Moving Abroad With Mental Illness

Many of you have (kindly) asked how my move to Hong Kong and transition to life here has affected my mental health. This past April, just over a year from when I was diagnosed with Type 2 Bipolar Disorder and a slew of other anxiety and panic disorders, I started a new combination of medications. One is an anti-depressant, and one is for severe moments of anxiety. I had reached what felt like a breaking point in my life and this was the third treatment option my doctor and I were trying.  Within just a few weeks I was stunned to realize that I felt “normal” for the first time in as long as I can remember.

Normal meant I was no longer waking up in the morning with twisted knot in the pit of my stomach before I had even opened my eyes. I no longer entered each day feeling defeated and on edge, like at any moment the tenuous rope of functionality I was holding onto could unravel. Yes, some days I still struggled with anxiety, especially when faced with something particularly triggering. But where my base level for anxiety used to never dip below a 4 on a 10-point scale, even on my most stable days, now I find that many days, my baseline is a 1 or a 2.

The best way I can describe it is that it feels like relaxing your muscles after holding them all in tension every moment of every day for years. Most days this feels like a miracle.

The past few months have objectively been extremely stressful. I think the stress of moving internationally, changing jobs, and being separated from your spouse are things that would cause anyone a decent amount of anxiety.  I don’t deny that there have still been moments where I have been overwhelmed with anxiety and fear. I have also been deeply sad about leaving behind my life in Columbia. But the thing that stands out to me is that somehow, I have managed to cope in a way I don’t think I could’ve done a year ago, or even back in March. And not only cope, but find moments of sheer joy and new excitement for this new life.

I can’t describe my gratitude for this. And at the same time, I have to acknowledge the fact that I am not “cured”. I am on a journey. I am managing so much better than I was a year ago, but it’s not as simple as just popping those two little pills each night. My mental health is a holistic battle and the reality is that it will probably be a lifelong fight.

This past Sunday we visited a church for the first time since coming to Hong Kong. We haven’t really met anyone here besides coworkers, and we are hoping to find a community. Throughout the afternoon I could feel myself getting more and more anxious. By the time we left our apartment, I felt like I was in a daze. Everything seemed a little too bright and blurry around the edges and the sounds around me were like a low buzz in my ears. Jonathan tried to talk to me about other plans for the night and for the future, and I could barely process what he was saying to me. Eventually he gave up talking to me until after the service was over.

After we sat down in the church auditorium (which looked like the church auditorium of many an evangelical church in America), all of my thoughts and all of my energy were consumed with trying to get through the service without panicking. Understand, it was a perfectly normal evangelical-style church service. There was nothing particularly objectionable about it. But for most of the service I felt simultaneously like my skin was on fire and like I was going to pass out. “You are OK. This is OK. There is nothing wrong here,” I kept chanting to myself.

After the service was over, we ducked out and went to dinner where I tried to explain to Jonathan what I’d been feeling but failed (though he was gracious as always). By the time we got home later that evening, I was utterly exhausted. Coming down off of the adrenaline that had fueled me through the afternoon was like crashing after a sugar high. My whole body ached.

Moving abroad has helped move me out of some old patterns that were not good for me. At the same time, it’s launched me into a world of unknowns, a somewhat precarious place for bipolar planner like me.

The thing about mental illness is, it’s effing scary. It’s scary to feel like you don’t have control over your own mind, or that your body has these visceral reactions you may not even understand. It’s scary to know that it’s possible for your feelings to not accurately reflect reality. The fight for wholeness and wellness forces me to choose every single day to actively work towards healing.

It’s a holistic effort. Medication is a blessing, but it is not enough. Meditation, exercise, and diet help. Nurturing life-giving relationships helps. Prayer helps. Avoiding triggering situations helps. Turning off the introspection to show love and care to the people I encounter every day helps. But the thing that helps the most is hope. Hope each morning when I wake up that today can be a good day. It can be good no matter what yesterday was like and no matter what may come tomorrow. Today I can be well.

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PS- I just wanted to give another shout out for my new travel website www.keeproamingon.com. I’m proud of the work I’m doing there and would love to have you follow me if you are interested in sharing my travel and living abroad adventures. You can follow by clicking the follow button at the very bottom of each page.

 

 

 

 

Introducing…Keep Roaming On

Faithful friends, today is the day! I am so excited to announce the launch of my new website Keep Roaming On. This site will be dedicated to travel adventures and advice, to feeding your wanderlust (and my own), and to telling the stories of our daily life in Hong Kong and of all the people we meet along the way.

I will still be keeping Such Small Hands active and will continue to post here about topics like reading, faith, mental health that don’t necessarily fit under the general travel/living abroad umbrella.

In the meantime, I would love for you to head over to the new site which already has a few posts up, and follow or subscribe by email if you are interested in what’s going on there. You can also follow Keep Roaming On on Instagram and Twitter for more of a daily dose of life here in Hong Kong and tips from other travels over the past few years. If you have any specific requests for topics you’d like me to cover, please let me know!

https://www.keeproamingon.com

Best Reads of 2018 (So Far)

This past weekend we experienced the most crazy, wonderful blessing – one of our good friends from college, whom we have not seen since our wedding eight years ago, showed up in Hong Kong with her husband and baby. They had already planned this trip before we announced our move, so when we realized we were going to be in the same place at the same time, we all kind of freaked out. I mean, mostly Mary Claire and I freaked out. But I think the boys were excited too. Just in a more tough, manly ways.

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We had an absolute blast with Mary Claire, Benjamin, and Banning and are secretly hoping they just drop everything and move here so that we can hang out all the time. While we were together, Mary Claire mentioned that she’d read several of the books I’ve recommended over the years, and she kind of called me out for not posting any book recommendations in such a long time. So…long introduction to say…for all of you who have had absolutely nothing to read these long months where I haven’t written about books, the dry spell is over. You’re welcome. 😉 Here’s the best of what I’ve read so far this year.

Note: I realized that most of my favorite books so far this year have been recent releases that deal with sad or difficult circumstances. To be fair, they all have some measure of hope to offset the sadness, but if you don’t like books where people deal with hard things, you might not like these.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne

33253215This book, man. It is not for the faint of heart. This book tells the life story of Cyril Avery from birth to death. Cyril Avery is born to an unwed mother in rural Ireland and adopted by an eccentric writer and her husband who really know nothing about children. As Cyril grows, we meet a cast of richly drawn characters who impact Cyril’s life, for better or worse. This book is largely focused on the horrible treatment of gay men in Ireland (and elsewhere) in the late 20th century. Because of that, some parts are very hard to read and some of it is very sad. There is also a significant amount of sexual content in the first half of the book (just fair warning if you don’t like reading that). However, the characters are amazingly vivid, unique, and quirky, and in the end, I can’t describe this book in any way other than beautiful, deeply moving, and unforgettable. The book ends on a sweet note which might strike some readers as too convenient, but I felt set up for it from early on and found it satisfying the that it ended in a place of peace.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah.

34912895Hannah showed up on everyone’s radar after The Nightingale in 2015. Her newest book takes place in Alaska in the 1970’s where Vietnam veteran Ernt Allbright takes his wife and his 13-year-old daughter Leni to live off the grid. The family think this will be their salvation, but in the long, dark winters, Ernt is haunted by the ghosts of the past and becomes increasingly paranoid and irrational. Leni realizes that she must fight for survival for herself and for her mother in the great Alaskan wild, There is something mesmerizing about the wild, rugged beauty of a mostly unsettled land. The story itself is very reminiscent of The Glass Castle although fictional, so there is definitely a trigger warning for domestic violence. The only thing I didn’t love about this book was the ending which felt a little abrupt and too neat compared to the rest of the book. However, if you are someone who needs it to end on a hopeful note, you will probably like this.

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong.

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A short and sweet account of an adult child (Ruth) stepping in to care for her father as he slips into dementia.  I read it in almost one sitting and I loved it. In spite of being quite short, I felt like it delved into the issues inherent in being an adult child taking care of a parent as the parent loses agency. It also dealt with the complexities of dementia without being overly sappy, sad, or sentimental.

 

 

 

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover.

35133922This memoir has exploded onto the scene and (deservingly) gained a lot of attention. Growing up in a fundamentalist, survivalist family (again somewhat a la The Glass Castle) , Tara Westover had no access to formal education. Taught that western medicine was evil, she learned to use herbs and natural remedies for everything from childbirth to severe burns. Violence and control were part of every day life, but they were all that Tara knew. At 17 she became determined to do things differently. Having never been to school, she taught herself enough to gain entrance to Brigham Young University where she learned for the first time not only math, science, and literature, but about the history of her own country and of world events (like the Holocaust) which she had never even heard of. Exposure to the world of learning sparked a hunger in her for all that she did not know and went on to study at Harvard and at Cambridge. As she gains knowledge and understanding about the world and her own upbringing, she is driven to try to forge a way back to her family, so many of whom are still living in a toxic environment.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones.

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Celestial and Roy are still newlyweds when the unthinkable happens. Roy is arrested and convicted of a crime he did not commit. He is sentenced to 12 years in prison. In the beginning, Celestial and Roy remain fiercely devoted to one another, but as the years go by, Celestial begins to move on with her life. When Roy’s conviction is overturned and he is released early, the (still married) couple must figure out what really makes a marriage and whether or not they can still have one.

 

 

 

Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler.

35133923Kate Bowler is a professor at Duke Divinity School who has devoted her professional career to studying the prosperity gospel. At 35, she has is just hitting her stride in her career and has finally become a mother after years of trying. Then she is diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. As she navigates the grief and pain of illness and facing her own mortality, she finds herself drawn to the reassurances offered by the health and wealth doctrines of the prosperity gospel and comes to an understanding of why people cling to these beliefs even when they seem so obviously false. As someone who grew up in an environment I would call “prosperity gospel adjacent,” I was moved by this memoir of wrestling with the harsh reality of death within this specific context. Bowler’s writing is funny and witty and heart-wrenching all at once and this book will stay with me for a long time.

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl.

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Ruth Reichl is a renowned food writer and was a long-time critic for the New York Times. This memoir recounts her time as a food critic and her various experiences eating her way through New York City. The most entertaining parts are how she created actual characters with backstories and disguises in order to visit these restaurants without being recognized as the New York Times food critic and receiving special treatment. Parts of this are laugh-out-loud funny, and Reichl’s skills as a master storyteller are on show here. Such a fun read.

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza.

36840397I don’t have the words. Part of what moved me so much about this book is that it was so emotionally resonant to my own family history, even though I grew up as a very conservative Christian rather than Muslim. I particularly enjoy/connect to stories that show how different family members experienced the same event in different ways. This book tells the story of an Indian-American Muslim family and their individual struggles with belonging. Parents, Leila and Rafiq have tried to instill their traditions and values in their children, but each of their three children has had to forge their own path. Leila and Rafiq have had to make difficult decisions about whether or not they can accept and embrace their children when their decisions don’t align with Leila and Rafiq’s hopes for them. The book opens at the wedding of Hadia, the family’s oldest child, who has chosen to marry for love rather than have an arranged marriage. The family are collectively holding their breath to see if the youngest sibling, Amar, will come to the wedding after being estranged from the family for three years. It’s a novel about the ways that families try (and often fail) to love each other well, and in that way, I think it is something we can all relate to. I think this book is a great choice for anyone who loved Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You.

Honorable Mentions go to: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara, Heartless by Marissa Meyer, Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan, I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell, and Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jessmyn Ward

You can always follow me on Goodreads for updates on what I am currently reading. Let me know if you have read or end up reading any of these!

Why We Moved to Hong Kong

In my last post, I gave a brief answer to the very complicated question of why we picked up and moved to Hong Kong. Of course, there are some obvious reasons–we have wanderlust, and the timing was perfect for a new adventure since Jonathan was graduating. We found jobs in Hong Kong that match our interests and skill set. This is likely the last opportunity we will have to live abroad before we’re ready to settle down somewhere. We also have a great opportunity to save money and to travel more. But even as spontaneous and adventurous as I like to think of myself, I could never have made such a huge decision based solely on those things.

On some level, it isn’t anyone’s business but our own, and I don’t feel I owe anyone an explanation, but to my core I believe in the power of truth-telling, even when that truth is ugly.

Our three years in Columbia were unhealthy for us in many ways. We both struggled with our physical health and fitness as well as bigger issues like Jonathan’s knee surgery. I struggled off and on with disordered eating. I had several low points in my mental health (though now, after nearly a year of experimenting, we seem to have found a good treatment solution). We loved our church, but our hectic schedules made it hard to plug in outside of Sunday mornings. Most importantly, these years were not good for our marriage.

For three years, we existed largely in different worlds that overlapped only at the edges. We loved each other, and we lived peacefully together, but we were living separate lives. Jonathan learned and worked and grew and changed in his grad school community and through his hours and hours of dedicated writing. Meanwhile, I threw myself into my job, into nurturing and caring for children in my life and for friends whom I connected with deeply. Both in terms of our actual schedules and in terms of emotional energy, we gave very little to each other. And so we grew and we learned and we changed and we became in ways that we did not share with each other.

In the spring, it became clear that we had a problem that we couldn’t fix with a few date nights or meaningful conversations. We had rooted ourselves into a way of life that did not include one another, and this had taken a toll. We felt disconnected and frustrated, resentful and sad, and, in moments, a little bit hopeless. Something had to change, and in the end, we knew that it would be very difficult to make those changes if we stayed in the same place doing more or less exactly what we had been doing for the past three years.

We always speak of our time in Korea as being both the hardest and best time of our lives. The pictures and the CoT stories cast some glamour and humor over the memories, but there were moments when life there was very difficult. The thing that made it so worthwhile anyway, was how close we were to each other. We were all each other had, and we supported each other, explored together, and grew together in a sweet way.

In Columbia, I had a job that was meaningful and fulfilling and that I worked hard at. It was a job I loved and felt competent in. I had gained the respect of my peers and my superiors and the love of my students. I had a boss who became a dear, dear friend. I had amazing relationships with several families who let me into their homes and their lives to help care for their children. I had a beautiful 14-year-old girl who I loved with my whole heart and whom I took care of  like she was my daughter. I had (have) friends who I love like my own heart. And for once, my family was actually close enough to visit several times a year. I had built a home, and leaving it all behind was one of the hardest things I have ever done.

I did not do this casually. I did it because even though those things are important to me, my marriage is more important. My marriage will always be more important. And Jonathan and I had peace that moving away was the best thing for our marriage. We are not running away from our problems. We are taking them with us to a space where we can work on them without the temptation to slip back into the separate lives we had been living.

So here we are in Hong Kong, launching into a new adventure, hand in hand, faces turned toward the same horizon, waiting to see what we will discover next.

Good Morning From Hong Kong…Some Life Updates

Well, friends, it’s been a while, and some things have changed. For starters, I’m writing this sitting in the window of my 6th floor apartment in Hong Kong. Where I live now. As of Wednesday night. (Check out the “sea view.” Really, it’s there! I swear!)

Jonathan graduated with his MFA in Creative Writing at the beginning of May after completing and defending a brilliant novel that served as his Master’s thesis. He started a job search that included local options as well as international ones. At the end of May, we both accepted jobs with the Hong Kong office of a company called I Can Read.

To get some of the FAQ’s out of the way…

When did all of this happen?

It has been a whirlwind, which is why I didn’t do any writing about the process. We applied to the jobs we’re now working at the end of April. We found out we had an official offer at the end of May. I resigned from my job (which only entailed not signing a new contract), and we took a previously scheduled vacation to Ireland and Amsterdam (amazing, btw, but not the point).

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Casual Cliffs of Moher Pic

We came back to Columbia for one day, then Jonathan flew to Kansas City to grade AP Literature exams for a week, and I flew to Phoenix to visit my sister.

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We did goat yoga in Arizona. Like you do.

My sister and I drove together to Los Angeles to see my youngest sister graduate from fashion school. Then Jonathan and I both flew home, and four days later, he moved to Hong Kong.

I stayed behind for five weeks, wrapping up our lives in Columbia and running a couple of ESL camps at my school. Meanwhile, Jonathan went through training, started working, found an apartment for us, and did a million other things all on his own. Being apart for five weeks was not fun, and it gave me such respect and sympathy for people who regularly have to be away from their spouses.

Last weekend my parents, my sister, and my nephew flew up to Columbia to help me finish up packing and moving my things to a storage unit in town.

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Best Family in World. End of Story.

On Tuesday morning, they dropped me off at the airport in Charlotte, NC, and on Wednesday night Jonathan (and some people from ICR) picked me up in Hong Kong. I start job training today.

What exactly are you doing there?

We’ve been hired by a company called I Can Read that runs literacy centers throughout Southern Asia. We are both working as literacy teachers. This is not a regular school – the best thing I can liken it to is something like a Sylvan Learning Center or other specialized tutoring center. The classes are held in the afternoon and evenings and on Saturdays. The entire focus is teaching kids to read in English using the phonemic awareness program I Can Read has created. We teach reading lessons to small groups of students ages 3-12, or sometimes just to individual students.

The company was started in Singapore by some Australians and has now expanded into Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, China, Hong Kong, and Myanmar. They have only been in Hong Kong for about two years, but they are growing rapidly. Jonathan and I work at two different centers in different locations in Hong Kong, but we are doing more or less the same thing.

Why did you move abroad again?

There is no simple answer to this question, and in fact, I think it warrants its own blog post. The short version is that Jonathan had finished his program, and it was a natural time of transition since he was looking for a job anyway. We have been interested in living abroad again ever since we returned from Korea, so when an opportunity came up for us in Hong Kong, we took a leap.

But what about your mental health?

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Need I say more?

Are you going to write about it?

Umm…heck yes. I am actually setting up a new website/instagram/twitter and possible youtube channel for all the living abroad and travel goodness. I will keep lilyellyn.com for writing about things like mental health, reading, and faith wrestling. I will post a big announcement here when the new site goes live, so be on the lookout!

For now, my goals are to get over jet lag, stay awake through training, and start devising a plan for how to make friends with the old ladies who do Tai Chi in the courtyard every morning. More to come!

 

What I’m Into: January 2018

January always feels like a long month to me. Maybe it’s because we’re over the excitement of Christmas, but it’s still winter. Or maybe it’s because so many of us are trying so hard to make some changes and start fresh, and getting started on a new habit is always the hardest part. Regardless of why, I’m glad to be finished with January and moving towards spring, which comes early in the south. Here’s what January looked like for me.

What I’m Reading:

I read 9 books in January and got 2/3 of the way through two others, so I’m feeling good about hitting my reading goal of 125 in 2018, though I know it’s still early days. Follow me on Goodreads for updates.

 

The Spy by Paulo Coelho was actually my first Coelho book. It’s fairly short and tells the story of  Mata Hari, a woman who made her debut as a dancer in Paris in the early 1900’s and charmed her way into the upper eschelons of society where she was privy to secrets. She formed relationships with many powerful men and was eventually arrested in 1917 and accused of being a spy. This is a fictional account of the actual historical person.

Coincidentally, I also read The Alice Network this month which tells the story of two women, one of whom is also a spy during WWI and is part of a network of female spies. They actually reference Mata Hari in the book as another famous female spy. I’m very into drawing connections between things I read, watch, and experience in real life, so I really enjoyed it.  I liked this book quite a bit more than I expected to and found it to be a quick read even though it’s on the long side.

I read some fantastic nonfiction this month including, Born a Crime by Trevor Noah which uses his characteristic humor to share compelling stories of growing up as a biracial child (and therefore a child conceived illegally) under apartheid in South Africa. I listened to the audio version of One Day We’ll All be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul which is a book of humorous and poignant essays about a lot of different topics dealing with race, gender, and identity. I think listening to it was the way to go because you really get to hear the author’s sense of humor. Plus the short parts at the ends of each chapter that are read by “her father” are hilarious. I also read Kelly Corrigan’s new book, Tell Me More. I really love Kelly Corrigan. Her writing reminds me of Cheryl Strayed in some ways and I thought this book was great. Anne Lamott’s Hallelujah Anyway has some great nuggets woven in, but overall I don’t think it was one of her best.

I read Sara Gruen’s newest book, At the Water’s Edge and didn’t think it was anything special. It was like Water for Elephants except substitute the circus for Scotland and and the elephant to searching for the Loch Ness Monster.

The Unseen World, however was really interesting. I’m still not entirely sure what I thought about it, but it was intriguing on several levels. It tells the story of Ada Sibelius who is raised unconventionally by her father who is a brilliant scientist who keeps Ada isolated from the experiences that most other children have growing up. When her father begins to experience the early stages of dementia, Ada is forced to join the rest of the world for the first time. Meanwhile she tries to uncover her father’s secrets before they are lost forever inside of his mind. I can’t decide if I feel like this book had one too many twists or not, but overall I really liked it.

I also read Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin for my book club. It’s roughly based on the Monica Lewinsky scandal, but told entirely from the perspectives of females involved. It’s a multi-generational story of female voices that is meant to be an indictment of slut shame culture. I’m not sure if it succeeds in doing that, but it was a relatively fun and easy read.

What I’m Watching:

I finally starting watching The Crown after having it recommended to me over and over again. I’m halfway through Season 2 and I love it even though I pretty much hate Phillip. I am just one episode behind on This Is Us  and continue to think it is brilliant even though it always makes me cry. Jonathan and I have been watching The Good Place since it’s been back on. I am really impressed with the ways that show continues to be clever and creative and to take the story in new directions. I also binge-watched the first season of Riverdale which as scratched the itch I sometimes feel for Pretty Little Liars now that that’s over. The only problem is that I don’t have access to Season 2 yet so I have to wait for it to come to Netflix. Which I know is not a real problem, but still.

What I’m Writing:

I finally got back to my blog this month and posted a Favorite Books of 2017 post, my Year in Review post, my What I Plan to Read in 2018 post, and one of my favorite posts I’ve ever written, We Must Risk Delight: Or How to Combat the Devil One Tattoo at a Time.

What I’ve Been Doing:

My world is dominated by my many jobs (I run an international student program during the day, but also do a ton of after school tutoring and some freelance writing) Just after New Year’s, Jonathan left for 6 days to do some serious writing as he prepares to turn in his thesis. I have to admit, I didn’t mind having the house to myself for 6 days, though I was definitely glad to see him when he got back.

I got my new tattoo and we went to Charlotte to visit our dear friends and their (now 4 month old!) baby, Shepherd.  We also had a magical Snow Day off of school that week. It wasn’t magical because of the snow because we didn’t actually get any, even though places as close as an hour away got several inches. It was just magical because we got a surprise day off.

Shepherd

The following weekend, I took a group of 16 international students up to Asheville for the weekend. Most of them had never been and we enjoyed the artsy downtown area before heading up to a lodge on a lake that we had rented out. We went with my boss, my work wife (Rachel), and another teacher. It was such a great time. I wish I could share pictures of the kids, but I don’t feel comfortable sharing too much about my school or my students online. Just trust me when I say they are adorable.

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The other thing that dominated this month (and our lives in general) was conversations about what we will do when Jonathan graduates in May. There are a million questions with no good answers and this has frankly been a very stressful period of time. It sort of feels like hurtling towards a giant crater of unknown. My favorite.

What I’ve Been Loving:

Barre classes. Seriously. I never would have thought I would get into barre, because those classes are HARD and make me feel like I’m dying, but I keep going back. I started trying out barre back in September because my friend Meredith was getting certified to teach and have been going fairly consistently ever since. I try to get there 2-3 times a week. Every time, I don’t know why I put myself through the torture, but I also come out of it feeling like I worked really hard. This hasn’t necessarily translated into any great physical change since barre will do a lot more toning than it will overall fat burning, but I feel stronger and more graceful. I also mix it up by doing zumba about once a week, which I am terrible at, but really enjoy.

My bullet journal. Yes, it takes time to make it look like this. Time that could probably be better spent elsewhere. BUT it keeps me organized, helps me with the 3,000 things I have to do every day for different jobs and clients and friends and family members, and gives me a way to remember how I’ve spent my time. I also like that I can change up the layout every week if I want depending on what I have going on.

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My boots. If you know me in real life, you probably know that I am shoe girl. Like hardcore. I just love shoes. I’m not even going to try to defend it. This month I’ve particularly loved my boot collection. I think I wore a pair of boots every single day of January. I firmly believe there is a boot to fit every outfit and every occasion. Which is how I justify every new pair of boots I buy. And then there are boots like these, which are so extra, they are their own occasion.  But tell me, how can you have these on your feet and not feel happy?

Boots

My Letterfolk board. Jonathan surprised me with this as a birthday present. I admit, it can also be a bit of a time suck thinking of what to write and putting each of those little letters in place. But also…it’s fun! I usually post mine to Instagram. Like a cool kid.

If you want to read more posts like this, head over to Leigh Kramer’s blog and check out her link up. In the meantime, what have you loved this month? Anything recommendations for me?

 

We Must Risk Delight: Or How To Combat the Devil One Tattoo At a Time

Whether we want to admit it or not, we are all bound by routine. Even the most spontaneous of humans cannot escape the cycles of time and nature. Repetition–of the sun each day, of the moon each month, of the seasons, of new years–creates a rhythm to our days. For me, these rhythms always include the ominous beats of depression and the frenzied syncopation of hypomania.

Sometimes depression is triggered by a specific event that I can point to, but most often it creeps over me slowly, the way the sun sinks slowly to the horizon at the end of the day until, seemingly all at once, it’s gone. For me, depression is caused by carrying an excessive amount of pain just as much as it is by synapses misfiring in my brain. When this happens, I am also consumed by guilt. I feel that it is wrong for me to be weighed down by pain and sadness when by most measures I live a safe and wonderful life. It has only been in the past few years that I’ve come to understand that the pain and the sadness I carry is often not my own.

I am a highly empathetic person and I am deeply affected by the feelings of those around me both in my daily life and in the world at large. I am particularly sensitive to their pain and suffering. This is not something I have the power to turn on and off; it is part of my nature. I cannot help absorbing the feelings of those around me the same way a sponge cannot help soaking up whatever moisture it touches. Often, I do not even consciously recognize that I am doing it until one morning I wake up feeling crushed by the weight of it all.

Last year I experienced relatively long periods of depression. In spite of many beautiful moments, the undercurrent of my days was heaviness and sadness. There was so much sorrow and injustice in the world in 2017, and I wrestled with the question, How do I dare experience joy when there is so much pain and so much grief in the world? One day as I listened to Elizabeth Gilbert’s fantastic podcast Big Magic, I heard her quote the poet, Jack Gilbert in his poem “A Brief for the Defense.” It spoke beautifully to this exact question. I immediately found the whole poem and read it in tears at least a dozen times in a row.

A Brief for the Defense
Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.
                         -Jack Gilbert

I still cannot express how much this moved me except to say that I knew immediately I wanted these words with me always. Without a way to burn them into my heart, I settled for inking them into my skin.

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Umm…so it is really hard to take a picture of something on your upper ribs without things going downhill really fast. It is actually straight in real life. Many thanks to my husband/photographer for making this look as appropriate as possible.

This poem gave me the answer I desperately needed, and the fog of depression slowly began to lift. We all have a responsibility to acknowledge the real pain and suffering of others and to do what we can to alleviate it. One way that we fight despair is with delight. “We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world. To make injustice the only measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.” The question then becomes not, How dare I experience joy in this terrible world? but How dare I not?

More joy in the world is always a good thing. More hope in the world is always welcome. Experiencing peace does not dismiss the reality of suffering. Instead it points out that pain is not the only way, and it calls out injustice as evil. Perhaps the way to fight the devil is the way of the Who’s down in Whoville whose Christmas was stolen by the Grinch, but who sang in spite of it. Perhaps fighting the devil is having the courage to embrace joy instead of letting despair win.

When we see goodness for what it is and we dare to enjoy it, we give glory to the giver of every good and perfect gift. We bear the banner that says Hope still exists. Peace is not a fairytale. Joy is alive. This is a sacred calling. I do not know if this knowledge can ever save me from depression, but I believe that this is true: We must be brave. We must risk delight. We must admit there will be music despite everything. We must cling to Joy on behalf of those who cannot.