Have you ever done something for so long that you forget why you even started? Human beings are such creatures of habit. We like consistency and the safety and comfort of routine, of order. Knowing that the there are certain things that are simply so, like the sun rising and setting. But, sometimes we get too comfortable and stop asking questions, and the moment a "why" resurfaces, it opens a door in our minds that simply can't be closed again.
Last week, I was talking with a friend and she was lamenting the fact that she had gained weight. I kept trying to redirect the conversation, but it just kept wandering back to the glaring number on her scale and she said, "I feel like crap, that's why I need to lose weight." And I thought to myself why does a number have to define everything about us ? Bam! Door blown right open and now I can't get the damn thing closed again.
Why do we automatically assume that weight is what is wrong with our body? We've been conditioned to believe that a particular weight or BMI is the key to everlasting success and happiness. But why? There are a million other indicators of health and well being. Why do we not say, I feel like crap, I need to drink more water? Or I need to eat more fruits and vegetables, or I need to talk to a therapist, or I need to go for a swim? But we rarely say those things on their own, they are always in the context of losing weight. I need to drink more waters so I can lose weight. I need to eat more fruits and vegetables so I can lose weight. The obsession is maddening.
And I think what's almost worse is that it is culturally acceptable to lash out at people who ask why. How dare you challenge the system! Don't you know that the obesity epidemic is what's ruining our country? Is it? I mean really stop and think about it. We've created a cult of obsession around a number on a scale. We've taught people to fear having normal bodies with creases and lumps and wrinkles. We've taught people that food is dangerous and that everything about our worthiness boils down to a smooth stomach and a low BMI. We have created a cultural norm that tells us that it is ok to ridicule and judge others in the name of preserving the health and longevity of our people, but are we going about this all wrong?
What if we taught people to enjoy food? To have culinary adventures with vegetables and fruits and to savor the plethora of world cuisine. What if instead of exercising to punish or bodies for non compliance, we moved for the sheer joy of it? Doing yoga, playing outside, going for a swim, playing soccer with our friends. What if we stopped putting all of our self worth into the number on a scale?
There are so many other measures of health and well being. We have to normalize normal bodies. We have to de-stigmatize mental health. We have to stop lashing out and judging others when we don't know the first thing about their personal journey.
Make a conscious effort to stop talking about weight. It's just a number. If you feel like crap, drink some water, move in a way that makes you feel good, hash it out with a therapist, talk to a doctor (preferably one who isn't solely focused on weight). Nourish your mind, love and accept yourself, respect your uniqueness, and listen to your body. It takes practice, but it will tell you what it needs. And most importantly, be kind - to yourself and to others. The next time someone tells you how it should be, don't be afraid to ask why . Sometimes you will agree with the answer, and sometimes you won't, but that's what makes us all so amazing and diverse. We only stop growing when we stop asking questions.
Have you ever been mindlessly surfing through Facebook and saw a post that just made you stop and rub your face and audibly guffaw in irritation? I am so very over seeing the women in my feed post things like, "I know I'm not pretty, and I've accepted that" or "I'm just a mess and no one will ever love me" or "I'm a waste of space and my life will always be trash". The first response of many is to attack these posts as attention seeking or fishing for compliments and while, in some cases this may ring true, for the vast majority, we are just seeing their internal voices blasted on social media. And, the more important thing we should be asking ourselves is why are our inner voices so damn mean?
Trust me, I've been there. I still struggle on the daily to shut down those negative, criticizing voices in my head, but it takes practice and vigilance and can absolutely change your life. Growth Mindset will set you free if you let it.
Growth Mindset is a buzz word I picked up from my last years as a high school English teacher. It's the idea that instead of investing in the notion that learning and growth are fixed, unchangeable, and often negative that learning and growth are positive and fluid experiences that we have the power to shape.
So, for example, the next time you try something new and it is an epic disaster, instead of thinking "I'm a failure" replace the thought with "I'm learning". When you feel like you don't have it all together, instead of saying "I'm a mess" say "I'm human". You are absolutely worthy of good things. Yes, you. And the universe isn't punishing you for being worthless or bad or stupid. Trust me on this. My name actually means bad luck, and I've spent the better part of 30 years arguing with myself on this, so I can confidently tell you that no matter what your internal voices are telling you - you are amazing and worthy and capable.
If there is someone in your life who makes you feel that you are less than, someone who tears you down or makes you question your worth or your sanity, cut them out. You do not need fuel on a toxic fire (if you feel trapped or threatened and need help, call the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-7233).
Retraining your inner voice is work. And some days will absolutely be harder than others. Surround yourself with people who lift you up - in your life, in your social media feeds, in the music that rolls out of your phone. Find positive and inspiring groups like Conk's Community: Women Empowering Women. Go out of your way to make room for what makes you feel good and worthy. Stop putting yourself down, and second guessing yourself. When your head tells you, "You can't do this" answer back with, "I can, because I can do hard things".
Every time I see a woman tearing herself down, I want to grab her and hold her so tight. I want to climb on top of the tallest building I can find and yell at the top of my lungs, this is why I fight for women - for women's empowerment. I have been where you are. I still wrestle these demons, and I am here to tell you once and for all that you are enough.
Chase your dreams, find what makes you come alive, because you deserve to feel whole and fulfilled. You deserve to love yourself and your life. So, grab a pen and paper, and write down every negative thing that your internal voice tells you and then shut it down, weed it out, and plant something beautiful in it's place. "I'm ugly", no "I'm beautiful and I deserve to be around people who see that in me." Or, "I'm just a mess and no one will ever love me", no "I'm a work in progress and I deserve someone who loves me through all the stages of my journey." Or, "I'm a waste of space and my life will always be trash", no, "I'm a worthy person and I can build and shape the life that I deserve."
Teach your inner voice to be kind, to be supportive, to help you grow. One step at a time. Think of all those negative thoughts as weeds. Root them out and plant flowers, and eventually, the weeds will be less and your garden will thrive. Go out there and grow, now that you know anything is possible and you deserve everything you dare to dream.
I know what some of you are thinking. Wait, what? Are you some kind of monster? Of course it's a bad thing to be selfish. But, hear me out and you just might gain some valuable insight into the inner workings of you. (Or you might still think I'm a monster and go eat a sandwich while you further contemplate the universe, but hey, a sandwich sounds like a win to me 🙂)
Let's start this healthy introspection off with a few observations about societal expectations placed on women, shall we. First, I'll start with the immortal vocal stylings of Chaka Khan, "I'm every woman, it's all in me, anything you want done baby, I'll do it naturally." Don't get me wrong, I love this song and I totally get why it shows up on so many lists of female empowerment songs, but it points to a less healthy cultural trend that has been picking up steam since the 1970's - women can do it all, at once, without batting an eyelash. Nicole Lapin points out this issue in her amazing book Becoming Super Woman: A Simple 12 Step Plan to Go from Burnout to Balance (more on this book in an upcoming blog post).
I must admit that I found myself in deep agreement with Lapin and started really thinking about the things I've been taught about what it means to be a girl/woman in our culture. Women are caregivers and often times sole caregivers. I know that we are making progress as a society, but as with so many things, we've still got a long way to go. We are taught from day one to take care of everyone else's needs before our own. Cook, clean, raise children, run the carpool, go to college, have a fulfilling career, go to the gym, look flawless, remember birthdays, send cards and never complain about being tired or you're selfish. There it is - the s word.
Growing up, I internalized the belief that being selfish was a cardinal sin. Absolutely, above everything else, you must not be selfish. Give to others to the point of complete self-sacrifice in order to prove that you have not failed, that you are not a bad person, that you don't lack moral character. And it's just a terrible model to follow.
You can't fill from an empty cup. One more time, louder for those in the back: YOU CAN NOT FILL FROM AN EMPTY CUP. Sorry for yelling, but it's just so frustrating, and irritating this cross we are taught to bear. When you try to do everything and be everything for everyone, you are spread too thin. As human beings, we all have a breaking point. Giving to everyone and never taking for yourself means that you are an empty vessel with no fuel, and, instead of giving 100%, you are giving 1% to a hundred different things. It's exhausting and unhealthy.
Your needs matter. Not after you have met everyone else's first - now. Being selfish gets a bad rap because it has the connotation that taking for yourself means disregarding everyone else. That you would deliberately harm another person physically, emotionally, or spiritually, to get what you want. I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt here and say that this is not you. You are a good person, and meeting your needs first is about finding balance, and being happy so that everything you do going forward will be met with all the energy and passion you have.
So, what do you want? Now that you have permission to take care of yourself, what do you need? This question is often deeply unsettling. It's like walking into the world's largest all you can eat buffet on an empty stomach. There are just so many choices, so many things you haven't tried before or thought to try. So much all at once. Take a deep breath ( I know, I give that advice a lot 🙂). This isn't a mountain you have to conquer in one day. This is a process and for most of us, it takes time. And giving yourself permission to explore and grow and change your mind - a hundred times if that's what it takes.
Put yourself first. Not because you are greedy and irreverent of others feeling, but because you care about being the best version of yourself and sharing that with the world. Start making time, even if you have to fight for it, to ask yourself what you want. What do you dream of for yourself? What kind of life do you want to have? What legacy do you want to leave behind? It doesn't have to be grandiose - you don't have to change the world (unless you want to). Maybe you want to run a successful business, maybe you want to share your passion through art, maybe you want to teach others how to love themselves too.
Take a small step today. Get out a pen and a piece of paper. Write at the top, What do I want? You can start making a list, or doodle, or just free write. No one else will see this but you, so don't worry about how it looks or if it's organized the "right" way. There is no right way. Maybe, all you can think of is a sandwich. Write that down. Describe it. Think about what will be on it, what kind of bread, how it will taste. No limits. Just start writing, and do this every single day. What do I want? You'll be surprised how your thinking starts to shift. When you give yourself permission to dream, to contemplate, to imagine without limits - that still small voice inside you will start to speak again. Just listen.
Put yourself first. Be a little selfish. Figure out what you want for your life. This is the first step on the road to building true fulfillment. And when you allow yourself to have what you need, to be happy, and to grow, that light will shine so brightly that it warms everyone else in your path. Your personal fulfillment will give you strength and direction and purpose. There will be no more 1% to 100 things, there will be 100% to the most important things. So, really, there's only one question left today, what do you want? You owe it to yourself to find out.
May is Mental Health Month and the perfect time to address a topic that is very near to my heart. Mental health is no different than physical health and just as important. For a very long time, our culture has been dismissive of psychology and therapy favoring a let's sweep in under the rug attitude toward mental illness and I couldn't be happier that's finally starting to change. At the very least, we are seeing positive movement in the right direction.
I don't know about you, but this idea that it's all "in your head" is immensely frustrating. Telling someone that it's all in their head implies weakness or that they can somehow mind over matter the whole situation and everything will be fine. I'm going to get real with you for a moment here.
When I was in high school, I suffered from bouts of very severe, clinical depression. I practiced self harm and also struggled with disordered eating, but my dad didn't believe in therapy. He was absolutely convinced that I was acting out, or needed attention and that if I could just "snap out of it" and "put my mind to it", I would be cured. But that's the thing. Mental illness isn't a weakness or personal failing. It doesn't indicate that you lack character. Often, it is the result of trauma or a chemical imbalance or biology, NOT a lack of tenacity.
Luckily for me,my mother did believe in therapy and, although I never got support from my dad, I got treatment and medication which helped me immensely. To this day, I struggle with sometimes debilitating anxiety, but I continue to learn new ways of coping and have built an amazing support system. Not every day is a good day, and that's ok.
If you are struggling or suspect you might be struggling with mental illness, please visit Mental Health America for a free mental health screening. You can also visit Better Help, an online counseling service that offers unlimited 24/7 communication with a licensed health care professional. They offer financial assistance services for those who need it and you can get a free week when you sign up using my link.
If someone you care about is struggling with mental illness, here are a few helpful do's and don'ts. First, don't tell them to "calm down" or "chill out". Chances are they can't simply control what they are feeling and maybe even how they are responding. As I said before, this isn't about weakness or personal failing. Second, don't imply that they are "crazy" or "over reacting". Don't make them feel inadequate or less than, because chances are, they already feel that way or have felt that way and what they really need is your support.
So, what should you do? First, listen. Brene Brown has an excellent video on empathy that poignantly illustrates the power of listening and offering support. Second, ask them how you can help. Sometimes we just need to know that someone has our back. Lastly, encourage them to talk to a professional. Let them know that there is absolutely no shame in talking to a doctor, counselor, or therapist about what they are feeling and how they are struggling.
The very best thing we can do is destigmatize mental health. Start the conversation, share the resources, be the support, and reach out if you or a loved one is struggling. Mental health is every bit as important as physical health. Depression and anxiety are every bit as real as asthma and the flu. Remember, May in Mental Health month and it's up to us to spread the word.
I'm a blogger, entrepreneur, and educator breaking through stigmas and helping women find their voice.