Being Kind to Myself

I read A LOT about self improvement, self esteem, self love, self care, and the like. This is mostly because a year and a half ago, I was not taking very good care of myself. It was pretty standard for me to spend an entire weekend (which for me could be as many as four days because the organization I worked for only offered services Tuesday through Thursday) migrating from bed to couch back to bed, getting up only to pee or when it became absolutely necessary to find something to feed myself. I was, in short, extremely depressed, and every year for many years, it got worse.

An exact likeness. (Photo credit: Copyright All rights reserved by Jennifer Kehl)

An exact likeness.
(Photo credit: Copyright All rights reserved by Jennifer Kehl)

Then, I changed one huge variable in my life, and I realized how much I was hurting myself by living that way. I began to read advice blogs with a central focus of being really, really kind to, and taking really good care of yourself. (Paging Doctor Nerdlove and Captain Awkward are my favorites.) And, their wisdom in tow, I began to come back to the world. It came in really small steps. I began writing again. I began spending time with friends and family. I spent time reading instead of watching full seasons of television shows. I started walking and hiking.

And eventually, I came here to Korea. I wanted to develop myself more than staying my small hometown would allow. Part of it was escape–the trappings of my old life were all around me back home–but mostly it was just that there was so much in the world, and I was experiencing only this minuscule piece of it. I had wanted to travel for years, and, finally, I had the opportunity.

Once in Korea, developing new habits was pretty easy–my entire life had been shaken up, so I could mold my new situation into whatever I wanted it to be. I started just DOING THINGS. Lots of things–learning guitar, writing, singing, dancing, spending weekend nights at bars with new friends. I felt like I had a pretty good hold on my depression as well. Sure, these things in addition to my 40 hour per week job and by 2 hour daily commute were taking a lot of time and wearing me out, but I was pretty good about sleeping and waking up and keeping at it.

Gradually, though, my schedule, the stress of being in a foreign country where EVERYTHING is just a little bit harder than it is where you came from, just a little bit harder than it should be, and the feeling that this place is not and will never be my home became very difficult to deal with. Finally, I had a moment of difficulty with my partner whom I live 5 hours away from, making things challenging at the best of times, and everything sort of broke. This break coincided with my vacation from teaching, and I can’t decide if that was a blessing or a curse. On the one hand, it gave me some time to deal with what was happening. On the other hand, it gave me the chance to fall into some really bad depression habits.

Hello old friend. ( Photo credit: Some rights reserved by kurafire: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kurafire/)

Hello old friend.
( Photo: Some rights reserved by kurafire: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kurafire/)

Now, I am climbing back out of that hole AND trying to fix some things I’ve been letting slide for weeks.

First three orders of business:

1) Exercise 15 minutes in the morning 3 times per week. (Which was quickly amended to a specific number of squats and lifts to my toes plus stretching, nearly all of which can be accomplished while I brush my teeth or shower.)

2) Eat breakfast 4 out of 5 weekdays.

3) Drink lemon water and consume a tsp of maca root powder every morning.

Why?

I’m working up to doing real exercise, which is something I’ve always needed to do more of. Even 10 minutes of cardio a day improves your mood and your overall health. I expect that when I get to where I’m doing actual cardiovascular exercise, I will have more energy throughout the day and sleep better at night (which is going on the list next).

Eating is good for you. Eating in the morning helps you throughout the day. ‘Nuff said. I’m pretty sure this is one of those things everyone knows and no one acts on.

The lemon water and maca powder are efforts to clear up my skin. I don’t wear much makeup, and I want to feel good about my face when I look in the mirror; sometimes that is hard with lots of giant zits. My “witch doctor” friend back home suggested both of these to me ages ago, but I never succeeded in making them habitual. It’s time to start. (Plus it’s really easy to combine with the breakfast thing.)

I have a list a mile long (okay a page front and back with tiny script) of things I would like to improve. But, I’m breaking them into small achievable steps. I want to feel that chemical reward, that dopamine rush to the brain, each time I meet one of my objectives. Like every time I beat a level in Super Mario as a kid and then thought “one more time!” and looked out the window to find it was dark outside and everyone had gone to bed.

I’m recording everything in a journal and reporting it via Facebook to my friend, The Stumpy Giraffe, back home who is also working on self improvement. Gradually, these things will become habits, and I won’t have to work so hard to maintain them. Then, I’ll add new things. I’ll have pages of front and back tiny script things that I am doing to take care of myself.

I will fail along the way, but when I do, I’ll just start over. Or adjust my objectives and try again. I’m going to be really kind to myself as I work to be really kind to myself.

I want to feel good. But mostly, I want to feel like feeling good isn’t so much work!

Someday, maybe it won’t be.

(Thinking, I too would like to form better habits/achieve goals? This article explains the approach I’m taking pretty effectively, and the blog it lives on has lots of good advice about forming positive habits: http://zenhabits.net/autopilot-achievement-how-to-turn-your-goals-into-habits/)

The Word of the Day Is: Vulnerability

UPDATE: I linked you below to the Barley Rhymes Facebook page because they’re YouTube site was unavailable, but it’s back! Watch Barley Rhymes Episode One here!

I started out my morning reading this post on my favorite blog, Paging Dr. NerdLove, and he hit on a topic that’s been on my mind quite a bit recently. NerdLove’s piece is skewed–necessarily given his audience–toward how being vulnerable is a boon to your dating life, but underlying the how to get better with women premise of the article is woven a complicated story about the myriad ways that vulnerability affects our relationships with others and with ourselves.

I’ve been thinking specifically about vulnerability and performance, because I have plans to do A LOT of performing, both in very public, on-stage kind of ways, and in more private, among my friends sorts of ways. A while back, I saw a TED talk by Amanda Palmer (one of my pop culture heroes) called, “The Art of Asking.” This talk focused on developing close personal relationships with your fans and allowing those connections to fund your art as opposed to the more traditionally corporate way of making money via art by signing with a label and so on. The talk intrigued me in a number of ways. I was employed by a non-profit at the time and was very interested in how its themes crossed over with and might be applied to asking the community to support my organization. But perhaps what hit me the most, and the reason that it comes to mind for me many months later, was Palmer’s emphasis on vulnerability and connection.

“The perfect tools aren’t going to help us,” Palmer claims, “if we can’t face each other and give and receive fearlessly.” I love that language, and that idea–connection with other human beings is giving fearlessly, receiving fearlessly.

Maybe I like it because I spent many years doing everything I could to be invulnerable. Because I spent many years afraid. I was prone to trying to show just how unflappable I was even as a kid, and then I spent a good long time dating a man who controlled me, in part by invalidating the pieces of myself that I exposed to him, so I conditioned myself to keep–well, myself–pretty well under wraps. Around that same time, though, although it terrified me in some ways, I found that I actually really enjoyed being on stage. I gave a talk at my college’s undergraduate symposium/benefit concert (about connecting with people actually…it’s been a long running theme in my life), and I sort of loved it.

And here is a picture of the invulnerable ocean. (Mostly because I totally failed to post any pictures before like I said I would...)

And here is a picture of the invulnerable ocean. (Mostly because I failed to post any of the other pictures I said I would.)

As I gradually started to rejoin the world, I found myself more and more interested in developing the part of myself that got such a thrill from putting myself out there, eventually on stage. I began dancing in public, singing karaoke, and reading poetry at my favorite bar. (Shout out to Barley Rhymes and their excellent new film series!) I talked to one Barley Rhymes audience member once who told me that she couldn’t do what I had done; she couldn’t make herself so vulnerable on stage. I knew where she was coming from, because I was scared every time I did it. As Dr. Nerdlove puts it, “Vulnerability is about willingly, even deliberately, opening yourself up to rejection, to judgement and humiliation.” Those are pretty valid things to be afraid of.

At the same time though, when you get up on a stage (or step onto a dance floor, or speak up about in a crowd, or sing aloud), you are saying to the world, I’m here, and I’m not ashamed of it. Some of the people watching or listening will judge you; some will reject you. You might say or do something humiliating. You might fail. Then, when you do that thing anyway–when you willingly expose deeply personal parts of yourself, all that potential failure and judging and possible bad stuff just sort of falls away. Maybe you do fine. Maybe you make a huge mistake (hell–I’ve seen countless videos of Amanda Palmer, ROCK STAR, stopping mid-show because she screwed something up, but then she just laughs it off, picks back up and keeps going). Either way, you let yourself be yourself in the world–you let people see you.

Not everyone needs a stage to do this, of course. There are plenty of intimate conversations that have the same effect. Even the fiction I’m currently writing, even this blog post, expose me to your judgement. But, I’m getting to the point where I’m interested in sort of the next level of human connection. The one where I stand in front of a crowd people and become open to their judgement. Maybe it’s an over correction after doing my best for so long not to have a presence. I want them to see me. I want them to feel like, in a way, they know me. And I want to know them.

Here, in this new place, I’ve picked up some hobbies, that I am planning to use to further my education in being vulnerable…and reap the benefits of the confidence and sense of self it gives me. I am learning to play the guitar. And while I’m doing in because it is just a really good way for me to spend my time (I’ll likely post another time about that…), I am also doing it with an eye toward performance. My goal is to be good enough to perform at an open mic night by the time my birthday rolls around in February. I think I can get there–I won’t know many songs, but all I really need is one!

I’m also singing with a group, which will improve my open mic performance, but also gives me a broader range of musical skills, especially when it comes to harmonizing and connecting with other musicians. I’m still getting used to sharing my voice with others. I had a sort of confidence crushing moment years ago that I’m really working to overcome, so using my voice at all is a huge level of vulnerability for me. Singing with this group is a good conditioning for getting me ready to sing on stage.

Additionally, I’m joining a group of newbie burlesque dancers. I’m looking forward to the kind of control and command of my body that dance will give me. I’m also looking forward to participating in a performance that allows me to communicate that I not only to I have a presence, but also a body and a sexuality, and I’m not ashamed of any of them.

I hope that in communicating those elements of myself, I am able to leave things open for a reciprocal exchange–that by saying hello people, this is me, I will open the door for others to authentically share themselves with the world as well.

Korea for me is turning out to be a place where (at least in my off-time) I am much less prone to letting life happen to me, and much more ready and willing to take charge of it. I am becoming an agent in my own experiences. I am choosing to be vulnerable. And I feel stronger and more capable than I ever have.

Being a sand mermaid…

There are a lot of fantastic things about living in Korea. The beach being SOOO close to my house is one of them (and the temperature of the water here in October is another–still super fun to swim in!).

But even better than those superficially good things is this: I can do anything I want in Korea.

Okay… not anything exactly. I still can’t fly (unless I just happen to fall and miss the ground one day like Arthur Dent, but since I don’t have any missing luggage to be distracted by, I find that somewhat unlikely), I can’t eat fire, I can’t really do anything that would make my school look bad, causing me to lose my job and get kicked out of the county, but that’s not exactly what I mean. At home I was a certain person, people expected me to act a certain way, to do certain things, to be the person they knew me to be. I liked that person–or more accurately, by the time I left, I had learned to like that person and was working on making some minor adjustments to the parts I liked a little less.

But the rules for the person I’m supposed to be were left somewhere back in the states–probably at the airport in California. Now being different, pursuing different things, having different priorities is not only acceptable, but a really easy thing to do, because I don’t have everyone I’ve known my entire life here expecting things of me. Don’t get me wrong–I don’t necessarily think those expectations are always bad. Having people in your life who care about you and what you’re doing with yourself is a definitively positive thing. (And since my readers are mainly those people, let me just say–thank you all so much for the support and caring and expectations you’ve so far had for me.) But having a template version of yourself as defined by everyone around you can make it extra difficult to make a change even when that change is going to be good for you, even when it’s something you may really need.

Becoming mermaid

Becoming mermaid

Here I find myself just doing things–not harmful things, not dangerous things, just things that I otherwise probably would have hesitated over. So, yesterday I was a sand mermaid. I rode on the back of some Korean guy’s jet ski. I ate Indian food. A few weeks ago, I went to a club. A month ago, I bought and started learning to play guitar. Many of the spontaneous things I’ve been doing are not specific to Korea–I could buy and learn to play a guitar anywhere, eat Indian food anywhere, ride on a jet ski anywhere with a beach. But I’m here, and I’m alone, and I don’t feel like I’m being monitored in the same way I was in the small town I grew up in (although I am… Korea has cameras EVERYWHERE). This lack of watchful eyes gives me the chance to do things–things that I might not follow through with, things that I might screw up, things that I might turn out to hate–and to try them all without worrying what people will think of me for trying…or what they will think of me for failing.

My world opened up a lot when I started living it for myself and with my happiness as the priority. Here in a new place it has opened even further. I miss things about home–especially the people there, but I like the person I am able to be here–the person it is easy for me to be here. I hope to take some of her with me when I go back to my country.