From Type A to Type Ahh

Be the Change You Wish to See in the World – Ghandi


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Overwhelm, Guilt and the Perfectionist

to-do-list-390x259As I have mentioned recently, I have a lot going on in my life.  My best friend who does not have any immediate family is battling colon cancer, I am interviewing for and preparing for a new role at work, I care for my mother and elderly aunt with health issues, I volunteer and lead my regular life.  On Tuesday most of these things came to a head for me.

I was returning from my friends oncologist appointment with her, my mother was on the phone crying because her eye surgery was being pushed back two days and she has been waiting for over a month for her physician to send a referral.  For some reason my usually on top of it staff decided Tuesday was a great day to have a complete meltdown.  My 18-year-old cat spent the morning vomiting and hiding behind the bed.  None of these are good signs in an 18 year old cat.  My other cat Pablo had to go off his hyper thyroid meds on Monday to prepare for his I131 treatment in October.  To say I was feeling a little overwhelmed is an understatement.

For all those perfectionists or recovering perfectionists, you know overwhelm has a close companion, guilt.  As my mother cried and told me her surgeries would now be on the two next consecutive Fridays I had only one thought: we coach run club on Friday.  I would now have to bail on my husband and leave him to coach the kids alone.

Fortunately I have a great partner and as son as I got home he could see that I was at the end of my rope.  I immediately started apologizing that I would not be able to be at run club.  Only later when I got some much-needed perspective did I realize I don’t need to apologize.  The truth is on the life priority list mom’s eye surgery I obviously a priority.  My not so perfectionist husband realized this right away.  I also had a fleeting thought maybe that is also why he does not get as overwhelmed.

It is not that some people don’t ever face multiple competing priorities and stressors, I you don’t have the added pressure that you must rise to meet every obligation without fail, flaw or assistance you add a level of overwhelm that makes difficulties more difficult.  I have been trying to improve this.  So to combat my mounting overwhelm I looked at my schedule.  My mother’s appointment was Friday afternoon.  Normally I would have gone in to work at 6:30 AM worked until I needed to pick her up.  This time I put in for sick leave for the whole day.  I spent the morning ding my errands I had been neglecting, scheduling my doctor’s appointments for routine care, cleaning my filthy house that was a constant reminder that I was falling apart.  Picked up my cats meds and basically slowed down for a bit.  I can tell you that as we sat at the eye doctor waiting for an additional 2 hours I was content and able to assure my mother.  If I had not found some personal breathing room and acceptance of my less than perfect performance it would have been a far more painful day for both of us.


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Morning Routines

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One of the hot self-help trends is morning routines.  As a regimented and very disciplined person I am of course a fan of routine.  So naturally this is something near and dear to my heart. Recently, I have really tried to be present during my morning routine and throughout the day to check in on the impact it has.  I will say right now is a fairly stressful time for me personally.  I care for my elderly mother and aunt, I am supporting my best friend through her battle with cancer, and I am in transition to a new leadership position at work.  Taking time to evaluate my morning routine seemed like a smart move.

What is my morning routine?  First, I will say I am a woman so it starts early.  No offense guys, but the women reading this know what I am talking about.  I want to carve out a part of the day just for me without negatively impacting those in my life who depend upon me.  For me that is the folks I mentioned above, plus my husband, my cats and my fellow volunteers at the cat shelter.  Our only kids have fur and 4 feet.  So during the week my day begins at 4 AM.  I get up and first thing I feed my cats their breakfast.  Since all of our cats eat a raw diet and they are all geriatric I sit with them so I can evaluate how each is eating and keep on top of any potential health problems before they get out of hand.  It takes about 15 minutes to dish out food feed each cat and for the last cat, Lena, to finish her breakfast.  Lena also has a morning routine and it includes a leisurely meal. She will not be rushed by her impatient and piggy siblings.

After the cats eat I administer morning meds to those who take them and I prep the ingredients for my smoothie that I eat for breakfast.  It is always some combo of fruit, greens, and nut butter or seeds and water I put the prepped smoothie in the fridge.  I add ice before I mix it in my nutribullet.  After that I put on the running clothes I have laid out the night before, take my vitamins and some water and head out for a couple of miles listening to my podcasts.  There is nothing quite like the quiet of a 4:30 AM run.  After my run I come in and head down to the finished basement.  I clean the cat litter that lives down there.  The others were cleaned while they ate.  After that I do 3 Vinyasa Flow Series into Downward Dog (Cat in my case).  Nothing alters your perspective for the day like starting it upside down.  After that I light the candle in my meditation area and I sit for my meditation using my Insight Timer. By that time it is 5:30 AM.  My 90 minutes of me time has come to an end. I wake my husband and jump in the shower.

After the shower I have really shortened my getting ready regimen.  Part was  I came to realize I don’t need much make-up or fancy hair care.  Part was streamlining my wardrobe.  Keeping only clothes I love.  I also select and hang up in my bathroom, my clothes the night before.  Mascara and blush, a little mousse through my curly hair and I am good to go.  I make the bed,  add ice to my prepped smoothie glass, turn on my Nutribullet, get my cup of black coffee, and 20 oz. of water.  I ask Alexa to play my flash briefing that starts with a positivity piece and then unbiased NPR news, and a word of the day and today’s weatehr and my schedule for the day.  I then read from my Kindle, whatever book I am currently reading, finish my breakfast, do the dishes, brush my teeth and hubby and I leave the house together as long as school is in session.

What have I noticed?  In the past if I had this much going on I would feel constantly stressed.  I would also feel like doing everything was a burden and an unfair expectation.  Creating a little space everyday to start in a calm healthy way has helped me to change my perspective. I find that though a lot is going on, I feel privileged to be in a position to help.  I treasure the alone time in my morning routine but that allows me to also appreciate the quiet time with my husband and cats too.  It is like a mini-vacation or reset everyday.  Maybe getting up at 4:00 AM sounds like torture. I am sure if I did not also go to bed by 9:00 PM it would feel like that to me too.  Since I have set some priorities and morning rituals it makes everyday easier especially the tough ones.


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Origins

new-beginningsI was listening to a podcast this week about origin stories.  I thought about how much had changed in my life over the last 20 months.  It is a lot.  Since I am nearly 50, I was trying to think what made me want to change some things about my life.  From appearances I would have seemed pretty successful and to have everything under control.  I was respected in my career, had a good marriage, home, fiends, etc.  I think most of the time I was on autopilot and in those moments I wasn’t, I was usually pretty reactive and frankly pretty raw.  I had a lot of the things we think about as being ideal.  The reality was I was often restless, snarky, judgmental, angry, and mean.  What I lacked was what I really wanted, more peace.  I wanted to feel internally what it looked like I had externally to most people.

Why all of a sudden?  Then listening to this podcast I thought what was my origin story? At first I thought,  nothing. Then my mind drifted back to 2013-15.  That was not a super time for me.  What is that saying, if everything can go wrong it will go wrong.  My husband and I were robbed twice the first time was a shock and then the second time about 3 months later.  After they had watched the house and made sure we replaced everything.  We were renting and our landlord decided the house was safe enough he was not going to make any changes. So we broke our lease, with his consent, and had to find a new place to live rapidly.  The situation was not ideal. It was our most stressful move.  The house we moved into needed work none of it was done.  I had to keep leaving work to get things finished.  I had a brand new boss. Also our previous landlord, the one who did nothing to prevent the repeated break-ins, decided he would not refund our deposit since we left after being robbed twice in 3-months.

I was taking care of my mother who was having eye surgery at the time.  Then in the spring I got a phone call.  We were not celebrating Easter. My brother was in the hospital.  By that evening we were all in the hospital when his surgeon told us they removed his colon but the cancer was everywhere and he very little time left.  He was gone in less than 2 weeks.  We had not been close, but he did live with my mother and handle some day to day duties, so now I needed to find someway to take care of her.  In the meantime my aunt fell and went in to rehab.  My sister ended up with some severe chronic health problems.

I was stressed, tired, overwhelmed, everyone was looking to me and I was trying to keep it together.  My husband was there every step of the way but I am afraid I took out most of my frustration on him.  I had running as an outlet and it helped.  I needed something else.  The what else was not immediately obvious. In fact I tried several things.  Then at the end of 2016 I injured my foot and they said no running.  I am not going to lie.  I was hanging on by a thread.  That is when I decided to try one thing.  Meditate everyday even if just for a minute.  If you read this blog you will know that it has helped me in so many ways to become a better, truer version of myself. By doing that I have been able to give more openly to those I care about and causes I value.  What kicked you into change?


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Rising Above

helping the sickConfession time.  I could never be Mother Theresa.  The fact is I am not very good with illness and I spend an irrational amount of time and energy making and following through on healthy habits.  Here comes the irony part, every single member of my family has died from or currently faces debilitating illnesses.  Now my best friend is facing a battle with cancer.  Though I have been working hard to be non-judgmental, easier with my friend.  Not as easy with my family.   It is hard to spend so much of your time immersed in the ramifications of a lifetime of bad decisions and not sometimes feel a little bitter and angry.

People often remark when I pack my healthy vegetarian, usually Vegan lunch everyday, forgo dessert at work celebrations, get out of bed every morning at 4 AM to run, cook dinner at home most nights, and regularly include chiropractic and gym visits into my life; “I could never do that.”  I would be giving up so much.”  I try to explain with all honesty nothing tastes as good as being healthy.  I will never look back and think I wish I had watched more TV, and wasted less time exercising or meditating.  In fact over the last 2 years the biggest difference in how I react to my family and what feels like unwelcome obligations brought on by someone else’s irresponsible choices  has been to prioritize my own health both physical mental.  My mother in particular has had a different life philosophy.  She has always subscribed to the idea that to truly help someone you have to give all of yourself, until it hurts, literally.  For a time I also tried that.  What I found was bitterness and resentment, exhaustion and poor health.

I wanted to serve with a happy heart.  I wanted to be as judgment free as I could be, given the circumstances  I know this may sound cliché and like “Sure, Right.  Maybe you can do that, but I live in the real world.”  I get it.  I was there.  In the nearly two years I have been adapting my lifestyle, I have found that well I have to draw from for service is far deeper when I take care of myself first.  If I continue to keep the commitments of mental and physical health I made to myself, I am a better caretaker.  They are not life altering. I want to eat healthy so I have that food on hand with me.  I want to run so I get up at 4 AM so I have time just for me when everyone who might need me is fast asleep.  As soon as I finish my run I meditate.  Most nights as I lay in bed, where I would previously silently stew in bitterness, judgment and resentment about why I am stuck doing all of this.  I now meditate.  I sleep better.  These simple promises and gifts I give myself make all the difference in how I approach caregiving.  It also frees up a lot of the chaos and anxiety in my life, so I have room to embrace the unexpected.  It is not a perfect system.  I certainly wish health on my friends and family.  Finding this gap for myself fills my well so I can give to others.


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Oh Yeah…That’s Progress

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I can often become obsessed with outcomes.  That is part of who I am, and also a trait of most perfectionists, even recovering ones.  How is this working? Have I arrived yet? Did I finish? Is this correct?  All of these thoughts can and have dominated my life for a long time.  The weirdest thing happened recently.  I realized that for the most part they don’t anymore.  Even weirder for a results oriented perfectionist, I also realized I was not consciously trying to get rid of them.  I was not really even focused on them.  Instead I was focused on adopting some positive actions.  The journey I started over a year and a half ago.

All of sudden this week I noticed that some things had actually shifted as a result of the actions I had tried to adopt.  It feels a little like compound interest of the soul.  All of these little investments and changes actually led to some real change.  I have been working on being more mindful and present and being kinder.  I had to spend a lot of time reminding myself stay present.  Or realizing three hours later that I am not even sure what I did for the last three hours; I was that much on autopilot.  Also because my nature is defensive sarcastic, I had to really consciously work to be kind.  Reminding myself be nice, be compassionate, listen.  Last week I was in several conversations, even difficult ones, and I noticed that instead of saying “be kind”, I was actually being kind.  I found myself fully engaged in moments with friends, family, my husband, and my cats.  Also I could notice when I wasn’t.

I am not sure when all of this started coming together.  Probably not a great tribute to mindfulness.   I am clueless as to when the whole thing started coming more naturally and bringing more awareness about when I am not achieving these goals.  I do think certain soul investments have been most valuable to me.

  1. Meditation everyday.  I don’t know when the promise to do it just once a day for  2 minutes  became twice a day and able to sit for 30 minutes or more.  I know the results have been revolutionary for this hyper-active, performance driven workaholic.
  2. Gratitude practice.  The sharing three things we are grateful for practice my husband I adopted before dinner is now a highlight of my day.  Not just because it makes me focus on something positive but I am learning more about what my husband finds joy in.  Also this lens, without even knowing it now changes many things in life for me.  I can view them and say “wow I am really lucky.”
  3. My Buddhist Communication Course and Insight timer Courses.  Having daily lessons and activities as well as tools to achieve better communication and deeper meditation have really helped me with clarity, honesty, and empathy.
  4. Volunteering.  This has really brought a lot of value to my life and helped me align my values and step out of myself.
  5. Going back to vegetarianism. It has helped my health I feel better than I have in years. Also it was true to my soul and values.  I believe all animals are sentient beings and eating them is just not consistent with that belief.

It was not a lightning bolt and I did not do all of these things at once.  I added them gradually as I was ready.  All of it has begun to add up. I feel, calmer, kinder, more aligned, less reactive, and more focused. Turns out incremental progress is okay after all.


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Change

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I have been working on changes, that is kind of what this blog is all about.   I have recently been focused on a specific change, a big change at work.  It has also interestingly intersected with all the internal work I have been doing.  I guess all that stuff about the universe and presenting opportunities when you are ready may be a real thing after all.

I am currently a water resource manager.  I have been working in this space since 2004 and the exact job I have right now since 2009.  Because of it and some great mentors and some very fortuitous opportunities, I have gotten to do a lot and make a big impact, on the regional, state, and national level.  I have gotten to travel and keynote professional conferences and I have gotten to make a big impact on the environment and preserving water resources.  Truth be told, a couple of things have been nagging at me lately.  One I don’t find that much challenge in the work anymore.  I still find value, but I no longer have many of those new learning opportunities. I have shifted to a mentoring phase, which I also enjoy.

The other change is that as I get quiet and clear through my attempts at minimalism, meditation, and growth; I am realizing that my priorities have shifted a little.  I have gotten to do so much and I am grateful.  I am looking to make a little more impact locally, as in my own utility.  Also I no longer really enjoy the travel.  I want to work and come home to my husband and cats.  I want time to cook, meditate, read, and help my mother.  Where has all of this led?  As fate would have it about 6 weeks ago our Customer Service Manager just up and walked out. He had been struggling and he just could not take it anymore.  Our leadership immediately came to me to see if I was interested.  It would be a big change, but I have been the interim Manager 3 times between other managers.  Every time my bosses asked won’t you apply?  Each time I said no.  This time I really felt different.  I had always looked at the position that is full of managerial, policy, and relational challenges as both too daunting and too limiting.  After working on the things I have been working on about myself I feel more ready for this challenge. I have decided to apply for the job.  It is not a guarantee for me.

I feel ready if the opportunity arises.  I have also noticed how things line up to support you.  I have been taking some courses on Insight Timer and I am currently taking one by David Gandelman on Letting Go.  Leaving my current position and clinging to that has been one of the obstacles I had to overcome.  As I needed some support, here came this class, by one of my favorite teachers.  I have also been taking the How to Communicate like a Buddhist Class through Daily OM and this is also enhancing a skill set I will need.  It will be a time of transition, but I feel excited about the possibility of being on the learning side again.  Are you considering any changes?


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Education for a Better You

Education Policy Outlook small

Why is it is so easy and almost universally celebrated when someone seeks traditional education to improve in a skill or subject area needed to advance to a career goal, but almost shameful to say you are seeking education to be a better, more centered person?  I have been pursuing some education through non-traditional channels, not to be better at my job but better at life. I want to be kinder, more calmer, speak with more integrity and compassion.  I mentioned before that I use the Insight Timer Meditation App and I love it.  In one of the recent updates they added 10 day meditation classes through the app. They are only $4.99 and they are short and subject focused.  I completed one with Kate James and found it very helpful. I will undoubtedly do that again.  I also recently embarked on an eight week course “How to Communicate like a Buddhist” through Daily OM.   This course was only $25.00 and I am finding it very interesting.

Now that I have been working on being more aware and present and functioning less on autopilot, I am also more aware of how I act and feel in certain situations.  What I noticed is that I never hesitated to tell anyone I was in school pursuing my Grad certification in Environmental Management, but I was intimidated and hesitant to tell, even my husband, that I was taking these courses.  It made me wonder what the difference is.  I am not sure I really understand but I have thought that maybe, at least to me, this appears selfish.  Working on yourself would not really result in any kind of advancement or next step in the traditional sense.  I have come to believe that this kind of investment in being a better and more conscious person has a benefit to the people in my life.

It also may be that I live in the south, widely considered a Christian conservative community and coming out to say I am a Buddhist in pursuit of higher learning about the practice would be judged.  I never really thought I  was the kind of person who cared about that, but I now realize I am.  That has been the focus of this week’s course lesson.  I am understanding how I talk to myself.  In an effort to speak with more integrity something came up at a meeting and I said to a table full of people I can’t do that because I am a pacifist, vegetarian, Buddhist.  You know what?  No one said anything and since it was the truth I did not really care what they thought about it.  I hoped they would see I am the same person, just maybe a better version.  if they don’t I guess I can live with that too.