(broad)ject self homework day #1: sleep!

The homework in last night's (broad)ject self "Self-Care When...You're Tired" was as follows:
"Your homework this week is to diagnose your bad sleep habits and try and break one of them. I’m going to try to abandon the snooze button and I will report back next week."

I was doomed from the start. I slept in until about 9:30am on Sunday morning and took an hour nap in the afternoon. MISTAKES WERE MADE. Then I was somehow surprised when my podcast timer shut off this week's 'Roderick on the Line' and I was left awake in silence. I should have followed my own damn advice and gotten out of bed and done...anything...for 20 minutes before trying to fall asleep again. Instead, I thrashed around and got increasingly agitated.

It came as no surprise to me then at 6am this morning when my alarm proclaimed "Yoga or read, dude" that I did neither. In fact, I snoozed for 35 minutes until I was on the verge of missing the late train. Great start to a Monday!

Still, I was heartened to see that the Globe & Mail dedicated their 'Life & Arts' section to sleep today.

1) In short: you may be sleep-deprived, but no more than your ancestors

2) In short: The podcast 'Sleep with Me' is weird but great (and I already recommended it to you)

3) In short: If you can't sleep, get up and get something done

The upside for me is that if I've had a bad sleep on one night, I'm usually pretty good to get to sleep on time the following. Wish me luck (and morning yoga). I'll report back!

Yule (B)log: Day Four: Change is Hard

I'm calling this day four because it's my day four of Yule (B)logging, but the truth is that I failed miserably on Friday. My sincerest apologies.

When babies and small children are about to hit a growth spurt or hit a developmental milestone they are often fussy or unsettled as well as sleepier than usual, as they are channelling all their energy to that physical or mental growth. I'm in the middle of completely overhauling my relationship with food, including trying to break bad habits I've been clutching onto for dear life for 30+ years, and I feel like an infant about to roll over. I'm tired, I'm cranky, and I just want to lie in bed all the time with my heating pad and KenKen games. These changes are taking a great deal out of me physically, as my body adapts to more veggies and healthy fats and protein and less sugar and dairy and empty carbs. But more than that, my brain is just processing all these changes, constantly having to make judgment calls to decide if I'm hungry or bored, or if I really want that (insert delicious sugary treat here).

I've been more successful in this endeavour thus far than I've been in any other eat adjustment in my entire life. Gone are the morning chai lattes. Gone are the afternoon hot chocolates. Gone are the boxes of Smarties. I'm working on keeping my blood sugar at an even keel, which means eating balanced meals and snacks regularly, with as little added sugar as I can manage. 

But it's so hard. So so hard. And even though I'm probably eating on plan 70-100% of the day, that 30% off tends to be spectacular and...not worth it. Trying not to let those moments I go off plan be the impetus for the beginning of a "fuck it" cycle is a challenge. I'm trying very hard too not to be a person who talks constantly about her diet, because I think that can alienate people if you're not careful, but it's such a big part of my life right now. And have to tried cutting back on sugar at Christmas? Have you?

I'm trying though. I'm working hard. I'm taking every day as it comes and just trying to make the best decisions I can make. And if that means the occasional Subway cookie? So be it. Just don't tell my nutritionist...

Yule (B)log: Day Three: A Room of One's Own

When we decided to move in with David's mother after we were forced out of our apartment, I declared from the first instant that I would be taking over the finished basement room. As it stood, it was just a storage space for books, furniture, and a lifetime's worth of National Geographic Magazines. David said I was welcome to it, but that he did not intend to spend any time down there, as he had never enjoyed being there as a kid.

It took a while for me to get everything organized, including the acquisition of a reading chair and the expulsion of a lot of stuff that was going to Belleville, but it really became my own space this summer. I have my desk and my laptop, plus bonus screen for when I work from home. I have my big TV and cable. I have my reading chair and all the books I decided to unpack (which was mostly the ones I am very attached to or haven't read yet). I have the bar cart. I have snacks. I have room to do yoga. I even have a bathroom.

I always took Virginia Woolf's essay to be metaphorical in a certain sense, but I have a room of my own now and it is GLORIOUS. With David gone during the week, I have dinner and make small talk with my mother-in-law, and then I change into my soft clothes and head into my cave. Everything I need is down here, so I can work, watch TV, read, or nap as I like. I particularly love weekend days in the winter where I can just come down and loll about without feeling guilty about enjoying being outside. If I bring snacks I don't have to leave for hours.

The most interesting thing is that, despite all David's protestations that he'd never come down, he comes down all the time when he's home. Since my MIL never comes in, it then becomes our sanctuary to have a quiet conversation or watch a movie or just sit quietly on our phones with the cats.

My Sian Cave is something I will fight to keep even when we don't live with my MIL (someday), especially, I think, when we have kids (eventually). I don't need a craft room or games room, but I do need a room where Momma can be herself no matter what. 

Yule (B)log: Day Two: The Wayback Machine

For reasons I don't fully understand, December tends to me a month of enormous nostalgia for me. It's partly the Christmas season, as my family has pretty entrenched traditions . It's partly that there are a lot of important birthdays and anniversaries this time of year, and those always make me think to those celebrations in year's past. But I also have this intense feeling of thinking back to the way I used to be versus now.

To say I'm focused on self-discovery right now would be an understatement. While I outwardly evangelize self-care, the inverse of that is a great deal of pressure to practice what I preach. The extension from that has been...do I like what I see when I look in the mirror? Am I the person that I want to be? Am I the person that I need to be?

The answer to that is more complicated than I expected. I'm proud of the woman I am today. I fought hard to be her, against people who thought I was (mostly) too much. But I'm a grown up lady now too, who has big ambitions in work and in life and that sometimes means being a little more poised. I'm in the space where I'm trying to figure out what parts of my personality and life I cast off because they don't serve me and which I just sort of lost along the way. 

What would I tell 19 year old me, in her third year of university? I'd tell her that he wasn't worth it. I'd tell her to trust her instincts because it WAS fucking mono and strep throat at the same time, and that feeling that sick wasn't normal. I'd tell her to enjoy the moment. I'd tell her the man of her dreams was actually already in her universe, she just didn't know it yet, and that he'd find her when she was ready. I'd tell her that she's capable of big things, if only she could just buckle down and do the work. 

But she wouldn't listen even if I could tell her, I know, because she and I have never liked being told what to do. Ever. And that fierce independence is the core of what makes me who I am. As long as I have that, I'm going to be ok.

Yule (B)log: Day One: Soft Clothes

One of my favourite internet people is Amber Adrian. I don't even remember how I started reading her, but in the last year she's launched an endeavor surrounding supporting writer's in their creativity. She also live-tweeted her father's death, which gave me great comfort for when I am faced with the same eventuality, and wrote a beautiful piece on the miscarriage of an unplanned pregnancy (which I recommend you read if you're in an emotional place to do so). At any rate, she decided to undertake a project called Yule (B)log, wherein she'd blog every week day in December and Twitter nudged me to take part. Here I am.

I am having a terrible day. It's one of those days where everything is going wrong, nothing is within my control, and I am serving as a go between for (seeming) lunatics who are at cross-purposes. So that seemed like a good opportunity to talk about what of my recent obsessions: soft clothes.

I have stolen the term from Judge John Hodgman (who in turn gives credit to Paul F. Tompkins), but I believed in soft clothes even before I head the word. Basically, soft clothes are the clothes you change into when you get home from work. They are not pajamas, per say, but comfortable garments you can lounge around the house in. You do not leave the house in them.  I am a great believer in soft clothes that are not pajamas, because I believe it's a great way to signal to your body that it's time to relax (but not sleep). When it's time to go to bed, then you roll out the pajamas. I don't workout in soft clothes or even do yoga (unless it's specifically a bedtime series). Soft clothes are for reading on the couch, watching TV, or even messing around on the computer.

The most important part for me, as a lady with ladies, is a soft bra. There is no greater feeling then coming home after work and peeling off the old underwire. But I don't necessarily feel comfortable going bra-free, so I got this amazing bra that is soft, comfortable, and sufficiently supportive for around the house. With it, I have a pair of modal lounge pants, tank, and a long-sleeved shirt from Banana Republic (sadly, they don't make them anymore). I actually keep a set in the apartment in Belleville too, so I am never without.

Investing in soft clothes that make you feel safe and happy is a worthy act of self-care that signals to your body and your brain that the workday is done. Particularly in the winter months, there is no better feeling than walking home in the chill knowing that you have soft clothes (and everything else they entail), waiting for you.

In Short: Self-Care When You've Received Negative Feedback

I had a customer meeting this morning about a longstanding issue and we were hoping we'd finally identified the people who might be able to help us solve it.  It was a reasonably productive meeting, with lots of good takeaways.

I had driven up with my boss and as we drove away from the meeting she said, "So, you were pretty frustrated in that meeting." I readily agreed, as the action items they were requesting moving forward were things I had already been doing for months, but clearly no one had been paying attention. "Yeah," she replied, "it was really obvious." She continued to say that we have to go along to get along and other assorted comments about playing nice.

The conversation moved on, but I was rattled. I take constructive criticism very seriously, as I think it's worth its weight in gold. No-one likes to give it, no-one knows how to take it, and then we all end up not knowing how we can improve and getting blindsided when someone critiques us. I am always telling my managers that I want more of it. And yet somehow, it was really hard to hear.

Part of it is that no-one likes to screw up and I didn't want to be responsible for damaging the working relationship we have with this customer. I am a fast learner when it comes to this stuff and I won't make this particular mistake again. Every time I'm in a meeting from this day forward, until the day I die, I will remember my boss's comment and do my damnedest to keep frustration off my face and out of my voice.

But the real challenge I have with this particular feedback is that it touches a nerve for me. If you know me, you know I am loud, expressive, and an emotive open book. I am a lot of human. I own those characteristics, because they make me who I am. To not be any of those things would be to not be myself, to hide, to mute my personality. Generally, people can like it or lump it (and sometimes, they lump it, which is their right). Was it inappropriate to be frustrated in that particular meeting, with those particular stakeholders, over that particular topic? Did they even notice or was it just something my boss was sensitive to because she herself is quite expressive?

I will not be quiet because I make you uncomfortable but...sometimes we have to adapt to the circumstances and our environment.

I came back to my office and I ate my feelings in the form of someone's kid's rejected Halloween candy. That is not self-care. I noticed walking back from chatting with someone across the office that my shoulders were practically touching my ears because I was so tense. That is not self-care.

I should have made a cup of tea instead of mainlining tiny Twix and Crispy Crunch. I should have done a vinyasa at my desk and stretched it out before trying to plunge back into work. I should have forgiven myself for being frustrated and resolved to do better instead of sitting here obsessing over it.

But here we are. Water bottle fresh and full. 5 minute cubicle stretch break. Deep cleansing breath. Loop the shoulders. Onwards.

NO-vember 2nd: Red Cup No

As a Starbucks and Christmas devotee, November 2nd is the happiest day of the year. Why? Because November 2nd is the day that they launch their red cups as well as their holiday menu, including my personal favourite, egg nog. Traditionally, I celebrate the first day of red cup season with a Venti Chai Egg Nog Latte, a treat that I restrict myself to once a week thereafter due to its indulgent nature.

This morning? I said NO to a Venti Chai Egg Nog Latte. I even said NO to a red cup. I have been working on cutting down my added sugar consumption, and my daily Starbucks visit is a prime culprit. I'm testing out non-coffee drinks that have less sugar than my usual Chai Latte. Since I am a daily visitor, I do have a reusable cup to cut down on my habit's environmental impact. I actually have several reusable red cups from past years that I'll bring into my morning rotation to get in the spirit.

Saying no was easier than I had feared, in great part because I have a plan. Becoming diabetic is a real risk for me, so cutting down on my sugar consumption is super important. Still, everything in moderation including moderation, so I'll plan to enjoy my weekly holiday treat this coming Friday. I'll be in Belleville this weekend without a car, which means no Starbucks visits, so I won't be tempted to additionally indulge on the weekend.

How did you kick off NO-vember?


In Short: Self-Care When You're Distracted at Work

I mentioned in my (broad)ject self newsletter this week (Self Care When You're Ambitious) that at the present (childless) moment, I need to preserve my sleep because without it I'm useless. And usually I'm pretty good about it. Even when I'm out during the week, I do my best to be home in time for my regular bedtime (10pm, lights out at 10:30). Last night was an exception though, as I was at a friend's place to watch the election, and I could hardly leave before the bulk of the polls closed. So I got home at about 10:45, had a quick shower, and then tried to resist the siren song of Twitter. Needless to say, I did not bounce out of bed at 6am this morning. 

As a result of that somewhat minor sleep deprivation (and possible sleep-cycle interruption), I'm having trouble staying focused at work. It doesn't help that the most important task I need to complete is tedious and time-consuming. There are a handful of other things I'd rather work on, but I feel like I need to finish #1 task first, but I don't want to do #1 task, and oh hey, maybe someone posted something interesting on Twitter?

So how do you break the cycle? For me, it needs to begin first with a hard stop. Today, that was an early lunch break. Maybe for you it's a walk around the office, chatting with a co-worker, or completing a quick administrative task. Then, and you knew this was coming, big glass of water and a vinyasa. Satiated, hydrated, and hopefully a little more centered, I turn to #1 for a prescribed period of time to see how much I can get done before I'll give task #1 a break and turn to something more interesting.

How do you snap yourself back to focus?


In Short: Self-Care When You're Sad at Work

I don't want to step on my own newsletter toes, and I will write about this one week in greater detail, but I wanted to write a few quick words about self-care when you're sad at work because I'm feeling a little sad today myself.

I loved the article by Julie Beck on the Atlantic website, 'The Internet Wants You to Take Care of Yourself'. She links to a handy game 'You Feel Like Shit: An Interactive Self-Care Guide', although the first roadblock I noticed was the suggestion to take a nap, which doesn't do me much good when I'm at the office. Beck's own checklist goes like this, "Drink water, Eat something, Work Out, Go outside, Take a shower". This is great advice, but again, not super applicable to someone who works in a cubicle farm like me. 

When I'm at my desk, my first step is to try to identify the problem. Today, I know there are a couple of specific things triggering sadness for me, specifically regarding situations other people find themselves in. At this point, I will either do a quick journal exercise or, more likely, try to identify something I can do in 5 or 10 minutes that might help me feel like I'm moving the issue forward and being helpful. After that, it's a fresh glass of water (or coffee, or hot chocolate, whatever you have available), a stretch session at my desk (maybe a vinyasa or just some forward folds), then a small snack. That's my equivalent of trying to shake it off enough to have a productive rest of the day. 

Your mileage may vary, so I'd love to hear what you do when you feel sad or anxious at the office.

Side (broad)jects: Getting Down to Business

One of the main things I thought learned in the second co-op work term of my MBA was that I wasn't meant to be a consultant. I didn't want to be your big flashy idea woman, I wanted to be the one that does the work and sees the project through to completion. And because of the particular project I was working on in this particular work term, I was convinced I wasn't an ideas person. I removed the word 'creative' from my resume, not just because all the resume articles say you should (on account of the term being overused), but because I was I truly believed I simply wasn't.

Two years later, I realize now I was wrong. I am a creative ideas person, I just need to improve my process of getting my ideas from my head to the real world. For some reason, I don't have that problem with other people's ideas, hence my belief that I was a do-er, not a dreamer.

I've mentioned elsewhere that the idea for (broad)ject inc. has been floating around my brain for some time. I've written countless posts and newsletters, launched a million initiatives, and even been interviewed for a podcast or two...in my head. But actually getting this baby in words and on the internet has proved to be more of a struggle. It's partly because some ideas sound better in our heads than they do on the screen. There's also an intense vulnerability involved in launching your ideas into the world, especially when you want people to view you as someone who knows what they are talking about. There are a million excuses, but at the end of the day, I know I just need to do the work.

I can't think I'm the only one who has a million good ideas and nothing to show for it, and part of (broad)ject inc. is to give young(ish) women access to a community of like-minded dreamer doers. Sometimes we just need to know that other people feel our pain and are going through the same struggle to give us the needed kick in the ass to get moving. And thus, Side (broad)jects. I'm still working through the details of the actual meet ups, but I know there are some people out there who have already expressed interest, so I wanted to provide a digital venue for people to seek solace and support in their creative endeavours.

I've created a private community through Mightybell that you can join and chat with me and others about the creative process of trying to get the spark of an idea into the real world where people will actually, GASP, see it. You can join Mightybell for free, then search for side (broad)jects and request an invitation. I'll be posting regularly there about what I'm working on in terms of (broad)ject inc and I'd love to hear about your own projects.


Loving: "Magic Lessons" Podcast

I have never had particularly strong feelings about Elizabeth Gilbert. I read eat pray love and I liked it well enough, although I was in my early twenties so perhaps not quite in a position to truly appreciate her journey. I didn't read Committed, her second memoir, or The Signature of All Things, her novel. Frankly, I often confused her with Julie Powell (of Julie & Julia).

Still, although I don't work in publishing anymore, I like to keep tabs on the Big Books (and the little ones) and Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic kept popping up. I'm obsessed with the concept of creativity. What allows some people to put pen to paper and paint to canvas and words to a tune while others can only create those things as brief visions in their minds? So to hear that Big Magic was about creativity peaked my interest. Then to read the blurb, I was hooked:

With profound empathy and radiant generosity, she offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration. She asks us to embrace our curiosity and let go of needless suffering. She shows us how to tackle what we most love, and how to face down what we most fear. She discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives.
— http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/

Obviously, I'm in. And that the book is being released on my birthday, in a time where I'm struggling with how to tame the creative hamsters in my brain? It was meant to be.

I actually passed up the (potential) opportunity to put my hands on an advanced reader's copy because I want the experience on buying this book on pub date (my birthday!) and diving in. But while I waited, there was something to whet my appetite: "Magic Lessons". This is a podcast, hosted by Gilbert, where she interviews regular (non-famous) women who are creatively stuck and applied to be on the show. After offering some advice and an assignment, she then drafts a famous friend (so far, Cheryl Strayed and Ann Patchett among them) to offer their take.

I've loved each episode thus far, but the set I listened to today ("Sexy, Dirty, Nasty, Wicked") was truly a game changer. She spoke to a woman who feels creatively stuck now that her life is in a new phase and her advice essentially was for her to have a secret affair with her art. I can't explain exactly how it hit me so hard, but I finished listening truly inspired. This is all leading up to a check-in episode, and I can't wait.

Although I'm not Jewish, I love the concept of the Jewish New Year in the fall. Who doesn't feel inspired in September? (Versus January when we feel cold and hungover and just want to hibernate.) (broad)ject inc. is my foray into letting the creativity that has long simmered unused, turning into a "sorrow" as Gilbert would say, out into the world. I hope you'll come along on the journey and tell me about your journey too.

Self-Care When...You Fall Off the Self-Care Wagon

I should know better. 

After months of contemplating self-care and smugly defining what it meant for me and what it could mean for other people...After months of work developing a theory and a spectrum and starting to focus group the ideas...After allowing myself to imagine I was well on my way to becoming some internet celebrity self-help guru...After all that, do you know what I did? I went on a six night "vacation" to my parents house and acted liked some kind of demonic hair-shirted martyr. 

It's true that the purpose of the trip was to help my fiancé do a bunch of tasks around the house that would in turn help my parents, who have had a Very Hard Year. But we were by no means treated like indentured servants, and instead offered many opportunities to rest and relax. I just didn't take any of them. I ignored all of my pillars of self-care. Worse, actually, I completely forgot they ever existed. I didn't floss, I didn't wear sunscreen, I didn't hydrate, and my sleep hygiene was poor. I had created a protocol of self-care activities to enact in a crisis, a bare minimum required to keep my sanity intact, and I didn't do any of those either. But Slurpees and Starbucks every day? Sure. One measly run. My physio exercises like they never existed. Yoga? Never heard of it.

So, it would be a surprise to no-one to discover that upon our return, after less than six hours of sleep, I was a complete hopeless disaster. Starbucks breakfast (did I have milk for cereal at the office?). Starbucks lunch (no leftovers to bring). Questionable hydration. After almost a week of not taking care of myself with the belief that other people needed my time more than I needed my time, the wheels had completely fallen off the bus.

It's easy in these situations to launch a "fuck it" cycle, telling yourself that since you're already so deep down a hole that there's no point in trying to climb out until tomorrow. Maybe even Monday. But mid-afternoon, I remembered a new mantra I've added to my motivational lexicon. "Today is not over yet." So. Fill up the water bottle. Do a vinyasa in my cubicle. Find an easy work task to start with and rock it out until home-time. Make a plan for what I need to do tonight. Shake it Off.

We are useless to our employers, colleagues, friends, and families if we tap ourselves out in the belief that our needs matter less than theirs. It doesn't matter how good your self-care intentions are unless you are willing to Do the Work. Self-care is hard. It takes time. It takes time away from our loved ones. But that makes it no less worthwhile.

It's 9:00pm on a Sunday. Today is not over yet. What's your move?