5 Ways to Keep Shining Your Light When the Odds are Against You

What dims your light? Is it not being supported by friends, family, or loved ones? Or is it taking two steps toward your dreams, only to be pushed ten steps back? When the odds stack up against you, do you keep pushing back or do you allow the metaphorical water to rise above your head and carry you away?

I get swept away daily, like a piece of timber caught up in a torrent. But with each storm, I’ve started to create my own sunshine; and it has made a world’s difference. It can for you, too.

  1. “Right now, it’s like this” – I first heard these words at a Wanderlustyoga event led by the mesmerizing Chelsey Korus. We were in a challenging pose, our muscles burning and screaming out in protest. And in the middle of stifled breaths and pissed off egos, she gently said – right now, it’s like this. This moment and this struggle feels crippling now, like you can’t go on, like you are fighting a ghost. Own the matter of fact that is this moment, because you cannot change it. And the longer you fight it to become something else, the more it will kick you down; until you learn that, right now, it’s like this. But it won’t always be. The pain and challenge and darkness will shift, change, and manifest into something else to show you that nothing is permanent, and you are far stronger than you think.
  2. Become your own advocate – Support will come in many ways: a hug, a handshake, a pat on the back, a gentle “I’m proud of you.” Until it runs out. Until your great feats are left waiting by the door with no one to notice. In these moments, it’s easy to discard our gifts and talents, and simply fall in line with mundane living and thinking. Don’t. Become your biggest supporter and your loudest cheerleader. Shine your light, even if you’re standing in the dark alone; because your purpose does not grow in the hands of the few who approve it or push it aside. It’s a part of you. Own it.
  3. Fake it ’till you make it – Negative thoughts will come after you like a rabid dog; that’s a fact. Some days, standing in your truth and moving toward your dreams will feel like a crippled crawl, and all you’ll want to do is quit. There is no secret affirmation or practice that will erase the negativity that stands behind every courageous push. That’s not how it works. You’ll feel like throwing in the towel more times than you can count, and believe me – the guilt behind those defeating thoughts is nauseating. Keep going. Through every punch and hit, grit your teeth and push on. Through the tears and the fear, slap on a smile and say – you hit like a bitch. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. You are the light. And nothing in your dreams will get easier. But if you keep going, you will get stronger than ANYTHING putting you down.
  4. Ten steps back is a chance to rest and go again – We keep expecting this hill of ours to end, until we hit a plateau and it’s a breezy walk to the finish. But I’ve learned that anything that gives us a purpose in life will be the hardest challenge we’ve yet to face. Thankfully, it will also be the worthiest challenge. Comedian Kevin Hart repeats this mantra before every show – everyone wants to be famous, but no one wants to put the work in. Whether or not you want to be famous or pleasantly known, you want something. In order to get it and keep having it in your life as a drive forward, you have to keep taking steps up. And when that challenge rears its head and knocks you down a peg, as it will, you have the option of quitting or pausing. In those moments of pause is where you have the gift of gaining perspective, inspiration, and re-focus of what you’re after. Take it. And then get up and continue, renewed.
  5. Remember why you started – Your light is what guides you to your Highest Good. It won’t be easy, it won’t be short, and it won’t be linear. But you started your journey for a reason, and you keep coming back to it, even when you’re worn, beat down, and alone. As you walk your path, remember why you started in the first place. Allow the purity of it to become your strength and courage, and repeat it to yourself when the darkness closes in or the steps become too steep. Push back against the negativity that looms overhead, with every intention and bough of faith; because this is your light, and you’re shining it like a star!

I’ve been on my path of writing and sharing my story for years. Some days, I want to burn every page I ever wrote in my journal. I believe in the odds stacked up against me because I believe I can overcome them. They are not my end – they’re simply my reminder. I am here to shine my light, in the cold and in the dark. And so are you.

Keep going.

 

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Let’s Talk About Our Bellies

Let’s talk about bellies.

Specifically, our lady’s bellies. Now, I’m not trying to put guys out, nor their bellies; but I am a lady, and I can only speak and write about my own belly and therefore, my generalized assumptions of other ladies’ bellies. But should you – a dude – find yourself inspired by these words, please share them far and wide with your dude-bellied friends.

As I stuff my face with an office danish I nonchalantly just stole, I am reminded that summer is almost here, and so is our ridiculous obsession with the long-sought-after “summer body.” The problem here is that once summer arrives and we’re confronted with bikini weather, we’ll haul ass back to the gym to start furiously working on looking presentable.

Repeat after me: “Summer is coming. I have a body. Therefore, I WILL have a summer body.”

All of this obsessing has got to stop, but before I tell you why (like you don’t know), I am going to empathize. One summer a million years ago, I went back to the motherland for a couple of months to see family, sneak some booze, party it up with my girlfriends like only a few 16-year-old’s can do…you know, regular summer stuff. This happened to be the one and pretty much only summer where I really expanded. Growing up, I was a skinny girl. I didn’t know to be proud of it, because I had never battled weight problems, so the idea of being skinny and gloating about it never really crossed my mind. When I started to develop, I started noticing that getting boobs wasn’t going to come without a disclaimer, and before I knew it, that damn muffin top started to rise like yeast. Along with it came other weight gain in uncomfortable areas, and I think that was the first time I discovered how God-forsaken chaffing was. So, when it was time to vacation like a boss and squeeze myself into a bikini, I hit that proverbial, teenage wall – nothing fit and I look like that can of biscuits when you pop the lids on either side. What I didn’t know was that I was still growing and developing, and although I ate like a raccoon, I was simply at that stage of girl-hood where I had to sit with my awkwardness for a little while longer.

My mom was always skinny, as well. She grew up eating like a linebacker, never gaining a single pound. Contrary to me, she owned every piece of that spotlight, and she made sure you knew it. My mom is, by nature and her own choosing, a brutally honest and loud little beast. She has never cared whether her words will lift you up or bury you, and that’s something for which I’ve both admired and resented her. That summer of bikini-not, she made sure I knew where extra parts of me were growing, whether I wanted to hear it or not (I didn’t). Regardless, I began to look at my body as something apart from who I thought I was, like some alien life that took a different route somewhere and started to grow all wrong. I didn’t know anything about eating healthy or God forbid, moving my body and sweating out the crap I ate. All I knew was that I was somehow fat, and that fat needed to go. Immediately.

I dieted. I failed. Oh God, I failed so many times. I hated the way jeans made my belly puff out in the front. I hated how every shirt I used to wear back when I was skinny was now a dooming reminder of a body I used to have. I hated how I bought and picked my outfits based on how much coverage there was to hide my problem areas. And I absolutely hated how I subconsciously hid my belly in pictures when I was at the beach or anywhere where my belly was exposed. I remember pictures of me with my hand on my belly, trying to stand taller in hopes that this will make me look skinnier. And that summer was the breaking point – I came home to my mom’s honest demand – lose weight. It was like a punch in the throat.

Nowhere in my teenagehood did I understand what it meant to be healthy. I never looked at my body as my own, as a living, breathing part of me that only thrived when all parts of me were on track – mind, spirit, soul. The words with which I described my body were mean and cruel and rarely ever honest, but I never stopped myself from saying those things. And so my body took the hits. I remember my lowest point, sitting on the toilet in my bathroom, pinching my belly in my hands and physically yelling at the fat to go away.

If only I knew then what I know now, right? But life doesn’t work that way, and nowhere in our span of time and Universe does a life of a teenage girl work that way. Now, I’m not here to write you a happy ending, where I got some sense and started eating right and doing yoga and losing weight and loving my mom’s brutal and loud honesty. In fact, the reason why I wanted to write this (for so long, by the way) is because everything I later learned as an adult and a yogi has led me to the point of returning to my younger self to tell her (and you!) that:

Our bellies are sacred. They are the seat of our power, our love, our connection to ourselves, each other, our world, and our purpose. They are not meant to be cut down, chiseled into, or shrunken in order to fit jeans, stereotypes, or fear-based expectations. Allow them to grow with nourishment, rise and fall freely with breath, and give life to children, ideas, and even your damn self.

When I went through my yoga teacher training, I was constantly reminded that my belly was where God lived. And because I believed that God existed, I believed She was very much like me – at heart, still some teenage girl with her belly in her hands, trying to grow into her awkward body so that she could finally believe in her wild, overwhelming spirit. And little by little, I stopped pausing in mirrors on the way to try on a bikini, hoping that if I walked a little straighter, my belly would not show. I cut that shit out. I didn’t have time for it. What I had time for were ideas. What I had time for hid in lunchtime sessions of writing and booking trips to Nepal and Mexico and opening my heart so wide to my everything so that I could finally start that book I’ve been meaning to write. I believe in all of these things, because I can feel them, one by one, in my belly – that same belly that puffs out when I eat a danish I stole; that same belly that knows things my mind simply cannot. I trust that belly now more than ever before, because it’s where the seat of my power is, where I can surrender to a knowing that is far greater than any logical knowledge I could learn from a book. It’s the place where I connect my ground with my spirit, two fingers above my bellybutton that I pierced back in high school. I never want to lose or pinch or yell at that sacred space again.

Our bellies give life, whether that’s in the shape of our stories on paper or our children in cribs. Don’t hide it under a tunic or under a sheltering hand. It’s something to behold, something to honor and celebrate. It’s unique to us, and us alone. It shouldn’t be stereotyped or insulted or manipulated to look like someone else’s. Why wish to have anyone else’s power when you can have your very own?

Take care of it. Take care of yourself by acknowledging that you are strong, capable, healthy, flawed, and a standing representation that you will never back away from your own potential. Your duty to yourself is not to explain or justify your body – not even to yourself. And I could say something cliche like – you are perfect just the way you are – but that’s a lie. You’re not perfect. You’re a mess, nine times out of ten, who is trying to keep it all together without overdoing it on wine on a Tuesday morning; but you’re also a badass, divine creation in a meatsuit of a body, destined for much bigger things. Never let a day go by without reminding yourself of this one, true fact.

 

xoxo

You Have to Pull Yourself Out of Your Darkness and Here’s How

Mental illness – whether it is depression, anxiety, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, or any disorders thereof, officially diagnosed or not – create darkness. I used to picture and liken this darkness to the bottom of a barrel, where you can’t go deeper, and you know it, but you can’t climb back out, and you don’t want to. That last part – climbing back out – is where I believe mental illness really defines itself. All of us, at some point or another, have metaphorically landed at the bottom of our barrel. But what draws the line in the sand between darkness and just a bad night is the climb up; and through my own experience and recounted stories of others, I’ve discovered that climbing back out – even if you can see a speck of light above – takes more energy, effort, and willpower than the person has or is willing and able to give. And this reiterates the point – we have to want to climb out; and when we don’t, that darkness becomes a frightening moment for a very long time.

We’ve heard the cliche – you have to want to help yourself. Truer words have not been spoken, and I stand by this mantra with full support. But I don’t think that using this as motivation or advice is enough. Yes, you have to want to help yourself, because relying on others to help lift you up, if all you want to do is fall, is hopeless. No one wins in that situation. But that cliche is simply the intention. It’s what open the floodgates and lights that proverbial fire under your ass that says yes go! It’s time to climb the hell out of this thing! But that cliche is not how we treat our mental illness, and I think one of the biggest challenges in what we face is figuring out how to start the climb at all. And once we start, it’s pushing ourselves to keep going.

The climb up is not a race; it is not even a marathon

It’s work. It’s incredible, difficult, manual, mental labor in the Arizona summer heat. It’s your Mount Everest on steroids, and all you have is a walking stick, some days. And while that may carry zero inspiration as you read this, what I’m saying is meant to give you perspective. Most importantly, it’s meant to give you reality. Diving into our psyches and unleashing anything and everything that we’ve stuffed down there is a journey from which we don’t just stroll back into easy-going living. Dealing with mental illness on any given day is a struggle that no writer ought to put into words, nor try, because those words won’t be enough.

What I’ve learned from my own experience is that climbing back out of my darkness is a one-step process. Every single day, I take a step. Some days, it’s a step up, and I can joyfully laugh and toss any caution to the wind and truly live in the moment with family, friends, and my cat. There aren’t weights pulling me down into the same mental alley where I get mugged and punched by depression and loneliness. Other days, it’s a step down from where I was the day before, and I can feel my heart sink because I was so much closer to the top. But that’s the rhythm of this – the ebb and flow of life are the same for everyone, but with mental illness, that ebb and flow can either take you one wave closer to the shore or to the rocks.

The climb up is a challenge we take on every single day. There are no breaks, and there are no days off. And if you thought that this article up until now has been a wretched downer, please stay with me. You are worth the work. There’s not going to be a single person at the bottom of your barrel with you, and that’s by design. You have to do this. You have to put one foot in front of the other every single moment and believe that you are handling your life. With your action, whether it kicks you down or lifts you up, you are facing your darkness and handling it. Some days, you win. Other days, you learn. There is no loss. Your mental illness does not define the core of who you are, and it most certainly does not change what you’re meant to do – and we’re all here for something.

You have to pull yourself out of your darkness, and it will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but it will be the greatest and the single most profound thing you’ve ever done. How you do it is by taking the first step, and then always one more. Smile when you’ve done it, and celebrate these feats. If you get knocked down, pause and learn from it. Don’t ask why can’t I do this? Instead, ask what did this teach me? And then keep going. Always keep going.

We are strong enough, but first, we have to decide to be

At the bottom of my own barrel, I remember sitting and waiting for a sign. I wanted to receive something divine that would guarantee that everything would eventually work out and that I would be lifted up to my own light on the wings of simple and thoughtful prayer. And I sat at the bottom of that musty barrel for what seemed an eternity; because signs don’t work that way.

What my depression taught me, in the crudest of ways, was that I had the choice of trudging through mud and mire to climb out of my darkness, or continue sitting, praying, and wishing to be air-lifted out. And even when I fell down, worn out and pissed, the alternative to staying in that solace was reminder enough to make me try again. At the end of the day, that’s the proverbial fire – try again. There are no expectations that our climb needs to be done in one day; we falsely create that goal in our head, pinning our very selves up against the wall. Don’t. Lay down these presumptive ideals that our healing is on an expressway path to eradication. The path is anything but short, but it’s there. It exists. And it’s for our taking.

Try again. And always keep going.

Pulling ourselves out of our darkness does not make the darkness go away. It makes us strong enough to decide that we don’t need to live in it.

Grief and Time – It Doesn’t Get Easier, But That’s the Point

What we want to do is put grief in a box. “Package it up, tape the bitch, and put it somewhere where we can see it.” That’s what we say. With this, we get control over our grief. We can watch it and make sure it doesn’t fly out of the box, ripping at the edges, scrambling over to catch us in meetings and during someone else’s happy moments. If we can contain it, we can control it, and we’ve falsely believed – for quite some time now – that we’ll dis-empower it this way over time; that one day, that grief will cease to exist because we’ve made it smaller by cramming it into something with crippling limits.

I’ve discovered, in the wake of my own grief with loss and depression, that grief in a box is like a tumor. Just because we don’t allow it to grow outward and free, doesn’t mean it will disappear through the existence of time and us not paying it any attention. That’s not how it works, but who am I to tell you how it should? Here’s my experience, and you decide for yourself:

When my grandfather died, I isolated. I knew other coping mechanisms existed, but I didn’t care for them. I didn’t want to reach out to my family and grieve with them because we all isolated from each other. We didn’t create spaces in which to come together; we looked for spaces in which to hide from each other so that we could “process in peace.” And I put that sentence into quotes because, in my family, there is no peace in grief. None found none sought. What we do – successfully – is we push aside the human choice to sink into our feelings for the other choice to rack our brain for a way out: a way out of grief, out of sadness, out of crying in front of one another. We look for a loophole, mentally. And when we find one – whether that is keeping busy, averting eye contact, or making ourselves think about literally anything else – we latch onto it and use that runaround as an escape. “We’ll never think about loss again, and we won’t let grief pull us under.” That’s what we think, but rarely ever say. To my mom, that was a sign of strength. Her Herculean feat was to establish her ground as a no-crying badass who never looked at herself in grief as pieces she had to put back together. She was going to live long in the belief that nothing could break her. To my dad, that was an end result he chased but never attained. Contrary to my mom, he was and still is an emotional opportunity, to actually sit with his feelings and ACTUALLY process them in peace. But that doesn’t work when you’ve been fed the “life’s shit toughens you” mantra for decades. After a while, you start to think that being a no-crying badass in the face of grief is supposed to be a proud staple of who you are. And then there was Me in the middle, the neon-colored sheep of the family. I believe grief is different.

Even though I still run to hide in spaces where I can process in peace, I am aware of my running. Losing someone or living with depression are some of life’s hardest phases through which to maintain this awareness. I was recently inspired to read a writer’s beautiful and accurate description of grief. He likened it to waves in the ocean. I think this is a far better description than the box because the ocean is expansive and sometimes when you look far, infinite. That’s how I imagine grief to be. It’s not this small thing we can hold and stuff into a tiny space when it begins to hurt. It’s the opposite of that. So when we’re faced with the beginning stages of grief – in those first hours and days – it feels like the waves are coming in non-stop. One right after the other. Never-ending. And they come crashing down hard! I mean, “face in the sand, tumbling on rocks” hard. Everything we have gets thrown off track, and everything we control is now no longer up to us. It’s scary! There is no space or time between those waves where we can stand up or stick our heads out long enough to catch a full breath. Everything feels rushed in the slowest way imaginable.

This is how I felt when my grandfather died when my favorite singer died when I went through a hard breakup. A loss doesn’t have to mean the end of life. It’s the end of something. Sometimes, it’s the end of some part of yourself. And in those first few days, I was underwater. You literally have to throw your hands up in the air and allow the flood to blow everything to pieces. And you watch yourself get thrown into the tumult with it all, and I’ve noticed that the more you scramble to stay on top, the more grief kicks you down – like it wants you to get to a point where standing up is no longer even an option for you. I liken this to your own metaphorical death; because when you lose someone, you have to die a little with them, too. Something of yourself has to pass on so that you can understand how grief works so that you can teach your scared and running Herculean family that this death is also OK.

I don’t believe that time heals all wounds. I think that’s bullshit. I think that’s what we’ve been led to believe so that we’ll stop talking about our grief with people who pretend their wounds are just little scars. I also don’t believe time heals all grief. We’ve adopted the mentality that time is an action. And maybe for some things, it is. But for this? Time is just space. Space between those waves where we can finally stand up and take a full breath in without feeling like our lungs are collapsing. Time is space – no matter how brief – where we can get out of bed, or have a normal conversation, or smile just because. And this space exists between crests of waves that are always going to be there because grief doesn’t end. It doesn’t get easier or better. We just get stronger. And we gain more space in which to see the waves approaching, and we can prepare. We can anticipate that it’s going to hurt when we remember their smile or hear their voice in that one song or remember how much they loved to fish. And the only time in which Time will ever give us healing is when we begin to welcome those waves, not as torture, but as perspective.

If I’ve ever learned anything at all by being who I am in a family who is the polar opposite, is that grief and loss and depression are topics of conversation that should exist, freely and wholly. When we share our stories and give words to our thoughts and feelings, we learn. I am not anyone who has stumbled into this knowledge and advice because I’m smart or wise. I am here because I’ve found that carrying the burden of remaining silent is too heavy, and not for me.

I hope you give your waves a voice, unapologetically and without reserve.