Tag Archives: finding joy

Learning How to Wait

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Learning How to Wait

Recently, I have spent a lot of time contemplating patience: What it means; The ways it is tested; The ways it is improved. Very simply, patience is the ability to wait without complaint. And very honestly, that is not something at which I inherently excel. Objectively, I have a lot of patience when it comes to small things: I don’t mind getting stuck in long lines; I can remain at-ease in stand-still traffic (that’s actually when my best car-dance choreography makes an appearance); and I can stay calm while groups of toddlers scream and throw crayons at my head (side note: how is their aim always so good when their coordination is so terrible?).

But with the big things in life, my capacity for patience takes a steep nose-dive: I can wait, I just haven’t quite mastered the “without complaint” caveat. I am not yet where I want to be financially, emotionally, physically, or (recently) romantically; And I’m not very patient about the time that it’s taking to improve each situation. I complain about my job(s), I complain about my depression, I complain about my body, and even though I’m still too in love with my ex to complain about him, I do complain about how damn hard adult relationships are. Therefore, going strictly by definition, I am most definitely not a patient person.

For me, patience is a veritable challenge: one I want to learn how to conquer. I have a strong desire to do better, and so I started thinking about what exercising patience would look like in my life. I quickly understood that the opposite of complaining while waiting for what I don’t yet have would mean being grateful for what I currently do have.

I have a strained bank account, but I am grateful that what I have is enough to take care of myself and self-finance new music. I have a brain that is pre-dispositioned towards depression and dark, but I am grateful that every day it still fights to find the joy, humor, and light in life. I have a body that jiggles in places I wish it didn’t, but I am grateful that it still gets me from point A to point B with relative ease, and that I am getting stronger every day. And I have a history of failed relationships, but that is because I have a deep resolve to never settle for less than what I deserve, and I am grateful to myself because I know, one day, it will pay off.

Practicing gratitude counters my tendency towards impatience by forcing me to live in the present moment, which is a concept I desperately need to internalize. Philosopher Lao Tzu once stated:

If you are depressed you are living in the past. 

If you are anxious you are living in the future.

If you are at peace you are living in the present.”

As someone who suffers from both depression and anxiety, this is an important, and enlightening, lesson.

In addition to recognizing my own impatience, I have also gotten better at recognizing the root of my anxiety, and it is always due to my mind shifting towards the future. I imagine things that have not yet taken place, and then I worry incessantly about them until I can’t sleep, or I can’t make a decision, or I can’t bring myself to go to the party, or I have a panic attack. But the basis of that anxiety stems from an irrational fear of a future that hasn’t yet happened, and a fear of things not working out the way that I’ve planned (attn. self: things never do, and that’s ok). What’s not ok is letting that fear hold me back from pursuing the things I love, and the dreams that I know I’m capable of reaching; What’s not ok is letting that fear make me impatient, rather than grateful.

I am determined to carry this lesson with me through the new year and through the next chapter of my music career. I have been trying to release music for about four years now and, in that time, I have doubted myself constantly; I have let the obstacles I’ve faced make me anxious, fearful, and impatient. Now, as I’m on the precipice of finally releasing new music to the world, and consequently putting myself out there, that anxiety and fear seems all-consuming at times. But when I focus on gratitude, rather than the uncertain future, it reminds me why I am a musician in the first place, and slowly the anxiety dissipates.

I don’t write or perform music for validation from others; If I really think about the reasons why I do it, I realize that I don’t actually need people to like my music at all (although it’s really nice when they do). When I come back to the present moment, I understand that the reason I continue to write, record, and release (finally) music is because it’s an extension of my personality, and it comes as natural to me as breathing. If I ever stopped, I would lose a huge part of myself, and I would lose my ability to make sense of the world. And that has nothing to do with anyone else’s opinion of me.

With that said, I know that fear and anxiety will still fill me in the moments before I send my song off to be released. I am going to be thinking about the people who will listen: Will they like it? Will they hate it? Will they share it? Will they post mean things about me online? Probably all of the above. But, when my mind starts to wander to that 45-year-old man who never pursued his own dream and now copes by posting mean comments discouraging those who actually are pursuing theirs, I am going to catch myself. I am going to breathe deeply and remind myself in that moment that I am not doing this for anyone else. I am doing it for me, because it is who I am and what I believe I am meant to do with my life and with my talent.

And on that note, I will not be afraid anymore to call myself talented. I will not be afraid to call myself brave. I will be grateful for that talent and for that courage. And then, I will click the mouse and release my song. It will all be very anti-climactic; Yet, it will be one of my most internally powerful moments.

In my mind, impatience, fear, and anxiety go hand-in-hand. Patience means trusting that things will eventually work out in the right way and in the right time, even if obstacles appear and the finish line is not yet visible. Anxiety means that fear has crept in, and I no longer trust that things will turn out alright in the end; Living in the present moment by practicing gratitude is the antidote.

So, here’s to 2018: the year of being afraid but doing it anyway. I hope you take a chance on yourself this year and that when you start to feel anxious or afraid of the future, you instead think about how much in your present life you have to be grateful for. And I hope that thought makes you brave.

(and patient).

 

Don’t forget to love yourself,

Ali

 

The Art of Loving the Single Life

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The Art of Loving the Single Life

In my life, I have been single more often than not. And in my long-term relationship with Singledom, there are a few things I’ve learned that have helped me embrace and enjoy the solitude. They are things that I wish I could share with every teenager, or twenty-something girl, who finds herself feeling a little “less than” just because she has no one to tell her she’s beautiful every day or to call her every night before bed. So, for starters, let me be the one to remind you today: you are beautiful. With or without a hand to hold.

The first myth I need to debunk about single life is that just because I am alone means I am lonely. And immediately following, the second myth I need to debunk is the notion that I never get lonely.

While I am extremely comfortable being independent and on my own, occasionally I get caught up in wanting what others have: someone who is always on my side, someone to laugh at my jokes, someone to play with my hair while cuddling and binge watching episodes of New Girl . . . you get the idea.

So, what happens when you want to embrace your single status, but the loneliness starts to creep in? I have implemented a few tricks that I came up with right after my most recent breakup, and they’ve helped me become a master at celebrating my singleness.

This particular breakup was absolutely down-to-the-soul crushing, and I had to find ways to encourage myself daily to focus on other aspects of my life. The aspects of my life that would be there for me regardless of my relationship status.

I realized quickly that, just as John Mayer sings about in “Dreaming With A Broken Heart,” the waking up truly is the hardest part. So I made a plan to help get myself out of bed and start each day with much needed positive energy. On an index card, I wrote down three of my goals, with the one caveat being that those goals could have nothing to do with another person. This was about things that I, and only I, could control. My goals for my life.

Then, on the other side of the card, I wrote three things that I like about myself that have nothing to do with being in a relationship. Every night I would place this index card on my cell phone so that, when my alarm went off in the morning, I had to look at it in order to turn off the alarm. It was a daily reminder that I have things I am working towards and that I have a worth that is not contingent on another person being able to see it. That I have a future ahead of me and that if I want to bring that future into fruition, I had better drag my butt out of bed.

It got me through the hardest part of the breakup, and it’s something I still occasionally use today; usually when yet another friend asks to set me up on a blind date, or another family member asks if I’m seeing anyone special. Because yes, I am actually. It’s me. I’m the someone special. See, it’s even written on this index card as proof: an insurance policy for my own happiness and a reminder of my own significance, despite my lack of a significant other.

Another key that I’ve found to loving the single life is surrounding myself with copious amounts of non-romantic love. I may not currently be in love, but I never feel void of it. I spent Valentine’s weekend with two of my closest girl friends, as well as my family. I got to squeeze my niece and nephew, and I got to be around people who love me unconditionally. I felt loved, and I loved in return. I may not have gotten chocolates, but that’s actually a good thing because I gave up candy for Lent anyway. (There is always a silver lining, even in the life of a Singleton).

And then there is what I consider the most important thing on my list of why it’s OK to be single and loving it: an absolute refusal to settle. I’m gonna go ahead and repeat that statement for dramatic effect:

Refusal. To. Settle.

I have a lot of goals and dreams, and I am terrified that a relationship will deter me from the path to those goals. I have an intense fear of distraction, but maybe that’s just because I haven’t found the right person yet.

I believe a healthy relationship will help you achieve your goals and will inspire you to be the best version of yourself; So until I find the person who truly makes me better, it’s just me and my guitars forever and ever, amen.

Because I am obsessed with the idea of bettering myself, which means I need to be with someone who is as into self-improvement as I am. I despise complacency, both in myself and in a potential partner.

I was in a relationship before where me being me made the guy feel bad about himself, and it took me well over a year to realize that that wasn’t my problem. I had tried to make myself smaller (not physically, although he did comment on my weight more than once) in order to try and help him feel better about himself, but I only ended up losing myself in the process. It also led to my resenting the relationship and ceasing to pursue my goals. At the end of the day, he clearly needed to work on his own self worth, and I needed to stop feeling bad about myself just because he couldn’t appreciate all of me.

There are a lot of aspects to my person that men find intimidating; but at the end of the day, I can’t change who I am in order to appease someone else’s ego. I honestly don’t care if the guy I’m with is shorter than me. I don’t care what his GPA was, or what his job is. I don’t care if he can’t sing or play an instrument. And I really don’t care if he sucks at sports. What I do care about is how my accomplishments and successes make him feel. Because if they make him feel inadequate, then the relationship will never last.

I want to be with someone who is proud of me, not someone who feels the need to cut and tear me down in order to make himself feel better. I am going to continue to try and become better in every aspect of my life, and I need to be with someone who admires, not fears, that. I also need to be with someone who is simultaneously trying to be the best version of himself.

So, until I find that mythical person, I am bound to a life of having no “plus one” at weddings. But all of the things I’ve mentioned in this post help me daily to enjoy my single status, and I’ve officially ceased fearing Spinsterhood. I very well may be single for an inordinately long time, but I don’t think that makes me less of an awesome person.

Being single doesn’t make me feel unworthy of love. It doesn’t make me feel unattractive or unwanted. In contrast, it makes me feel empowered because I am focusing on my future. A future that will eventually include the right person and be reflective of two individuals with adequate self worth and individual paths who have chosen to walk through life hand in hand as true partners. Him helping me achieve my goals, and me helping him achieve his in return. Mutual respect, mutual support, and neither party’s accomplishments detracting from the other’s sense of self pride or worth.

There is a country song called “Stand Beside Me” by Jo Dee Messina, who is one of the female vocal powerhouses that I grew up listening to, and when this song was released, I was just a seven year old kid with curly hair belting it out in my dad’s red Jeep Grand Cherokee, completely unaware that 18 years later, the chorus to that song would become my motto in love: “I want a man to stand beside me; not in front of or behind me.” That’s what I want. Someone to stand by my side. And I am content to wait as long as it takes to find him.

So, my advice to anyone who finds themselves perpetually labelled “the single friend” is this: don’t worry about it. Focus on you. Love you. Because you are the longest term relationship you will ever have. Do. Not. Settle. One day you will find someone who accepts and loves all parts of your being and inspires you to be better. Wait for that person. In the meantime, love yourself fiercely and unconditionally. Because you are beautiful, smart, funny, talented, and worthy of love. Especially your own. And there is nothing wrong with admitting that.

DFTLY,

Ali

PS – here’s the link for “Stand Beside Me” if you’re interested in giving it a listen: Stand Beside Me by Jo Dee Messina

Trovare la Gioia (or, How to Train Your Brain to Be Happy)

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Trovare la Gioia (or, How to Train Your Brain to Be Happy)

People are often surprised to find out I have tattoos. I’m not sure what makes it so surprising, but I have some theories: It might have something to do with the fact that a.) I look like I’m seventeen; b.) I dress like a modest kindergarten teacher; c.) I tend to spontaneously burst out in song and dance, like a child; due to factors a, b, and c, I give off a “sweet and innocent” vibe, which I tenderly refer to as “the polka-dots and glitter” phenomenon.

To exemplify this point, a few weeks after meeting me, one of my friends told me that she assumed I spent all of my free time chasing butterflies and picking flowers. I don’t, I promise; although I guess it proves that I tend to strike people as the skipping through fields type (ok, I do actually do that sometimes), and not the tattoo type. But hey, I am a millennial after all. And Generation Y tends to express itself by permanently scarring bodies with ink.

But this blog post is not about tattoos per se, rather the meaning behind the tattoo on my left wrist. In a fancy-ish script, it reads “Trovare la Gioia,” which in Italian translates to “Find the Joy.” And when people ask about it, that’s usually the extent of the explanation I give.

But that’s not the extent of the meaning. Because if I’m going to mark my body with something that will never come off, it sure as heck better be something that resonates so deeply within my soul that at age 83, when it’s all wrinkly and hard to read, I’m still glad I chose to get it.

Needless to say, “Trovare la Gioia” has that power. And because I’m a writer by nature, I of course have a story to explain why.

At age sixteen, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I don’t typically tell people this because, if someone has never experienced depression first hand, it is extremely difficult to understand exactly what it is or does. And trust me, I cannot over-exaggerate that statement.

There is such a stigma surrounding depression and so many unfair stereotypes revolving around it, that if I’m not careful I will end up writing a 20 page rant. So I’ll save that for another post, and just simply say this: depression sucks. 24/7.

But back to the story:

Depression defined my late teens and very early twenties, and like a hole that you cannot crawl out of, I honestly thought I would never be free.

When you are clinically (as opposed to situationally) depressed, you can’t see light or hope in anything. You become so haunted by the depression that life becomes this huge daunting picture in which you get lost in shades of grey.

Life is overwhelming. Life is terrifying. Life is exhausting. And so to cope with all of this, your brain numbs everything until you cease feeling at all. No highs. No lows. No joy. 

Luckily, my father is a wise man. Even though he couldn’t wholeheartedly understand what I was feeling, he wholeheartedly wanted me to feel. He knew I couldn’t find joy if I kept looking at the big picture. He knew I needed to start smaller. And so he used to tell me to take one day at a time and, each day, find one small minuscule thing that I could find joy in.

Now I am an extremely stubborn creature and I therefore do not heed my parents’ advice often, but places of desperation tend to make you try things you normally wouldn’t.

And so each day, I would force myself to be happy about one small thing. And then something strange happened.

One small thing turned into two. Two turned into four. And before I knew it, I was finding happiness in more and more things. I was by no means out of the hole, but at least I was climbing. I was feeling. I was finding the joy.

And so the “Trovare la Gioia” written in bold on my left wrist is a permanent reminder that no matter how bad things seem, no matter how dark things get, there is always something to find joy in, even if that something seems small and insignificant.

The reason I bring all of this up (other than I really wanted to get a second blog post in for January and this is the last day of the month, oh hey procrastination, we meet again) is because depression is as stubborn as I am. It is something that, while you can slowly crawl out of and learn to function with and beat down again and again and again, will never completely go away.

I would estimate that around four years ago is when I first started feeling like I had depression under control. But I have good days and I have bad days, and it’s going to be something I battle for the rest of my life. Luckily, I’m surrounded (mostly) by people who understand that.

But I have never been as low or as far down as I was in those first few years of the diagnoses. Until now.

This is not meant to be a pity-seeking post. This is meant to be a reality post. Because depression is a reality for a lot of people, and those people are misunderstood and name-called constantly. So no, I am not seeking attention. I am seeking to educate.

My brain does not work the way a “normal” (I hate that word) brain does. It will always be leaning towards depression, and if I’m not actively working against the gravitational pull, it will inevitably suck me back in. These past two months have proved that.

But while I am in a mental place similar to that of my sixteen year old self, I am lucky enough to have a little more maturity, wisdom, and life experience than she. I can look at things, including my mental state, more objectively.

Which brings me back to my left wrist and the message I paid someone to scar me with; It is now a precious tool that I am re-learning how to use. I am re-training my brain to find happiness.

Because happiness cannot be situational. It has to start from inside, where life circumstances can never touch or mar it. It’s not something you attain, rather something you grow.

So that is what I am doing: growing happiness by training my brain to find the joy in the smallest things.

For example:

Life Circumstance: crutches are really annoying and incredibly painful and extremely frustrating and just overall very time-consuming.

Trovare la Gioia: with crutches, I always know what to do with my hands (anyone who knows me knows that this is a really big pro).

I found the joy in something small. And tomorrow, I’ll find some more.

For anyone who’s going through a rough time, I empathize. And I truly hope you can find the joy in something small today and every day.

Because sometimes the small things can end up making the biggest impact.

Trovare la gioia (and DFTLY),

Ali