Category: Health

How I Cope With My Brain

“Anxiety was born in the very same moment as mankind. And since we will never be able to master it, we will have to learn to live with it—just as we have learned to live with storms.” 
― Paulo Coelho, Manuscrito encontrado em Accra

Yesterday I jotted down some words about my own experience with anxious episodes, today I thought it was worth summarizing the best ways I’ve learned to cope with downturns in my mental health–thankfully non-chronic but still more plentiful than I would wish.

So here is a short list of stuff that I, a completely unqualified non-professional, have found to manage my own brain:

Reading. Whether it’s fiction, nonfiction, or news, reading forces me out of my own head. It’s my experience that good books or journalism silence the id and compel you to hear or view a perspective or narrative not your own. Anxiety and depression (in my personal observation and experience with those whom I love and have seen go through their own battles) narrows the perspective and sensations to the self, usually in painful or harmful ways. When I’m anxious, I cannot escape the vortex of my own thoughts, often circling my sense of self. I find this boring and indulgent. Books are a brilliant antidote.

Exercise. Damn it.

Therapy. A qualified therapist can help identify the things or experiences that trigger or exacerbate mental health challenges, and teach you coping mechanisms for getting through them.

Identifying and safe guarding alone time. Wither it’s an opportunity to work quietly, meditate, take a walk, or just not have the obligation of responding to inputs from society and other people, being alone for designated periods can be deeply healing. I didn’t always appreciate this but do more and more the older I get.

On the flip side, making plenty of time for fun with other people. Too much alone time can backfire and result in isolation or too much time in your own head when a dinner or drink with friends, date with a romantic partner, or even an enjoyable work do can provide the socialization that most of us need to be balanced and healthy. I think that the best definition I can imagine for true emotional balance is a person who can be content and happy both surrounded by people or by themselves, and both are skills that can be learned if you don’t have them naturally.

It’s not a complicated or complex formula, but it combats what I particularly struggle with. If anyone out there deals with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or any other form of mental health challenge, I’d be curious as to what non-medical self care or coping mechanism you use to keep yourself as balanced as you can. My observation is that while there are broad themes to these conditions, the personal experience of them is unique and so have been the recipes for managing them.

It’s Not About the Numbers. But…

“To lose confidence in one’s body is to lose confidence in oneself.” 
― Simone de Beauvoir

The saying is true and bears repeating at the outset: health is not always about numbers on a scale. It is possible to be overweight and still fit and active, it is possible to be thin and still desperately unhealthy. The numbers on a scale are just one way to measure certain information about yourself.

But that being said…I’m really proud of this number:

This has been a year of a lot of dedicated health changes for me, in fact I just did a recap  so I don’t have to go into too much detail here about the specifics. But I did want to write about my weight because it’s something that I’m shallow enough to say has bothered me.

I have never been a naturally thin person. In fact, I’d classify my body as pretty normal overall. I’m shortwaisted, but I do have a normal-ish hourglass figure and not too far off the standard deviation besides that. I had a sweet tooth growing up which has morphed into a salt tooth and carb…face…in adulthood. My metabolism slowed down in my late 20s, once again a totally normal thing. Slowly over time a pound added itself on my frame, a bit here and a bit there, until at the end of last year I was the heaviest I’ve ever been. It’s strange to be “technically” overweight while petite because the numbers on a scale aren’t large generally, but they are large for you personally.

That being said, my overall appearance still felt broadly in the “normal” category. My weight was pretty evenly distributed throughout my body with only the typical fluctuation that I think most adult women experience as a matter of life. At certainly points in my life, my existing clothes would mostly fit, but not sometimes better than others. I have had to size up a couple of times since I was 20, which again I don’t think is too atypical. This isn’t some tale of a heroic journey to health after injury, pain, struggle, or neglect.

But I will say that I didn’t like my body. I’ve had a lot of feelings about my body over the years and it’s surprising how many of them have been very negative. I don’t think self-loathing is unique to women, but I do think we experience a particularly rough cocktail of societal pressure, unreasonable expectation, not enough range of representation, and strange notions about our sexuality that all combine to make our relationships with our bodies harder than they need to be. I am lucky that I have never hated my body. I have never felt the need to tame it in ways that made me badly unhealthy, I have never loathed and resented it, I have never felt like I was in the wrong one. Thank god. I just…didn’t really like mine.

In the past ten years, as my weight has jumped around, I’ve painfully taken down a religious faith that has a lot of conflicting notions about the body. In some ways, Mormonism is radically body positive! The faith posits an embodied deity. The “weird” dietary habits and restrictions for which Mormons are known grow from a belief that the human body is a gift that is to be cared for and stewarded well, and not put in harm’s way. It chucks concepts like original sin and downgrades the centuries old curse of Eve into something more gentle and understandable–some interpretations frame Eve eating the apple as a deliberate and brave choice because it was the only way she could have a family and so kick off the human race. It’s a kinder version of the myth in many ways.

Women-as-mothers are sacred in Mormonism, and this is where things take a turn for the problematic and patriarchal in a big way. Girls’ bodies are policed in a way that boys’ aren’t and from irritatingly young ages. There are cultural dress codes that enforce modesty, most of them badly gender slanted. Female sexuality is desirable and devilish at the same time–a prominent leader caused something of a kerfuffle a few years ago by giving a sermon cautioning girls to not become “walking pornography” to young men by the way they dress and act. Ugh. Devout Mormons are celibate until marriage and let me tell you, the underlying expectation of many sweet naive souls that you will be able to go from modestly draped maiden to sexual afficionada–zero to sixty–doesn’t do a lot of us many favors.

I felt taught to simultaneously revere my body, hide it, respect it, be frightened of it, that it was powerful, and that it was sort of shameful. But I don’t feel that I was taught that it was mine. It was a divine gift that I had on loan and would have to check back in some day like a library book. It was a vehicle for other human life that, maybe, was more important than my own in some way. It was meant to be enjoyed and shared with a partner, but in very strict and limited ways–and believe me, I could write a book on the issues with how male slanted some of the lessons about virtue I was taught were in retrospect. I had this body, but I didn’t really feel in some ways as if I owned it.

Sports or atheletics may have helped me more, but this was something I only really did a low level extracurricular. I took dance classes, horseback riding lessons, and gymnastics as a kid. I took advantage of the fact that I was in a hilariously small Department of Defense high school to join the soccer team for a couple of seasons–something I would never have been able to manage in most typical American high schools where you need something akin to talent to participate! But all in all, I’m not sure I really knew or learned how to use my body.

For about a year now, I’ve been working on my health. I’ve written a lot about how much work I’ve had to do on healing my brain, my emotions, some parts of my psyche…but I don’t like talking about my work on my body because I don’t really like thinking about my body.

So I’ve been trying to change that.

I’ve been listening to it, taking it to the doctor to check on things that have bothered me for years or just didn’t feel right. As a result, I’ve made a lot of positive changes and have helped a few issues that I thought were chronic.

I have acknowledged that I’ve not really been kind to or about my body so I’ve been trying to not actively disliking it. I’ve stopped slagging it off or criticizing it and just letting it be.

I’ve been feeding it better.

I’ve been nice to and about it in my own mind.

And yes, I’ve been working out, though that that feels like least important part of it all. I’ve had to work to build routines and try to stick to them, and I truthfully don’t enjoy exercise anymore than I used to. But I do know that I feel better overall when I do it, so I keep doing it.

The numbers on the scale are not the most important thing, not by a long shot, but the number on that scale represents 20 lbs lost this year alone in 2018. I am proud of that.

Because in my case, I feel like I’ve lost a whole lot more than weight.

Checking In on the Year of Health

“Money cannot buy health, but I’d settle for a diamond-studded
wheelchair.” 
― Dorothy Parker

Well, kittens, while we’re recapping, let’s do a brief pit stop on my yearly theme. In late 2017 I picked “health” as my overall focus from the coming year because I was determined to redress a series of issues (internal and external) that I felt had taken over too much of my life. Here’s how I’m doing.

Brain Health
My brain is miles better than it was this time last year, which in turn was miles better than I was the year previously. 2016 was a shit year for a lot of reasons, but high on the list was that it was the year where my anxiety reached its all time high and I/we made a bunch of big decisions to change up a lot of things about my work and life. All of those decisions turned out to be good in the long run but meant that I had to go through a period of significant change and then another period of stabilization that was incredibly stressful. It’s been worth it, I’d do it all again in a heartbeat, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been hard. I wrote previously about having decided to “give up” a number of things that I knew were affecting my mental health in the past year, and having done so and seen the benefits, I feel in a much better place to confront other issues and topics that affect me in different ways. I think I need some professional help for some of them. I haven’t yet connected with a therapist, but I am researching into my options to do so and hope to tick off this goal by the end of the year. Here’s to emotional and cognitive health!

Body Health/Food Health
Major progress to report on this front. In January I switched up my birth control to see if it could help me address some health challenges and the results have stayed entirely positive. My migraine attacks have all but vanished, the weight I lost has stayed off, and the only less than ideal side effect has been more intense menstrual cramps. I’ve also really been trying to eat healthier this year and have basically eliminated added sugar from my diet with only very rare treats–which often times don’t agree with me when I do have them because most sugar feels excessive to me now. I’m in the midst of my six month exercise goal as well, which is helping keep me on the straight and narrow. One of the best decisions we’ve made this past year was to get an automated box of groceries delivered weekly which has not only made shopping easier (we shop on foot or by public transport so having the basics delivered weekly to our front door is a huge help), but it’s also upped our intake of fresher foods. I’m trying to cook more as a result, which was another food goal of mine in the past year. All in all, this is probably the category with the most overall positive progress in my Year of Health.

Financial Health
This is an ongoing project with some positives and some negatives over the past eight months. I set some ambitious goals for this year; I continue to make progress on some, I’ve fallen short on others, but overall I feel like we’re headed in the right direction. I’ve committed to new public goals of accountability in my spending and I’m always looking for ways to subvert consumerist pressures and find ways to consume intelligently. Money stresses me less than it used to because I feel like I’ve reckoned with some realities and habits related to it much better, even as I acknowledge we still have a ways to go before we meet our goals about paying off all our credit cards and investing.

Overall, it’s been really positive to see how my goals have overlapped with one another practically in the past year. I think that means I made the right call to focus on my health, and in the particular areas I have. And more importantly, I think I’m set up to finish the year strong. That feels really, really good.

A Month of Healthy Eating

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” 
― Hippocrates

Bad news for me, team: I lost nearly 15 lbs in a single month doing nothing but changing the way I eat. I didn’t step foot in a gym, didn’t exercise at home due to an erratic work schedule, and made no other significant changes to my day-to-day life.

Why bad news you ask? Because it’s become abundantly clearly in record time that while I knew my diet was affecting me, I didn’t at all realize the extent. To see this much change this quickly has been startling.

Now, let’s be clear, I also changed up my birth control in this time frame (see here for the recap) which, based only on anecdote and personal experience, I thought may also have affected my weight (remember, the science is still out on this point). There’s no way to tell if this may  have had an effect, but I fully intend to talk to my doctor about it at a follow up appointment this month. There’s a working theory that I may be negatively affected by some unknown food item group (which is the most stupid, millennial thing to type) but that’s still up for medical confirmation. More info on that if and when my delightful GP helps me figure it out.

So, what did I do exactly? I’m sorry to say that there is nothing here you haven’t heard or read about before and there are no tricks, I simply cut out all the foods that make life worth living: no dairy, no sugar, no alcohol, no grain based anything. I massively upped my intake of fresh fruit and veg and have eaten more eggs this month than probably at any other point in my life. Seriously, if I never eat a hardboiled egg again, it will be too soon. I virtually eliminated all snacking, even healthy ones, and instead stuffed myself full at almost every meal with salad. I don’t care who tells you they love kale, there’s a 50/50% chance they are lying to you and dying a bit on the inside.

It worked. I’m feeling great. Damn it.

I didn’t tie this to a New Year’s resolution, I didn’t talk too much about about it or make a big deal out of it online or to friends, and I certainly didn’t have any weight expectations going into this. Like my birth control choice, I decided at the end of last year to try and proactively sort out some behind the scenes health and body issues that have bugged me for a long time and evaluating food groups is part of that overall project. The weight loss is just a welcome, if startling, side effect.

I mean…yikes.

I was looking forward to reintroducing a lot of food back into my diet…but honestly I think my consumption of these things will have to stay reduced if I want to continue trying to be more healthy. Things like dairy and alcohol are not food groups I ingested a lot of anyway before this started, but bread on the other hand… And while I don’t and never have eaten processed foods and have made good headway in reducing my sugar intake over recent years, clearly I could have been doing more to eliminate something which I suspect is one of the main culprits to my recent health roller coaster.

Final disclosures: I remain an unrepentant omnivore and moderate, I don’t think foods should be eliminated from anyone’s diet without medical advice and I’m certainly not urging anyone to do so. That being said if you do feel physically crappy for extended periods of time, notice changes to your body or brain rhythms, or sense that something is “not quite right” internally, talk to someone about it. Seek answers and options. I’m trying to be a less passive passenger in my own body than I have been for several years, and to have this many positive outcomes so quickly has been extraordinary.

To the comments! Have you made any big health adjustments in your life? What were your motivations, and what were the outcomes, both good and bad? 

Dad, Skip This One (or, I Got an IUD and We’re Going to Talk About It)

“Woman must have her freedom, the fundamental freedom of choosing whether or not she will be a mother and how many children she will have. Regardless of what man’s attitude may be, that problem is hers — and before it can be his, it is hers alone. She goes through the vale of death alone, each time a babe is born. As it is the right neither of man nor the state to coerce her into this ordeal, so it is her right to decide whether she will endure it.” 
― Margaret Sanger, Woman and the New Race

Late last year I decided to switch my birth control to an IUD, which was a less common option available to me when I was first considering it nearly a decade ago. It’s becoming more normal, but still isn’t fully normalized among some groups so I thought, hey! We haven’t had a massively controversial topic here on SDS in a minute (…unless you are one of my more conservative readers, in which case, hi, I’m really glad you’re here! Thank you for putting up with my almost weekly exasperated political grumpiness). Why don’t we talk about one woman’s experience in controlling her fertility, thanks to a socialist system of medicine. That will bring people together!

Honestly, though, it’s worth talking about because I think IUDs should be a more common option than they are in some areas of the world. When I first went on birth control in the US, I timidly asked my then-doctor if it was an option only to be scolded that it wasn’t something I should consider. I kind of wish I had pressed the issue, but as I didn’t have massive complaints about my experience with the pill at the time, I stayed on it for nearly nine years.

Image via Pexels

In order to get an IUD I had to first discuss the option at a normal appointment, book a secondary appointment with a specialist to talk through the pros, cons, and risks of the procedure, and then book a third appoint to actually have the device inserted. It sounds a bit obnoxious, but I appreciate the amount of effort the NHS puts into informing and preparing patients for this birth control option. There are hormonal versions and non-hormonal ones, each with unique common side effects, and there are risks to any kind of invasive procedure, so arming yourself with information and asking a boat load of questions is not just encouraged, it was practically compulsory. I went through my series of appointments and scheduled the final one over the Christmas break to allow my body to go through any of the symptoms I was warned I could experience.

Everyone’s experience is unique but typically the insertion procedure more difficult for for women who have never given birth, and sure enough, mine was not a walk in the park. It turns out that deliberately inserting something in the opposite direction nature intended things to move, through an orifice designed to stay closed until another human forces its way out–not easy! It took multiple attempts and I bless my doctor for for being willing to keep trying and talking me through the process and options. I handled the process with my usual style and grace: doing my best to crack jokes to mask my awkwardness and making conversation while stripped from the waist down as the doctor became intimately acquainted with my internal workings. The high point (or low depending on your point of view) was when the doctor, several instruments and intrusions into the procedure, suddenly exclaimed, “What on earth is that?” causing me to demand, “What’s wrong?” in a squeaky and alarmed voice. She burst out laughing and apologized, saying that she had overheard someone raising their voices in the hall and everything…of mine…was a-ok. I chuckled weakly and did my best to calm down.

The sensations were mostly discomfort with flashes of intense-discomfort-bordering-on-pain-but-not-quite. Pre-warned by friends, my GP, and plenty of research I came to the appointment armed with over the counter painkillers and was able to breathe through the worst of the poking and prodding. My procedure was longer than the average appointment, but the doctor built in time for a bit of recovery and monitoring in-office, which I appreciated.

After my innards had gotten over the initial shock (and I use that phrase seriously; my uterus had several questions about the situation and was making its discomfort known through some vigorous cramps) my GP took my blood pressure. It was nicely spiked, which is apparently a good thing because it turns out that for reasons not fully understood, the female human heart rate tends to plummet when you poke her in the cervix. Bodies are weird.

Fellow uterus-bearing types: be smarter than me. If you have transportation, and more importantly a designated driver, use this resource.

After my heart rate returned to normal and I felt pretty calm, I walked home the blessedly short distance between my GP and my flat. This was probably a mistake. At my normal pace this is a brisk, five minute jaunt and I had some vague motion that easy movement would help me “settle” my new internal friend in a gentle way. I was a fool, it was the slowest, saddest walk you can imagine. My steps were about four inches in length–anything more strident than that and I experienced intense muscular twinges from my knees to my shoulders–and very small movements triggered cramps that are on par with the most serious menstrual cramps I’ve ever experienced.

Again, I wouldn’t classify what I was experiencing as pain. The best way I can describe it is as a full court press of discomfort. My body had experienced something invasive and highly unusual and every part of me from my uterus to my lizard brain was clearly trying to adjust to a series of new sensations. It’s not unheard of for the body to expel the device for some women on their first try using it as their primary birth control method, and this was my most immediate paranoid concern.

By the time I shuffled slowly through the front door, I felt exhausted and achy all over. Jeff immediately tucked me into bed where, thanks to continuing full body cramps, I stayed there for the better part of two days. It might sound foolish, but I honestly believe I was going through some kind of wussy version of shock as I was a bit floaty for those two days and slept heavily. I was also advised to take it slow for a few days to allow my uterus to adjust to a foreign body, so things like exercise were cautioned against until I felt fighting fit.

But wait, there was more! The procedure triggered an early arrival of my period and kicked off an additional week of uneven spotting (both are very normal side effects and ones I had been prepped for by my GP). I was advised that spotting could occur intermittently for a few weeks but thus far I’ve not experienced anything past that first week of adjustment. In fact I’ve had no other negative side effects at all: my skin has remained even and healthy, which I was lucky enough to have before I went on the pill years ago, and after that first few days of wild physical and strangely emotional sensations, everything has leveled out.

So, why did I do it?

Image via Pexels

A few reasons. Though there is no scientific evidence to suggest that the pill contributes to weight gain or difficulty with weight loss, there is a lot of anecdotal content from people who believe that hormonal birth control contributed to their weight in some way. As for me, I’m not sure. My weight changed after I went on the pill all those years ago and whether this was due solely to the lifestyle change of getting married and living with a guy who consumes approximately seventeen times as many calories a day as me, or was influenced by other factors I cannot say for sure. But my weight started going up at about the same time I went on my prescription/got married and for the past nine years no matter how healthy I was eating or how regularly I was exercising (every day at my most dedicated), I never lost what I had gained. I’ve made some diet changes recently, about the same time I went off the pill…and I’ve lost nearly 10lbs in under a month with no other changes to my day to day life. It’s purely anecdotal and personal to me, but I’m very happy to see a dramatic positive shift even if it’s temporary or plateaus in some way.

I also suspected, and I discussed the possibility at length with my doctor, that the pill might have been contributing to the frequency of my migraines. These attacks have become more frequent in recent years and as time went on I found them getting closer and closer together.  Changes in your levels of female sex hormones are a possible trigger for migraines, so it seemed possible that the medication that regulates my hormones might have something to do with the pattern of these attacks. Then again, stress also triggers migraines for me so a number of factors could be at play here. Again, the science is still evolving on this, and again, I discussed this with my doctor across several appointments in considering switching up my birth control methods. Ultimately we decided to try a non-hormonal option to see if there were any changes. About a month later, I’ve yet to have another migraine attack.

Finally, removal of an IUD is a fairly easy procedure and if you’re on a non-hormonal option as I chose, your normal fertility is restored almost instantly. Meaning that if and when we decide my husband and I want to try and start a family, I won’t have to go through a process of weaning my body off hormones first. An option that was instantly effective upon insertion and is instantly negated on removal appeals to me.

So all in all, this first foray into addressing a couple of health concerns this year seems to be going okay and the decisions seems like it was a good one so far. It was worth it for me to take a few days discomfort in exchange for a non hormonal method of birth control that’s over 99% effective, lasts up to ten years, and doesn’t require a daily medication. I did a lot of research into it as an option and am lucky to enjoy a health system that offers it as an option and takes providing me with it as a serious matter worthy of informative sessions with specialists.

The comments are open: if you feel like sharing an experience in making a major health decision, please do so. I’m interested in hearing how people choose to take control of their health or wellbeing and as there are about 7 billion bodies on the planet, I suspect there are 7 billion stories out there about choices, consequences, and information to share. 

A Year of Health

“The First wealth is health.” 
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’ve been thinking all month of how I want to frame 2018 (I’ve talked about my 2017 theme here and here if you want a refresher) and I’ve figured out what I want to focus on: making an effort on health. It was the one facet of my previous theme that I felt I didn’t make as much progress on as I would have wished in the past twelve months, so I’ve decided to make it my priority for the next twelve.

This feels like the most basic of basic goals, but I’m hoping my take on it is broad enough to keep it interesting, with enough specific goals to make progress trackable.

Body Health
Yes, yes with the typical exercise and weight goals, but really I’m trying to just “mind” my body better overall this year. I’d prefer regular exercise to intense workouts, regular meditation to aggressive “detoxes,” and feeling good in my clothes and own skin to focusing on numbers. I am not a natural health bunny, I hate every moment at the gym and default to lazy every chance I get; the only thing that helps me overcome my tendencies are ingrained habits and routines so I’m going to focus on building these this year. I’m also going to try and confront or fix some longstanding physical issues I’ve had (migraines, uneven muscle tension, hormones, etc.) instead of just living with them. I’ve got a doctor’s appointment scheduled before the end of the year to address a couple of internal situations, and like everyone and their dog, I’m resetting my diet this January after a December of absolute nutritional debauchery. Farewell, sugar. Speaking of…

Get in the Kitchen
No two ways about it, we need to cook more and eat out/order in less. This is for financial health reasons as well as physical ones–we spend more money than we should on easy food or food that we end up wasting because we don’t use it quickly enough. I’ve been focusing on consumption a lot in different ways for several years now, but somehow I’ve never really cracked food the way I have other areas of our lives. This is something I want to change…but I also want to change what I eat. I’m a natural grazer who (at my worst) veers between binging on snacks and missing meals. I think that cooking more regularly and the planning that goes into it will help me cut down on this as well has help me eat better food overall.

Brain Health
My bad stress habits and anxiety are more under control than they’ve been in years, but I could definitely do with a bit of help here to really get my brain in better working order. I’d like to engage with a therapist at some point in this year to help me work through a few lingering issues. This is one of my goals, but it’s something I’d like to commit to doing in 2018 instead of having it as a free floating goal. I also want to continue the mindfullness practices I’ve picked up this year and try to simply make lifestyle choices that I know keep me balanced and sane: using my holiday time, separating work and personal life, regular dates with my husband, long talks with friends…all of these things are good for me and I want to make sure I make time for them.

Financial Health
This is a continuation of some of the best parts of my Year of Less But Better that I want to continue to focus on. I consider this part and parcel with brain health as nothing is more stressful than money. I’m going to continue to move ahead with the self-challenges I do to limit my shopping or consumption and find ways to game-ify savings or usage the way consumerism typically game-ifies spending.

In short, I want to make more of an effort this year to take charge of things that I have been more passive about in the past.

I know my strengths and weaknesses, and typically when I’ve fallen off the wagon on health goals in the past it’s because I’ve tried to tackle too many challenges at once. In giving myself a year, I’m more hopeful in making lasting changes. Already I’m trying to think of some blog projects to support this theme the way I was able to in 2017, but I’m wide open to suggestions if any of the minion coterie have some brilliant ideas for the kinds of posts you’d like to see here on SDS in the new year.

Thanks as always for following along!

Editing

“Be a good editor. The Universe needs more good editors, God knows.” 
― Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Letters

I don’t always do a good job of remembering resolutions, but I have to say, picking a “theme” for this year has been a remarkable success. My mindset around a lot of life elements has taken a turn for the healthier and I’m in a more balanced place than I’ve been in years. I really believe that this has come from some purposeful editing of my life. I’ve gotten much better at saying no, worked hard to remove or improve things that contributed to my stress and anxiety problems, and become a lot more intentional about my money and consumption choices. It’s been a very successful project, and I’m already thinking towards how I want to frame 2018.

“Less but better” doesn’t have a uniform definition for me. For instance, we are currently living in our largest and most expensive home to date, but on the other hand, after 10 years of marriage and most of those spent in cheap digs, the decision to rent a nice apartment was a considered one. We are also furnishing it ourselves, meaning we are spending money, but we are taking that process slowly and very judiciously. Our home is still far less furnished than I would like…but we have chosen every piece in it together because we loved it, and not because it was the cheapest option on Craigslist. I love the idea of editing a home, carefully selecting what I put in it and not rushing to fill empty space just because I have it.

Stress levels: all time low. This time last year my nails were chewed to the quick.

Meanwhile, on the work front, I’m actually working more but in a better way. Going back to freelance and contracting has been a great decision. I have not only opened a lot of doors and opportunities, but I have finally discovered a balance between work and identity: what I do vs. who I am. This has not always been the case with me, as I tend to throw myself into things like causes, projects, and roles wholeheartedly, allowing the lines between them and myself to blur. Surprisingly, given the nature of freelance and contract work and how it can divide your attention, I’ve found that because I’ve been able to choose my work, I’ve therefore been able to choose (i.e. edit) how I direct my energy. This has also helped me train my brain to better separate work from my personal life and I’m more aggressive about holidays and an overall work/life balance. In other words, I may be working more, but my stress levels are lower than they’ve been in years.

Let’s talk stuff, generally. I had a whole month long blog project dedicated to my closet and bathroom shelf this year, and I continue to be really happy with where it’s at. I’ve actually shopped and bought less this year than I have probably since my early 20s. Granted what I have bought has tended to be more expensive, but I’ve been fascinated to physically feel the urgency and desire to buy things fade as the year has gone on. There’s plenty of reporting out there to suggest that brain chemistry can be affected by purchasing, and I wonder if I’ve been able to ween myself off an internal drug I didn’t realize I was on. I’ve been slowly editing my closet down and I now think I own less clothing than I did when we first moved to London on an item-for-item basis. What I do own, I wear more and I love more. The same goes with beauty; I’ve been focused on using what I already own instead of craving new makeup and skincare items. I’m actually in the midst of a shopping freeze (my second this year) in an effort to actually use up cosmetics and potions before I allow myself even to replace beloved items. I’ve done a few edits of my shelf throughout the year and donated or gifted a few items that I didn’t use enough to justify keeping. Maybe it’s a welcome byproduct of getting older and more self-confident, but I’ve never been more pleased with the woman in the mirror.

When it comes to food and overall health, I haven’t done as well as I would have wished. We are eating out less (yay, us!) but ordering in more (kind of defeats the purpose, C….). We have periods of focus on health, but other periods of intense laziness. One thing I’ve realized is how much I require a routine in order to stay committed to food, exercise, and wellbeing goals. I am not a natural health bunny, I do no default to healthiness–I default to deep friend potatoes and Netflix and am self-aware enough to acknowledge this. It turns out that once I’m in a routine, I am pretty good at maintaining it but if something knocks me off course (two straight weeks of houseguests for instance, or a particularly uneven month at work), I fall well and truly off the wagon and it takes herculean effort to climb back aboard. I haven’t figured out quite how to overcome this yet, but I suspect the solution will lie in editing out things that I use as excuses or distractions.

This has been a much better year than 2016 for me, and I’m feeling pretty positive about 2018 at the moment. It’s a good place to be.