Adventures in Self-Love: Navigating Sadness.

"Pain demands to be felt." John Green

It's easier to love ourselves when life is going well. But when we're feeling less than okay, it can be difficult to summon the inner fortitude required to quiet our inner critic and treat ourselves with loving kindness. There's also a lot of pressure to feel happy all of the time. We're told to "suck it up and just move on" or "keep your chin up and push through." This attitude can make us feel as if there's something wrong with how we feel. And it encourages us to ignore whatever it is that's making us sad. Nothing gets fixed by being ignored, so I'm going to talk about how we can love ourselves even when things are hard and how to move through sadness without forcing ourselves to the other side.

Like so many things in life, the battle lies in recognizing what's really going on and being honest with ourselves about it. But try not to think of it as an obstacle to overcome. You're not a problem to be fixed. You're a gorgeous, living, breathing human being with as many sides as a faceted gemstone. Sometimes you'll sparkle and glisten, while other times you'll be draped in shadows.

And that's really the essence of self-love. It isn't the green juice, meditation, or any other act of self-care. It isn't about being a glossy, incessantly upbeat person. It's about accepting yourself, of all of yourself, unconditionally.

There's a lot of pressure to make happiness our normal state of being and it's true that through self-love, I've become a happier person. Yet there are lessons to be learned from the darkness and if we don't allow ourselves to acknowledge our feelings, even when they're uncomfortable, we'll never be able to learn them.

Even more dangerously: what we resist persists. And if we don't allow ourselves to feel our feelings, they can't flow through us and resolve. These emotions end of trapped in our bodies and in extreme cases, can result in symptoms of trauma. So by pushing down uncomfortable emotions and pretending they aren't there, we're really just leaving them to fester below the surface and bubble up at the most inopportune times.

The difficult balance comes from navigating between allowing ourselves to be sad and not wallowing in it. The key for me is to focus on what I'm thinking. Am I (as lovingly as possible) telling myself that it's okay to be sad and that things will get better, or am I giving up all hope and insisting that I'm doomed to a life of grief? I totally get stuck in the latter from time to time and it can feel impossible and suffocating. But by shifting my thoughts from hopeless to hopeful, I give myself space to feel the pain I'm experiencing while making room for happiness to re-enter my life.

“There is no point treating a depressed person as though she were just feeling sad, saying, 'There now, hang on, you'll get over it.' Sadness is more or less like a head cold- with patience, it passes. Depression is like cancer.”― Barbara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees

Sometimes, we can't seem to help but feel hopeless. I was recently asked by a friend what I see as the difference between sadness and depression. Even as someone who has struggled with regular bouts of clinical depression since early adolescence, I had a difficult time formulating an answer to her question. For me, it comes down to this: sadness is caused by external circumstances (we're having a bad day, our heart is broken, we hate our job, etc.) Even when I seem to be sad for no reason, I usually find that there's a problem I've been ignoring or all of the little things that have been piling up have resulted in a kind of malaise. Depression is deeper because it comes from within, likely as a result of our thought patterns and an imbalance of chemicals in our brains.

And there's also something more serious about depression. It's like sadness that becomes an epidemic. It inhibits our ability to fully live our lives or to see anything beyond the misery that has taken up house in our minds. Often when we're depressed we become so numb that nothing seems important or even real. This can lead to suicidal thoughts and self-harm. Even getting out of bed in the morning can feel like an impossible task.

On multiple occasions when I've entered a period of depression, I've required the assistance of medication to get out of it. Each time this was a difficult decision to make because even though I was, I didn't want to think of myself as out of control. I wanted to "fix" things all on my own. But I had to acknowledge that I had reached a crisis point and make decisions that would get me out of it. I saw medication as a short-term measure that would create the mental conditions necessary to help myself.

The tool that had the most long-term benefits for finding my way out of depression was cognitive behavioural therapy. This is an empowering form of counselling that generally takes place over a fixed number of weeks to help you change your thought patterns and provide the tools for taking control of your mental health. If you think you might be suffering from depression, please talk to your doctor or a qualified mental health worker right away. Getting help is so important and, ultimately, empowering.

And even though they're very different, cultivating self-love has been the most powerful thing I've done for changing my relationship with sadness and depression. Learning to love myself has meant that more of my days are happy ones, but also that when things are hard, I don't make them harder by being cruel to myself. I've become my own advocate and learned to navigate each day as lovingly as I can, no matter how I'm feeling.

“You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.” ― Jonathan Safran Foer

Sadness is inevitable. We can live in such a way that it becomes a less frequent visitor, but there are always going to be bad days. And that's okay. In fact, as I've learned to get in the flow of my cycles, I've learned to recognize the darker days as important teachers. They reveal the emotional wounds that we have yet to heal. They teach us about the parts of ourselves we try to keep hidden. They connect us to one another in times of grief. And they help us to better appreciate our happy days.

Here are some suggestions for navigating sadness with self-love and for cultivating a happier life:

  • Speak up. Tell a trusted friend that you're not feeling so great and you're not sure why, or confide in them that something truly terrible has happened in your life and things seem utterly tragic. Your nearest and dearest will be able to see that you're not quite yourself. Letting them in can feel like a relief. Covering everything up with a smile is utterly exhausting, so it's usually best to open up about how you're really feeling.
  • But if there are things that you're feeling that you're not ready to talk about or that you need to work through within the solitude of your own mind, journalling is my favourite outlet. Paulo Coelho said “Tears are words that need to be written" and I think that's a beautiful sentiment. Set aside at least 30 minutes and just write without trying to control what comes out. It's incredible how much insight I gain in to what is actually making me sad, as well as new perspectives that help me see the situation differently.
  • Set a deadline. More than once I've seen ReeRee Rockette tweet that something sad has happened in her life and that she's giving herself 24 hours to be sad before she moves on. I'm not sure I believe it's that easy to decide when to get over something, but I do like the idea of setting a deadline on wallowing. Give yourself a certain amount of  time to be absolutely miserable. Spend the whole day in bed. Listen to depressing music. Eat all of your favourite comfort foods. Watch movies that make your cry. It's okay for you to still feel sad when the time is up, but resolve that you'll start taking actions that help yourself move through the feelings.
  • Immerse yourself in an activity that completely occupies your mind. Go for a run. Fix your car. Work in the garden. Sometimes we just need a bit of distraction to have a shift in perspective.
  • Start a daily practice. I'm stealing this one from James Altucher. Build into your routine simple activities that take care of you on a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual level. Your daily practice might look a lot like this or it could be completely different, but by taking yourself in these ways everyday, you'll increase your happiness and also be better prepared for handling the bad days when they do arise.
  • Accomplish something. Being sad makes us feel so useless. Even crossing one tiny thing of your to-do list can make a rotten, no good, horrible, bad day seem a little bit worthwhile.
  • Honour how you're feeling. Write a poem. Take an artsy self-portrait. Perform a ritual. Creative expression is incredibly cathartic and by giving voice to your emotions, you help to shift them.
  • Be of service. It can be as simple as helping a friend move or you could find somewhere to start volunteering. Helping other people makes us feel good and it's a wonderful place to put our energy when we're feeling a bit lost.

No matter what, treat yourself with kindness - as much as you can muster. If you start beating yourself up for feeling unhappy, recognize that you're doing so and focus on shifting your thoughts by reframing them, thinking of something you're grateful for, or focusing on something else entirely - like a great book you read recently or a fun trip you're planning. I often find it helps to think about what I'd say to my best friend if she was in a similar situation and tell myself those things instead.

I'm so over glossy self-help that wants us to use positive affirmations to cover up our feelings and tells us that we're doing something wrong if life isn't all glitter and rainbows all the time. Avoiding our feelings is exhausting and dangerous! Feeling sad is natural and it's safe to allow yourself to feel whatever you're feeling. Even if all you can do is remind yourself of that the next time you're feeling blue, that's a powerful, radical act of kindness to yourself.


Recommended Reading:

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

Mind Over Mood by Dennis Greenberger


Second two photos via Death to Stock.

Adventures in Self-Love: Don't Be Such a Drama Queen.

This post was originally published on November 11, 2014 but it's a goodie and I recently learned some interesting new information about drama so I wanted to give it a refresh and share it again, for those who missed it the first go 'round.

I used to attract drama as if my life were a daytime soap opera. I had a boss who sought out scandal and picked fights with people like it was her job.

I had a boyfriend who would scream “You never really loved me!” whenever things didn’t go his way.

I lost a personal and business relationship with someone and had my life devolve into the most dramatic episode I’ve ever experienced due to a silly incident that happened at my birthday party.

Whenever a friend was in crisis, I’d always get drawn into it to the point of being intimately involved.

I couldn’t understand why these things were always happening to me. I didn’t want my life to be like this.

Or did I?

Because, on some level, I was choosing all of this. I was addicted to the drama.

We might not like the anxiety, jealousy, anger, and frustration that come along with drama, but it sure is easy to get addicted to the rush.

Luckily recognizing the problem and realizing your part in it is the first step to overcoming it. To taking back your power, rather than letting your life constantly be blown up and down by whatever’s happening around you.

Drama is defined as “an exciting, emotional, or unexpected series of events or set of circumstances” - so it isn’t inherently bad.

But when we get hooked on the adrenaline, excitement, and attention that drama brings, we get attached to it and we find ways to manufacture drama – usually by creating or seeking out conflict. When life is flowing easily, we’ll find ways to make it difficult. We’ll see obstacles instead of seeking solutions. We’ll hold back our feelings and create tension in our lives. We’ll put up with treatment from other people that diminishes our self-worth. Pretty soon we’re anxious all of the time.

When we give into the drama our body enters a state of stress. The adrenaline and cortisol it produces changes our circadian rhythm, which can result in insomnia, a disrupted metabolism, weakened immune system, and memory decline. In other words, being a drama addict is pretty much the antithesis of loving yourself.

I would never have thought of myself as a drama queen - I like to avoid conflicts and if I’m not careful, I slide easily into people-pleasing tendencies. But if we’re not being true to ourselves, we create internal conflict. We fuel resentments. We manufacture anxiety. And eventually, something’s going to snap.

A couple of years ago I started to think about all of this really carefully. I had just broken it off with yet another guy who made me feel less than. I couldn’t help asking myself, “Why does this keep happening?” I thought about The Super Dramatic Episode of 2013. About who I chose to date. About how I react to stressful situations. There was only one conclusion I could come to: I was the common denominator. I was a drama queen.

I had recognized the problem and I dedicated myself to figuring out the solution. That day I wrote in my journal, “I’ll still relish excitement and adventure, but I’m committed to living a life free from unnecessary drama. I’m no longer willing to tolerate people who treat me unkindly or who make me feel unworthy. I will speak up about my needs and voice my feelings freely. When I find myself mentally dissolving into future-tripping or manufacturing drama for myself, I will recognize my power to choose a different thought. I’m no longer going to be a drama queen.”

Recovering from a drama addiction is an ongoing process and requires more perseverance than I’d originally anticipated, but by bringing awareness to the situation and committing to change, I've made huge strides. Here are my suggestions for going on a drama detox and living a more peaceful existence:

Recognize your role(s) in the triangle. This is something I just learned about through my friend Ebonie's amazing program Misfit to Maven in 80 Days: The Karpman Drama Triangle (which she goes into a lot more detail about in the program). Many psychologists believe that by the time we're four or five years old, we've developed a "script" - a set of beliefs about who we are, how the world works, and how to relate to the world and other people. These scripts then play out in our behaviour through "games" - interactions with the world that are subconsciously driven by our beliefs (which, unfortunately, are usually limiting). The Drama Triangle gives us an opportunity to assess what roles we're playing: whether that's the persecutor, the victim, or the rescuer. We may even be playing different roles in different areas of our life, or even within the same situation. But no matter what role we're acting in, most of us will FEEL like the victim. So by reading more about the triangle and examining what roles we unconsciously tend to adopt, we can opt out of the triangle (and the drama) in order to act in more empowered and intentional ways.

Set clear boundaries. When we know what behaviour we will and won't tolerate, it becomes easier to know when we need to stand up for ourselves, speak our truths, and make difficult decisions about who we allow into our lives. I'd recommend spending some quality time with a journal thinking this through. What negative patterns have you recognised in your life? What kinds of conflict tend to create drama in your life? What behaviour have you tolerated in the past even though you knew you deserved better? Brainstorm a list of ways you'll recognise when your boundaries have been crossed and what you'll do about it.

Be strict about who you spend your time with. Like attracts like, so if we spend most of our time with people who crave and manifest drama, we're bound to end up with more of it in our lives. Sometime we have to make difficult decisions about who we have close relationships with. If you recognise someone as adding more drama than they do value to your life it might be time to think about ending your relationship or limiting the amount of time you spend with them. If this is someone you have to be around, like a co-worker, be very clear about the boundaries you have with them. Limit your interactions to the workplace and keep your conversations focused on the job. This isn't about being cruel to anyone; just recognising that the people we spend time with play a big part in shaping our lives, so it's important to choose wisely.

Recognize your triggers. Sometimes we're addicted to drama because it feels like the norm in certain areas of our life, either as a result of how we were raised or the beliefs we've developed. For many of us, this manifests most strongly in our romantic lives or our relationships to work. If we grew up in a house where our parents were always yelling at one another, we may have unconsciously come to believe that this is what love looks like. As a result, even when we're in a healthy relationship, we find ways to create drama and make ourselves unhappy with the situation. Luckily we have the option to choose new beliefs. In each of your trigger areas write down a healthier belief that's infused with self-love. Maybe it's "I'm learning to believe that romantic relationships are nurturing, affectionate, and mutually supportive" (my post on writing powerful affirmations will help you). When you find yourself creating your reality around an old belief, remind yourself of the new one and act on it instead. If you feel powerless to overcome these limiting beliefs or address your triggers, consider working with a therapist to help you through the process.

Cultivate self-expression. For someone who's quite outspoken, I have a hard time expressing myself when I know it's going to make me vulnerable. But by getting clear on my personal boundaries and identifying my triggers, I find it easier to articulate myself instead of staying silent, breeding resentment, and creating future drama. If you recognise the need to speak up with someone in your life, remember: it doesn't have to be a major conflict. I find it best to let the person know ahead of time so that we can both be prepared for the conversation (and so I don't weasel out of it). The more I've been open and honest, the easier it's become. And the more my life looks and feels the way I want it to, because I'm asking for what I need.

Choose a different thought. So much of the drama we create is based only in ourthoughts - not in reality. And our thoughts are our own creations. There's a powerful line in A Course in Miracles that says, “I can see this differently.” This simple phrase is an important reminder of the power we have to change our own minds. If you find yourself getting caught up in the drama of your thoughts, pause and remember that you can see the situation differently. Tell yourself, "I can seelove instead" and then choose a more peaceful, loving thought.

Protect yourself. Dramatic situations are going to arise. Conflicts are going to happen. But you don't have to get caught up in them. Rather than letting your mind run away with you, find a way to pull yourself back to the present moment, rather than getting sucked in. Focus on your breath. Rub a crystal that you've got tucked in your pocket. Recite an affirmation. Find something that soothes you and use it to protect yourself.

This hasn’t been a clear, black and white process for me. It's become very clear to me that romantic relationships and stressful work situations, and even my relationship to food, really trigger the drama addict in me. But by consistently applying the strategies above, I'm finding it easier to let go. To speak up. To look at things differently. And that's a big step forward on my self-love journey.

What about you, do you find yourself getting caught up in drama or making situations more stressful for yourself?

Give up the drama, baby!

Video: Create Your Self-Love Toolbox.

Hello kittens!

I decided to do something a little bit different for today's blog post and recorded a video. Partially because it's fun and also because some things are easier to explain when you can actually see and hear me.

This is an incredibly simple strategy that's allowing me to keep track of all of the rituals, strategies, tools, mindsets, and exercises in my self-love toolbox. Plus it's been so empowering and helps me get through difficult times when I feel scared or helpless.

I'd love to hear if you have your own method for keeping track of your personal development "tools" or if you decide to give this a try, I'd love to hear how it works for you. And leave a comment below: what tools are helping you on your self-love journey?


Click below to download a mini guide to my favourite self-love tools. These notes are straight outta my notebook, baby!