Growth

Annual Nostalgia.

St. Patrick’s Day was one of the many holidays that took the face of what tradition means to me. Every year, my mother’s family and ours would share the Americanized meal of corn beef and cabbage with soda bread, and our green “beer”. As a child, all of this felt so regular. It was just something that was supposed to happen. It wasn’t until the tradition was gone that I realized just how special the time was. Since the loss of my Grandparents in 2009 and 2015, every holiday feels a little emptier without them. The further I age, the more I appreciate each memory because it has shaped me into the woman I am today but it also given me guidance for the future family I’ll have someday.

While I’m sad to not have my Grandparents around, I am so very thankful for the foundation they helped build in me as a person. I miss them every day but this year I find that gratitude is overriding the sadness. Without them I wouldn’t have the personal standard set to reignite the tradition into the next generation. With my pending marriage so close, I am looking ahead towards a lot of things in my life. I hope that I am able to have the same traditions and many new ones with my future wife and our children. I want to create a family based on the same amount of unconditional love I had growing up and leave my children with the same gratitude for the fond memories that we’ve made together.

Thank you Gram and Pop, I miss you every day but it’s your example that has given me the hope I need for my future. I hope to make both of you proud in the next chapter of my life. Both my wife-to-be and I have felt your impact and are much better people for it. Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all who celebrate. May all family traditions carry on for you and yours through every holiday that passes each year and may your family get to relish in all of their special times together.

What’s Normal?

By definition normal is conforming to a standard; the usual, typical or expected. Normal could also be defined to gage a state of condition. Normal by definition is pretty clear cut when it’s applied in the right way. However, normal in society starts to get these patchy gray areas of falsified perfection which can be problematic for people’s self-esteem and mental health. Society places a lot of pressure on what’s normal and what isn’t. There’s a certain size you’re supposed to be, a certain way you’re supposed to act, a certain standard you’re meant to uphold. In the age of social media, we are setting ourselves up for disaster finding any kind of measuring stick in what we see online. It’s a horrible feeling to scroll past these things and feel like you’re the outcast in the room. Normal is a relative term. Other than the actual written definition, the term normal is what you make it.

In my journey through mental health and life overall, I have found that it’s important to find a normal that works for me and accept it fully. I first discovered the term radical acceptance in therapy and applying this term to self-love has been truly beneficial. Leaning into the positive aspects of my life has been helpful to my process. In my radical acceptance of myself it’s given me a place to feel grounded and no longer distracted by social media, corporate environments or women/men around me. I am now the decision maker for my normal. My normal is curvy, my normal is comfortably dressed, my normal wears little to no makeup, my normal curses like a sailor, and that’s okay because I have finally come to terms that I am enough. Three words have been the gatekeeper to my process of acceptance and fully loving myself. Like everyone else, I have bad days but I hold onto tight to those words and repeat them as many times as I need to, to remember my mission.

I challenge all of you to figure out your normal. What’s it look like? What’s it sound like? What’s it feel like? There is no right or wrong answer to the question, there is just is the radical acceptance that no matter what you come up with, you are enough.

“You are dust and to dust you shall return.” (Ash Wednesday Reflection)

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life. … For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. “
– John 3:16

Ash Wednesday celebrates the beginning of the Lent season, the season in which Catholics use to as a spiritual clean-up for themselves where they give up vices and spend more time and money in charitable ways. Every year around this time in the Catholic calendar, I am catapulted into deep reflection. I try to get ashes every year and spend at least this day in church but somehow I always find myself incredibly uncomfortable in the surroundings that used to feel like home to me.

I was raised Roman Catholic. I made all of my sacraments with dutiful dedication and love, allowing my moral values to be defined in this faith. I was taught right from wrong with the Ten Commandments and still find the little voice in the back of my mind referencing the ancient scroll in our religious history. So, what do you do when the very foundation of everything you believe in doesn’t believe in you? The Catholic Church has publicly denounced the LGBTQ community saying that the way these people choose to lead their lives is sinful and against God and the idea of two people of the same-sex marrying each other will never happen. While I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by people who have never projected such hate in my or my relationship’s direction, it still doesn’t make the idea any less unsettling.

For the last decade, the spiritual struggle has been really real. Where do I fit in? Where do I belong? Does my moral values still stand in spite of who I’ve chosen to spend the rest of my time on earth with? I have a lot of painful questions left unanswered. I believe in the kingdom of heaven but the small fear that says I won’t make it is always hovering over my heart. It’s a tough subject for me to speak about but it’s one I struggle with, especially on days like Ash Wednesday. God gave up his only son to free us from sins yet here I am totally defying the rule book set forth. It’s a really huge eternal struggle and something I think I will continue to work through and endure especially with my wedding at the end of the year and ultimately having kids. Ideally, I would love to continue my sacraments into a blessed marriage and eventually pass along my faith to my children. However, with the current ideology it’s going to prove to be a difficult religious journey.

I want to continue to follow this faith blind, I want to continue to feel blessed by God in the ways I was taught he does this. But, I also want to find a comfortable and safe place in religion where my potential family and I can grow as a unit and individuals without scrutiny for the elements that make us a family. I know this isn’t truly mental health based but I also wanted to share my feelings on this topic in hopes that there are some other LGBTQ Catholics or anyone who feels ostracized from their religion that feels the same as I do. Identity is ever changing and sometimes pieces of the puzzle that make you can be really confusing and heartbreaking. Just know that no matter what, you’re not alone.

Therapy on my own terms

Mental Health is a slippery slope to navigate in general. But, when it comes to treatment it gets even trickier. No one case is the same so what works for somebody else may not necessarily work for you and guess what? That’s okay! There are many different positive ways to deal with mental health and no one way is right or wrong.

As a child and teenager, I was always the awkward kid; the bullied, quiet, keep to herself kind of girl. My mother for many years thought therapy was the answer for me to help me deal with issues but each experience ended up crazier than the next. I had guidance counselors who deemed me crazy, I had multiple therapists blame my parents, and I had some dude who could easily be mistaken for the janitor of the building. Each interaction did more harm than good and every time she further suggested it, I found myself more in a reclusive state. I wasn’t ready to talk to a stranger about my problems. I wanted to handle things by keeping myself close to family, friends, and people I trusted. For years, I denounced therapy because each time felt like more of a burden than the issues I was dealing with. Talking to people I trusted was hard enough, talking to a stranger felt impossible.

However as an adult that changed for me. I was working for a job that kept me stressed every day. I was learning but I wasn’t happy. The work culture was toxic and nonproductive and it started to take a drastic toll on my mental health. I could feel the weight of my anxiety for the first time since getting let go from college and I knew if I didn’t do something about it, I was going to be in bigger trouble than just the stress was causing me. I found myself a therapist close to my job and that luckily took my insurance. The fear for the first appointment was intense. What would I talk about? What would she think? Would she tell me I’m crazy? Worse, would she blame my parents like everyone else did? I had a ton of anxiety about the appointment but I pushed myself to try. I was tired of exhausting my venting sessions with my inner circle. I needed an unbiased opinion so therapy was the best option.

The first appointment completed shattered my fears. The woman I saw reassured me that I wasn’t crazy, that everything I was going through was a lot more common than I believed and I would be okay. For a few months, it felt as if I was talking to a friend or an oracle who had a lot more advice to offer and a much bigger ear to lend than most people. I spent six months in therapy before they no longer accepted my insurance. Despite, its untimely end I know I’m better for it. Having the time to talk to a trained professional and obtain tools I didn’t know how to use prior was a great help to me. With the combination of the tools given to me in therapy and the self-help outlets I’ve found, I manage my anxiety a lot better than I ever have.

At the end of the day, I was going to get anywhere without the will to do it. The first step to getting a hold on any situation is actually wanting to. I came to a point in my life where I could no longer be stubborn and blame past bad experiences on why I couldn’t help myself in the now. I took the bull by the horns and did therapy on my own terms and I am much better for it today. You control your recovery entirely. It’s very important to do the positive things you want to do in an effort for a calmer and peaceful life. 

Positive Affirmations (Validating myself)

A large root to the self-esteem issues that I have, I’ve found is looking for validation in others instead of myself. I would seek it at home in my fiancée, in my mother, and in my employment. The need to be validated became almost an obsession for me. I have been a people pleaser since I was a young girl. I have put a large amount of my self-worth into the opinions of others and it’s been the biggest hurdle for me to climb over. The journey to find worth in me hasn’t been consistent but the effort has grown a lot in recent months.

Positive affirmations on paper seem like a bunch of optimistic thought. Initially, it felt as if I was just looking at something and reading it and reflecting on words. Positive quotes while helpful were getting lost on me. It was a brief moment of “Yeah, I get that” or “Yeah, I feel that”, and it was gone. While I still turn to the quotes on Instagram and the positive meme posts, I have found that the best result lived in the positive affirmations I wrote or thought for myself. Society says that it takes 21 days to make a habit. I have been writing and in turn, thinking of positive affirmations about myself for over 31 days. Even when things feel redundant in thought or word, I have pushed myself to write it down. Sometimes the thought and especially the physical manifestation make the difference. The source was not some empty internet post or from a person who’s feelings can change in an instant, the source was me. I became the validator and in turn, no longer have to search for something that can’t always be found in others. The realization and practice of this idea have been life-changing for me.

I control my consciousness of thought about myself and my choices in life. I have a lot to be proud of and grateful for. While I am still happy to hear the approval from key sources it is no longer the sole source that drives me. I’m not going to stand on some soap box and pretend to be healed. I have bad days just like everybody else. However, it is a hell of a lot easier now to get back onto the saddle and try again knowing and feeling better about myself from my perspective instead of someone else’s. I am now the validator and the source of good thoughts for my being. I am now the driving force to my own feelings. Positive affirmations may not work for everybody but I’m really glad that they worked for me.

Opposites Attract (Not without a challenge): A Journey into Love Languages

In almost every way my fiancée and I were different when it came to how we’re mentally and emotionally built. I was upfront with emotions especially in regards to her, family and friends and she was reserved. I was eager to communicate to solve problems and find compromise and she tended to bottle her feelings or ignored them until she exploded. In the early years of our relationship, we often fought about how our relationship should work. Admittedly, I came into my relationship with immature ideas. I was still stuck on the puppy dog phase of love where I wanted to spend every waking second with her in person or over the phone and she relished in her alone time.

Years ago when I was ranting to my friend at work about a fight my fiancée and I had and she told me about the idea of love languages. Being young and foolish, I didn’t put much thought into it. The hard way isn’t always the best way but it was the road I was on. But, with time came wisdom and desire to grow. What really put us to the test was my being unemployed. It was one of the bigger tests in our relationship. We were living together, sharing finances and terrified that things wouldn’t get back on track. Tense situations like unemployment can either make or break a person and I chose to benefit from it. Money makes every couple edgy and we were no different. However, instead of pointing fingers and worsening the situation I chose to really think about what we both needed in terms of the foundation of our relationship: our love for ourselves and each other. I revisited the love languages model and started to apply some of what I was reading to my everyday behavior.

Further research on the basic understanding of the love languages was needed and I came across The Five Love Languages by Larry Chapman. With a very generic internet understanding of the book, I was able to get further detail on each language. Chapman’s explains the five languages in great detail. His version of the Love Languages presents five languages: Acts of Service, Physical Touch, Quality Time, Affirmations and Receiving Gifts. Instead of having just one love language Chapman explains that each of us has a primary and a second love language to fulfill our figurative love tanks of emotion needed to thrive. Makes sense that you need to feel love and love yourself to fuel your relationship. He also details experiences of uses of these languages with his name protected patients and how they applied them to their own relationships.

After reading the book, I was able to pick out her love languages rather easy after applying my knowledge of her past and my knowledge of what made her happiest in the present day. Without going into too much detail about her past or our present together, I concluded that she fell under the languages of Acts of Service and Quality Time. Once the conclusion was reached I started to apply them accordingly. I began to do things without her asking, I began to put my phone away (more often, because I’m not going to pretend to be perfect) when we were spending together. I began to thoroughly pay attention to our interactions and saw a noticeable difference in how we operated. Fights were far and few and communication was at an all-time high, an accomplishment indeed! With a lot of trial and error, I’d like to think that we’ve found some sort of clarity on how we need to be loved and how we need to love each other.

I’m not saying by any means this is a cure-all to anything. Sometimes love just isn’t enough. Also, you don’t necessarily have to be in trouble to enjoy a little light reading on the betterment of your relationship. To me, it’s interesting to find the little blanks you might miss in your relationship because ego and self-interest get in the way. I definitely recommend it.

Just a regular girl livin’ in a corporate world

I began my full-time work life in August 2010. College didn’t work out for me so I took a job as a receptionist in an allergist’s office in Midtown, Manhattan. Younger me was excited for her first taste of real money, independence, and a new venture. After 15 years in school and living to impress my parents and teachers, I was finally able to get a taste of what it would be like to impress myself. I had zero ideas that I was about to embark on one of the most character building journeys of my life.

I have never fit into the standard description of what society paints a female. I am not dainty, I am not delicate, and I definitely have no clue about fashion. I have self-proclaimed “resting bitch face” so working as a receptionist felt impossible. I quickly realized that the standards for the working woman were higher than I could have ever anticipated. I came to the table with a solid education, an ability to pay attention and quickly learn, and a small amount of people skills. This felt like enough of a starting point but it wasn’t. As a woman in the workplace, you are required to smile, required to dress the part, required to act the part. The world has a laundry list of standards it expects you to abide by and I was in over my head. I began looking for validation once again only this time in my bosses and colleagues. I started drowning in the sea of standards once again.

My anxiety grew in a professional setting. I started to develop deeply rooted insecurities. An array of questions flashed through my mind every day. Am I pretty enough? Do I smile enough? Am I smart enough? Despite, how inappropriate the scenario, I’ve had a boss flat out tell me that she does not like me as a reason to let me go. I began to live in a cloud of second guessing myself which made working in general hard. It’s been an uphill battle of wondering if I’m enough. After six jobs, I finally started to realize that I wasn’t going to find it in the position or the authority over me, but rather in me and the set of standards I would set for myself.

While I don’t fully agree with the set of standards women in working environments need to uphold, I do understand them and try to abide by them. However all standards aside I’ve learned that you cannot find the value in anyone’s opinion of your depiction of said standards, you have to set them yourself. I’ve had a messy journey navigating what’s right and what’s not right for me in a professional setting. I have seen, heard, and felt anxiety and nerves in the last 10 years but I am happy to say I’m better for it now. Every critique, constructive or not has shaped me. I am forever a work in progress but the lessons learned have allowed me to shape my own standards and not live for anyone else’s. You spend a large portion of your day at work so it should be an environment where you can flourish and learn.

Ultimately, you have to make your own decisions in every aspect of your life. You have to decide what works and what doesn’t and make the necessary changes for success. Jobs are not permanent. They can be changed, careers can be rerouted but self-love is forever.