Posts Tagged ‘self-awareness’

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.



Reflections on a hometown visit and creating home

Returning to my hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, for 10 days in May was wonderful. I got to see friends, take several Nia classes (plus take a weekend training!), and appreciate the beauty of the landscape.

mountains and rivers

The Sandia Mountains and the Rio Grande.

After seven months away, it felt like both a long and short time away. Also, I had things scheduled like a vision therapy follow-up appointment and a session with my occupational therapist, so at moments it almost felt like a chapter out of my life last year.

Being there reminded me how much of a life I built there. When I first moved back, my main goal was to get stable and regain my mental health. I wasn’t expecting to create something that I would be reluctant to leave.

But I realize that creating a life, forming connections, and creating a sense of community for myself was important. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy talks about a “life worth living.” For me, that includes feeling comfortable, at home, and connected. It grew to include Nia, which helped me gradually find my way back to joy. As the months went by, I felt more capable, more alive, more me. All of this was and is important.

During my days there and when I returned to Las Vegas, I felt somewhat unsettled, as though my desires and attention were split between the two places.  I wanted to be here and there. I really like the life I am creating with my love here. I miss people there. I’m gradually meeting and getting to know people here. The landscape here, with deserts and mountains, reminds me somewhat of New Mexico. I appreciate both types of desert beauty.

Las Vegas sunset

Las Vegas, Nevada, late May

While part of me felt distressed by feeling split, I realize that this feeling isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It means that I am building a home here in Las Vegas while still having a strong sense of home in Albuquerque. It means that I can return there and connect with people and stay in touch. It means that I am learning to create and maintain a life for myself wherever I am.

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.

From frustration to acceptance

The experience of being me is challenging sometimes.

It’s challenging after spending a weekend reeling from sensory input and having to slow way down.

It’s experiencing intense overwhelm and heaviness after trying a healing technique — one that others are praising and saying how good they feel afterwards and how much it benefits them.  I try it, and it feels like so much. Too much?

It’s my thoughts that “other people aren’t experiencing this,” and “Why is this happening again?”

And perhaps many people are not, maybe not specifically sensory processing issues or other sensitivities, but, as my Aikido/Tai Chi instructor reminded me on Tuesday night, everyone has limitations of some sort that they have to honor, and also reach their “too much” point at times. He said that being at the edge often means learning, and going over can lead to burnout or injuries.

I sometimes really want things to be easier, simpler, more relaxing for me. Not to get exhausted, even from doing things that I want to do. Not finding it challenging to be in my body at times and stay anywhere close to grounded.

And then, there’s returning to acceptance. There’s softening towards myself. There’s having a vulnerable moment after Aikido that opens up a conversation and other people sharing vulnerabilities.

 I realize that often when I feel overloaded and scattered, I often interpret it as I’ve done something “wrong.” And maybe whatever I did was too much for my system at that particular moment, but it may not need that strong of a label. My nervous system is giving me a signal that I need to slow down, back off. That requires honoring myself, pausing, and resting. It does not require a label or a value judgment. Once in a more grounded place, I can have more perspective about that experience and think about what to consider in the future regarding that activity. Experimenting and finding that that activity was too much at that moment doesn’t require chastising myself for wanting to see what it would be like. It may be an opportunity to give myself space and to learn from that experience.

I have done so much work the past few years around creating a life that more fully honors my sensitivities and limitations. I have so much more respect for myself and what I need. I still have moments where I get frustrated, where I want to do more, be more, and where I want to push through.  I also have more moments of acceptance, of giving myself space to be how, where, and who I am. I’m taking this moment to honor and acknowledge all of this.

Letter to self, 1/2/16

Dear You,

I see that you want to teach Nia.  You want to finish and sell your oracle cards.  You are reaching out to new friends.  You are looking ahead to create a life with your love.  You are dreaming again.

For the past year and a half, you have had the freedom to go deep inside yourself, and create a space of retreat and healing.  You have used this time well.

I see there is a part of you that remains cautious and hesitant. I want you to know that is okay.  There is part of you that is afraid, and sometimes wants to hide under blankets.  I know you know that will only bring you temporary comfort.

You do not have to jump back into the world and take on these tasks headfirst.  I want you to give yourself permission to tiptoe, to dance, to take it in pieces, in stages.  Taking one step at a time will be better for you anyway – that way, there will be less chance of becoming overstimulated.  I want to remind you that you can always return to a quiet place to recharge.

There are no longer people in your life who suggest that you need to be more “out” than you are.  You can have a vivid internal life and find a place for yourself, too.

You are part of the world.
You still touch others’ lives.  You have changed your own life.  You may not be part of the community or sector where you once sought belonging.  You may not always know where and how you fit.
Your life belongs to you.  You have claimed it.  You have people in your love who you love, and who love you.

I see you peering around the corner,
wanting to step in, step forward.
It’s safe to want what you want.
I want to give you permission to explore, experiment, and play.
There is no need to rush or to hide away –
there are spaces in between.

I believe in you.  Trust yourself, and take baby steps.



Post-Traumatic Gifts?

These articles with different perspectives on post-traumatic growth got me thinking:  How Crisis Makes Life Better – Or Not.   Find Your Post-Traumatic Gifts.

I remember someone telling me when I was severely depressed that she believed there were gifts to feeling suicidal.  She said she’d be willing to share them with me sometime.  I never followed up and asked her.  Now, I know for myself: now that I generally feel well, I appreciate life more.  However, I would never recommend that someone walk down that road in order to gain a greater appreciation of life.

I took Dr. Mark Seligman’s post-traumatic growth inventory that’s in Amy Oestreicher’s article, and I see how much I have grown as a result of my experiences.  I’ve learned a lot.  I know myself better now.  I am more effective in my interpersonal relationships.  If I had not been in crisis, I may not have sought out a DBT program that taught me invaluable skills.

I think it can be helpful to look back in retrospect and see how traumatic experiences have had their benefits or led to positive outcomes.  However, while in the midst of an experience, it wasn’t helpful for me to hear how I should focus on the positive aspects of what often felt like navigating a path through brick walls.

I also wonder what the effects of challenging vs. traumatic situations are:  how do I grow and respond to situations that are difficult as opposed to ones that activate a fight-or-flight response?

My current story is a success story.  I have come a long way.  I am still very much in process.  I continue to make progress.  I am grateful for my detour, for landing where I am, for making the choices I have made to get here.

I have grown from an accumulation of experiences – bright ones, dark ones, heavy ones, playful ones, and everywhere in between.  Whatever the costs or benefits, they are my experiences, and I see them through my own lens.

Letters to myself at different stages

I felt the need to give myself – at different ages – reassurance about my sensory sensitivities, and send validating energy to those parts of me.  There are valid reasons for how I reacted to certain situations and experienced life the way I did.  I need to keep reminding myself of that as I continue to work on shifting my perspective.

Dear baby,

You shrank away from the hands of massage therapist in the baby massage session.  Other babies didn’t.  It’s okay you did that.  Your nervous system is wired a certain way, and touch can be startling, even scary.

Dear small child,

I know you are afraid – although you can’t explain why – and you often hide behind your parents when you meet new people.  I want to tell you that it’s fine to feel that way, even if people talk to you about being shy or act uncomfortable if you draw away from them.  You are trying to find your sense of protection and grounding.

Dear elementary schooler,

You enjoy comfy clothing – mostly cotton, and no jeans, and you have your parents cut out the tags.  You have your own style, and comfort is important to you.  I want you to keep reminding yourself of that, even if (or when) people make comments.

Dear middle schooler,

You feel so alienated and overwhelmed. You pass other students in the crowded hallways.  You use your binder as a shield.  You are doing what you need to in order to feel safe.

Dear high schooler,

You are working so hard.  Every time someone says anything that indicates any level of doubt in your abilities, you resolve to prove them wrong.  You often say that you feel tired.  Your parents tell you that you don’t need to try so hard, that you don’t need to be an “A” student, that what they want most for you is to be happy.  I want you to really hear that.

Dear college student,

It’s freshman year and you are standing in your messy, half-empty dorm room.  You are panicking.  You are telling yourself that you are not okay.  You are in a new environment.  Your roommate recently moved out, and you are relieved that she is gone, but you also feel incredibly lonely.  Classes are manageable, but there are also new factors: people, your work-study job, figuring out what classes to take, figuring out where to sit in the campus dining hall, and managing a long-distance relationship.  You are also ambivalent about your choice of college, and you’re not feeling well physically.
You are overwhelmed, and that is understandable.  You have gone through a lot of change in a short period of time, and you are facing new challenges.  It is okay to call a friend. It is okay to stop to breathe – you have time.

Dear young adult,

You have graduated from college and you feel burnt out.  The past few years have been challenging, and you’ve made it.  Give yourself credit.  Give yourself permission to rest.

Dear 30-year-old,

You have recently had a cancer scare and major surgery.  You are doing your best to hold down a full-time volunteer leadership role and a part-time job.  You are living in a house with women who are healing from trauma, and you are a major part of their support system.  You are trying to do so much, and when you break down and cry, it’s because your system is overloaded. Others may tell you that you had time to rest right after surgery, but you do still need rest – enough rest for you may be more than what most people need.

Dear present self,

I know that you are working directly with your own self-judgment.  You are coming to terms with what is actually true for you: you have had sensory processing sensitivities and challenges all of your life.  Being in a crowd for an event with loud music may be enjoyable for some, but it is generally not for you. You do not need to compare yourself to them. You may have to continue to pick and choose and decide what is worth spending your energy on.   All this is okay.  Even if things haven’t unfolded as you once wanted, and you may get frustrated at times, you are following yourself and learning to advocate for yourself.  That’s huge.  I’m proud of you.

With great love for all of who you are,

Me (you, age 32)