Pipe dream or blueprint?

The truth is that I don’t invest in my mental (and all other) health enough and this doesn’t mean I won’t. It’s only a matter of time before I’m fully invested in a wellness journey free from medication. Here is what I hope it looks like one day:

  1. Living in different places
    1. 3-6 mos in coastal/ beach towns
    2. 1-2 mos spent with my parents
    3. 5-7 mos in busy cities
  2. Daily Pilates reformer/ mat
  3. Daily weight training
  4. Weekly EMDR therapy
  5. Weekly acupuncture
  6. Weekly hiking
  7. Monthly massage
  8. Monthly spa/ nail salon
  9. Low-inflammation meals – 60/ 40 paleo/ keto
  10. Water sports – paddle board, surf, kayak/ row, swim, boat
  11. Annual off-grid ecotourism (friends)
  12. Annual cultural tourism (family)
  13. Annual off-grid creative retreat (solo)
  14. Annual volunteer effort abroad (any)

When I have integrated all the above into my life, it will feel like… well, there’s never an end to aspiration if we can’t be grateful and present for what’s already here. And it’s impossible to know how such future engagements will shape my emotions. So, who knows how I will feel. There’ll be new problems to solve and new fitness goals to pursue. The key is to stay present.

What is your dream wellness program?

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.

Lice and viral aerosols

This month, I was to make a first-ever return to my birthplace.

Apart from reconnecting with relatives, I wanted to finally bring closure to a traumatic event that tormented me for years. It was there that I had my first experience under quarantine. That’s what’s so ironic about then and now. It wasn’t an action taken by informed guardianship or social responsibility. Instead, the isolation was the result of a primitive and inhumane standard of care.

It was October of 1990 and tension filled the air in the streets of Ukraine. We had just lived through the nuclear reactor explosion at Chernobyl, so the ubiquity of gas masks was a part of many of my memories. The current personal protective equipment deficit reminds me of those days.

Then we ‘hid’ from radiation. Now, we hide from viral aerosols.

Life was confusing, the USSR was collapsing and escapism ruled the world.  Like other new parents amidst a crisis, mine meandered away from answers when met with my endless questioning. As a precocious only child, I talked to strangers whenever possible and accepted our grim reality on condition that I could only ‘go on’ living through fantasy. I created imaginary worlds to find solace in and draw from to entertain myself and the adults around me.

One day as she was brushing my hair, my mother noticed a strange patch on my scalp. My grandma was a doctor, so through her connections I got to see a specialist the following day. They explained that it was an infection caused by the widespread lice/ human flea infestation common among kids at the time. They also confirmed that it was contagious, and ordered a hairless treatment under a strict quarantine. In true Soviet fashion, they didn’t explain the details to me. I knew something was wrong but had no idea what it would take to fix it.

My mother did not react well to the order. She cried and I felt responsible for her pain. As my father shaved off my hair that night, I sat firmly in the chair pleading with her to not be sad. Unprepared for a hospitalization, I thought we’d spend a few hours at a clinic and return home—a dose of medicine I was willing to endure.

The week flew by and next thing I knew we were there. Through minimal conversation, a nurse waiting outside proceeded to escort me in. When I realized my parents weren’t joining, something feral in me awoke. It felt like I was being abandoned; that my health problem deemed me unworthy of a family. What felt like an injustice, my grandma’s right to join [as a medical professional] over my parents angered and frightened me. As I got pulled inside, I watched my father quell my mother standing there in a puddle of her own tears.

This is where I’m going to live, I thought.

First, nurses showed me the shared dormitory. Then, they introduced me to my roommates. Each minute felt like an eternity as white walls caved in under the high ceilings. The most subtle of sounds traveled from corner to corner and private thoughts had the potential to be heard. As my legs moved, my mind floated.

Eye blink, heart beat, step forward. Repeat.

The mood was restless and desperate. Echoing cries were the soundscape of daily life. The energy was dark, unforgiving and cold to the bone. Every few days, a flaming torch was used to burn the infection off my scalp while I laid atop a sterile steel table. It hurt so bad that in the beginning I cried. Once I sensed that this frustrated the doctor and delayed the process, I bucked up. By week two I was slightly cringing at the pain, and by week three I’d slip into a dream state and feel no pain at all.

How quickly kids adapt to torture.

The hospital doubled as an orphanage for children with chronic conditions, and some of my roomies were victims of the AIDS epidemic whose heroin-addicted parents passed away shortly prior. Determining who had living parents and who did not was of primary import to these residents. Those claiming at least one parent enjoyed a higher rank among the group, so right away, I knew I was dealt a fine hand of cards. Bed-making disobedience never ended well so we helped one another avoid disciplinary action. I bonded with a girl who’d, through our cafeteria window, often point to a shanty in the distance. She said her mother lived there ‘eating her own snot,’ and that soon enough she would return for her. Something told me she would not, so I promised to take care of her.

Much like life in prison, we were shut off from the outside world and visits were rare and tightly controlled. Two weeks into my stay, a shocking visit from my parents thawed some of my cold inner hardness. After interacting through an indoor glass window for an hour, we separated and again I found myself torn between hope and despair.

No one could say if and when this would come to an end.

This treatment took three weeks during which I developed survival tendencies that evolved into both personal strengths and deep flaws in character. Some of these were abusive behavior patterns that are taking years to unlearn while honoring the uniquely special set of skills I also gained. Despite how traumatizing it was, this quarantine pales by comparison with the unfolding tragedy we face today.

I don’t feel imprisoned or abandoned the way I did then, as this experience is packed with opportunities. In rediscovering the loving inner voice that gets muffled by constant processing of social interactions, I’ve resumed creative projects and embarked on small wellness journeys — both of which I failed to make time for pre-pandemic. I also postponed my return to Ukraine to next year and I am so glad it worked out this way.

Through a new frame of reference to capture the experience in words, closure will be that much more meaningful. Had I not had this chance for reflection, perhaps I wouldn’t have been ready to physically face and make peace with the memory.

Alas, even through crisis, the universe shows us connections we were too preoccupied to see.