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FAILED THE LESSON ON "EVERYTHING IN MODERATION"

I went to school, joined clubs, practiced martial arts several times a week and worked through years of both high school and college. I got good grades, made honor rolls, deans lists, doubled up on classes, graduated high school early, took that time to work full time to make money to pay for school.

My parents were raising and providing all that was needed (and much of what 5 kids wanted growing up) including: food, clothing, toys, gadgets, cars, private school and college tuition. At some point in my teens, I could identify the strain it put on them. I didn't want to be a burden. I wanted to be self-sufficient. As traditional Filipino parents, they didn't like it. They wanted us to focus on school and allow them to do their parental roles dutifully. I felt like I needed to willfully prove myself to be worthy and strong enough to help lighten the load that my existence brought. So, despite their preferences and rules, I managed to assert in meaningful ways to gain ground in becoming as independent as I could.

However, in retrospect, I seem to have failed the lesson on "everything in moderation..." Did I mention that I became a non-stop 12-cup-a-day coffee drinker for the decade following?

 

THE NUDGE

I graduated high school early, worked, and enrolled in 21 credits a semester in college in an effort to make the most of my time and tuition. I transferred from our local community college and made my way into Manhattan's Baruch College to study business communications and worked between classes throughout the week as a "Gal Friday" at the same office where my sister was executive assistant to the CEO.

Granted, I had plenty of exposure to workaholism in that day and age to model myself after... Over the years, I had accidentally begun training myself to be a busy-holic, a workaholic. I realize now, that I spent so much of my life in a state of constant busyness, over-doing, chasing, and not enough being, savoring, connecting and celebrating the wins and remembering the why's. I was addicted to busyness, efficiency, and adrenaline / dopamine rush from outrunning my records for "most stuff done with honors."

During those early years, I found myself frequently exhausted (despite lots of coffee), and distant from many friends and family members because I was always so busy. I mostly slept on the bus back and forth from Manhattan during the week and awake late nights working on homework and studying.

I see in retrospect that I was becoming less of a human being and more like a robot with all of that constant activity: doing for the sake of doing.

Things got worse--more out of balance--when I graduated and found full time work in the financial industry, specializing in my field of graphics communication. I received plenty of recognition for the extra hours and dedication. ...and then they upped the ante and I fell into the trap. I couldn't see it then. I couldn't resist. I began to trade more than my time--it was more like my soul, for: Really. Good. Money.

My salary more than doubled in the first couple of years straight out of college. I was rewarded for my butt-busting, ever-present can-do attitude, mounting perfectionism (120%!) and 60-70 hour work weeks that became my norm. I was close to making 6-figures and a few title bumps by the time I was 30--a far cry from the "starving artist" that an aunt had implied that I might become by "majoring in a minor." All I had to do was keep upping the ante. Give more time. Deliver more in less time. How else does that equation work? I began building systems to do more, manage more. I did it...

 

MY PRIDE STARTED TO GET THE BETTER OF ME

If I happened to find myself with even a little time to myself, I didn't know what to do... it was such an uncommon occurrence over the years, that it made me feel uneasy. I would start wondering if something was wrong. I was obsessed with being busy and receiving accolades for the all the work I could produce.

My wondering would quickly turn into overthinking and eventually start spiraling into what I now-believe to be the beginning of low-grade depression, whirring in the background like the internal fan of constantly running computer.

I recall measuring my days by how many projects I got done, clients served and how many hours I could go before reaching exhaustion. That's how I knew I gave everything I could. ...and sadly, at some point, the accolades and money plateaued and all I was left with was untenably high expectations, little or no thanks and minimal time to decompress. I didn't know how deep I was in. I had just kept on swimming all this time, full steam ahead... and suddenly I found myself in the same spot, just treading water--but how long could I go on like that?

Burnout seems to happen practically by surprise; but the reality is that the other end of the candle's simply been lit with overwhelm each day I "gave from an empty cup", or forgot / de-prioritized my self-care. I had no idea how badly I was hurting myself and by normalizing it, I unwittingly taught others that it was okay to abuse me, too. I felt trapped.

 

THE SLAP

In my late 20's, I hit a wall. Hard. I got sick in a laundry list of ways I couldn't have possibly imagined, and landed in the hospital, and a series of chronic issues and specialists afterward.

I got better and worse over the years depending on how well I stayed the course with managing my stress, sleep, diet, exercise, relaxation and enjoyment. I was seriously out of practice; and in full disclosure, I would really do just enough to get me back into the action before things fell apart again.

Twenty-some-odd years later, and several tragedies later, I am finally just starting to see the depth of this error.

I'm practicing to let the guilt go, and instead learn from the past's regrets, to do better now, one day at a time because I found that both Love & mindfulness can restore life's lost meaning.

I hit some seriously huge bumps (more like narrowly escaped some major chasms) along the trails I was intent on blazing when things got really rough for a while.

Thankfully, I did manage to learn how to slow down more in my late 30's when I fell in love with my best friend. I couldn't have had a better husband, partner and Love of my Life.

I had a reason to slow down and savor my life. He was in it and we were in all of it together. Nelson's laughter, energy and Love made everything and everyone around him undeniably brighter, lighter and all around better; and all of us knew it. Although I wish I'd learned sooner and slowed down more, I'm grateful for being able to slow down as much as I was able to during our years together.

 

LEARNING TO ADJUST AGAIN

Following my beloved's tragic sudden death, I've been learning to see more clearly, to really take time to slow down and focus on what really matters--and a big part of that now is to contribute my efforts to helping all of you through ADJUST while being sure to maintain my own wellbeing.

We all deserve to be as happy and fulfilled as we can be in the here and now--that's how a brighter tomorrow starts today.

I hope you'll find that relief and support from the techniques in the course to become more mindful and intentionally design your "Happily EVEN After" Lifestyle.

#memories #depression #overcomingobstacles

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Depression and other rough times rear their ugly heads to alert us that we need to tend to self-care and re-alignment of some sort.

Contrary to popular belief: tough, heavy emotions are not our enemies. They are actually a part of our human experience. I find it helpful to picture these emotional "disturbances" as "internal guard dogs."

Like obedient invisible soldiers, it's their sole job to alert us when something seems amiss in order to keep us from danger. Other than their alerts, they are quiet and invisible; but ever-present.

While these tough yet invisible guardians grow up with(in) us as a defense system to keep us safe; they could grow up ignored, neglected, dismissed and untrained; becoming overreactive or even programmed protect others (over or instead of us), resorting to incessant "barking," intense alarmist and potentially harmful behavior when threatened or ignored.

Whatever the case, these "sentinels" are just as much a part of our humanness as "positive emotions" of comfort and joy, or our five physical senses and need to be seen and integrated as such.

Like those accepted and desirable parts of our human experience, we need to mindfully train ourselves to acknowledge and befriend their service instead of disowning them and train them to discern true physical danger from perceived threats; in order for us to live with a sense of security, peace and healthy boundaries.

Since Nelson's death, I can see more clearly now, that this is a lifelong partnership with these inner guardians that I'll need to vigilantly attend to, as part of self-care to live "Happily EVEN After".

I hope that my personal account will help serve as a reminder the next time you (and I) start to see a backward emotional slide: to mindfully stop your descent into a downward spiral by using

5 steps to manage the "inner guard dog" alarm system

  1. Distance. See yourself as a character in a scene.

  2. Witness. Watch without judgement, investment or reaction.

  3. Report. Acknowledge and list only observations and truth.

  4. Process. See what happened what conflicted inside & out.

  5. Integrate. Allow yourself the permission to trade-in the pain & cause for a way to move forward. ADJUST your perspective, thoughts, beliefs and alignment with the situation (including openly asking for help if you need it, without shaming and judgement).

My aim is to share my story with all of you in hopes it will help you, too, to encourage you to be vulnerable, in a good way--brave and reassured that the pain, hurt and challenges in life are not bad, do not make you bad, defective or tell you what to do. They simply just exist as a means for feedback about alignment.

Working through this challenging experience, it becomes transformed into an opportunity to remember that: Even when I'm feeling good, making progress, living into my "Happily EVEN After Lifestyle" ...and when I'm not... self-care practices (especially self-compassion and self-acceptance) will ALWAYS be need to be a priority; and WHEN I fall or fail to remember: I need only to stop, reach upward and take time to realign again.

 

I just finished hosting our intimate annual Thanksgiving tradition; and I feel emotionally stirred, spiritually reconnected & moved, as well as energetically in need of some quietude to absorb and re-integrate just how grateful I am to be so well loved, that we were able to physically come together and how lucky I am to have the ability & means to host again this year.

Happy Thanksgiving today and every day! Be well, everyone. Sending lots of Love & Light to all of you.

See you later! I'm taking the rest of the day off to breathe and respect my (sliding scale of) self-care needs after a big fall week for me.

#overcomingobstacles #depression

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The struggle is real. I mean: really real. I am an introvert (not a shy person). I actually enjoy talking to people: friends, family and kind strangers, alike...BUT I typically recharge best on my own; and typically feel overwhelmed and drained when constantly around others, with too much back-to-back action without building in alone time--or perhaps more accurately "without building in quietude".

I've discovered through self-observation that enjoying people, wanting so much to help and engage, while also needing to recharge separately and frequently produces a lot of complicated internal dialogue at times...

I have also had a history of struggles with Seasonal Affective Disorder ("SAD") or seasonal depression. Thankfully, I've learned to manage over the years using light therapy, vitamin D supplements and learning to respect that I typically need even more time to recharge in quietude from fall to spring despite the increase in holiday gatherings and invitations that might annually occur.

But, this year, the struggles of managing my time & energy have been extremely challenging as I've worked through focusing on transforming the pain of grief & loss into tribute & service.

As I felt consistently better over the year, taking the helm and leading the charge to help others design "Happily EVEN After Lifestyles" I, somehow, lost track of my own personal obstacles: SAD, managing my time & energy, old workaholic & perfectionistic tendencies as the season transitioned into another fall of full, lively greens disappearing and withering into grays and faded browns.

I seemed to have mistakenly forgot the fundamentals of self-compassion as I headed into autumn and uncharted territory; coming off the high off seeing progress in the lives of others, myself and development of ADJUST--and heading into a first: a friend's wedding on my own after Nelson's death.

As the fall chill and shorter days arrived, the weekly coaching program I was in came to a close; I began working even longer and more intensely on ADJUST's development, research, strategies; and hyper-focused on upping my game a good coach, friend, family member--committing to show up more to more... including a wedding, my Toastmaster's club meeting, a new friend's birthday, an old friend's birthday, a day with my visiting sister-in-law, a workshop, a paint & sip event, an event to support a friend's business, a family weekend trip, lunch with new local friends, and a bunch of other things that escape my recollection. I became obsessed with going all in on all of it "being a better person".

I was pushing the limits all year, making progress with myself and others; and it was great! But I mistook this progress for also being "over" my workaholism, perfectionism and doing things without considering my self-care in my new normal. The truth of the matter is, that each time I gave up my quietude for "just a little more (work) progress" or "just a couple more hours of catching up with friends, family", etc. I traded off my energetic capacity to recharge, engage and to grow in meaningful ways; personally and in familial and social relationships.

I blindly fell into a trap as I obsessed on the betterment, then spiraled into shameful depression as I realized (after the fact) that my need for quietude had increased exponentially with each trade off of self-care.

For about a month, I found myself having difficulty staying consistent with my self-care routines (meditation, intention setting, checking in with myself, gratitude journaling, to name a few) which have been fundamental to all the progress that I've made.

I had needed a break, badly for a while and ignored it--rationalizing that the trade-offs were for a good, positive things. Burnout isn't pretty; and I thought I had learnt my lesson when I left the long, thankless hours and 4 hour daily commute to Manhattan behind. I was wrong.

With each self-care break or practice skipped, and prioritizing my wants to be better over my needs for rest, reflection and recharging, I was burning the candle at the other end again--all on of my own accord.

I found myself headed in a downward spiral of guilt for feeling less present mentally and emotionally for others than I had been for a year. The negative self-talk whispered cutting remarks internally as it cunningly twisted progress into benchmarks of weaponry as I contemplated dialing back on my prior commitments. The internal loop started with a "Way to go... nice model of reliability you are." as I pushed through for the sake of obligation and not wanting to disappoint people I care about. It progressed into "You're such a mess. People need to hold you up all the time." and on and on... each internal cut worse, deepening the emotional wounds. I found myself feeling even more and more drained in every way as it continued.

I had unwittingly fallen into an updated version of an old, familiar ego trap: pride. Blinded, I could no longer see things for the opportunities they were because I had de-prioritized and essentially neglected the basics again. My programmed fears were kicking the crap out of me, which quickly devolved into heaviness, and unexpected emotional out bursts nearing self-loathing at home.

Sleep was a major challenge again. The breakdown in emotional & mental self-care began infecting my physical self-care.

I was breaking down. I could finally see that I needed to go deep inside again--I was undoubtedly out of alignment at the core. I knew what to do, despite now-seeing that I had waited "too long" to address things proactively... I slowed down, chewed and swallowed my pride so I could digest it this time.

I needed to stop. Reflect, then acknowledge my needs, priorities, obstacles; then I needed to forgive myself, communicate, ask for help; then actively give myself permission and space to heal, recharge and start again at whatever pace I need to ADJUST to.

I am perfectly imperfect, just as I am: growing, learning (and sometimes struggling) to be flexible and accept that I might need support, too. I am human. AND, I am enough, just like you.

Humbled, mindfully and with intention, we really have got this.

#overcomingobstacles #depression #personalcontemplation #mindfulness

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