Teachable moments

“I’m always willing to learn, when you’ve got something to teach,” ~ Strangelove (Depeche Mode)

Have you ever wandered slightly off track and down a curious life detour?

You’re on a path but there’s something magical in depths of the forest. Intrigued you can’t help but follow the sparkles. Next thing you know you’ve entered through a portal and into an alternate reality in which each step you take produces consequences in the form of mistake lessons. There’s always a teacher, but not all that cross the path have something to teach. Each teachable moment brings revelation.

Each revelation is also the imprint of the teacher.

Ever since I got inspired to pursue work at a particular firm, I have not left the proverbial classroom. Lessons on controlling impulses, clarifying assumptions and communicating intentions, a developing PR shit show is teaching me a lot. It feels like my referrer is serving up the kind of tough love I need to integrate and internalize the actual reality—not the reality that I’ve crafted in my head.

I respect my teacher deeply but acknowledge I haven’t acted with due diligence engaging them in this job application process.

I hope more clarity and a forgiveness is on our horizon.

L

A different story

It’s World Mental Health Day and I’m taking it one deep breath at a time.

I just applied for a job at a tech company that for years I held quite distant from my interests. Not that I disapproved of its contributions or it as an organization. I just lacked the confidence to place myself into such a prospect.

I did not believe that there could be a seat for me at the table.

I internalized my own inferiority so deeply and for so long that without ever any real thought or contemplation, I projected an outwardly facade that *this* environment or *that* industry was’t a good fit. That it was always about them, and not about me. I was so full of shit – literally carrying it around inside me unwilling to deal with its removal. Deep down, I had so little sense of my own value, to keep my small inner self safe, I hid my insecurities behind a variety of fringe ambitions. I could not have ever known what work in corporate settings would be like since I had never tried it.

Until about seven years ago, I moved mental health to the top of my priorities list. It is precisely what has paved my path forward and helped build up the confidence I have today but I still have a long way to go before I am fully balanced. Once I was ready to take a good look at my inner shit show, the first things that came to light were physical challenges and complex PTSD.

I never complained about body aches while as a teen or in college, under the assumption that everyone felt the same way living a computer heavy lifestyle. But, as with any mechanical issues, there had actually been much more to it. As soon as I learned how to become its ally, my body taught me about its unique connective tissue and how I’ve neglected it over the years. No wonder why I struggle with ADHD symptoms. The hundreds of internal signals per day are hard to ignore when embodiment is a priority.

My parents certainly didn’t have the luxury or privilege to tune in and attend to themselves physically insofar as preventative care but I feel compelled to break this cycle.

Same with childhood trauma – everyone has it. But not all of us have access to resources to address its impact.. Imagining my child-self standing next to my adult-self helps bring clarity to each momentary need and keeps triggers in perspective. I have an amazing therapist to thank for this tool.

These days, I care for my body with bike commutes, yoga/ pilates/ weight training, and mostly healthy foods. Long walks are my favorite as they help me center my mind and realign with the body. I also heal from cooking, writing, taking pictures and thinking about planetary aspects. When I am resting a lot and doing all these things, I feel a natural confidence pursuing full-time work with any company I align with. Forever dedicated to my self-care, and regardless of this application’s outcome, I will always be winning. Throughout this process, I have gained clarity around framing my work experience and where I want to take it next. Receiving these gifts, I could not be more grateful.

When my wellness program is well-rounded and I attend to all my needs, I am able to share my talents, skills and interests with those around me. Aligning in this way helps me contribute to any company with ease and with a constant awareness of the value I add for its mission. After all, with waking up comes great responsibility.

Happy World Mental Health Day!

Nineteen days

I officially lasted 19 days without added/ processed sugars or grains. I learned a lot about my own mind-body connection and admit I did not set myself up for success when I started this elimination diet. I thought if I “only stick to low-sugar fruit” I’d be able to sustain but my exercise routine did not support the chemical changes that my body was experiencing and thus I had multiple episodes of food overkill. Here are some observations/ things I learned:

1. It was incredibly hard to feel satiated. As a result, I felt irritable often despite letting out all my yayas during exercise.

2. Actively pursued more protein with fish, egg and Greek yogurt. Ate more in each group than I’ve ever had before. However, I didn’t realize that my body has been burning thru the calories fast during cardio, leaving none for other activities and thus I was craving more food with each day. By the time my weight training routines rolled around in the day, I was too tired but also still ravenous. Next time, I will do more mindful cardio more strategically scheduled, and prioritize weight training – which is my priority these days anyway.

3. Looking into bone broth protein and adding other collagen protein into my daily food. I don’t think eating more to sustain intense body conditioning is the way to go. I already struggle with overdoing things so this is a slippery slope. It’s more about What I’m eating and How I’m using my energy: very useful insight for next time!

4. The premenstrual days, along with some routine changes triggered my sugar relapse. I was feeling emotionally sensitive already and upon deciding to bake a batch of vegan treats for friends (you know, to use up that egg replacer before it went bad lol), without even thinking I found myself eating the treats. Good thing they are paleo, but with 3/4 cups of brown sugar in the recipe, they’re definitely not sugar-free.

So much learned. So much to do differently next time around!

Unsweetened, please

This month, I’ve made yet another attempt to cut most sugars out of my diet. Despite my best efforts, I’ve only made it one week before relapsing with a fave like raw honey, dates, or ice cream.

The cravings have been really intense so far. Day 2 was emotionally challenging—oscillating between space cadet airheadedness and frustration bordering on rage. Two nights ago, all I could think of was desert and my tongue was moving around uncontrollably searching, salivating, fiending. All throughout the pandemic, I’ve struggled with uncertainty using food, primarily sweets, to cope with it all. Some weeks more intensely than others.

Right now, I’m on Day 9… and if I said I was going strong, I’d be lying. This has not been easy. Thankfully, there is good evidence that helps me carry on—cleaner skin and a face that’s no longer swollen. And this is just nine days. Good motivator, for sure.

My sugarfree program still allows some natural sugars like fructose. But only low fructose fruits, such as berries, pomegranate, green apple and grapefruit. I am also permitting bananas since the intensity of my workouts demands a lot of potassium.

While I know that going to extremes with anything isn’t healthy, I sometimes secretly wish I could become a dietary purist, eating paleo and keto long enough to detach completely from craving grains and complex carbs—not to mention sugary things like deserts from around the world. That would be nice.

For now though, I’m hoping I can get through May with the current program.

I will follow up again after the next 9 days to update on how I’m doing. Wish me luck, whoever you are.

Five letter name that starts with ‘M’

All my life I’ve struggled with my Self-Concept.

At six, a Soviet hospitalization left me thinking I was an orphan—a term, by the early 1990’s, well known among kids of late-USSR. At eight, a rejection into a Hillel revealed that I was Jewish, but not quite enough to attend the school. By the time I was nine years old, I knew that I had moved to a “rich” America from a highly controversial place.

I was a refugee immigrant kid, taught to feel embarrassed about my birthplace, and about my non-Americanness. I’d often ask my mom, “Why are people smiling in public?” to which she’d say, “because in America, people are free, they can act however they want.” Automatically, I took this response as a license to smile my face off which quickly earned me friend-making super powers. Nonetheless, all my kid worries remained. Was I going to get sick again? What is Jewish? What is being “free” mean? Everyday there were as many questions swirling around as there were daily options of what to look at and fascinate on, what to wear and eat, and what to play with and music to listen to. Distractions abounded, and tidal waves of sensory overload came in and out regularly.

During the first few months, arguments between my grandparents and parents about how to behave in public often involved criticisms over how I was being parented. I felt sad about these disagreements, though obviously I didn’t comprehend the purpose and intentions of such conditioning. I just knew one thing: I needed to be as American as possible if I wanted to be a horoshaya devochka— “a good girl.”

From then on, to prevent the shame that came with being “seen,” I campaigned to hide my origins by erasing one reality and reconstructing a totally new one. I leaned into rap and R&B music and immersed myself in fashion and visual culture through magazines at the local library. I made friends quickly and almost as a sport, practiced surrounding myself with non-family influence.

My dad chose my universally common name, Maria, which was and still is commonly expressed as its diminutive form “Masha.” One day, while translating for my parents at a school meeting—despite my limited capacity to articulate institutional formalities or interpersonal nuances—a teacher asked if I preferred to be called by what my parents called me. Like, I didn’t even know how to think about my preferences, but her convincing bit about how “very American” my name was, led me to think she was referring to “Masha.” It became quickly apparent that her pronunciation included an “r” in the name, effectively changing it to “Marsha.” That night, while complaining to my parents about it, I felt their voicelessness and defeat. I sensed that they wanted to make the correction, but were fearful of overstepping boundaries and didn’t know how to approach the issue. As with many other challenging circumstances at that time, the problem was treated with consumption—some candy, or a tiny toy from the quarter slot machine. So, with a few days of ‘treatment,’ I accepted this new name as my own.

In my first year as Marsha, during lunch or recess I often heard hailed into my direction, “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha,” followed by uproars of laughter. Unaware of the cultural references that sparked such mockery led to feelings of isolation and a bewildering sense of freakdom, the latter of which later served as a strong foundation of a long term self-resilience. Was it the teachers or the students in whom I could seek solace? The answer grew more and more unclear.

By twelve, a very scrawny and lanky Masha aggressively grew into a very curvy Marsha. Suddenly, I drew unwanted attention, again. Bullied for having full breasts, I bullied right back, but within my own friendships in an effort to regain power, autonomy and control. I grew emotionally distant from my family and addicted to praises from my American teachers and friends. Navigating these dynamics left me turning to the darker corners of the self – self-exploitation and self-destruction.

At sixteen, I legally changed my first name to Marie. My parents’ decision to Americanize their first and last names signaled to me that I, too, had earned this right. After all, I couldn’t stand being called Marsha, because by then the name had earned me a terrible reputation. Hell, I never felt like a Marsha from the get go, so denouncing it was also an act of self-liberation.

For the past 19 years, I’ve introduced myself as Marie, sometimes telling fables about who and what inspired it. The truthful backstory was too painful to get into; only until recently, I lacked the tools or emotional maturity to discuss such matters. Now in my eighth year of self-help and inner-child work, I’ve come to terms with the role of Marie—a survival tactic, an invention, a conceptual sculpture of the Self that quelled the angry Marsha, and healed the wounded Masha inside.

I am now going on to 36 and re-introducing myself to the world as Masha. It feels more authentic to me; and “Marie” as more of a shell of that “good girl” label and identity I so badly craved. I’ll continue to use Marie in professional contexts, but plan to very gradually phase it out.

I’m OK with taking things slowly and won’t force the change onto others who know me as Marsha or Marie. I’ll just keep putting it out there and eventually, they’ll adapt with time.