Two Words: Personality and Authenticity

There are two words that I can’t quite wrap my head around recently: “personality” and “authenticity”. When I googled these words, I got the following definitions:

Personality: individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving

Authenticity: the quality of being authentic. So then authentic means, genuine or real.

So now let’s think this through. Individually first and then together. Warning: what follows is the epitome of overthinking. This is about to get messy and incoherent really fast. Be prepared!

The reason I’ve been thinking so much about personality is because I’ve been hearing two phrases over and over recently: “that wouldn’t work for me” and “you do you”. This has been important to me because both responses seem really dismissive and minimizing to the other person. Personality is tough to navigate and it’s always changing. People judge our personality the minute they meet us. (More about this when authenticity is brought into the conversation.) And then, when we think about the definition and consider our patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving it’s hard to delineate which informs which. In an intense moment we might respond impulsively and then be reminded later (by ourselves or someone else) to “think before we act”.  Sometimes we’ll blame this kind of behavior on temperament. Conversely, we may think (possibly too much) about a choice before we behave but no matter how much consideration and attention we give to a decision we may not feel confident or like we made the “right” choice. And all these things (yes, feelings too) create our personality. We likely all can recall a time where we felt like our actions were in conflict with our values or what we thought was correct. It’s like your insides, your personality, are splitting and that’s partly because we all have a conscience and rational thinking. So then, how does consciousness or morality or even mindfulness play into the equation?

ENOUGH! When I googled “personality” I got 305,000,000 responses in under a minute. I also realize people write entire books, courses, etc. on this and I could reasonably go on and on confusing myself in my own negotiations and wonderings forever if I wanted to (it happens ALL the time!). Moving on…

Now for authenticity. Being genuine. If you were to look up genuine, you would find words like “real” or “honest”. The first things this makes me think of (aside from the retail industry) is Brene Brown. However, that’s not what we’re directly talking about today. Authenticity is doing what’s best for YOU and recognizing how you feel, what you’re thinking, and what you need. It’s also about acting authentically. Do you know anyone who you feel like is always acting “so fake”? And you can tell can’t you? Sometimes I do that too. When people first meet me, I’m enthusiastic to a nearly off-putting degree.  It’s a front. Because, when people get to know me they realize I’m actually less dynamic than that most of the time. A more accurate depiction of me would be complacency. For example, I am known to say “that sucks” and “that’s great” with the same inflection. When people get to know me they also get to know about my experience, aspirations, morals, and obviously my thoughts (including what’s important to me). At this point (if they REALLY know me) they can begin make associations between me and my actions. It’s also when they can better understand my intentionality and (hopefully) correctly judge my behaviors. In fact, even if they don’t know the “real” me, they’ll be conjuring up their opinions of me. Authenticity is really hard. It’s especially difficult in new environments where social anxiety is typically at the forefront and when good first impressions feel imperative.

So how do these come together? You have to know yourself to act authentically. That’s first. The sassy comment “you don’t even know me” that we’ve all heard could perhaps be turned inward and be point a self-criticism or reflection too.

Before we get too deep, a side note: in the act of attesting that we feel people don’t know us or drawing attention (subtly or not) to our differences (we are all different, as we know), we’re also not inviting people to engage with us. Rather than taking the opportunity to create conversation and bolster relationships we’re too often deepening the crevices between ourselves in the vein of “personality”.

This is also interesting because our personalities are always changing and being challenged every day. Lately I’ve been feeling like I don’t even know myself anymore. I’ve quite literally lost sight of who I am in this program. Graduate school challenges you and makes you super vulnerable. So what complicates this is that while we attest that others don’t know us, we also likely don’t know ourselves as well as we think. Or in some regards, at all. You have to be honest with yourself and that’s part of knowing yourself. So recognizing there’s work to be done is a huge first step. I am also temped at this point to question myself and exclaim “you just said we’re always changing so how could we know ourselves?!?” But I think instead I’ll just say, personality is super complicated. At a simplistic level, our experiences inform our values and actions which shape our thinking, feeling, and behaving ie. our personality.

So it’s a bit cyclical (isn’t everything?). And that’s why I can’t wrap my head around it all. It’s like what comes first, authenticity or personality? Is the act of being authentic how you represent your true personality? Does being attuned to your personality allow you to be authentic and act authentically? Anyway, I don’t have all the answers but I know these words are important in nearly every interaction and every sphere of our lives. In an effort to attend to more self exploration and self learning I’m going to be paying close attention to these words. If I’m quick to reply with “oh, that wouldn’t work for me” I’m going to try to ask myself why.

Likewise, I am practicing owning my experiences, thoughts, values, feelings, etc. Being authentic means answering even the hard questions or problematizing (my favorite not-word word) your inclinations and behaviors. It could also mean just attending to your tough thoughts. Then, acting in a way that is authentic and aligns with your personality rather than the role it seems like you’re expected to play out in daily life.

To conclude: You’re better than conformity. If you’re lost, be lost until you find out who or what is authentically YOU. And do the work to figure it out! Then act accordingly. Don’t settle for the prescribed trajectory people have carved out for your life. Challenge assumptions (yours and others). Be okay with not knowing.

Explore. Live. Find you. Be you.

Owning This: Talking Tough Stuff

Finally posting this after days of allowing my words to linger in “drafts”. I saw these two quotes as I was unwinding from an incredibly long, anxiety filled day. This just feels right.

“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” – Brene Brown

I took a break this week from writing because life got “too real”, and really hard, for a while and I didn’t have words to put to what I was feeling. I still quite don’t but I want to try.

Right now I feel lonely. I feel lonely all the time. I feel lonely even when I’m surrounded by people that I love and care about and I know they care about me too. I’ve been trying to stay busy and to surround myself with friends and fun but, even when I’m seeming like I’m having fun, this miserable mindset winds up creeping to the forefront. And then abruptly, nearly the instant I’m alone, it’s like as quickly as my fingers can snap, I feel defeated, isolated, disengaged. My mind goes into a compete frenzy and things start moving so quickly it feels like I can’t keep up. It’s like children are bouncing a ball on a playground (inside my mind) and the instant my eyes track the ball it bounces someplace else. That’s what overwhelmed feels like to me. And then like an elevator dropping flights too quickly, I hit rock bottom. That feels quiet and cold.

I’ve been noticing there’s a deep and loud sense of “wanting” that I can’t shake. And, I find myself continually “missing” something. It feels like I’ll never it get back. In a way, I’m grieving that type of loss. I’ve lost the spaces where I felt supported, confident, and like I had a purpose. I feel like I’ve lost control and I’m losing sight of myself over and over again. I get this feeling multiple times a day. And every glimpse of normalcy that I encounter quickly diminishes and is replaced by intense, immobilizing sadness and isolation. I can’t recognize myself anymore and, in moments where I feel like I’ve “found me” I too quickly remind myself that this won’t last long. Usually this feeling lasts just about as long as it takes to take a deep, satisfying breath and realize that for a moment I can breathe again. That realization makes even a glimpse seem like I’m watching someone else’s life from the sidelines. I miss my support networks – those things gave me more than I ever realized at the time. Those things kept me going.

And these days it’s more about “keeping up appearances” or “putting on a show” than anything else because I just can’t escape my own head. I can’t ignore what I’m experiencing. This feeling is so absolutely pervasive, so persistent. Now that I’ve given just the smallest amount of attention to and named these feelings I’m experiencing major flooding. For example, I’ll be reading for school and suddenly find myself just completely exhausted because I’m not even reading I’m just staring blankly at the page, flipping mindlessly. Slowly my pace will crawl to a halt. That’s when I realize I feel so bad I can’t even focus on my work. In those moments, I’m not even focusing on how badly I feel, I’m simply numb. My mind is blank and dark.

In an intentional effort to ignore these feelings and seek control I’m justifying and encouraging myself to add more obligations, responsibilities, and commitments or to harness control in any aspect of my life I can. Then I grip tightly so I don’t lose that thing too. I’m slowly shutting myself down completely. It’s no wonder I haven’t been able to write anything recently. I spend my days feeling so small and then I perpetuate this feeling, let it sink in, by minimizing my these negative feelings, telling myself  “it’s not that bad”, expecting to just “tough it out”, and not attending to the experience I’m having.

I am taking this moment to admit that this is real and it is really hard. I’m taking this moment to own this. I am struggling.

Getting Back on Track

Earlier this week, my friend asked me “how are you?”. Her question wasn’t surprising or out of the ordinary but it got me thinking. In typical fashion I answered “I’m fine. Busy but it’s all good” and then the conversation moved on. I realized that one of the reasons I was “good” was because I hadn’t given any time to myself in the past week. Even running this week was an obligation not an escape. I was “good” because in the midst of midterm assignments and more reading than I could imagine I so easily reverted to a space of neglect for myself and my needs. It’s easy for me to get caught up in my work and ignore myself. A lot of the time, I do this intentionally.

I noticed my normal state of complacency and “fine” (synonymous with good) could easily be attributed to my just going through the motions, busy, chaotic, “doing too much” life and I wasn’t respecting myself in the process. For example, this whole week I was sick and I ran more miles than the week before and went to the gym twice. While I was so busy it didn’t feel overwhelming; it felt good and really comfortable. I could stumble along appearing to be reluctantly doing my obscene amounts of work while truthfully appreciating the mountain of reading for the excuse it allowed me. I made a choice to put my energy into anything but myself. I make that choice often. So the lamenting, appearing to be procrastinating, the #gradschoolprobs tweets, they were all a front because I seriously was enjoying the machine-like week I was having. Not because I liked all the work but because for a week, I didn’t have space to feel anxious, to overthink, to consider all the alternatives and interpretations.

I turned the “me” part of my brain off and then I could breathe again. 

Then I remembered, I also hadn’t written in my journal, talked to friends, blogged, posted on Instagram (as much), or had coffee with friends during this time. This project is about accountability and taking those jumps into the unknown and seeing what happens. So now, I’ll get back on track!

Here’s what I’m going to try to do differently this week:

  1. Take breaks! This picture is taped to my desk. Too often I glance at it quickly or cover it with books while I’m doing work. So, instead of staring a the page and then going back to work I’m going to pick an activity and do it.
  2. Make realistic to-do lists. My to-do list never has anything for me on it. It’s pages long and always has upwards of 10 things that need to happen. Things often feel urgent for me and so, if it’s on the list it’s getting done and the idea of stopping before it gets done isn’t an idea I readily entertain. So, I’m going to break up my master to-do list into bite sized chunks. I’m going to practice prioritizing and to make it easier, I’ll frame it as a different type of micro-managing of my time.
  3. Run only if I want to. This summer I got into the various running challenges on Map My Run. At first it was fun and motivating but I’m not the kind of person who settles for less when I know I can do more so this became less of a fun challenge and more of a necessity (do I need to remind readers I have OCD?). So now, I’m struggling to maintain my weekly mileage and something that once made me feel victorious and strong now feels more like an obligation and just another thing I need to do each day. I want to enjoy running again and I don’t want to feel like a chore or something I can check off just to say that I did it. It’s easy for me to get caught up in how much I did and continue to push myself. I don’t settle for less than I know I’m capable of. I need to consider what I may be missing or losing by cultivating this mindset for running and for my other responsibilities.

Like I said, it’s easy for me to ignore myself. I’m often stranger to myself. When people ask me what I want to do with my life, I typically start with explaining what I’ve done since I don‘t have an answer for them. My measure of myself cannot be contingent on the compilation of what others perceive to be my successes. I need to find space to get to know who I am outside of the quantifiable, resume worthy aspects. I didn’t do that this week but, next week is another chance to do something different and in the meantime I’ll appreciate the opportunity to learn from my missteps and to practice better intentionality moving forward.

I’m an Athlete AND I have Chronic Pain

The title of this post may seen contradictory. In fact, sometimes I don’t believe it myself. Our vision of people with chronic pain is severely distorted by worst case scenarios, media misrepresentation, misinterpretations of what chronic pain is, why people “get” this diagnosis, and to whom it applies. We often think that chronic pain is another psychosomatic illness and/or that it is a symptom of depression. More simply some think that it is a cry for attention. As someone who has lived with chronic pain for more than ten years, I am consistently competing with these stigmas when I choose to share about this aspect of my life. I have endured questions such as “so is it all in your head?” or comments like “well, it sounds like you’ve really been through the wringer” in response to my justification that I actually have real pain. We don’t ask people to justify their broken leg but, we all think we deserve a say when it comes to things we can’t see – invisible illness. While in itself this paradox is frustrating, beyond identifying as a person with chronic pain, I also identify as an/a athlete, academic, woman, Jewish person, musician, sibling, daughter, and more! No one identity captures ALL of who I am. How could it?!?!

Many people have a hard time believing that I suffer from chronic pain AND that I’m an athlete. They see tweets about how many miles I ran in the past week and, know I played in the UConn Marching Band and I’ve done gymnastics since I could practically walk. When someone hears I have chronic pain AND I live an active life they instantly minimize my experience. They say things like, “well it must not be that bad”. Alternatively, some people respond by lauding my “accomplishments”. Then I hear, “Wow, considering that, what you’re doing is really so impressive”. First, I don’t need anyone to approve of or find my lifestyle “impressive”. Second, I’m impressive ANYWAY – something I have to keep reminding myself, rather than my preferred mindset of “I’m just mediocre”.

Anyway, this post isn’t about me trying to convince anyone about the value my intersecting identities. Instead, I want to write about how being an athlete AND living with chronic pain are complementary parts of who I am.  The best way I can think to do this is to share some things I’ve learned. Here I go:

  1. Planning ahead is necessary: Excessive planning is one of the things I do but, when it comes to chronic pain this becomes even more necessary. For example, I always have to plan for the impending weather. If it’s going to rain for three days straight I need to be prepared. For many people with chronic pain, changes in the weather can cause their pain to fluctuate. So, I need to know when we’re in for a bunch of wet days. Similarly, if it’s going to rain for many days, I need to adjust my workouts. So, I’ll likely plan more gym days and less outdoor runs. Which as I’ll explain later relates back to my pain management. You see, this is all cyclical but, if you plan accordingly it’s easier.
  2. It’s okay to have bad days: I often hear this phrase in regards to mental health. People who are healing from mental illness find comfort in this mentality. The same goes for chronic pain. Not every day is going to be easy. What’s important is what you do about it. So no, chronic pain isn’t “all in my head” but for me the choice to get up each day and live my life absolutely is.  When kids play sports and their team doesn’t win we say, “you’ll get em’ next time” and this same mentality goes for a bad pain day or a really bad workout. I have to remind myself CONSTANTLY that a bad workout is better than no workout and that there was a time in my life where I had to relearn how to walk, jump, and run so I could do the sport I love most, gymnastics.
  3. “Mind over matter” is an essential mantra: Living with chronic pain means that sometimes our natural inclination or human nature has to be overhauled. The phrase “if it hurts don’t do it” isn’t in my vocabulary. Instead, I’ve replaced it with “mind over matter” or “get up and go”. Here’s the thing, for most people with chronic pain physical activity is essential.  In fact, one of the leading treatments for adolescents with chronic pain is intensive (think 8 hours a day) physical therapy to retrain the mind and body. Staying “functional” is so important to leading a healthy life and living in pain. So, when I am having a bad pain day, I need to push myself harder. Maybe that means running for 10 extra minutes. Maybe that means just running at all. It’s quite twisted actually and goes against everything we would think makes sense in terms of pain and physical activity. So, you have to do some mental gymnastics and learn how to overcome the demon saying that it’s okay to give into the pain. Inevitably, some days exercising just won’t be possible but it’s important to bounce back  when the flare is over and stay positive. I learned this type of discipline, persistence, and determination first in gymnastics. For that, I am thankful.
  4. There’s power in positive thinking: Recently a mentor of mine sent me this “two words: self-fulfilling prophecies. Selective perception leads us to notice things that confirm our original impressions and disregard/discount things that contradict them. So not that I think positive thinking cures all ills (sometimes things really do suck, after all), it’s worth taking a step back to see how objective or subjective you’re being about it.” She was so right! When I have a bad pain day, I can’t let it turn into a bad week. I can’t let it become a reflection of my self worth, progress, or ability. Positive thinking is a skill I’m practicing daily. It means that I spend a lot of time putting things in perspective. I reframe and revisit my initial assumptions if they’re negative. I don’t do this always but I really try. When my workout sucks, I don’t blame it on my pain. I don’t make excuses. And she was right! Sometimes, things do suck. So, when things don’t go my way I acknowledge that and feel those “feels” too. But, I don’t dwell there. That’s the difference. I can’t let myself get stuck. Getting stuck in a negative place isn’t going to be productive. I said this is all cyclical and I meant it. If I get stuck, then my pain gets worse, if my pain gets worse I have to work harder to get in a great workout, if I don’t get a good workout in my physical and mental suffers (so that’s one way chronic pain and mental health are connected), and then if my mental health suffers, I stay stuck. Solution: think positively!
  5. Appreciate the small victories: One easy substitution on the path to more positive thinking is to appreciate the small victories. When I’m hard on myself because I didn’t have a great workout I recall a time when I couldn’t run for even five minutes and then my slow three miles doesn’t seem that bad. Similarly, when I don’t let a bad pain day get the best of me, I acknowledge that. When I used one of the many strategies in my toolkit to distract myself rather than focusing on the pain, I make a note of that. Slowly but surely these small victories add up and they make a BIG difference.
  6. Knowing yourself isn’t optional: This is important. When you live in chronic pain and run 10+ miles a week, you need to know your body really well. I typically ask myself “are you hurt or does it just hurt?” This type of intimate self awareness is crucial to my daily functioning. There have been times where I couldn’t differentiate and I walked on a fractured foot for days before seeing a doctor or, when I was afraid nobody would believe me if I said I was hurt so I said nothing. There have also been times where I was sure I was hurt and then there was nothing “wrong”. So, it takes checking in with my body and being sensitive to how I’m feeling. This means, knowing that if, for example, I get a bruise from falling on my third set of 8, 24 inch box jumps that I can get back up and keep going. It will hurt. It won’t be pretty the next day. It might even hurt worse the next day. Regardless, I keep going because giving into pain isn’t an option. I need to know my body well and treat my body well.
  7. Finding “your person” will make all the difference: Quick shout out to all the Grey’s fans! But seriously, sometimes the best distraction for me is reaching out someone else who “gets it”. Someone who won’t pity me or ask me questions about my pain that I find offensive. Someone I can call and know I can count on in a moment when I’m really struggling or just because. In gymnastics, this was my teammate. In band, this was my section. Your person is your cheerleader. They’re the one who “gets it” without you having to explain, offers the tough love when you’re being ridiculous, acknowledges your accomplishments when you can’t see them for yourself, pushes you to your limits, and knows when you just need someone to listen and say nothing at all. When you live with silent demons, speaking your struggle to someone and having that unconditional support can validate the experience.
  8. Other people don’t have to “get it”: I used to think that the more I tried to convince people that chronic pain is real the easier it would get to convince myself. I saw countless doctors who told fables to my parents that looking back I can’t even believe we entertained. What I’ve learned from all of this is that they don’t have to “get it”. Just like they don’t have to get the appeal of a crisp morning run or sprinting down the vault runway and hitting the springboard just right. I need to own my story. Own my struggle. Own my strength. 

So, there you have it. I’m an athlete AND I have chronic pain. They both come with unique challenges and successes. They’re both huge, REAL aspects of my life.

This Week I’m Thankful for Shabbbat

Written last night. Revised later.

It’s finally Shabbat! Which means, we’ve made it to the end of the week and a well deserved day of rest. Earlier today, when my friend asked me what my plans were for the weekend I instantly said “I’ll probably do work”. I meant it too. AND I will do work this weekend – I’m a graduate student with four jobs. Every minute counts.

But, something changed for me once Shabbat arrived. Even though I really didn’t want to I pushed down my social anxieties, got out of bed, put on something presentable, and went to Shabbat at the Brown/RISD Hillel. As I was sitting in services, I realized it was the first time all week that I was truly “present”. It was the first time all week I wasn’t running a to-do list through my head, struggling with my perceived inadequacies, recounting or anticipating a conversation, freaking out about my future, or missing UConn. I didn’t dwell on this realization. Instead, I took a deep breath and ceded to this unintended feeling of community and mindfulness.

As the service went on, I found myself stuck rereading one of the interpretations in the prayer book.

“How wise is our tradition to command us to seek rest on Shabbat, and what joy it is for our souls to be refreshed.” 

I read that quote over and over and I kept flipping back to the page to sneak another glance. In most situations, I’m looking forward to what’s next and because of this I usually don’t even acknowledge and appreciate the steps I took to get where I’m currently standing. This is one of the reasons I’m purposely so busy; there’s always something to accomplish next. That’s probably why I never really thought about “resting” as a Jewish value or as a “wise” action. This called for some re-framing!

During the High Holidays I’ve been challenged to reflect, repent, and return to my faith and my Jewish communities both near and far. In the midst of all the change and all the seemingly urgent obligations in my everyday life, I once again, found solace in the familiarity of  the Jewish community.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the paramount theme of returning that we discuss on the High Holidays and how it relates to life. Here’s some background. This past year, I had to learn an important lesson: we cannot know for certain where we’ll be or what we’ll be doing one minute, hour, day, month, or year from now. For example, a year ago I was SURE I’d be going to graduate school at UConn. Some things don’t work out as we’ve planned. Over the course of a year, we may gain some direction in some facets of our life but I think overwhelmingly we’ll miss the mark or end up more lost. This theme of returning, in Judaism we call it teshuvah,  helps us recenter our aspirations and actions. As I struggled to really apply this concept and wrap my head around it, I considered the paradox that sometimes we need to get lost to find ourselves. During the time of the High Holidays we are invited to be self aware, to grapple with our missteps, and recognize or take responsibility for where we went wrong – where we got lost. By evaluating our actions we can return to daily life better prepared for the unpredictable year ahead.

As I was walking home tonight, I was reminded of a favorite poem by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel we used to read each Shabbat at camp.

Tonight is a time to catch our breath.
Whatever we have been doing, making, working, creating
Tonight we pause to catch our breath.

No matter how necessary our work, how important to the world, how urgent that we continue it;
No matter how joyful our work, how fully and profoundly human;
No matter how flawed our work, how urgent that we set it right;
No matter how hard we have worked to gather our modest fame, our honorable livelihood, our reasonable power

Tonight we pause to catch our breath.

So, as I walked with these words in my thoughts I tried desperately (but not anxiously) to recover all the lost breaths and stockpile enough for the upcoming week, metaphorically of course. And as I kept walking (and breathing and thinking) I contrasted this poem with a post I recently shared with my friend from The Belle Jar called “Fuck Busy”. When I shared this insightful, spot on post with her I wrote, “Have you ever read something that is so eerily accurate and it’s like the internet is a mirror?”  [Side note: It’s a great post and I could comment about it for days!]

Here’s the brief version: I know that for me, “busy” is a defense mechanism. If I schedule every minute of every day then I’ll know exactly what to expect. I’m a planner. That’s what happens when you have OCD (for me). I like routines. I like to be able to  anticipate each interaction and mange my time “efficiently”. I realize this is a direct contradiction to what I said earlier, but it speaks to why that lesson was so difficult and necessary for me to learn.

Anyway, I did this busy thing so well in college that I managed to graduate knowing almost nothing about myself other than that I am a hard worker and I am really good at time management. I started to attribute those qualities to my self worth. I found it easy to ignore anything about my life that wasn’t ultimately “productive”.  So, I have a great answer for an interview question some day and some excellent evidence to back it up.

I stay busy intentionally to avoid being “stuck in my head”. I structure my time so I don’t have time to think about me. Which is likely why I struggle each day with impostor syndrome and still can’t attribute my successes to my experience or qualifications (more on this later).  You can probably imagine then how strange it might have been tonight at Shabbat to find myself in a situation that didn’t go as planned but that also wasn’t terrible or accompanied by “flooding”. In the moment  it was really refreshing. Later, I’m definitely overthinking it. [reasons I had to revisit this post the next morning :p]

Part of this project is to become more attuned to myself. The goal is to explore things that make me uncomfortable and rather than avoid the impending discomfort, accept it and learn something. So far, it hasn’t been easy. And, the more I think about what I want to write about and tackle next the more my thoughts race. If you’re sill reading and if you’re wondering where I’m going with all this. I’m getting there. I promise.

So, Shabbat tonight was in the plan but feeling comfortable, happy, mindful, and relaxed was definitely not. I expected to sit through services and watch the clock. I expected to leave quickly after dinner to get back to doing homework, to feeling “productive”. I expected to feel self conscious the entire time and anxious about the conversations I was having. That didn’t happen. Instead, I smiled and took more deep breaths than I have in the last three months. Which is why, when we were asked during dinner to share one thing we’d do differently in the next week I said, “I’m going to try to be intentional about taking time for me”.

I don’t know how it will turn out. I may be totally overwhelmed. I may shut down. I may face more perceived inadequacies. I may make myself so busy so I do not even try it at all. I may like it.

Taking time for me is something I want to be comfortable with not forced to do or reminded about. Too often friends and mentors have uncomfortable conversations with me about “self care”. I’ve been reluctantly having these conversations since middle school. I think moving forward I’ll be more inclined to practice self care once I gain more self-awareness and move into the acceptance and action stages of knowing myself and my needs. Which means, in the coming weeks I’ll likely need to slow down and reprioritize myself in my list of obligations.

I think I’ll start with recognizing and appreciating Shabbat, a built in day of rest and reflection. See how that all comes together?

I touched on a lot here and I realized I didn’t fully unpack most of it. I’ll come back to many of these topics and explore them more as I get more comfortable. Stay tuned! 


Why “I’m Probably Overthinking This” and a Request

Here’s something thing you should know about me: I spend more time constructing and deconstructing emails, journal entries, papers for school, text messages, tweets, and now this blog than I’m really proud to admit. A social worker might call this OCD and I probably wouldn’t argue with them. I anguish over the perfect word and read and reread what I’ve written to make sure it sends the exact message I want. Sometimes this actually complicates my message. Overall, it’s less about searching for typos and more about hoping my ideas, emotions, and intentions are accurately depicted so that they can be received exactly how I anticipate them being received. Which admittedly, doesn’t really give the other participants in these relationships/interactions the credit they deserve for their inference and intuition. This is also why I get disappointed when I don’t hear back from people who are important to me. I put in so much time and effort!

Here’s an example of what this looks like in my life. The title of this blog literally came from my pure exhaustion after deliberating over the title for more than twenty minutes (that day). The truth is, I would have started this blog much earlier but, you can’t have a blog without at title. It was the ultimate writers’ block. I wanted to call this blog “To Anyone Who Will Listen” but I got frustrated because unless you’re an auditory learner, like me, you’re not actually “hearing” the words as I’m writing them or as you’re reading them. Discourse and words are important. In fact, if we think long enough and scrutinize over each word, we might never find the words to relay the message we want to send! In a way, the titles we pick are the captions for the pieces we write. They matter. But then again, sometimes putting a label on something is the hardest part (more on this later). Hence, “I’m Probably Overthinking This”. Because I do. Always. Overthink.

For me, each word matters and indicates something about what’s to follow or about what we value or believe as individuals. So I spend abundant amounts of time (I like to call this procrastination) crafting the “perfect” sentences so people will “get what I mean”. I consider what someone may think about what I’m saying, the possible rebuttals, what perspectives I’m not considering, if I might offend anyone, etc.  And then even after I’ve hit send or left a conversation, I often find myself replaying the interactions like a broken record thinking of all the things I should have said, would have done differently, or second guessing the importance of that link I just shared. A psychologist might call this ruminating. Again, I wouldn’t argue.

And so, having explained that, here’s the request: In this space I’m preemptively asking for forgiveness and understanding for the mistakes I will definitely make along the way and for the things I didn’t think of or share even if I did think about them. In this project, I’m going to practice accepting imperfection and favoring authenticity. I ask that if you’re coming along for the journey you assume I have only the best, most honest intentions and grant me the benefit of the doubt to explore and express without fear of judgement or shame.

What I Learned from Disconnecting

A few weeks ago, I gained some inspiration and some courage and returned to blogging after a couple years of hiatus. I wrote this post, Contrasting Being Connected with Just Connections, and was honored to have it shared on a friend’s page, Organized Babble. While initially, the reposting, sharing, and tweeting of this post was exciting after just a few hours it was exhausting and also seriously anxiety provoking. Nearly a week later, I deleted the post from my own Facebook page and then a week after that (approximately) I deleted my own Facebook page. If you want to know more about why I deleted Facebook or about me in general you can listen to my segment on Storries (the Facebook stuff starts at 51:20) a weekly Public Affairs talk show on UConn’s radio station, WHUS.  I haven’t been on Facebook for nearly a month and while I initially thought I’d miss it, I’m actually happier than I’ve ever been.

Considering that statement I just made, you might be wondering why I’d start a blog. Why I’d purposely create another social media platform to maintain and interact with on a regular basis. I actually am wondering that too. There’s a few reasons:

  1. I think too much. I spend a lot of time trying to convince myself and others that I don’t “reflect”. The truth is, I do. We all do. The difference for me is, I don’t think about myself all that much. However, without the distraction of everyone else’s lives and the ease of “virtual people watching” on Facebook, I’ve had more time to think about me and now it’s becoming a lot to process. I think we call that flooding. Anyway, it’s overwhelming. AND, while that’s all well and good (and apparently part of life and growing up) now I’ve come to a crucial crossroad where I’m entertaining more thoughts about my own life than ever before and I have less people available to process and converse with me. So then there’s blogging. It’s actually for me.
  2. I do well with order and routines. If I say to myself “I’ll tackle one of these things each week and write a post about it” then it’ll get done. Somehow the internet has a strange way of holding people accountable. I doubt anyone will notice if I don’t write a post (hey, they didn’t notice when I deleted Facebook) but there’s something compelling about the obligations that we create for ourselves in the virtual world. Sociologists believe that everyone has a desire to know or feel that they matter to someone. I think the internet helps us with that yearning. Here’s how, even if nobody replies, verifies that they’ve read this, or challenges my viewpoint, my voice (figuratively) is out there! And maybe, my words will influence someone. And if I’m not reaching anyone then, I’m held accountable to the “stats” tab on this blog, reminding me that I didn’t take space for me.
  3. My physical list of “things I want to write about” is getting longer than the list of things I’ve tackled. Now, some things I’m admittedly not ready to write out for the world, but this is a perfect space for everyday wonderings. Which, I’ve had WAY more of now that I’m not held captive by social media and the need to convince everyone that I’m living a seemingly perfect life or know what everyone else is “up to”.  Plus, typing is faster!
  4. Loneliness is real.  Another contradiction if I’m writing a post lauding being relatively disconnected. Remember I over think things. I’m in the midst of a huge transition in my life and what’s accompanied that is a lot, LOT of self discovery. More than I know how to handle. Remember I said that there have been fewer people around to entertain my conversations? Well, I miss them! Seriously, I miss them every day! And, while I’m figuring out my life in a new school, academic field, city, new friendships, roommates, jobs, I’m feeling really lonely. I want to write, call, text, email, and visit with all the people who have made a difference to me, who have supported and encouraged me, but the truth is, they have lives that don’t always include me. I watched a great TED talk recently  (side note: I love TED talks, so more to come!) called “Why we all need to practice emotional first aid” and psychologist Guy Winch made a point that really resonated with me. He said, “Loneliness creates a deep psychological wound, one that distorts our perceptions and scrambles our thinking. It makes us believe that those around us care much less than they actually do. It make us really afraid to reach out, because why set yourself up for rejection and heartache when your heart is already aching more than you can stand?”  I can absolutely relate to this – p.s. I sent this talk to my friend and she never got back to me.

This post is called, “What I Learned from Disconnecting” but after writing it, I think it would have been better titled “Why I Started a Blog”. What I learned was that there’s more to learn and explore about me and that I have some serious self work to do. I learned that I am not motivated by constant comparison and I AM my biggest critic. I learned that I crave meaningful relationships and that the influential people in my life taught me more than I knew at the time. I miss them. I also learned (if I was saying this aloud I’d look away and talk really quietly) that reflection is difficult, scary, and overwhelming but also SO necessary. So, I’m starting this project to be more self aware, to make space to wonder, and to “publish” my thoughts in a space where I won’t feel like I’m being a burden to anyone.