If it Makes You Happy…

A funny thing happens when you remain within your comfort zone….you get comfortable. You get cozy with predictability and close yourself off from the unknown, which can lead to a false sense of security and control. But sometimes you have to go there to focus on healing and taking care of yourself. My therapist shared with me the great analogy of the importance of putting on your oxygen mask first before helping someone else. That’s not being selfish…it’s how you survive. That same rule applies off the plane. If you don’t take care of yourself, how can you be there for others? And if you continue to neglect or ignore your own needs, that’s when bigger issues can arise.

Self-love is not a new topic here on Be Sol-Ful Living…in fact, it’s kind of been a reoccurring theme in a lot of my posts and I think because self-love is something that needs to be practiced daily – heck, it’s something I’ve been trying to practice for most of my life. It’s not something that you can magically achieve or master – you will have slip ups and bad days and that’s OKAY. Self-love is a lifelong journey adventure that constantly needs attention and fine tuning. Not only that, but everyone’s ideas and practices are unique and that’s how it should be.

I have learned that self-love AND self-care go hand in hand. Part of loving yourself is taking care of you and I think that’s where a lot of us go wrong. As a society, we are notorious for burning the candle at both ends, pushing ourselves to maximum capacity, and putting unhealthy expectations and pressures on ourselves. All of that can lead to stress, anxiety, a rise in health issues, and negative self-talk.  I will be the first to admit that I am guilty of all of that. Another part of self-care is being true to yourself and figuring out what’s right for you. And recognizing what is needed in the moment…a changing with the seasons, so to speak.

Two things that are working for me are yoga and meditation. Yoga has become a daily ritual since January 1st of this year and as of today, I’m at 632 consecutive days of meditation…it’s been a beautiful, life-changing experience.

One of the biggest things I’ve learned about self-care is that despite the word “self,” it actually takes a village to make it happen. You need people on your side, people who will support and encourage you on this quest. There is absolutely ZERO shame in needing and asking for help – which was a big hurdle for me to get over. My younger self would have viewed it as a sign of weakness, but I now see it as being courageous and proactive. For me, my village includes: my family, close friends, my naturopath, chiropractor, and therapist. They’re a mix of people who welcome me (and my rambles) with open arms and ears and a few who will call me out on my nonsense or negativity. I honestly wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

Last year (2018), while incredibly difficult, was also the start of a major turning point for me that just really came into full bloom recently. In the span of eight months, we lost two of our fur babies to cancer and that just about wrecked me. It took quite the emotional toll on my little family. Loss of any kind is hard and the grieving process can fool you sometimes. You think you’re doing okay, that you’re healed, but truth is, that loss and the memories can hit you out of nowhere…even months down the road. Luckily, I live with two amazing, supportive humans and we make it known to one another that it’s okay to be sad…and more importantly, it’s okay to talk about it. I closed myself off from most of the outside world because not only was I hurting, but I was also afraid of not being understood. I stepped back from my blog at first because I felt like a broken record talking about heartache and hardships, but then I grew cozy keeping my thoughts my own…leaving vulnerability at the door. Now here we are, almost a year later, and I’m on attempt number 23 24 to write a return post. I have had so many thoughts bouncing around this brain of mine for the last few months and have tried repeatedly to sit down and organize them, but have struggled EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Truth is, it’s hard for me to get back into the rhythm of something that I’ve been absent from for an extended period of time…and being a chronic over-thinker adds an extra layer of hurdles. As much as I’d like to say, “Who cares what people think,” it’s something I know I will always battle on some level. But with writing being one of my big passions (something that brings me happiness), I know I just need to dive back in and make time for it. I make no promises today on fluidity though 😉

Another funny thing about comfort zones is that they can shift. What might have once brought you discomfort, anxiety, stress, or disease, could later morph into a place of peace…and vice versa. I wanted to share a few things that I’ve noticed over the last couple of years, which will include some resources that helped me.

B O O K S….

I LOVE BOOKS. Last year alone I read 101 books…I even shocked myself with that number! It’s easy for me to get lost in a well written, fiction novel, but then you might find a great non-fiction book that makes you think or challenges you to really take a look at yourself.  Below are three that I’ve read within this last year that stand out and really played a role in my healing.

Destination Simple: Everyday Rituals for a Slower Life by Brooke McAlary

This was a super quick (took me less than an hour to finish), insightful read and it was a game changer. Not only with how I approached self-care, but also simple tasks throughout my daily life. Without giving too much away, the author provides tips on how to slow down – to focus on single-tasking…which sounds crazy in this fast paced, multi-tasking world we live in! You learn to find beauty and solace in the small things and putting your full attention into a single task can be pretty eye-opening. Something as simple as taking in all that goes into making a cup of tea – being present in all of your senses. While I admit to not sticking to single-tasking, when I do, I’m amazed at the peace it brings and the awareness in minor things that would otherwise go unnoticed. But what really hit home was when she discusses how unhealthy and damaging this illusive quest for balance is. Being the perfectionist that I am, I had to sit with that one for a moment because we are constantly hearing the word BALANCE. Instead, she introduces the word “tilting” – which is focusing on what’s important in the moment. Unless you have super powers or eight arms, you’re going to be dropping the ball somewhere…and that’s OKAY. Her words struck a chord with me because I felt like someone was finally being realistic, but also giving me permission to let go of perfectionism to some degree and go with where life takes me. Well, I don’t know about you, but that was a massive weight off of my shoulders! “Tilting” is putting your energy where it’s needed at a given moment. I think this helped me to realize that no one really has it all together and figured out. And don’t be fooled, despite this turning point in my life, I still don’t have it completely figured out.

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport

Despite having already drastically minimizing my digital use, reading this book shed a lot of new light on the matter. Newport is not anti-technology, nor is he against social media, but his ideas about both were incredibly thought-provoking. “The key issue is that using social media tends to take people away from the real-world socializing that’s massively more valuable. As the negative studies imply, the more you use social media, the less time you tend to devote to offline interaction, and therefore the worse this value deficit becomes—leaving the heaviest social media users much more likely to be lonely and miserable.”

Newport is a firm believer in setting restrictions for yourself so that you use technology (and social media) in healthy ways so that you’re more intentional with your life and leisure time. He challenges you to ask yourself how and why you’re using technology…is it the best way to serve your goal? And how does it make you feel? This book helped push me out of my comfort zone and really focus on real-life connections and the things that make me happy. If you think you have an addiction to technology and/or social media, I highly recommend giving this book a go. Newport provides some really interesting research and tips that can help you to reclaim your “free” time…your “you” time and move towards a more peaceful life.

The Strength of Sensitivity: Understanding Empathy for a Life of Emotional Peace & Balance by Kyra Mesich

I realize that this book won’t be for everyone, but as a highly sensitive person, it helped me tremendously. It helped me to not only accept and embrace my sensitivity, but to trust my intuition. For as long as I can remember, I have been told that I’m “too sensitive,” or “you’re overreacting,” and while deep down I knew that wasn’t the case, I actually started to believe it and get angry with myself. Reading this book felt like getting a big hug from someone who understands, someone who knows what it’s like to feel deeply and how that that can affect your day-to-day life. I learned just how powerful our thoughts are and that we have the ability to change them. But the biggest piece for me was learning how sensitivity is linked with food intolerances. She introduces the acronym NESS: Never-Ending Sensitivity Syndrome, “the condition in which a sensitive individual continuously develops new or heightened environmental and food sensitivities.” It’s as if she wrote this book just for me 😉 I’ll share my experiences with this in just a moment!

S O C I A L  M E D I A:

It’s what you make of it…

I used to find comfort in scrolling for hours on Instagram and used it not only as a distraction from working on what was necessary (self-love + self-care), but it was also my primary means of connection. I felt safer behind a screen until reality surfaced. I realized that, on some level, I was seeking validation or acceptance from others and trusting myself less. What started out as a beautiful outlet to share creativity and ideas and to connect with others, turned into a place of anxiety and closed-mindedness. I allowed others to determine what I thought about myself and how I lived. What used to be fun and light-hearted morphed into a toxic space…and I needed to step away. I know a lot of people who are really good at separating their personal life from social media life. Leaving the bad days and struggles away from the lens. A part of me wishes I could be like that, but truth is, I am really bad at pretending things are okay and when I try, it leaves me with an uneasy feeling…like I’m being fake. I’m at my best when I’m being 100% authentic – sharing the good and the bad, the ugly and the “beautiful.” But that also leaves you vulnerable and you and I both know that social media + vulnerability can be brutal. Now I’m not saying you need to have transparency with everything – I believe in keeping some things sacred – but when you hide behind a mask of superficial positivity, you’re not only doing a disservice to yourself, but to others. I believe in sharing what makes you uniquely YOU and what makes YOU happy. But I also believe in being real and if that means talking about the hard stuff, that’s okay. Stand out and be different because that’s what the world needs more of. Letting your true self shine can be contagious and help others to do the same. We all have so much to offer, gifts to share, ideas to express, but we need to let go of what people will think.

Remember how I said comfort zones can shift? I think I’m starting to see that I’ve grown comfortable in sticking with what I know (and real life friends) that I’ve closed myself off from one very important thing….vulnerability. To quote my absolute favorite expert on the matter:

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” ~ Brene Brown

I was so afraid of failing or not being accepted that I just walked away instead…but failing means you’re trying and that’s part of the natural process AND progress. I’m realizing now that when I was putting myself out there more whether here or via Instagram, I had more creativity flowing through me. I want to inspire AND be inspired….and none of that can happen while sitting safely in my comfort bubble.

I recently Googled, “how can an individual change the world” and the first thing that popped up was a post titled: If you Want to Change the World, First Change Yourself: Four Steps to Making a Positive Impact. I highly recommend giving it a read because it actually sums up my thoughts quite nicely. His four main points are:

Stop comparing yourself to others

Be as authentic and genuine as possible

Generosity and empathy can go a long way

Improve and change what is closest to you

For me, I want to make a difference. I want to help people feel comfortable with being who they are and to not get caught up in the “shoulds” or “what-ifs.” I would love to be a part of the change…so that when/if my daughter decides to use social media (waaaaaay down the road) it’s a space of compassion and individuality.

F O O D:

The biggest change for me has been my relationship with food. For YEARS, I struggled with food…from disordered eating to food sensitivities. When my life felt chaotic or unstable, I found the one thing I could control was food. As I got older, I learned that food has the power to heal and more recently, I learned that I do in fact have control over my health. The media is really good about telling you what you should or should not eat for optimal health and that you should avoid those foods deemed “bad” otherwise you’re considered unhealthy. As someone with a past with disordered eating, restrictions can be dangerous. I grew fearful of certain foods and if I did eat those “unclean” foods, I was afraid to share that. Truth is, I love food and I love to eat…more importantly, I love to eat what makes me happy AND makes me feel good. And there shouldn’t be any shame in that. Nor should we shame or judge someone else for their choices…for what makes them happy. I think it’s easy to forget that we are all different and the foods that make one person feel good, may not be right for another. There isn’t a one size fits all “diet” and the foods we eat can change. While I have remained gluten-free, soy-free, and plant-based, over the last three years I have gone from AIP, to paleo, to I-eat-what-feels-right-to-me-in-that-moment. I have let go of putting myself in a boxed category and I have let go of FEAR.

Back in March, I was still having some digestive/gut issues and decided to do an elimination diet. While doing the elimination diet, I was also reading The Strength of Sensitivity and that is when I learned just how powerful our thoughts can be. In the past, I feared certain foods because other people said they were bad…and when I did eat them, I ate them from a place of fear, so they obviously didn’t sit well with me. I experienced not only shame, but physical reactions such as bloating, constipation, chronic fatigue, and more. I started thinking, “I can’t eat ____” and stayed away from things such as oil, coffee, rice (and other grains) and legumes. My diet felt incredibly limited and unsatisfying.

“Living in negativity only perpetuates further negativity.” ~ Kyra Mesich

Mesich opened my eyes to my negative thinking and how it was affecting my body. My frustrations and anger over my sensitivities and digestive system were only worsening…which was also increasing my anxiety and depression. Your mental and emotional state has a direct impact with your digestive system. You know the phrase, “change your thoughts and you can change your life” – it’s true. When I hit the reintroduction phase of the elimination diet, I decided to approach each food with new light. Before I would sit down to a meal, I would repeat this mantra quietly in my mind or out loud:

“This food will nourish me. This food will sit well with me. This food will heal me.”

Guess what? I can eat what I want and be at peace with it. If I’m feeling stressed, I do my very best to calm my state of mind before sitting down to eat because otherwise, my gut will reject anything I consume. Now I’m not saying this is a cure all or this is what will work for you, but this is what I have found to work for ME. More than anything, this experience has taught me to trust my gut and stay curious – to not close myself off from other possibilities. This whole shift has made eating not only more fun, but also less stressful. I no longer overthink what I’m eating and what others will think about my choices…I just EAT. I remember long ago when I used to restrict calories and fat and how I used to envy those who ate whatever they wanted. Now if I want to order a pizza loaded with extra veggies and “cheese,” I do it and that does not make me unhealthy. I no longer fear processed foods and obsess over labels. Now I’m not saying a diet based heavily on processed foods is good, but every now and then, it’s okay! I will never forget sitting down for a snack at Whole Foods and my mom opened up a bag of chips and offered some to Willow. Willow took the bag to read the label and exclaimed, “Grandma! There’s cane sugar in these!” At first I was proud because she was paying attention to labels, but I then realized that I have instilled a fear of sugar. A fear of food. That was my turning point. Don’t worry, I let her try some of the chips 🙂 While we still do our best to not buy overly processed foods, I no longer beat myself up or feel shame in enjoying a Beyond Meat burger or some store bought vegan ice cream.

Healthy looks and feels differently for everyone and I think sometimes that’s easy to forget. I say, if it makes YOU happy (and you’re not harming anyone), do it! And if something doesn’t feel right, change it! Just because a popular blogger, YouTuber, Instagrammer, says this is what’s right, doesn’t mean you have to follow them. They don’t always share that this is what is working for them (in that moment), so focus on what works for YOU!

Goodness! I wish I could personally hug everyone who made it to the end of this post. Thank YOU!! ❤️

Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy: They are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” ~ Marcel Proust

I am incredibly grateful for my village of people – to those who love and support me unconditionally…you know who you are ❤ With this specific post, I wanted to personally thank my friend, Natalie. For inspiring me in more ways than one and for just being an overall AMAZING human. Our chats while you were visiting really reignited my passion to write and to share my truth…and to never lose sight of why I started. {P.S. – I highly recommend reading her recent post about her relationship with food!} ❤️

Lots of love to all of you! It feels good to be back!