size. And to acknowledge another person’s struggle when they are faced with a task that feels big to them.

A returning ability.

After getting major surgery in 2013, I felt this deep sense of loss. It wasn’t only that I had lost literal parts of my body – an ovary and my appendix – but it was as if something had left me in the midst of anesthesia, surgery, and the aftermath.

After several months, as I was trying to follow a guided meditation that required me to visualize, to imagine myself having roots growing deep into the earth, I realized I was struggling. It felt like I was grasping onto images and they were flitting away and leaving me with fragments of my own thoughts. During an exercise that was supposed to be grounding, I felt like I was floating.

The definition of visualize that I’m going by here is the ability to form – and hold onto – a mental image. There is a New Age concept of visualization – imagining a scenario, outcome, etc to hopefully bring it into fruition; or in personal/spiritual growth terms to explore one’s imagination and unconscious to gain more perspective. I personally believe putting intentions into action, but am skeptical about imagining something into existence. I have definitely used my ability to visualize as a way to explore my own personal process.

Back to my post-surgery experience: I could still imagine, I could still create. My ability to visualize wasn’t gone, exactly, but it felt like I had left a piece of it somewhere. Before my surgery, it was as if I could journey deep, and access pieces of my unconscious and beyond. It came easily to me, it helped me connect to my spiritual practice. Afterward, it felt as though I was swimming upstream.

In late 2014, I took a yoga class that included a Yoga Nidra exercise at the end. I’m sure that the yoga teacher intended the exercise to be calming, as it was a Yoga for Anxiety class. However, as she led us through connecting with our emotions and our bodies, I felt myself tense, and then a sense of panic began to grow. I couldn’t access the images she was suggesting. I wanted to disconnect, wanted to be anywhere but there. I was able to distract myself enough to get through the class, but it made me realize how things had changed.

In the past few months, as my sensory world integrates more and more, I’ve found myself experimenting with visualization, and notice that images are coming much more easily. My occupational therapist recently asked me to do an exercise where I imagined a flashlight and described it to her – and I was able to hold the image in my mind and describe it.

I’m a little cautious now – my increasing ability to visualize again feels precious, sacred. It’s kind of like recovering from having a sprained ankle or wrist – it’s such a relief to use it again, but I don’t want to overdo it. There’s part of me that wants to close my eyes, see what I can imagine and if I can hold the images and go farther, deeper. There’s another part of me that just wants to nurture this part of myself, hold onto it, explore it tenderly, continuing to allow it to return and grow.

What I’m taking away. 

This past Saturday, I had an experience that resulted in sensory overload and shutting down. It was definitely one of those “if I knew what I know now, I would have chosen differently” situations.

But what I realized: That experience was painful and illuminating. Not all situations, approaches, or methods work for me. I learn from each experience I have, no matter what the outcome. Dwelling on them doesn’t change the fact that they happened.

So, gathered from personal experience and advice from others, the following is a reminder for me to keep at hand.  It may be useful whenever I wish something turned out differently, feel discouraged, or find myself ruminating about the past.  I also think it’s a great tool for taking stock and looking at the value of my experiences in a more objective light.

To take away from experiences:

  • Note and take what worked for me.
  • Note what didn’t work.  Take whatever lessons I need as reference points, and leave the rest behind.
  • Check with wise mind. Use the knowledge I’ve gained to make informed decisions. Give myself time when I need it. Move forward.
  • Stay checked-in and present with self.

Something to prove…or not

For so long, I have been living my life as if I had something to prove.
Prove I was smart enough, good enough.
Prove I could do as well as – or better than – my school classmates.
Prove that other people’s assumptions of me were wrong.
Prove that my quiet demeanor and sensitivity weren’t all of me, that I could be more, do more.

I was trying to demonstrate all of these things to others. I overheard the questions, “how will she manage in the future?” I have heard comments from peers that sounded condescending. I saw my teachers’ surprise when I exceeded their expectations:  my grades on papers and tests were higher than my amount of active participation, so they often didn’t realize what I knew before that point.

I took others’ questions and doubts to heart. I believed I had something to prove to myself, too.

Now, I realize it takes a lot of effort and energy to prove what I’m capable of. On one hand, there was a sense of urgency to proving myself that drove me to excel. On the other hand, it was exhausting. In the end, I still often do well when I do things on my own terms, at my own pace.

As I learn more about myself, I realize my approach to learning and being may sometimes deviate from the norm. I know I am intelligent; I react strongly to intense stimuli; that sometimes I need more time to process a piece of information before voicing an opinion. While sometimes I may need to show someone else what I know in a personal or professional situation, I don’t want it to be about proving something to myself or them.

I catch myself in this long imbued thought pattern on a regular basis. I have realized I don’t want to measure myself against standards that may not work for me anyway.

I know now: I don’t have to strive so hard to prove myself to others, or to myself. I don’t have to prove anyone else wrong if they have an inaccurate or different opinion about me. I can choose where to put my energy, and acknowledge my talents and limitations as I work towards my goals.