Sunday, December 30, 2018

So long 2018

I keep seeing posts where friends remember 2018 - some fondly, some not so much - and the big changes that happened during the year.

So it got me thinking... what are my big memories from 2018? Any big changes, lessons, memories?

I started the year with a FL vacation. Not really new - that was our third trip to FL for spring training - though we visited some new places. On that trip, I learned I really don't like touristy destinations and don't care if I ever again see Orlando or another set of mouse ears.

Somewhere in the middle of the year, I really started to feel the impact of my anxiety. I have really tried to improve its management, having come to terms with the fact that I'll probably never be able to make it disappear. That continues to be a struggle. 

I've also battled some major depression. I am still fighting that every single day. I'm a little sad to be going into 2019, well, sad, but I know I can get through and will be OK. Some days I deal with it in really positive ways - going for a walk, writing, etc. Other days I lose myself in a Netflix or YouTube hole and I need to learn that is OK, too. 

At the end of the summer, we took a trip to Gettysburg. I have to say - it's an amazing place, full of history and lessons and, I thought, a lot of sadness. I would encourage anyone to visit, and wish more people would try learning our country's history from perspectives other than white-washed history books.

Towards the end of the year I started a new job. Very exciting change! The biggest change was positive for my life - the fact that I do this job entirely from home. Earning a little more and the improved chance for retirement didn't hurt, either. Mostly, it's nice to do a job I enjoy while maintaining my sanity and sense of self-worth, both of which were seriously compromised before.

I am not sure what 2019 holds... I expect there will be challenges, and probably some really low lows, but hopefully mixed in with some very high highs. My main goal is to try and take it all in stride, and find the lessons along the way.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Holiday struggles

Boy has it been a while.

For anyone still listening - I'm sorry for the silence. For anyone who stumbles upon this space and decides to stay - I can't promise it will get better, but I'll try. Again.

Anyway - it's November 20, there's snow outside, and I have packages arriving everyday this week, some even filled with stuff not for me.

So it must be the holidays. 

If you're not new around here, you know that this is not my favorite time. For years and years it was great. Then I had a job that became nothing but a big pile of stress in December, making the holidays all but impossible to enjoy. Then I got divorced and all the traditions (I thought) I needed to be happy went out the window. 

Over time my job has changed a little and I've learn to manage the stress. My traditions never recovered, but I accepted that and actually have come to enjoy the freedom that comes with fewer expectations. 

But as I've gotten older, I've realized that a lot of the family time that comes with the holidays is also a huge trigger for my anxiety. Trying to please everyone (and inevitably failing), having to (once again) explain why my life doesn't look like they think it should, being caught in awkward family feuds... It's supposed to be a fun time of year, but it's taken over by so much stress.

I struggle to get through each day, worried that it will be the day I finally break. I practice my anxiety relief activities, and try to remind myself that this too shall pass. After all, January is coming - right?!

It's been a huge help to me in the last few years to realize I am not alone in this fight. It turns out I know a lot of people who struggle too.

So for those going through anything that will make this season a tough one, remember this:

You are not alone.

So let's put on our fancy holiday anxiety and push through!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Not luck

Like I mentioned, I was recently on vacation. When I'm away, I love to take and share photos. I personally like making the memories for myself, and I've also been told that friends enjoy seeing the photos as well. I figure those who don't want to see the photos can always unfollow me, anyway.

But I know some people get annoyed
that others can take trips while they can't. I've been told more than once how "lucky" I am that I am able to travel, and that it must just be because I am single without kids or a mortgage.

It's true - I don't have kids or a mortgage. Technically I am single - in that I am not married - though I am not really sure how that fits in with the ability to travel. Maybe because I am not responsible for someone else financially? If so, then yes, that is true.

But none of that is "luck" - it's choice. I chose not to have kids, I chose to sell my house so I would not have the financial burden, and I choose to be with someone who doesn't need my financial help. I have worked very hard at jobs I have not always loved to earn the money and time to be able to travel.

Make no mistake - I am blessed to have all of these things, and I am grateful everyday. 

But it was not "luck." It was hard work and smart choices. There is definitely a difference.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Vacation perspective

I love vacation. I love not setting an alarm, not worrying about cleaning or laundry or grocery shopping. Not dealing with work. I love the escape.

But it also comes at a price for me. I worry about the planning, and finding stuff to do that we will both enjoy. I worry about travel, especially if we're flying. I worry about my kitty being home alone. I work extra the week before and the week after because that's the nature of what I do.

But the pros definitely outweigh the cons, and in the end - I love vacation.

Something else I love? The perspective. Recently, I was able to take a trip and learn a few things along the way.

The only things in FL not wearing mouse ears.
"Cold" means different things to different people in different places...

... but Florida people have no idea what it means to be truly cold.

I like to be in an area full of stuff to see and do....

... but prefer to find that stuff off the beaten-path. A less hectic, less "touristy" destination is much more my speed.

It is possible to walk 70,000+ miles in a week and still gain 3 pounds...

... but only gaining 3 pounds on vacation is still an awful lot like losing weight. 

There is always going to be something to worry about, or some source of stress...

... but you can't let that stop you from loving life, and making memories.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Mentoring month

January is National Mentoring Month. I found out from the Facebook page of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Capital Region, with which I have volunteered as a mentor (or a "Big") for almost 6 years.

The post suggested that to celebrate, we should thank a mentor, share our own mentoring stories, and encourage others to become mentors.

I've shared my story before, but it's probably worth sharing again.

I became a mentor because I was going through a difficult time in my life. Volunteering seemed to be a good way to distract myself from all the things I felt were going wrong. A friend suggested to me that volunteering as a Big might be a good idea.

It turned out to be the best advice anyone has ever given me.

To find out how to become a Big, I started at the website. I clicked the "volunteer" button and I was off and running. The application process was long - I'm not sure it's changed much. I had to answer a lot of questions, do a phone interview, answer some more questions, then go to an in-person interview. From there I signed off on a background check that was fairly extensive and I provided 4 personal references (a family member, a friend, a co-worker, a boss - if I remember correctly), all of which I know were checked. I see a counselor and I had to have a medical sign-off from him. I think it took about a month for that to be completed - then I had to be matched.

The matching process took a little bit of time. My Match Specialist contacted me with a few more questions, related to everything from race to disabilities (my own and others) and neighborhoods. I was honest - because the last thing I wanted to do was be matched with someone who wouldn't like me, or for whom I couldn't live up to the expectations.

Speaking of expectations... A lot of people think the whole mentor thing is a big time commitment. It's really not. My commitment is 2 outings a month and 2 phone calls a month (on non-outing weeks). Outings can be simple, and at first, they recommend you keep them short and close to home, while everyone (Big, Little, and parents) gets used to this new idea.

As far as how long you're committed... That sort of depends on your Little's age. My Little just turned 17 and she will age out of the program next year. That will end my commitment to BBBSCR (though I'd like to think I will still be in touch with my Little on our own). Your commitment could also end sooner. I had a match before this that had to be terminated after only a couple of years.

But they do ask that once you are matched, you give it at least a year. It takes time to get to know someone, and it can feel awkward at first. If you bailed at the first uncomfortable outing, you'd never make it past a month. But trust me - given time, it will improve and then develop into something awesome.

You're not alone, either. You have a Match Support Specialist that checks in with you, your Little, and your Little's parent(s) each month. After a year, these check-ins are done quarterly. The specialist is available at any point for questions and guidance.

There's other support too. There's a Facebook page for active Bigs where ideas for outings are shared. There's a monthly email with even more suggestions and reminders of ongoing activities and discounts. BBBSCR also hosts a few outings a year (like a holiday party and an a back to school picnic) that provide a chance to meet other matches. The chance to talk to other Bigs is a great help! Plus a free outing now and then doesn't hurt.

Speaking of which... Money. Big and parent(s) should share in the cost for outings. I do everything I can to find discounts and keep the cost to a minimum. My Little's mom sends her out with money on some outings and I let her contribute, which helps. Never be afraid to talk money. It will come up at the match meeting and everyone agrees that this isn't supposed to be a financial hardship. Outings don't have to be expensive either - I've taken my Little for a walk in the park and we've had a great time for free.

There's plenty of stories around about how the Littles (or mentees) benefit from these relationships. Kids in the program are less likely to do drugs, have trouble in school. They are more likely to go to college. That's all amazing.

But mentors? We get so much more. We get the chance to make a difference - a real, measurable difference - in someone's life. We touch a child and that whole family. More importantly, at least for me, our confidence grows, we become more outgoing, we make new friends, and we feel good.

The best part is, anyone can be a mentor - and everyone should.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Surviving traditions

The holidays really stress me out. For a while I thought it was just me. I thought I was this strange anomaly of a daughter / niece / cousin / friend who couldn't find the joy in running from obligation to obligation, in lousy weather, while I bleed money, during the busiest time of my work year. 

Back in December, I went to talk with my counselor (yep, still have one of those) who assured me I was not alone. In fact, I had trouble making a January appointment because he was over-booked... due to the holidays.

We talked about traditions and how difficult it can be when they change. Whether it's decorating, or gifts, or meals, or whatever... even if it's stressful, most people have trouble letting go. In fact, he told me that for many people, changing a tradition can be even more stressful than the tradition itself.
My traditions have changed so much over the last 10 years, I'm at the point where I've stopped
counting on them. I feel like my only constant at the holidays is not knowing what will happen, where I'll be, or who will show up.

You know what I have found? That's OK with me. 

I used to think traditions made me feel better. That I found joy in being sure about what, where, and who. Then, things shifted and it was out of my control, and I realized... that wasn't making me happy at all.

What keeps me happy is knowing that everyone else is happy. Meeting everyone else's expectations, keeping them satisfied and comfortable - that's what matters to me.

I started to accept that I can't make others happy, I can only let them be happy. So - even though it's a little frustrating on the fourth Tuesday in November that I have no idea where I'm eating in two days... it's what makes everyone else happy, and that is OK. 

I remind myself of a couple of things:

  • I know where I won't be - at my apartment. I just have to show up somewhere.
  • If I don't get an invite, I can always get sushi. 
It isn't easy letting go of traditions that have been around since childhood. I still struggle with it sometimes. But I have found it can be a relief to not worry about making others happy and let them do that for themselves. It was also a little empowering to realize that letting traditions change means you can start to carve out your own, new traditions that really honor what you want to celebrate in your life. What's more, allowing letting things go leaves me free to change things up for myself, because my life is definitely not done changing.

Once you open yourself up to the idea that change is OK - suddenly, traditions (or lack thereof) don't seem so bad.