Be More Like A 5th Grader This Weekend

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This afternoon I had the pleasure of spending a little time with the coolest 11-year-old I know: my friends daughter, Mac. She invited me to her class for a Friday the 13th celebration with S’Mores, scary stories and a Goosebumps episode. Watching her with her classmates reminded me that the only thing separating kids and us old folks is our hesitancy to let life roll.

This little lady is outgoing, viciously witty, and radiates so much happiness in her existence. She walks with the sure step of someone who hasn’t yet discovered self-consciousness, a quality which I am now making my own personal mission. As I looked around the room, I noticed no one exhibited the angst I’ve become accustomed to in my daily life; nothing seemed to weigh them down. Sure, they’ve not yet taken the plunge into the gritty realities of life, but it got me thinking about how difficult it is for me to feel O.K. with a little lightheartedness.

I know we’ve all got responsibilities and baggage that makes walking through life with wide eyes difficult, but I want to encourage you to give yourself permission to cut loose. Laugh louder. Talk with emotion. Read books that remind you how wonderful it is to daydream. What will you do to feel younger this weekend?

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Chicago: Making Peace With Painful Places

 

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Last weekend I traveled to Chicago for C2E2 (their comic con) with my parents and brother. The event was phenomenal, the costumes were outstanding and the people were kind, but it wasn’t the time with my fellow nerds that struck me the hardest.

The city itself was an obstacle I was nervous to tackle. I lived in Chicago for school many years ago and it’s where I went went through some of the biggest hurts of my life. It’s where I was assaulted at 20, where I had a nervous breakdown, where I was hospitalized and where I learned that I wasn’t invincible. I’ve returned a few times over the years since leaving, but each visit took a piece of me. I saw specters of failure in each familiar building, every friend who still lived there.

I went into this trip excited for my first C2E2, yet I worried I wouldn’t be able to take everything in through clear eyes. I thought about backing out several times, but my partner kept me from that course of action. To my surprise, once I was on the ground with my family things just felt different. I believe what made the trip better for me emotionally was the presence of people I know have my back through anything and vice versa. Laughing with my brother kept me from looking over my shoulder. Helping my father get his bearings on the CTA gave me a sense of pride, and reminiscing with my mom as we walked through the French Market made me forget for a moment the pain of the past.

On reflection, I’ve realized that with time and space we heal. The part that made Chicago so painful for me was the sense of shame I felt over leaving. All my life I wanted to conquer the big city; I left feeling like it had won the battle with me. My bestie Jesse – who I met at University – reminded me that it’s our responsibility to make decisions that are good for us regardless of what other people think. Leaving was difficult, but now I choose to think of it like this: walking away from bad things to heal is brave as hell. I wouldn’t be as happy or healthy as I am today if I had remained. You don’t get a medal for staying and suffering, but you do win something great when you leave. I won a second chance at life. Slowly, I’m letting go of the bitterness to see the city anew.

Tip for returning to places that hold painful memories: don’t go it alone if you can avoid it. Find a partner or a group that keeps you from focusing on the hurt.

Putting Self-Care Into Action

 

Now that we all know what self-care is and how it works, let’s talk about making a schedule for yourself. I know, I know – work is the last thing you want to do , but this is for yourself! I think you’re worth some extra time. Besides, we both know the outcome is going to be a happier and more balanced person, which is a great goal! I’ll break down the details for you to get started.

What Relaxes You?

First off, taking care of yourself doesn’t have to look like a music video. That would be nice, and if you’re capable of making that happen, then go off. However, let’s start with something realistic. I recommend thinking of an activity, book, movie, or anything that brings your stress level down. If you like shooting hoops to shake off the day, do it! You don’t have to be laying face down in a dark room to feel at peace. Make a list of anything that brings you a sense of calm.

Can You Do It Alone?

By this I mean can you do it when you don’t have someone else to turn to? I wish we all had people to turn to whenever times get rough, but that’s not always the case. There are going to be days when you might be unable or unwilling to reach out to others. In those scenarios it’s important to have safe practices set up that can keep you grounded and healthy.

Can You Do It For Free?

Honestly, free things just rule. In my experience, spending my money all willy-nilly causes a spiral effect of guilt and shame. It’s become all too easy for me to talk myself out of self-care when it involves payment. To work around that mind game I started looking for loopholes. I go to the community center near my home to exercise, because it’s free and the patrons are usually retirees. It kills two birds with one stone: I get those good endorphins while avoiding the anxiety of exercising around people more likely to judge me. Walking, meditation, stretching, painting your nails, singing super loud, and other activities are just a few examples.

How Often Can You Do It?

Here’s the fun part! Now that you have a list of things that relax you, that you can do alone and for free, all we have to do is determine when you can do it. Ideally it would be every day, but let’s start slowly. What I did was start on the weekends. I had no excuse to put things off on Saturday or Sunday when I like to do them. I started first thing in the morning, because that’s when I’ve got the most energy. As an early riser I’m also usually alone. This sets me on the right foot for the rest of the day. Slowly, I started introducing my activities into weekdays. A Monday night here, a Wednesday night there until I had an activity in place four to five days a week. Sometimes I do the same thing over and over again (nightly face routine) or switch it up day by day (exercise). The key is to never do something that can hurt or endanger me (triggering my eating disorder).

I really hope this helps! I have a unique set-up right now with work that allows me more free time than I’ve ever had before, but I still struggle to make time for myself. My solution has been to carve out time no matter what for the things I’ve listed for myself, because I know I’ll need the good tools when my days get dark. Let me know in the comments what your schedule looks like! And never forget: You got this.

 

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The Beauty of Taking a Chance

The Top 5 Cenotes to Visit during Your Summer Vacation in Tulum!

 

The rumbling caught my attention first. My travel group was waiting for our bus in the lobby of our hotel in the city of Merida in Yucatan, Mexico when I realized I was in trouble. I excused myself with my roommate to go to the bathroom in the room we had just vacated. Like a fool, I let her go first and was forced to clench my stomach to keep in whatever wanted to spill out. The rumbling and gurgling became so unbearable that I rushed to the bathroom door where my roommate was quietly living out her own Montezuma-induced nightmare, banging like a wild woman and hollering for her to let me in. I didn’t care if I would have to go in the bathtub – I was going. I … went. There’s no way to describe what I felt as I stood in my own filth in a lovely hotel, knowing I would have to explain myself to our chaperones, but I hope that you’ll trust me when I say this all ends well.

The summer before my Junior year of high school was lit. I don’t know what came over my parents, but they allowed me to go to NYC with the school choir group, then I got to do a tour of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. (The fact that my parents have never let me forget it might be the biggest motivating factor behind their agreement, but that’s not the point.) That summer became the biggest adventure I had ever experienced. I got my first passport, learned about travel insurance, and got exciting vaccinations.

The tour was led by my two amazing teachers – Senora Campos and Senora Williams – who loved calling us by our middle names anytime we acted out. They handled the madness like only teachers can. Our luggage was lost, we were grounded due to a HURRICANE, then arrived at our hotel in Cancun with no more than the clothes on our backs, whatever we had in our carry-ons, plus the things we were able to buy at a Wal-Mart in country. I ran through the aisles snatching up what my 16-year-old mind thought the most important: candy, underwear, a bright blue hat, Tweety Bird boxers and a tank top. I’m sure you can imagine the stares. My mom was so terrified by the weather and radio silence from us that she called our hotel no less than 45 million times before I was able to assure her I was, in fact, alive.

We hit the ground running the next day, taking off for the ruins of Chicen Itza under the supervision of our tour guide Sergio and driver Luis. Now, when I say it was impressive I’m almost underselling the grandeur of what we got to see. The pyramids touched the clouds, built up on blocks as big as me. The intricate carvings and forms felt like they had been created out of time and beyond the means of humans. It was absolutely awe-inspiring. We got to stay that night for a light show, where we made friends with a Canadian family that made fun of the Tweety Bird boxer shorts in good spirit. I was too high on the experience to be ashamed of my appearance, which was a strange kind of bliss.

Our bags arrived on our second full day, thankfully, enabling us to look and smell like half-way normal people once again. After cleaning up and tucking my new favorite pair of boxer shorts into a dirty clothes bag, I was ready for the next journey. We ventured away from Chichen Itza for the afternoon to see a cenote, where my life officially changed. Cenotes are a natural pit, or sinkhole, that forms a well. The one we went to was somewhat unsuspecting to a kid like me from Kansas. I thought maybe we’d taken a wrong turn somewhere. Maybe it would just be a puddle or a regular old well with rocks and twigs at the bottom, I thought. We descended a walkway carved into the earth to find a beautiful sight I’ll not soon forget. Light streamed in from holes in the roof and bounced from lamps to reveal hanging vines as thick as my arms dropping down into a blue-green pool with no bottom in sight. There was an island of rocks people were swimming back and forth from. You could walk down the stairs to a safe platform, or you could jump. I wanted in every part of my body to keep walking, but there was a voice urging me to jump. I was so possessed by that other voice, maybe a part still undiscovered, that I stepped to the edge of the rock staircase.

“Oh, LaKase is gonna do it!” I remember Senora Williams saying with a hint of pride.

Before I could think with the reasonable part of my brain, I jumped. I still remember the rush of the water enveloping me in cool silence. I sank down into the black water, time traveling through that peaceful presence into a space long gone,then bobbed back up to the cheers of my little family. I was proud of the leap, and relieved I was still on Earth instead of gone forever. The rest joined me in the dark water to laugh and swim like the children we still were despite our best efforts to exemplify maturity in our normal lives. We dove down to touch the bottom, but were instead met by a void. It could have been the perfect setting for a horror movie, yet in my mind’s eye it was the purest, safest and most free I have ever felt. I didn’t know the water had filled me up with something that would literally destroy my pants, cramp my body and render me immobile in a van for hours, and I am better now for it.

Flash-forward to the hotel room. My roommate – bless her – was kind enough to not laugh at me in that awful state. She ran and got my bags for me to change and notified the adults that I was sick. What’s even more remarkable for a gaggle of kids is that no one mocked me. Everyone was supportive and understanding. I was better a day or two later, but since then I’ve never played around with going to the restroom.

At 16 I learned that with good sometimes there’s bad, albeit in a very amusing way. Now, at 31, I am re-learning how to take a chance. I’ve discovered taking a chance does not mean ignoring risk. Being brave is just as much about knowing when to walk away as knowing when to act. There’s nothing wrong with fear. There’s nothing wrong with turning back when you’ve gone as far as you can. Bravery is a small thing. It’s a mother letting her child go. It’s jumping so others won’t be afraid anymore. It’s kindness when you really want to be petty. You never know you’re in those moments until much later. When I’m afraid, or sad, or too low to believe the sun still rises I find myself remembering the cenote and the peace of mind that came in the water.

What To Expect After Sharing Your #MeToo Story

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Change always starts with a voice refusing to be silenced. That voice, however loud or righteous, has the potential to push others toward sharing their own truths and creating an unstoppable force of power.

The MeToo movement created a burning desire within myself to share my own trauma in the hope of being the voice one person might need to feel strong enough to join the chorus calling for change. Despite years of therapy, I discovered the mere act of speaking a truth which had hounded me since childhood could be at once cathartic, then terrifying. I had no idea what I was in for, yet I regret nothing. I do, however, want to share how the experience affected me after so that you will have an idea what to prepare for and how to take care of yourself.

You’re Going to Be Exhausted

Surviving any kind of violation or abuse is far from easy, so it follows that laying bare the contents of your heart would be just as difficult. Immediately after my story was published, I felt a surge of proud adrenaline. I felt empowered in others knowing the truth, and vindicated in being able to essentially “stick it” to the person who violated me. Wonder Woman had nothing on me for that first week after my revelation.

What I did wrong was not immediately checking in with myself. I didn’t emotionally prepare myself for the whiplash effect of sharing.

Yet, just like a runner’s high, I came back down to the reality that I had indeed shared on a large scale something only a few of my most trusted family and friends new. After a few bouts of tears I was able to re-center myself and come to the realization the we need and deserve TLC. I’ve finally given myself permission to indulge in self-care. The therapy sessions you definitely need? Schedule them. That movie you loved and need to watch 12 times? Watch it. Screaming, crying, throwing things, eating pizza at midnight? Go off. You have earned the right to stretch yourself back out.

Some People Might Let You Down

There was a part of my heart that hoped telling the truth about my trauma would bring me closer to people whom I desperately wanted to be acknowledged by. I thought that if people could see I had been hurting all these years they would finally show me the softness I craved. Well… sometimes people just aren’t capable of that. Maybe you think sharing your story will be a bridge to someone who has cut you off or torn you down. This isn’t about them. It is about doing what is best for YOUR mental health. Be confident in the fact that what you will share is good for your ability to begin the healing process. Other people’s love wont change the weight of the burden you’re working on dropping off.

You might feel regret, but this is a valuable step in healing

As I have not so subtly hinted at above, this isn’t going to be easy. I think we have this tendency to believe actions being difficult or painful means they are wrong. Because it was so emotionally draining, I thought maybe it would have been better if I’d kept that part of myself hidden. We feel this even more so when those we love are involved. My parents wouldn’t have to field questions from relatives and my husband wouldn’t lose sleep if only I’d stayed silent. Luckily, that little voice that had first urged me to speak popped back into my head. It reminded me that anyone who loved me would have hurt in a deeper way if they believed I kept everything hidden to protect them. They wanted my suffering to end just as much as I did, and I was indeed suffering in silence. Good things sometimes bring pain, just as bad things sometimes bring relief. We struggled together, we talked, and I have felt my bones and heart strengthen in the process. I’m no longer afraid to speak, to hear my voice rise up in the chorus. I’m just a small person, but my life is worth saving, my wounds worth healing. The next steps are now mine to choose.

What Are The Next Steps?

I’m saying this loud as hell: THERAPY. THERAPY. AND MORE THERAPY. Nothing I’ve shared with you can be a substitution for professional help. On the contrary, everything I’ve learned over the years is thanks to wonderful professional help, group settings, and books. You simply can’t share all that pain and expect everything to be instantly fixed. Think of trauma as a kind of tree. The event plants a seed that grows roots and vines. It might be deeply rooted, but you can get to the heart of it and start chipping away at how it grows until you’ve got a handle on it. I can’t in good conscience tell you that trauma goes away, that you’ll be who you were before – that’s just not feasible. However, I can tell you with absolute certainty that with help you will be able to create a new healthy version of yourself who isn’t swallowed up in the pain. If a small person like me from the middle of nowhere can do this, you bet your ass you can, too. Please take care of yourself!

 

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