The Old Lady Inside of Me

What happens when something breaks? You fix it, right? So what if it is unfixable? How does one cope with it? What does one do then?  I was like any other girl in her 20s trying to get through college, hanging out with my friends, and worrying about boys.  I was not particularly a stressed person. I was an average student. I never went above and beyond what was needed. I never received awards or scholarships. I did the bare minimum to get through classes and get a degree. In my early 20’s I started having pain in my hands and joints. Living in Midwest, even the slightest cold would make my hands and feet go numb. It felt like needles were pricking at my skin. Therefore, I did what any other person my age would do; I ignored it.  I ignored these symptoms for a couple of years and made excuses for it. “Oh it’s just in my imagination. Or maybe weather related. It’s probably just a phase and will go away on its own.” Then one day I woke up with stiffness in my body and joints like never before. I couldn’t even open a jar of jelly. I knew that this wasn’t just a phase that would just go away.

I work as a registered nurse so I’m no stranger to the different diseases and the signs and symptoms related to them. I thought to myself maybe the unknown might be better than the knowing.  Finally, I got up the courage to see a my primary care doctor.  Immediately, she took my labs and listened to the problems I was  having for the last 5 years. I took comfort in knowing that she understood that something just wasn’t normal. Finally, I received my lab results from the doctor.  It lit up like a Christmas tree. There were so many abnormal lab results. The doctor tried to explain them to me and went through the list of the possible diseases. With a little positivity and denial, I went home and hoped for the best. I thought, well it could be nothing. I don’t have an actual diagnosis yet. The labs could be just wrong. After further testing, she sent me to a specialist. And at the age 25 I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). RA is an autoimmune disorder which means the body attacks its own immune system. Unfortunately, there is no treatment that can cure the disease but only management of the disease. RA can cause chronic inflammation of the joints causing sever pain. I felt that my immediate family and close friends deserved to know the situation at hand.  As I told them, I could feel their fears for me and looked at me in silence not knowing what to say.  I joked around about it to lighten the mood.  I acted like it was something that didn’t bother me, because I didn’t want them worrying about me.  My rheumatologist put me on two high dose medications that would help ease the pain and help manage the autoimmune disorder. But even they came with their risks and complications. 

After a few months of being on these pills and getting labs done monthly, things were moving fast with work and seeing all different doctors. So any distraction from that helped me. One morning, I woke up like any other day to take the pills that my doctor prescribed me. I placed these two white pills in my hand and just stared at them. I thought to myself how day after day I had easily handed numerous amounts of these white pills to my patients at work and walked away.  I never even second guessed how my patient was feeling or thinking. But here I am standing on the opposite side of the curtain.  I have become the patient holding the white pills in my hand.  Is this what the rest of my life will look like? Extending my hand for these pills?  Will I become addicted to pain medications? Become disabled? Will I still be able to work as a nurse? Will I ever get married or even be able to bear children? What kind of quality of life will I have? At that moment I completely broke down.  I was angry at the world and furious with God. What a cruel joke to throw this at me in the prime of my life. This is a disease I should get when I’m an old lady. My once carefree easy-going life was shattered with one diagnosis.   

How have I come to terms with the disease you ask? I haven’t. Sometimes I’m angry at life. Frustrated when I can’t open things or overwhelmed when I am in constant pain. And then I’m reminded I am not the same person I once was and there will be things I won’t be able to do that I once did before. But I know I can’t just stay at home being angry at the world and crying to myself thinking I have become disabled.  I HAVE to push forward in life, push harder than others and be able to try new things. Hopefully one day I will come to terms and be able to cope with this disease.  Even though, on the outside I  look like a healthy 20-something year old woman , I feel like I am trapped inside the body of an old lady.  Some days are harder than others and I feel like I am in this battle alone. I do take comfort in knowing that my family and close friends are always there to listen to the problems I am dealing with and am grateful when they provide positive reassuring words when I feel down. I am blessed for the support system around me.            

Something I have come across as useful advice when I feel stressed or down is “Practice the pause. When In doubt, pause. When angry, pause. When tired, pause. When stressed, pause. And when you pause, pray.”   Everyone has an issue they are struggling with silently whether it be related to work, school, health,  family etc. But this advice has been useful for me whenever I feel my life is spinning too fast or I feel overworked.  I practice the pause. And I remember to pray.  My prayer to God is not to cure me of this disease but to let me understand it better. Help me to cope with it each and every day. Help me to not be stressed or furious with the world. But to make me a better person from it and to become a better understanding nurse. I am learning to appreciate and find the joys in little things, and I’m choosing to move forward with my life but always remembering to take the time to practice the pause. Because the old lady inside of me needs to pause.

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The Fantastic World of Desi Singlehood

If you ask me what is funny about being days away from turning 29, still decidedly single and of Indian descent? Turns out, a lot- but it probably also depends on how you look at it. If you asked my family, you would think the world was falling apart. If you ask me, it’s one giant, unending, roller coaster that’s pretty funny, if only in retrospect.

‘Dish it!’, I hear you say, ‘Give us the good, the bad and the ugly’. Don’t you fear, my pretties, your voyeuristic tendencies will not go unsatisfied. This gal, came ready dish.

I guess it all started when I was around 24 and failed my USMLE Step 1. Well, really it started at around 23 when the proposals started coming for the “nice, quiet, prayerful girl I’ve seen singing at church and is now in Med school!” (if only they knew). Thankfully, “being busy with educating myself” was the perfect excuse to keep those at bay. But once I’d failed the licensing exam, there seemed to be an almost instinctive reach for the insurance policy that apparently, is marriage. Initially it seemed very cute and movie-like until, of course, oxymoronic reality struck.

A pennukanal (kind of an arranged date, where your family shows up, as the most awkward of posse-s) seemed like a cute little tradition, until I was asked, by my family, to wear waaay more makeup than I do in real life, don a full jewelry set along with a sari and, even strap on some heels under said sari (in an indoor setting where no-one else wears shoes). Talking to a guy on the phone, after our parents had spoken first, seemed adorably protective, until each conversation was followed by a conversation with said parents on how soon we could head to India to possibly “fix a date” for the big day. Even the most mundane task of updating a matrimonial profile picture or even eventually FB profile pics, seemed safe, until every upload was followed by a series of texts and phone calls to my mom and me- urging me to reconsider my upload since I looked quite ‘bad’ because I was ‘smiling while showing my teeth’ (considered a bad thing, by said uncle).

Side dish note, there was a pennukanal where an aunty asked me to sing in the middle of dinner (I did not because- I’m sorry but, did we suddenly drop into the set of Hum Sath Sath Hain, without my knowledge?). There were also a few where, parents inquired if I was a citizen and able to take their son to the US. Other highlights include guys I audibly heard tell their moms they were feeling too shy to talk to me, guys who just stood there watched me pull my wallet out and pay for the entire meal on our first date and said not a nary word. I also met guys who told me they had asked the Lord for a skinny girl like me (we didn’t make it to a second date) and guys who complained that I seemed to have plans during the week (as opposed to wiping my normal schedule clean, so I could presumably sit on the phone all night with said guy and, find comfort in my crippled social life when said relationship ended- #relationshipgoalsNOT).

At a certain point, I started to take it a little personally that my usual normal self, apparently wasn’t good or impressive enough for the ever changing standards for a “good wife material”. Of course, once the train starts off, the crippling insecurities held at bay, are sure to follow through in full force. When I’d failed my Step 1 exam, the first tie-in to marriage came quick- “Who will want to marry a girl without a degree?”. Once I got my degree, was quickly substituted by the need to have a job/career. Once I got a job, then a second Master’s/ PhD became the new thing I simply must have, to get a guy. Of course, it didn’t take very long for me to realize, no one had any clue what the actual “requirements” were (mostly because there aren’t any- love comes in a thousand different forms). Everyone’s just grasping at straws and offering their best advice they can think of, on the most subjective experience ever. This became even more painfully obvious when, 6 months after I got a job (and even now on occasion), someone suggested I quit and go to India to “really focus on finding a guy” now that I could claim I was capable of getting a job (insert eye breaking eye-roll here). In addition, when your uncles tell your mom “Just send her to India for one month, and we’ll make sure she comes back married”, it doesn’t so much inspire confidence, as much as terror to ever go back home to visit them again.

I won’t lie, the line between funny and hurtful is razor blade thin and, just as hurtful. When your dad asks your mom what he could possibly boast about, when his daughter doesn’t have a degree or a job – it breaks your heart in an unbelievable way. When you tell your mom you want someone whom you love as he is, and someone who appreciates your interests and her reply is that will never happen- it’s like a punch in the heart space. It makes you ask things like, “Is it ok for me to want to marry someone I like? Someone I can talk to without looking at my watch 20 times? Someone I’m attracted to? Someone that makes me feel safe to be myself?”. Other times, the repeated criticism from every other adult of your parent’s generation, can cause you to begin believing that no one would want you the way you are right now. We all need someone in our lives who will stop in their tracks at that comment and, stare in disbelief, and feel the heartbreak so deeply, they begin to cry with you.

Perhaps the worst part is that the people you once thought were sane parents, who loved you to bits, become an unknown being that spends hours into the early mornings on matrimonial profiles, and state things like “You can always change him after marriage- that really depends on how capable you are as a wife” or “this guy said yes- let’s make this work before you turn another year older”, or “we aren’t worthy of such a good, rich family- it’s a miracle they said yes to us”.

While you still love them, it hurts. Not only do you resent them for completely giving up on their own dignity and inherent value, you hate others for doing this to them. And perhaps the most frustrating is that people seem to smell the fear and vulnerability. While almost no uncles or aunties ask me prying questions about marriage and most often just try to get my number to set me up; they seem to flock to my parents to say things like “It’s a pity she isn’t married yet…and here we thought she was so perfect, she’d be the first to get married!” or “There isn’t a novena/prayer we haven’t said- it will surely happen before the end of this year” or “Let me talk to her- I will make her understand that if she keeps saying no, she will never get married”. If you’re going to offer advice, be helpful instead of hurtful. Be kind as a general rule, with anyone you meet. Because, there is a special place in hell for people who break the heart of already hurting parents- I just know it.

Now yes, it all depends. Sometimes you can immediately see the funny side of things and, sometimes the funny doesn’t hit you until you have mental-breakdown-cry and find yourself in the middle of a drink and 2 hour therapy session with a friend. But for those of you in the same situation as me, humor will be your life saver. If you wallow in the serious without laughing, the serious will kill you. And I don’t want you to die! You’re pretty awesome and I’d hate for that awesome to die under the suffocating weight of other people who don’t see it.

If there’s anything I believe with all my heart, it’s that life is precious enough to spend well and with purpose. I want to spend mine well, not settle for the easiest path. And I want someone who understands that and can show up to the fight, with gusto and passion and more affection than I know how to show myself. It’s often the most frustrating piece of advice but, I ask people constantly how they knew they had met the one and they always say, “I don’t know how to explain, but I just knew”. I want to feel that feeling- to know that the person you love is someone you like, and can bear waking up next to forever and have the biggest crush on. And I’m willing to wait for it and, live my life well in the meantime. In what world could that be a bad thing? Oh right, this one. Well, stay strong ladies, it’ll be worth it in the end because you’re absolutely worth it. I’ll see you guys on the other side!

**Note from thespiralnotebooks: This post is part of our new series #AVoiceInTheCrowd. The contributor is anonymous. 

NOT a success story

*FEATURED IMAGE: CREATED BY HELEN WARD

It was like any other Thursday, I woke up to get dressed for work and skipped breakfast because well…traffic is a pain during holiday season and I didn’t want to be late for the third time this week. I grabbed a double chocolate pop-tart from my pantry as I ran out the door, and thought about my no-sugar-diet going down the drain. By the time I reached work I had already been cut off by 3 cars on the road and had the privilege of being flicked off. When I saw the huge pile of charts on my desk that my not-so-amazing coworker had left for me, I wanted to crawl back in bed. I unlocked my phone to check my email. Nothing. Opened up Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook in an orderly fashion and looked sadly at the awesome lives of my friends. Katie just got engaged to her high school sweetheart, Thomas had his white coat ceremony for medical school, Matt and Melissa are honeymooning in Bali, and Jake went to the JayZ concert last night. I get annoyed by their happy faces and put my phone away. Today will be different; I was finally going to get the news I’ve been waiting for. Keeping my head down I work away: answering phone calls, meeting with clients, completing charts and picking up my new coworker’s slack. I check my inbox again and there it is, an email from my dream school. My heart drops straight into my stomach and a lump forms in my throat as I wait for the page to load, shit…I didn’t get in. My eyes start to well with tears as quickly run outside through the back door. Thank God its lunch time. I somehow make it to my car. The once warm tears have become cold as they roll down my chin to my neck. I must look so ugly right now. I felt ugly.

Every person has those few moments in their lifetime that they can label as “life changing.” I can safely say that I have had no such moment in the past 3 years, as much as I’ve desired one. Your 20s are supposed to the most exciting time of your life. You’re supposed to be at the prime of your health and beauty, traveling with friends, finding your dream job, finding love and finding yourself. Instead, most of my experiences have been confusing, disappointing, and physically and mentally exhausting. Every small achievement was coupled with a new obstacle that I didn’t know how to overcome. Every unexpected run-in with an old high school friend at the grocery store turned into a game of ‘avoid eye contact’ and ‘lets not talk about our lives.’ Every awkward family conversation began with ‘I am still looking for something better’ and ended with ‘no mom, that is not my beer bottle under the sink.’ Every argument with my boyfriend started with ‘I’m not ready for marriage’ and ended at ‘I love you, but I’m unhappy with my life right now.’ I wondered why my life was so different from those who show up on my newsfeed. I am nowhere near moving out of my parents’ house, having the perfect body, getting a big girl job or taking a romantic vacation with my boyfriend of 5 years. I struggle to get out of bed each morning because my life lacks purpose and I feel like I have nothing to look forward to.

My story isn’t a story of someone who was faced with a challenge and overcame it against all odds. This is that struggle period that no one tells you about when you’re younger. This is that 1 step forward 10 steps back part. This is that shaking my fists at the heavens and yelling out “why me!” This is that afraid to wake up each day part because unbeknownst to me lie the next thing that may go wrong. This is my life; I wake up to it and get through it. You wanna know how? Hope. I know how cliché it sounds but trust me- it works. I see it in my family’s eyes, feel it in my friends’ hugs and sense it in my boyfriend’s kiss. Its like they see something in me that I don’t. This is far from a solution to all my problems and frankly most of the time it makes little sense to put faith in myself, but if so many people can do it easily, the least I can do is try. Try to pick myself up and give it another shot. Try to have the courage to dream again. Try to find joy in my life regardless of my current problems.  It is not a three-step process with guaranteed success at the end, but a continuous uphill battle. Everyday I get up, show up, and do my best. If I hadn’t, I would not have made it through the last few years. I try to go easy on myself when I have rough days, allow myself to cry for no reason, eat an entire pizza, have late night Skype dates with my friends, let my boyfriend spoil me with chocolate, and share a glass of wine with my parents. And right before I go to bed I pray for a better tomorrow, because I have the slight glimmer of hope that I can make it.

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope– Martin Luther King, Jr.

**Note from thespiralnotebooks: We are SO excited to share the first post in our new series titled: #AVoiceInTheCrowd. The series will consists of posts, stories, and anecdotes contributed by people who would like to share their stories anonymously! If you’re interested in sharing your story, please please please let us know! Anonymity is guaranteed!

For more of Helen Ward’s artwork, visit her website: Helen Ward

So long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye.- The Sound of Panic

I am not a crier. Let me rephrase that: I do not like crying in front of people. I have done a perfect job of never crying in front of people, especially my friends, but today was the day I did.

Today was the day I introduced my friends to Korean food.

Today was the day we went to Baskin Bobbins and ate too much ice cream.

Today was the day we got into one mini van and sat in the parking lot for hours past curfew talking and laughing.

Today was the day we hung out for the very last time before we went our separate ways for college.

College is something we are all supposed to look forward to. It means leaving behind all the drama and restrictions and hitting refresh, gaining so much more freedom than before. I, for one, am not looking forward to college, in fact, I am absolutely terrified. College means change, and change is hard.

I used to be so excited for college. I wanted to move out at 18 and go to a college far away from my parents and start anew. I was the literal definition of teen angst in my family. That seemed to lose its value when I met a fantastic group of people in high school. These girls were so kind and beautiful inside and out. I had always had a hard time making close friendships, but when I met these girls, I felt like I finally fit. There was finally a core group of people I could always rely on.

Let me give you some more background information. My friend group consists of 12 wonderful girls, each with their own unique talents and quirky personalities. Some love cross country and track, some love to read, some are insane artists, and some are incredibly intelligent, and one is such a clutz. All different (even the twins!), but somehow all the same. It felt like if we stuck together we would be invincible.

Like me, my sister had a core group of high school friends, but when college began she had lost contact with them. So after I graduated, she would say small things along the lines of “You will never keep in touch with your high school friends again,” but I would brush her comments aside, thinking nothing of them. I didn’t fully comprehend those words until today. It didn’t hit me that we were all separating until today.

Sitting in the trunk of the red van tonight, squished together talking about high school and our impending futures made me realize just how true my sister’s words were going to become. I would never be able to share an experience like this with all of them together ever again. Invincibility wasn’t looking too good.

So when we stepped out of the vehicle and said our last goodbyes, I slowly started to panic. My eyes burned when I hugged the first person, and the words ‘do not cry’ ran through my mind. When I hugged her sister I couldn’t hold it in. It was like my irrational fear of losing my friends was finally appearing in the form of tears.

Once the tears fell, the waterworks did not stop. I hugged the twins tightly telling them to have fun and to not do anything stupid, while they told me to always keep in touch and visit them. I hugged each girl that was able to come tonight and said the same. I did not want to let go, because letting go was like breaking the bond we all shared. Letting go sounded permanent.

Between the crying and the hugging, we made plans. Plans to continue our annual Christmas traditions and plans to create new ones. Plans to take road trips in said red van, and plans to always ALWAYS keeps in touch.  Plans that seem easier said than done.

Over the course of high school, these girls became more than just friends, they’ve become my family. They’ve helped me become more confident and be more myself. They’ve been the best friends I could ever ask for, and I cannot thank God enough for bringing such wonderful blessings into my life. We have created countless memories that I hope to one day relive with them. It’s definitely not going to be easy, but I know that our sisterhood will always be there.

 

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#LetsJamith

Have you ever been so happy in a moment you doubt if its real and you're afraid to let yourself enjoy the moment? That's how we felt all weekend. This past weekend someone very special to us got married and began a new chapter in his life.

If I close my eyes, I can actually clearly see the first time I met Sumith. It was a cold morning in January. My mom had driven my brother and I to the bus stop and we were waiting for the school bus to arrive. There were tons of kids waiting around in the cold. All of a sudden we heard yelling and see an older kid throw a chunk of slushy ice at boy much smaller than him. They pointed and laughed as the kid brushed the snow off his hair and wiped his glasses clean. My mom's heart broke and told my brother to ask the boy to come and wait in our car until the bus came. Ever since then, he's always been a part of our family.

My first memory of Sumith is quite different. I was at home, minding my own business, playing with my dolls, when my brother, Akku's brother, and Sumith came barreling in, laughing and talking loudly. My brother not-so-kindly tried to kick me out of the living room so they could play Super Nintendo. I obviously refused, saying I was there first. So my brother, Abhi, and Sumith then proceeded to make fun of me and mock me until I couldn't take anymore, got angry, and left the room. (Don't worry, I got my revenge….OJ a little salty boys?)

We all grew up a couple hundred steps away from each other for most of our childhood.  Countless memories of so many of our cookie cutter birthday parties. Dollar store party decorations with party hats and blowers, boxes of Hungry Howies pizza, Kroger cake with frosting that left stains on our faces for days, and the same 3 games we always played. But we still got just as excited for each party. IMG_4994

Sumith is our brothers' best friend. So we both grew up with 3 brothers rather than one. We all laughed and fought like brothers and sisters do. What one monkey did, the other two were sure to follow along. They were inseparable. But our relationship with Sumith was completely different. Sumith was the one we went to complain to about our brothers. Who we cried to when our hearts were broken. Who we vented our frustrations to when life seemed unfair. And he was always there. He was even the one who invented our tripod's name: The One-Handed-Bandits (he's clever like that). He talked us down from our angry soap boxes, he always showed us the other side of every argument, and picked up the broken pieces of our heart and helped us put them back together.

When I think about Sumith, my heart fills with so much love, appreciation, and respect. This is someone who had some difficult times in the past, but has never stayed down. He's persistent, hard working, determined, motivated, loyal, and strong. He's managed to achieve the goals he set for himself and still kept his faith in humanity and God strong. He also did something rare and unheard of, no matter what happened, he always kept a smile on his face, and gave his all to those he cared about. Sumith is the type of guy who would drop everything that is important to him, and be there 100% of the time for the people he loves the most. We can definitely attest to that. He's also so forgiving and kind. Even when people hurt, upset, or disappoint him, he will always approach them with nothing but love, grace, and forgiveness. It's one of the things we respect most about him. It's also the reason why we are so protective over him. We never want him to be taken advantage of or taken for granted.

So a few months ago when he asked us to stand in his wedding with his groomsmen, we were overcome with emotion. We've been talking about his wedding for so many years now. We didn't care where he got married, what colors he chose, or what he wore. All we wanted was for someone amazing to hold his hand and walk along side of him the way he has for so many people. And God placed the most incredible woman in his life.  We had been hearing about this girl for years now. Although we were happy for Sumith, we didn't really believe anyone would be good enough for him until about two years ago when we met Jana for the first time and instantly fell in love with her. She was witty, kind, and fit in so perfectly. She complimented him in every way. And we saw him transform into an even more caring and thoughtful person in front of our eyes.

We had been looking forward to the big day for so long, but now that it's over, I replay all the special moments over and over again in my head.  We cried throughout that day. Tears rolled down our cheeks when Jana first walked into the church and Sumith smiled bigger than we had ever seen, when he said aloud his vows and promises, and when he hugged his mom and wiped away her tears of joy.  There was so much love in the church. You could feel happiness radiating from everyone gathered.

No matter how beautiful the ceremony was, or how busy wedding festivities got, nothing will beat watching our big brother marry the love of his life. As soon as he first saw Jana walk down the aisle, everything and everyone seemingly disappeared for him. And that's exactly how it should be. We are so honored and blessed that we not only got to witness such genuine and authentic love, but that he asked us to stand by his side as he committed himself to God and this amazing woman for the rest of his life.

We are so happy you two have found each other and are starting this beautiful new phase of your lives. To Sumith, thank you for loving us like your real sisters and for asking us to be a part of your wedding. We love you so much. And to Jana, we can't wait to spend time with you and get to know you more. Thank you for loving our brother and joining our family. And of course, joining the One Handed Bandits:)

We wish you guys a lifetime of forgiveness, graciousness, compassion, love, and of course, endless amount of happiness.

We also want to thank our brothers Abel, Abhi, and Sumith for always being such a great example of a strong and unwavering friendship.  One thing they did right =)

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the art of being still

At least three or four times a week, I take this routine walk by the lake. It’s about two miles to and from my apartment…and really the only form of exercise I actually enjoy, especially when it’s nicer out.

On one of my recent walks, I stopped and sat down. It was around 8pm, so the temperature was slightly cooler and there were less people around. I watched in silence as the water rippled from the wind. I listened to the sounds of the waves crashing into the shore. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, feeling the last bit of sunshine of the day on my skin and the smell of fresh air only a lake can bring. And I was hit with the realization that this was the first time in a long time (probably ever) that I was truly just being.

Like so many others, for as long as I can remember, I have been constantly on the move and planning every second of every minute of every day. Hell, I even plan for things months and years in advance. I do this so often that I have spent the last 20+ years of my life never really appreciating the small moments where I can just be. I don’t even know how to appreciate those moments.


I believe that there is exceptional beauty to be found in the quiet and stillness of our world. Unfortunately our world is always moving, always striving to achieve something new, and always running away from things we wish to forget. So it’s rare that we ever truly find moments of stillness. I know for me, my mind is constantly running with thoughts about my dreams, expectations and responsibilities, hopes and aspirations, regret and fear, etc.
 

When I was in India studying, after a long week of exams, I’d occasionally pack a small suitcase and hop on a train to a paradise awaiting 5 hours away. There’s this scene I play over and over in my head when I feel like I need a breather. My happy place, if you will. It’s of a street in Goa I once visited. I’m riding around in a vespa; unknowingly observing things that were going to be imprinted into my mind forever.  The sweet smell of earth before a rain shower, fills my lungs. Off in the distance, you can hear the sounds of a soccer game.  The whole town seemed to be out.  Groups of women in floral dresses clutching their Bibles as they walked home from church.  The priest joins in on the soccer game, lifting his cassock to avoid the mud and to execute a splendid kick that sends the ball flying into the air. Families leaving little ice cream shops with cones topped with scoops of ice cream in the most vibrant hues of pinks, greens, and purples.  Children frantically licking away at them as the heat melts away their treats.  The corner shop is playing old Hindi tunes while the bakery next to it puts out the sweetest smelling pastries. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water. In reality this whole scene happened in less than 30 seconds. But in my mind I’ve slowed it down to frame by frame and have tried numerous times to re-experience it all again.

I listened to a TedTalk recently called “The Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Achor. He spoke about our tendency to constantly put happiness over our cognitive horizon. Meaning we adopted this mantra that we’ll be happy after we reach a goal. “I’ll be enjoy my life after I graduate college,” “…after I get a my degree,” “…after I get a job” or “…after I get married and settle down,” and so on and so forth. We all do it. And there isn’t anything necessarily inherently wrong with this mantra. But unfortunately we adopt this as our reality, as the ultimate formula to achieve true happiness.  The only problem with that is that we’ve pushed the possibility of being happy so far over the horizon that it becomes unattainable, and we miss all those moments in between. It also contributes to our difficulty finding pride, appreciation, and satisfaction in the goals we do achieve. “I got good grades this semester…next semester I’m going to get even better grades,” “I graduated high school…well, no big deal, still got to graduate college.”

 Just today we were talking about wanting to jet off to the Netherlands (Dutch people are the top 10 happiest people in the world) to get away from the noise and start farming our own produce. But there I went again waiting for joy. When I get there, then I’ll be happy. I’ve wondered why this particular scene from Goa sticks with me. I have an abundance of amazing memories to choose from, but this one fills my heart with warmth.  I’m always subconsciously telling myself that I don’t deserve to relax or enjoy my life yet. “You have a mountain of things to get done and you’re sitting here daydreaming. Get a grip girl!”  Actually that’s exactly what I need to do: get a grip…on right now!  The people in my story aren’t doing anything extra ordinary. In fact, they are all quite mundane, everyday things.  It’s not that people in Goa or the Netherlands lead particularly stress-free lives. If I were to move to a new place, I would still carry all of my baggage with me. I need a change in perspective not a change in geographical location.  Practicing gratitude and awareness (aka Unagi) can help.

 A wise teacher once told me “if you change nothing, nothing will change.”  So what can you do to learn to be still? 1.) Unplug. This is easier said than done, but has become essential in the world we live in. If there was an app on our phones that told us the number of times a day we picked up our phones to check “what’s new,” we’d be left feeling a little embarrassed.  Whenever I’m in a situation where I don’t know what to do, I pick up my phone.  Opening apps I’ve never used before to avoid a slightly awkward social situation.  Hmm…stocks, don’t know anything about it but now would be a great time to open it and pretend to be interested in it.  Our phones have become our lifelines.  Easily connects us to everyone we know but still leaves us more distant than ever.  It gets so exhausting, constantly checking what other people have posted, what the latest breaking news is, tracking the location of our latest Amazon order, and the list goes on.  And if I lose my phone, I’m a frantic mess. A series of “what if” scenarios play out in my head.  “What if someone calls me with an emergency and I’m not there to pick up? What if I lose all the pictures and videos on my phone? What if someone steals my personal information and steals my identity?” After all that worry I usually find my phone buried in the bottom of my purse.  And wouldn’t you believe it, there was no crisis in those 10 minutes it was lost.  Therefore, unplug. Learn to sit with yourself and be comfortable.  The person I fear most of facing is myself.  

 This leads me to my 2nd tip, allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling.  I can’t count the number of times I push away unpleasant thoughts because I think it will ruin my mood.  I never allow myself to acknowledge feelings like fear, anger, and sadness.  Everything is about “positive vibes only” and “fake it ’til you make it.”  While I understand the good intentions behind such phrases, the truth of the matter is, we are human.  There is a whole spectrum of emotions and its okay, and actually good to feel and experience them all.  So if you are feeling anxious, allow yourself to feel anxious. If you are angry, be angry! But, then move forward. Repressing thoughts temporarily numbs you, but like any anesthetic, it wears off.  

 My 3rd tip is to allow yourself the chance to grow. This is not an overnight change.  We don’t think you’re going to read our post and have an epiphany.  These are all things we already know but occasionally need a reminder. It is a constant struggle, but will get better with practice. Allow yourself some grace and find joy in the journey.  

I looked at all the stragglers on the beach, the couples holding hands and walking along the shore, the group of friends laughing and pushing each other around, the runners/bikers who make the rest of us look bad (successfully), and I wondered how many of them truly appreciate this moment in time. I wondered if I even truly appreciated the new found stillness of that moment.

 As I sat by the lake, I was mesmerized and enchanted by the immensity of the water…of our world. A world that is so inherently beautiful, still, and quiet, drowning out the noise of our expectations, responsibilities, and regret.. A world where we keep pushing happiness over that cognitive horizon. A world that we can continue to let pass us by…or try to truly live in.

 “Ego says, “Once everything falls into place, I’ll feel peace.”
Spirit says, “Find your peace, and then everything will fall into place.”

 Marianne Williamson

*Featured image retrieved from: https://www.jamendo.com/radios/Relaxation

Inside Out

“My knees are so fat! I have thunder thighs! I don’t even have a forehead, I have a five-head. Don’t even get me started on my waistline!”

This is the kind of conversation I overhear anytime I am in a fitting room when I am out shopping. This is even the same conversation I hear when my smart, sassy, and confident friends and I are out. 

Every so often, I like to pull out old albums and go through pictures of my friends and I from our childhood. I can’t help but cringe at the awkward poses, interesting hairstyles, and unfortunate outfit choices.  We all have an understanding that these pictures are NEVER to see the light of day.  While those pictures probably aren’t going to get us modeling assignments any time soon, there is something to be said about them.

 We were unashamed. Of our clothes. Of our bodies. Of ourselves. 

Before we can take a picture now, we call each other ahead of time to make sure we all “dress-up”, we look for the perfect lighting and background, and before the picture is clicked the phrase “cheese” is replaced by the words “suck in your stomachs!”  And we’ll repeat this procedure a few more times until we all express our half-hearted approval of the pictures, or until someone yells out “Use snapchat’s ‘flawless’ filter!” 

What changed along the years?

I was at church yesterday when I ran into someone who I have known since I was a little girl.  They only spoke two lines to me, but I haven’t been able to get them out of my head.  They made a comment that I had gained weight.  And I know what you are thinking. So what? Just ignore it. What’s the big deal?

There are flaws that you have and hope no one else takes notice of.  But when someone vocalizes that flaw, it becomes magnified in your mind. I know in the last few years I have put on some weight. Believe me, I know!  And I mean it when I say I am not happy about it.  I’ve always had a small frame and been a “skinny” girl.  But in the last few years, life happened and I gained some weight.  And over a year now I have been trying to lose it.  Unsuccessful, but still trying. Every Sunday I’m super pumped to start a new workout plan that I found online.  Every Monday morning I guilt myself into doing the workout and every Tuesday I quit because I’m too sore from Monday’s workout. Everyone talks about this “runner’s high” that they experience. I’m still searching for it.  I go grocery shopping and buy all kinds of things I saw online in an article saying “10 superfoods to include in your diet to lose weight.” After 3 days of “dieting”, those things find permanent homes in my kitchen pantry. 

While most of body shaming campaigns focus on the female population, it’s not just women who fixate on their flaws. Men’s idealized image is that “perfect model type body.” You know the one: Ryan Reynolds meets Chris Hemsworth, muscular, infinity-pack abs, and hairless skin type. It’s a standard that most of the world’s male population struggle to achieve, yet it’s the standard that we as a society define as “sexy” or “attractive.” 

We’ve all been there, at one point or another. Even if it was a brief, fleeting moment, we’ve bullied ourselves and focused on our flaws versus the things that make us beautiful. In fact, we spend most of our time trying to conceal our flaws. How many hours in a day do we spend applying makeup, doing our hair, shaving, and primping to fit into what society sees as “beautiful?” How much of that time could be put to better use?  This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while now. I wake up almost 45 minutes earlier than I have to every morning for work or school, not to make breakfast or take my time in the morning. No. It’s to make sure my hair and makeup hide my flaws perfectly. It’s so that I can try on 10 different outfits and finally pick one that I don’t feel “fat” in. Lately, it’s just been weighing on my mind so much that I’ve started to resent myself for it. That’s 45 minutes of my day that I could spend sleeping in, eating breakfast, or spending time with people I care about.  While there is nothing wrong with putting effort into looking your best each day, don’t forget to take steps to also feel your best also.

Being in the medical field, I know there are a whole host of things that cause a person to gain weight. Everything from hormone imbalances to genes to depression.  Some people simply can’t help it.  With the media constantly throwing images at us for the “ideal body” we begin to lose sight of what of is truly important; health.  Your outward appearance is an indicator of your internal health.  And by health I am not just referring to your cholesterol and HbA1C levels.  I am talking about the health of your body, mind, and spirit.  So what you see on the outside of a person is a reflection of what is going on internally. 

The incident at church happened over 24 hours ago and I’m still thinking about it.  That’s an indication of my mental health.  That person didn’t know that I was already feeling pretty low because that morning I had tried on 3 different outfits which didn’t fit, before I settled on the one I ended up wearing.  That in my head I was basically bullying myself about how I looked.  Summer used to be my favorite season up until a year ago.  Now I count down the weeks until “cardigan season” returns so I can cover up my flabby arms.  More than what was said to me, the thing that affected me most, was realizing that how I saw myself was how the world was beginning to see me.

This realization isn’t going to make me want to jump on a treadmill and run 10 miles or make me head to a grocery store and buy a week’s supply of salad.  But I am vowing to do whatever it takes to change how I feel about myself.  How I see myself, how I think, and how I talk to myself. 

So, why not challenge ourselves to embrace our flaws? If society defines what attractiveness is, why not make real attempts to change that definition? Create a new one that focuses on individual beauty versus the idealized body image.

Let’s start with the 10-minute challenge. It’s really simple. All you have to do is set a timer for about 10 minutes (or 15, for those of us who are not morning people), which will be all the time you have to get ready in the mornings. This includes hair and makeup (but not showering, hygiene is important!). At the end of the timer, whatever you look like…is how you look for the entire day (insert gasps and shocked faces here). Take a picture, post it or send it to your friends with the hashtag #10minutechallenge. And we’ll do the same! By doing the #10minutechallenge I’m going to be saving 35 minutes each day.  I’m making a commitment to use that time wisely.  Use your saved time to work towards your goal of total body health.  It can be taking the time to cook yourself a wholesome meal, squeezing in a quick workout, or spending a few moments to meditate or journal.   

It’s not going to be easy, but its time to start embracing our natural features, instead of trying to hide it. It’s time we stop focusing so much on body shaming others, and ourselves, and start focusing on accepting one another. It’s time to re-define beauty.