Layoff

Getting laid off – a lesson in acceptance and self-discovery

So yeah. Finding out you’ve been laid off isn’t really the best feeling. Especially at first, you ask yourself the inevitable questions. What did I do wrong? Am I going to burst into tears? (No, I was freakishly calm.) How can I do better? Does this change how I think about myself?

It comes with a mixture of positive and negative emotions, because when I am not bogged down the the anxiety of how long it will take to find something new, I am filled with appreciation for the new luxury of time that I have been blessed with. I loved my job and my coworkers, but I can spend more time with my family. I can spend more time in my garden, making meals for my family, and eventually… cleaning. It certainly helps that the past few weeks have ushered in the Spring sunshine.

As a discoverer, some of my favorite things to do besides tending to the garden are to take little mini road trips to new places I have been meaning to check out. Unfortunately for my waistline these places seems to all involve baked goods or sweets. I want to share these with you!

  1. H Mart was a super-fun discovery deep in Cary, filled with fresh produce, live fishes, a sit-down cafe, a bakery, and bubble tea. So far our favorite items have been the bubble tea, baked goods, mochi ice cream, tofu, and fish. But we haven’t gotten to try the cafe yet or any of the meats.
  2. Milk Bar, also in Cary, is another destination for Taiwanese rolled ice cream and bubble teas, include milk cap tea, which has a frothed salted milk cap on top of your tea. Interesting flavors, a bit pricey but fun. It’s not too terribly far from Swift Creek Bluffs, so take a nice hike to the top of the “Stairway to Heaven” and then reward yourself with a fancy tea or ice cream afterwards.
  3. Anisette is still my favorite bakery to tuck in and pick up a coffee soda, homemade slushie, or of course lovely selection of baked goods.
  4. I rediscovered the Oakwood neighborhood in Raleigh, during the annual garden tour this year. You can certainly wander around here without a tour guide and check out Oakwood Cemetery and some of the cute coffee shops, dining opportunities and historic homes.

I’ll be checking back in as I progress through the stages of unemployment. I have completed Phase I, known as doing-way-too-much-and-tiring-yourself-out. Now I am in Phase II, slacking off with my hobbies and starting to get way too interested in couponing. Stay tuned to find out what Phase III holds!

the four agreements

mini-review, my take

I am a fan of self-help books, partly because they each give a different perspective on how the human mind works and how to optimize it. And partly because I am an endless seeker of information. I read the Four Agreements recently, which was not one of my favorites, but it did have some thought-provoking points.

The author states that these agreements you keep with yourself can help guide you to live a life of integrity and help save you pain. They have been adapted from ancient Toltec wisdom. While the writing style was overly simplistic, some of the tenets stuck with me. The four agreements are:

1. Be impeccable with your word.

“Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use your power of your word in the direction of truth and love.” 

My takeaway from this is that it’s also about being authentic, not using words as a weapon, not spreading gossip and negativity which translates to “poisonous energy.” We should all aspire to spread less negative energy with our words. Sometimes I get very sapped by the negative energy expressed in body language and facial expressions, so being an highly sensitive person has it’s own set of challenges.

2. Don’t take anything personally.

“Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally… Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves.” 

“But it is not what I am saying that is hurting you; it is that you have wounds that I touch by what I have said. You are hurting yourself. There is no way I can take this personally.” 

This is pretty clear cut advice but for some reason it’s something extremely hard for me to apply. I have an over-indexed, almost empathic ability to understand how people are feeling. But just because I can detect the micro-moods of others does not mean I should take them on. If I detect that someone is saying one thing but seems to mean another, I don’t need to analyze what they said vs. what they might mean. It is their responsibility to be intentional with their words and it’s mine to not take their words or expressions as a personal attack.

Most things people do and say to us are not intended to hit us like arrows at a target, they are actions that have varying causes. We should not project shadow intentions to these actions. Many of our disagreements, irritations and judgements are based on our our mindset about how other’s should or shouldn’t be. Or certain behaviors strike us in places that remind us of ways we have been hurt in the past.

3. Don’t make assumptions.

“If others tell us something we make assumptions, and if they don’t tell us something we make assumptions to fulfill our need to know and to replace the need to communicate. Even if we hear something and we don’t understand we make assumptions about what it means and then believe the assumptions. We make all sorts of assumptions because we don’t have the courage to ask questions.” 

We are such bad communicators that we end up making a lot of assumptions about what other people think and mean. And when we could clear this up with some effort at understanding others’ points of view using respectful listening, we tend to instead create a narrative in our heads. And these stories we tell ourselves may often include ourselves as the protagonist and other people we deal with starring as the evildoer.

Don’t make assumption can also mean don’t spend too much time ruminating about the future. This is certainly a fault of mine. Especially when we feel out of control, it’s tempting to work through every possible thing that could happen. And then gravitate toward negative outcomes and obsess over them.

4. Always do your best.

“Just do your best — in any circumstance in your life. It doesn’t matter if you are sick or tired, if you always do your best there is no way you can judge yourself. And if you don’t judge yourself there is no way you are going to suffer from guilt, blame, and self-punishment. By always doing your best, you will break a big spell that you have been under.” 

This is a harder tenet for me to swallow because I have overexerted myself at times in my life, especially after the birth of my son. So it’s possible to do more than your best, in a sense, and then burn out. But the concept is to avoid cheating yourself out of what you deserve because of a lack of motivation or a bad attitude. Don’t cause a situation you will regret later, especially through inaction.

Jordan Petersen also makes this point in his book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. He discusses it differently, not about doing your best but about working toward making tomorrow slightly better than today was, and working to reduce suffering for yourself and others a little bit more every day. This activity, carried out a little bit day after day, will net you an improved and worthy life over a lifetime, and one that has meaning.

Net Net

My favorite agreement out of the four is definitely not to take things personally, although hard piece of advice for a recovering people-pleaser to follow.

self care, pt. 2

Self-care prescription: wellness plan

A general down-in-the dumps feeling can be caused by a lot of different factors, from hormones, weather, relationship or and work stress, to even things like nutrition and gut balance. But starting with the moment that you feel so sad, angry and weak you don’t want to get outta bed, it’s hard to know what is the cause or how to start to feel better.

I started, as I do with many things, with measuring my moods using an app and creating a wellness plan. These ideas I learned from the Dialectical Behavior Therapy workbook.  The book gives a number of exercises to work through to identify what triggers your negative emotions and behaviors so that you can make a plan for how to identify signs that things are going the wrong way. It also teaches various forms of mindfulness. These lessons have been incredibly effective for me – engaging in healthy habits that benefit my moods and physical wellbeing.

Essentially, we write down what makes us feel whole, healthy and sane. Then we create a wellness plan to seek more of it and to manage those inevitable bad triggers so that when they come up they don’t ruin our day.

What activities make me feel happy, lighter than usual, playful, passionate, or zoned-in?

These are things that help you to truly reset and feel like yourself. It could be certain scents, hobbies, being outdoors, being social, or anything that helps you feel this way.

What makes me smile ear-to-ear, gets me out of bed in the morning, and what I wish I could do more of?

What are the symptoms that I am feeling stressed, worn-out, disconnected or angry?

How do you know things are not going well? What are your physical and emotional symptoms that give you a warning sign that you are going to start breaking down? I bite my nails, my stomach aches, I feel tired throughout the day and reach for that extra cup of coffee or cookie.

What triggers me feeling anxious, angry, or out of control, or triggers my negative soothing behaviors?

Then we identify things that happen during life that are particularly upsetting. I get very frustrated when I get interrupted in meetings or get disrespected. I get frightened when I see someone is in an angry mood. When chores pile up like laundry or dishes and I can’t stop thinking about my to-do list, I get anxious. We work on action plans to address these upsetting situations.

What can I do every day to feel good?

Simple daily habits can help with your moods. Eating healthy, meditating, working out. Lunch with a friend, cuddling your children.

In order to keep track of my self-care, I have been using the app Pacifica, which I highly recommend. It’s free, and allows you to track habits and moods daily. You can also add journal entries and post images that inspire you. I have taken what I learned from the DBT workbook and incorporated this into daily tracking, a feeling bad “action plan” and also action plans to deal with specific upsetting situations. I also use Pacifica to track my monthly cycle and other things that impact my moods, as you can add custom “habits” to track daily. In a future post, I’ll talk about how to start reading your “hormone horoscope” to be forewarned about those super moody days.

self care, pt. 1

Self care prescription: solitude and company in solitude

It’s time for a serious chat – beyond well-intentioned resolutions to a topic many of us have neglected for far too long. Self-care. There are many symptoms that present to indicate we have been guilty of self-neglect. Nagging loneliness, confusion, depression, listlessness, lack of purpose. Bitterness, envy, rage, resignation. These are the emotional signs. The physical signs also begin to manifest as illness, lethargy and blobbiness. That’s the scientific term I just invented for feeling like a poop pile.

A post shared by Blobfish (@blobfishes_unite) on


Like most all women, we’ve been raised to be compliant and nurturing, sacrificing and pleasant. It’s almost impossible to hold on to needing to put ourselves first, trust our instincts and letting that wildish nature free. And when every free minute can most easily be filled up with social media scrolling, tv viewing and texting, it takes herculean effort to set aside time to listen to that quiet voice inside.

Last night I met with a group of women for a forest walk in a nature preserve, which included some introspective activities, discussion, meditation and story time, and then moon-watching. It was restorative to be surrounded not only by the natural world in it’s chilling and colorful one-ness, but also this group of women. We had all taken some time to reconnect despite the many demands in our lives insisting we stay home.

flat rock image Suzanne Cadwell

We sat in a circle to meditate and discuss Estes’ rendition of the tale of the girl with the red shoes that she published in her book, Women Who Run With Wolves. It’s a version of the Hans Christian Andersen tale.

If you’ve read the story, it seems quite dark. Fairy tales often tended to have dark and grave endings to help illustrate the seriousness of the point. The happy endings prevent us from learning the appropriate lesson. The tale’s interpretation that has meaning for me is that the little girl lost her feet, her freedom, because she gave in to poor, shiny substitutes to her own creative license. Her homemade red shoes had been taken from her, and also her freedom as she is given food, clean clothes, new shoes and other comforts. Shiny red shoes become her obsession. But the shoes dance away with her in them and she cannot stop dancing until her feet are chopped off.
Red Shoes
We accept comforts and addictions rather than what we really need. We use

food to feel satisfied

alcohol and screens to feel numb and pass the time

attention-seeking to feel worthy

work to feel important

serving others so we can feel needed

and these things become poor replacements that drive us dancing toward physical or spiritual death. We lose ownership of our own life, our ability to stop the dance of substitutions and get back to what is real.

The prescription for recovery is to spend time with ourselves, and to spend time in the company of those we can be ourselves with. My previous post about Care of the Soul discusses some of these ways to spend time with yourself, as suggested by Thomas Moore in his book Care of the Soul. My next post will discuss the more day-to-day ways we can monitor our “self” and take care of our “self.”

twinkling christmas lights 2017

Raleigh / Triangle Christmas Lights

What better way to focus on the moment than to check out twinkly lights, the real-life manifestation of the holiday spirit in the Triangle? I’ve updated my Christmas Light map for 2017, and am revising it as we visit some of our favorite lights. I am a bit of a scrooge with my own decorations but from Santa holograms and radio stations to blow ups and reindeer, each house gives me delight.

Legend: Purple are those that have been added or confirmed since last year. Music notes have synchronized music. Some unconfirmed blue or green, remained on map from previous years. Stars are our favorites!

the skeleton woman

Currently I am slowly savoring the book Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D. It is a quite long and philosophical book that discusses some stories and myths about the Wild Woman archetype. Beyond the typical rescued-by-a-prince fairytales, these tales teach us through oral history how to nourish our souls and feed the important wild woman spirit within us.

One such story is the Inuit tale of the skeleton woman, which is set to animation here, and I summarize the story below.

A woman is tossed into the sea by her cruel father and her flesh rots away leaving only her bones. Many years later a fisherman snares her, and expecting a huge fish, is shocked and frightened to uncover a skeleton. He flees to the safety of his cave but she is tangled in the line and appears to be chasing him. When he returns to his cave, the light hits her skeleton just so and she seems pitiful rather than scary. He pities her and untangles her from the lines and shows her care. He then falls asleep. During his sleep, a tear drips from his eye. She tastes the tear and her thirst is quenched. She takes out his heart and beats the drum of his heart, gaining energy with which she can sing and rebuild her flesh. She lies next to him and they awake twined together as lovers. It’s said that they lived on and were well-fed by all the creatures she befriended in the sea during her time there.

When we have been cast aside and disposed of, whether it be due to our own actions or due to a person or group not cherishing our value, we die inside. We wait to be reborn, and but a tiny tear can reawaken the hungry heart, even after those many years spent neglected deep within the sea. In order to move forward to the next chapter, sometimes things have to die. Jobs, relationships, people, even parts of ourselves. Everything we experience is part of a cycle of death and rebirth that, as women, we uniquely understand, as beings that can bring life, ourselves.

Estes suggests that as the fisherman sleeps his innocence returns and he is able to trust the woman, feeding her. That we need to re-enter a state of wary innocence each day, not casting it aside “with the coverlet” as we awake in the morning.

“The state of wise innocence is entered by shedding cynicism and protectionism and reentering the state of wonder one sees in most humans who are very young and many who are very old. It is a practice of looking through the eyes of a knowing and loving spirit, instead of through those of the whipped dog…the angry wounded human.”

I take many lessons from each of these stories. But for today I think about things dying in their time to be replaced and renewed as the time comes. And letting myself be warily innocent – not the naïve fool I once was, out of necessity and lack of experience. The skeleton woman who has been cast aside and sees rebirth ahead.

all i want for christmas

Shopping can tend to get exhausting and feel at times unimaginative. I think sometimes having to come up with creative gift ideas for everyone all at the same time can lead to being overwhelmed and also feeling like you are contributing to the culture of consumption. What are some gifts that the ladies in my life could really use and appreciate?

Salt scrub, soft PJs, and early release

This kit not only includes some ingredients for soft skin and the cuddly clothing to enjoy it, it comes with permission to leave work early so that you can sit alone in a big tub and soak without anyone asking what’s for dinner.

completed honey-do list

You have so carefully assembled a list of things that you want your spouse to do around the home. Both because you care about the home environment and because you don’t want to nor can you do them yourself. This list does not take into account whether your spouse wants to or can do any of the items on it. This gift includes satisfying checkmarks next to each item, and the feeling of a list well-done. Does not require you to ooh and aah over the completed work appreciatively.

credit for your idea

Who needs another candle or funny set of post-it notes when all she really wants is acknowledgement? That idea that we agreed was really great after Michael said it was just as great when she said it first. It was so great that we named the project the Mathilda project, after her.

bitch card

bitch card

We spend so much time trying to convince everyone that we aren’t bitches, but I wouldn’t mind a chance to let the bitch flag fly, at least once per month. Since, on average, my bitchy moods take up at least 25% of my waking life, I would love to delegate a 24 hour no-holds-barred mean girls bitch-fest. A chance to wallow in envy, self-pity, rage, and unapologetic comparative judgement. A day where it’s ok to be flying high and full of sunshine and immediately switch into total medusa mode after the tiniest perceived slight. The bitch card comes wrapped inside a full box of munchkins for the feelings-stuffing comedown phase.

unfollow

unfollow

For the socially-connected gal, this season get her what she’s always wanted. Her social feeds automatically unfollow everyone, and instead her feed is flooded with positive reinforcement about her life choices. Everything she has posted to date will be responded to with appropriately positive and inspiring comments, likes, hearts, and well-thought-out responses. Just as if her spirit animal and matrilineal ancestors all materialized to provide support and spiritual guidance. Most of the feedback is positive, although some of it includes important warnings about red flag people and situations that may be about to enter her life.

I would love to provide you with these and other such amazing gifts this season, my pretties. But I am too busy taking care of myself to provide you with these self-care boxes. I encourage you to treat yourself!

Care of the Soul

I recently finished reading what can be described as an instruction manual for the care of the soul. The author argues convincingly that we have focused for far too long on the physical and scientific aspects of caring for ourselves and have neglected our souls. From doctors and prescriptions to productivity gurus and psychologists, all of these experts have essentially short-changed us by focusing on problems and solutions and not spending time discussing the deeper meaning to those things that ail us and our cultures.

When we relate to our bodies as having soul, we attend to their beauty, their poetry and their expressiveness. Our very habit of treating the body as a machine, whose muscles are like pulleys and its organs engines, forces its poetry underground, so that we experience the body as an instrument and see its poetics only in illness.

Living our daily life is an art whose aim is not to avoid suffering but simply to live that life itself. Focusing on accomplishing as much as possible, making as much money as possible, minimizing our discomfort and achieving great heights of power do not bring that sense of satisfaction. We get that (we are told) by developing an understanding of ourselves, seeking spiritual succor through history, ritual, self acceptance and awareness.

We remain consistently captivated and distracted by those things that seem instantly comforting. But turning away and giving the soul it’s time and space may be what’s needed to stay seated within the base of our own power. When we distract ourselves, treat our soul’s cries with remedies rather than redemption, we lie to ourselves.

Thomas Moore continues,

One day I would like to make up my own DSM-111 with a list of “disorders” I have seen in my practice. For example, I would want to include the diagnosis “psychological modernism,” an uncritical acceptance of the values of the modern world. It includes blind faith in technology, inordinate attachment to material gadgets and conveniences, uncritical acceptance of the march of scientific progress, devotion to the electronic media, and a life-style dictated by advertising.

He shares in detail too long to explain here how to orchestrate our soul’s escape from the prison of postmodern life. I found the book inspiring with examples from myth and art on how to keep cultivating sacredness and depth.

Gratitude

Cuddle feet :)A few hours after Thanksgiving dinner, after the period where we went around the table and shared some things that we were all thankful for, an insight emerged. Various family members splayed across couches, feeling comforted by each others’ presence and lazy but happy under the influence of turkey’s tryptophan.

My son said, “You know what’s the best feeling in the world?”

I looked over at his adorable face, fully expecting to hear something sweet about relaxing under cozy blankies with one’s family…

“The feeling when you poop.”

After copious amounts of laughter, I thought – sure! I mean, most of the time, that’s a great feeling! Often it is not, if you inherit my temperamental digestive system.  But let’s list some of our favorite things about pooping:

  • Instant de-bloat
  • A (sometimes) relaxing moment to yourself
  • The joy of perfectly thick toilet paper with ridges, which we spring for
  • A personal detox ritual that doesn’t involve vegetable juice and cayenne pepper
  • Being the first one to sit on the freshly cleaned toilet in the morning (you can tell because the seat is in the up position)
  • Evidence that you are still alive, and that it’s all coming out ok

#grateful

it is what it is

zen wisdom from unexpected places

Hubs and I had a number of improvements done to the exterior of our house a year or so ago. We needed a lot of siding and rotted wood on the outside of our house repaired, so we worked with a contractor to get the work completed and then have our house painted. While the finished work looks amazing, the process in getting there was anything but steady.

The owner of the company would tell us the inside work should be complete by a certain time but when that time came, the “completed” work needed to be redone. Two windows were due to be replaced on a certain day I stayed home for the work, but one of the windows turned out to be the wrong size. My precious hydrangeas were blasted and burned to a crisp by the bleach water runoff from the process of preparing the siding to be painted. After each setback, the contractor would sometimes apologize but would always utter the phrase “It is what it is.” While in this case this phrase served as a responsibility-dodging statement, it was also an unlikely source of wisdom.

The present moment is the result of a million decisions.

I found this statement particularly comforting while working my way through a DBT Workbook on how to handle your difficult emotions. It gives you a number of acceptance phrases to choose from that help you come to terms with the situation you have just found yourself in. These situations are a result of decisions that you and everyone else have made over time. It is what it is. We need to accept that current state and move forward from there. That doesn’t mean we can’t speak our truth to someone who disappointed us on the way there. But we still need to accept the current reality.