I’m actually happier than I was this time last year. I figured out there are three reasons why.
Even though we’re in a global pandemic, even though it feels like the flames of the fire outside are burning even higher, even though I’m grappling with the existential questions of is this the beginning of the end? and what’s the meaning of it all?, and even though I’ve been dealing with health issues greater than any I’ve ever experienced before, even with all of that I’m still happier than I was this time last year.
Just over a year ago, thanks to my spouse’s job relocation, we picked up our lives and transplanted in another state, yet again. This was our fourth time moving across the country in the last ten years and easily the most difficult. We had been in California for about 6 years, the longest we had been anywhere so far. We put down roots, we were immersed in community, we were settled. But none of that matters if you can’t pay your bills and the offer for success is dangling across the country, just out of reach.
I knew it was the right decision for our family but, personally, I was unhappy about it. I was mad, really mad. And then I was depressed. I let the overwhelm of the move take over me. After having done so many relocations, I knew what I needed to do but I just didn’t want to. Not only that, my sadness was a weight that held me down and I just couldn’t bring myself to do any of it.
I had everything I needed already in place back in California: my doctor, dentist, chiropractor, therapist, hairstylist, yoga studio, friends, walking trails, favorite bakery, you name it. Finding a replacement for these was admitting I had left and wasn’t coming back. I was stuck, not in the present or the past or the future.
I was stuck in nowhereland, refusing to believe in my new reality.
How many times have you felt stuck? Maybe something in your life isn’t what you thought it was going to be or somehow it turned out different than you imagined. Maybe one thing after another after another just added up and suddenly you realize you haven’t been paying attention and you don’t really like where you are but you have no idea what to do about it?
Well then you know, even if you have these feelings, that life goes on. One day after another, time doesn’t stand still for anyone to get their shit together. So once we wake up to it, we need to figure it out on our own. I wish I could say it happens overnight but, in my case, it was a slow evolution.
Let me tell you something you probably already know, when your mental health is compromised, it affects every other area of your life, too. Serendipitously, a friend had just told me about a 12 week coaching program that she was launching. The program was designed to help you put the focus on how you are caring for yourself in terms of nutrition, exercise, serenity, and self-love. So I signed up and surprisingly, it turned out that the self-love module was the one that I needed most. That program was my lifeline those first few months after the move. I had a regular connection call with someone who was equally invested in my success and that meant a lot to me (if you’re interested in this program, pm me, I fully recommend it).
Participating in this program also made it so that I was accountable to someone else. Even if I didn’t do all of the suggested work that week, I couldn’t hide in my bed avoiding all social contact because there was a regularly scheduled meeting on my calendar and someone on the other end waiting for me. And well, I thought, I paid for it so I might as well do it. Thank goodness for my frugality, really.
The weekly check in also gave me an opportunity to connect with myself. It forced me to, even when it was easier to avoid it. I knew I was sad. I knew I was lonely. I knew I missed my friends and comforts of “back home” but I also knew I needed some serious love to get out of this. I dug deep to find out what I needed most and discovered it was connection and creativity. So I signed up for a writing class, and then another. I began to write a novel. It wasn’t my life’s work but at least it kept me afloat enough to handle everything in the rest of my life, long enough to realize there was still something more out there for me.
One brave day I signed up for a Career Launchpad course, designed to help me figure out how to find meaningful work. Through this course I came to realize that it is possible to design my future by being actively engaged in my present. I went on to study to become a Mindful Change Life Coach, and have found the thing that makes me feel most alive. Here’s the kicker: this was right at the beginning of the pandemic, right at the start of quarantine. I could easily have fallen right back into the waiting claws of depression if I had not had something to literally pull me through.
Here’s the thing I learned throughout it all: I was no good to anyone else until I figured out how to really take care of myself. I know it’s cliche to say “put your mask on first” and “you can’t pour from an empty cup” but holy cow, I was living proof of it. I think the more apt saying is “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” How could I have possibly given love and care to anyone else in my family when my well felt so desperately empty?
The first lesson I learned here is that I had to prioritize myself first.
Sounds simple but I fought against this every step of the way. This goes against everything I ever learned growing up as a first-born daughter raised to be a good Catholic girl, as a woman and a mother in our culture, and even as a practicing yogi. I always thought selflessness was supposed to be the goal. Generosity and altruism are core parts of my value system and even according to yoga philosophy, we should aim to let go of our attachments to the ego. But, that same philosophy also advocates for so much work to the self (physical, mental, and spiritual) that I knew I needed to look at the bigger picture.
It turns out, prioritizing myself is not selfish at all, but actually benefits everyone in my orbit around me. And if you don’t believe me, this article in Psychology Today explains why, scientifically.
I can in all honesty say, that for the first time in my life I truly put my own needs first and I’m so much happier for it. No one suffered because of it and in fact, my family is doing better because I’m doing better. I just had to get passed that idea of taking care of myself as selfish act and get on board with the idea of taking care of myself as a requirement for a healthy and happy home life.
What could your life look like if you prioritized yourself first? How might it change how you operate in the world? How does that jive with your values? Imagine it was already true, what would that feel like? If you were to FULLY live your life right now, starting with YOU, what is the first change you would start to make?
I’ll talk more about this next time. Plus, I’ll share the other TWO reasons why I’m happier this year than last.
Thanks for continuing this journey with me. If you want to talk about how this applies to your life, too, I am so here for it.