Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Ultimate Birthday Gift

I haven't met anyone yet who each year says "Yea I'm turning the age I should be turning. Just like last year, my life events, finances, and relationships are exactly where they should be according to how many years it's been since I popped out."

I can already tell you why I haven't met that person. They don't exist. All those things mentioned are social constructs built around you. They vary depending on the culture you come from, the culture you presently live in, and the culture you see yourself being a part of in the future.

The Law 

Here we are now left with the law in the society we live in. --> America

18- I was finally able to sign all my own documents, have an un-restricted drivers license, and vote. (No more forging mom's signature :-0 )

21- I was finally able to buy my own alcohol and stop sneaking into bars and clubs by using a fake french accent and pretending I was foreign. (Je m'appelle Alissa. Je ne parle pas anglais)

25- I now have less fees for renting a car. (Maybe I'll own one by the time I'm 30)

But that doesn't seem right to leave the fate of a birthday up to the law it co-insides with. At 25 I've reached one of my last known restrictions. I thought about the past years and what made them special. Each birthday has been so different;I've been sick in the past, in another country, and now on a different coast than all of my family. That being said, I never felt lacking or that I missed out when the variables of life changed. I've always felt they were good, life was good.

"The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.Knowledge and love are both indefinitely extensible; therefore, however good a life may be, a better life can be imagined. Neither love without knowledge, nor knowledge without love can produce a good life." 
- Bertrand Russell 

Let the love in

So everyday and absolutely every year we learn things, we acquire a new understanding, and become all the wiser for it (hopefully). What has made my birthdays so special has not been the laws that I've reached or the new knowledge I've gained. It has been the love I let in, no matter how far, how sick, or how different things seemed to be, that has made each year as full as the last. 

What does it mean to let the love in? It means a few things but firstly, people give love all the time around you but its easy to dismiss because of pride, prejudice, or your own insecurity. We've built up walls and behaviors that make showing human-to-human love seem weird or off. Letting the love in with people is literal. Accept the kindness and the words on your birthday. Be genuine and gracious.

The second component is letting the love in, from you own self. What do you love? What makes you feel alive? Let it in. Embrace it. I made my own breakfast, listened to some Billie Holiday and Louis, and I wrote. It's easy to forget what makes you tick throughout the year because such is life. Letting your love of pleasures and activities is another way to fill you up, even for just that one day a year.
My trusted and true Billie Holiday poster.

The ultimate birthday gift

"Let the love in" I reminded myself the night before my birthday. It was easy to feel a little homesick and that something was missing. I let that moment have it's time before letting the love in from all those who reached out-- which quickly filled any void I felt before. Then I let the love in from myself. I wrote, I cooked and enjoyed my favorite music. I found solace in remembering that the amount of love I let in helps deepen the capacity for the love I let out or give.

Letting the love in is the ultimate birthday gift because it is a multiplier of all things. It re-energizes your soul, the soul of others, and if you truly let it in, it becomes the gift that keeps on giving.

It won't matter where you are or who you are with. Those things will become supplemental to your birthday if you can practice letting the love in.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Changing the Conversation.

A fellow blogger sent me this quote.

"You don't write because you want to say something,  you write because you have something to say." - F. Scott Fitzgerald.

My words are a call to action for you, and all of us to change the conversation about mental health. I'm not even talking about changing what kind of treatments are needed like medicine vs. psychotherapy. I'm talking about acknowledging that it is real, it is an issue, and letting those that reach out know that they are not alone. There is hope. 

It's not a big deal if you deal with it. 

Being that March is women's history month and also rounds out my quarter of a century being around, I thought now was as appropriate a time as ever to post on this topic. 

My Story

My story is personal but not uncommon. I grew up with my Dad having Schizophrenia (diagnosed around 2003), which meant I was acutely aware of mental illness and its effects from an early age.

When I was 16 I was diagnosed with depression. At first, I thought it was something I would grow out of, like a pair of shoes, or a pair of pants. I started taking Zoloft at 18 and until I decided to take myself off of it at 20 while a sophomore in college.

 I had some depressive episodes while on the medication but felt pretty stable and “in-control". About three years later though, I had to get back on medication and it wasn’t easy. Through therapy and medication I realized that my depression wasn’t a phase from my teenage years. It was something I would have to live with and deal with for the rest of my adult life.

Beyond my Control

That realization felt debilitating and crushing. I was eating healthy, exercising, drinking lots of water, and making sure I had a solid sleep schedule but that still wasn’t enough. I didn’t understand how despite my efforts, it was something beyond my control. 

Despite knowing that my Dad couldn't help having a mental illness, somehow I thought I was different and I was more powerful than any chemical in my mind. I was ok with others having something they couldn't control alone, but I didn't apply the same understanding for myself. 

Lack of Awareness

Mental health is indicative of many other issues. Because of the stigma and lack of awareness surrounding many disorders, those with the disease suffer and turn to self-medication like alcohol or drugs. They aren't bad people, they are just people trying to find a way to stop the pain, who also don't have a full understanding of what is happening to them. 

We need to make talking about our mental health ok and not a sign of weakness or defeat. It's empowering and brave, it shows self-awareness and emotional intelligence to say "Hey something doesn't feel right and I want to do something about it. I want to get help." 

A Secret We Share 

Andrew Solomon is one of my favorite writers on the topic of psychology and depression. He gave a compelling TEDTalk about how depression is a secret we share. His outlook and perspective offer some comfort and a different voice than any other I've heard. 
"Valuing one's depression does not prevent a relapse, but it may make the prospect of relapse and even relapse itself easier to tolerate. The question is not so much of finding great meaning and deciding your depression has been very meaningful. It's of seeking that meaning and thinking, when it comes again,"This will be hellish, but I will learn something from it."

Seeking out others with depression and learning more about what our culture is doing has been a great asset for me. I am open about my depression because I own that is a part of my identity but not my entire identity. People are complex and multi-faceted.

We spend so much time in our society trying to isolate one trait, one ingredient, and one behavior to get the fix-all. 

Synchronicity of Life 

What we need to understand is that life works in synchronicity with everything else. My depression, along with my happiness, curiosity for life, and my adventurous spirit all make up who I am. Just like one meal won't make you fat or skinny, one depressive episode or down day does not define my life. 

Most days are good, actually great! When the days are bad I have learned not to fight them or resent them. I sit with the downs and let them have their moment because that's all I can do. Granted, I don't do things to make them worse. 

I haven't quite figured out what exactly makes me feel better in the immediate but I do know what exacerbates my lows. Drinking, poor eating, not getting enough sleep, getting over stimulated (trying to do too much in a short period of time). 

Thats an import piece to my puzzle. We can't always have the answers for what works but figuring out what doesn't is equally important. 

Value and Perspective 

The world isn't as lost as depression makes it seem. There is hope. There are bad times but the good in the world and it's beauty are much brighter than any darkness out there. You just have to hang around long enough to see the sunrise. 

My depression adds value to my life and spirit because it is a part of me. I have different perspectives about the world because of it.

Call to Action

My call to action for anyone reading this is to understand that people with mental health issues and illnesses are not less important, no less capable, and no less of person because of it. The judgement and stigma needs to end. Once we move past that, we can move towards helping those in need and strengthening our society. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Moving from "If, then" to "Now, I am"

Dolores Park, The Mission, San Francisco

I'm here. I've been in San Francisco for three months now. Part of me feels like I just arrived and another part feels like it's been a lifetime. Both are true in their own right.

This time last year I had just moved to New York and had never been more sure that I was in the right place at the right time.


Life has a funny way of reminding you that your expectations are sheer hypotheses. I've filled my life with "If..then.." clauses and none of them have actually held true.

What I've learned to say in lieu of my endless hypotheses is "Now, I am.."

Friday, July 25, 2014

6 Months and 6 Lessons on Resilience

Grabbing life by the horns (Reindeer horns) outside the Philly Art Museum

As July comes to an end, it also draws to a close my 6th month up here. I’m using this sixth month as a metric to look at how far I have come and how far I still have to go.

It’s not always easy going after what you want, what you know is right, but you have got to keep on keepin' on. Taking a risk, in and of itself, is scary, let alone existing in life and dealing with the unexpected. Embrace the fact that life happens and resilience is the bridge that keeps you above the rushing rapids and makes the impossible possible. 

Here are six lessons of resilience I've dealt with over the past few months.

6. Turn rejection into a resource (literally).

Anyone who has applied to jobs knows the feeling of receiving those dreaded "Thank you for applying but..." emails. No lie, I've submitted over 200 job applications in the past year and received my fair share of rejection emails. 
After the initial dozen or so I started comparing the rejection emails. Some of the emails I received were less than favorable while others were the standard automated response. However, some of them were surprisingly nice and left me feeling hopeful even though they were notifying me I didn't get the job!

I started archiving the rejection emails that I liked.  Cut to a few months later and I had to help write rejection emails. What did I do? I used all of those rejection emails I archived to help create my own. I took parts of several different ones and literally turned my past rejections into a valuable resource. It was a full circle moment that was just another example of how rejection being negative is a misnomer.

Rejection is really just redirection.

5. A Person who helps the People helps the Person.

A part of being young and a marked characteristic of millennials is a degree of self-involvement. I admit I've succumb to it, as have most of my peers and it  does more harm than good, especially when trying to become successful. 

Part of being resilient is about being able to say to yourself that it's not about you. Resilience manifests itself in the people around you. 

Helping other people is where true strength comes from. Building others up through your time or resources makes the world a brighter and lighter place. 

4. Sharpen your Axe.

"Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." Abraham Lincoln 
It’s not just about the work and labor; it’s about cultivating your energy and craft. 

Sharpening your ax means exercising, eating right, and more importantly giving yourself a break. You can chop away at your battles and challenges but if your axe is dull, you will have to work that much harder and that much longer.

3. Wash your hair with shampoo, body with soap and your mind with Gratitude

Gratitude is like a warm healing remedy that washes away bitterness, frustration, and resentment.

We accept that dirt, dust, and grime build up on our bodies on a daily basis. It's a part of living in the world around us. We've come to practice getting clean by buying soaps, shampoos, and even adopting a set time to wash away the day's dust. 

Gratitude is what we need to wash our mind and soul with on a daily basis, especially in our efforts to reach goals and become better people. Being grateful helps us rinse away the negativity and become fresh. Unlike showering with water, there's no limit to standing under the shower head of gratitude (and no matter how long you soak in it, you will never become pruney). 

2. Remember Weather vs. Climate. 

Weather is described as the conditions during a given period of time while Climate is conditions prevailing over a longer period of time. The operative word being longer.

I realized that approaching setbacks with this notion was useful. One rainy day does not determine our climate. One set-back, missed opportunity, or rough-patch are not the actual state of our life.

Let the rainy days roll through because everyone experiences rain. And like different climates, things grow in all different ones. It's a matter of finding the one that fits you, adjusting to it and adapting.

1. Grounded Hope

I used to call myself delusionally optimistic but I recently found this article and discovered the term 'grounded hope' which describes my disposition more accurately. 

Being positive is important but blind optimism (constantly saying things are going to be fine when they clearly are not) is dangerous. 

Being resilient has meant taking on the challenges, not sprinkling inspirational phrases on them and hoping they will take care of themselves.

If none of this inspires you, I hope this GIF will. Resilience never looked so fabulous. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

How I stopped biting my nails and lost 10 lbs (No products or gimicks, I swear)

This isn't going to be some hokey blog post about a gimmick or diet. This post is an attempt to explain to others how things we think we can’t change or have tried mercilessly to control are actually much less complicated than we thought. This is a story of letting go of the constructs of what life is ‘supposed’ to be in order to allow us to attain the life we were meant to live.

I’ve been a nail biter my whole life. My mom always used to yell at me and say, “You have such nice long fingers, if only you stopped biting your nails!” There are many reasons people bite their nails; stress, boredom, anxiety, or all three. I’d say my reasons were a combination of those things in the beginning and as I got older it was just a habit.

Growing up I was active and never had major body issues but I always felt a sense of “I could be healthier. It wouldn’t hurt to lose some weight”. I am a firm believer that health and wellness are more than the numbers on a scale and are the sum of our emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual states.

In February of this year I decided to take a chance and pursue a dream of mine since I was seven. I first visited New York City on a bus trip to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular with my Mom and Grandmom in the fall of 1997. I can remember getting off the bus and feeling this crazy wave of energy pulse through me.

At seven, I immediately tapped into the electric waves of New York City and a seed was planted. In a very matter of fact manner, I told my mom that I would move there one day. That declaration and feeling stayed with me throughout the next sixteen years of subsequent visits to the city, graduating high school, college, and traveling.

How does this all tie into my habit breaking and weight loss? Let me explain. When I moved up here in February something started to happen. It wasn’t exactly one specific day I decided I was done with my nails or anything like that. It was a slow but steady progression of living the life I was meant to live a little more each day. Before I decided to give New York a try, I sought other opportunities with hopes that they were the answer to my professional, personal, and physical happiness.

After five months up here, trying to literally and figuratively push my way through the crowds of people I encountered in order to make my dream of working and living up here a reality, I have discovered an amazing truth.

I have come to realize that living your dreams DOES NOT mean giving up everything and losing yourself.  Living your dreams mean you are gaining yourself and finding yourself completely! Because I decided to stop forcing myself to be someone and do something I thought was the “right thing” and started focusing on more meaningful experiences and pursuits from within, everything else has fallen into place. My hunger for success and existing fully in life has overcome my hunger for excess food and experiences that I don’t need. Losing weight and breaking my nail biting habit have been fringe benefits of living the life I was meant to live.
Yoga and running have been integral in this process
Let me clarify that this process has been filled with trials, trepidations, and tribulations.  Life is full of those three T’s. The feeling of being alive, the people I’ve met, and the creative waves of energy I have felt have outweighed the three T’s ten fold. 

 I constantly make it a priority to balance my work life, personal time, nutrition, and exercise because all of these areas need to work together in harmony. Isolating one is as useful as only stabilizing one peg of  a four legged a chair. If the other three aren’t secure, the chair will be off balance.

My take on all of this; Let go of what you have (mentally, physically, emotional) in order to make space to receive what you need. I wouldn’t have arrived at the place I’m at today if I had held onto the fears and doubts that slipped into my mind from time to time. This path of jumping to a new city isn't the answer for everyone, but the notion of taking a risk and doing something you've never done will surely give you something you've never gotten before. 

First manicure ever with my "real" nails.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Youth isn't wasted on the young.

A youthful Alissa at Christmas. 
Youth isn't wasted on the young, it is left behind by the old; waiting to be picked up, brushed off, and tuned up again like that old guitar from college in your attic.

Characters of the World

In the last five or six years, during my travel and adventures, I encountered dozens upon dozens of what I call characters of the world. I wish I had carried around a recorder to capture some of the insights and stories of those I met along the way. Although I can't recount every detail or journey I came upon, I still have managed to retain a great deal of the knowledge and wisdom bestowed on me by those fellow characters of the world.

A Man at the Airport

One of the more memorable conversations I had was with a man I met a few years ago at Heathrow airport in London. I was waiting for my departing flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. After brief small talk of “Hi, where are you from?” “I wish airport lounge chairs were more comfortable”, he started telling me some of his regrets. After hearing about how he wished he traveled more, worked less, and ate more vegetables, he paused and looked on for a moment. He then turned to me and said with an undertone of bitterness, “I wish I could go back and change a few things. It’s a shame but Oscar was right, youth is wasted on the young.” I admittedly took this as an insult at first, primarily because I scoffed at the idea that 22 was young.

Am I wasting Youth?

Didn’t he know that I was an adult? I had been legal to drink in the USA for over a year so that meant my youth was already on the decline. What was left after turning 21 other than car rentals at 25 and becoming a member of AARP at 50? I quickly shook the notion that this was an insult and decided to sit with his statement as I waited for my flight. Youth. What was this youth he was referring to and how were “we” wasting it?

Carrying those words

Since that conversation, I have carried those words with me. In my decision-making processes in life, adventure, and love I’ve said to myself “They say youth is wasted on the young, Well, I am young and I don’t want to waste it.”

I write today to tell you that youth is not wasted on the young, because contrary to popular belief, youth holds NO expiration date. It is a constant presence that only gets ignored as an individual adheres to more of the social constructs of becoming an “adult”. Youth is a mindset that allows you to question, seek, and find yourself, over and over again. It’s what was with you as you navigated the hallways of high school freshman year. Youth carried you through high school as you embarked on explorations and experimental phases with friends, family, and your first tastes of figuring-out-life. Youth brought you through these times and carried you into the next chapter of your life. You left this youth upon your proverbial exit from childhood to maturity. Luckily, unlike a cellphone on the subway or $20 dollar bill dropped on the street, youth cannot be taken. It is waiting there for you to come back and carry it with you.

He was Wrong

 If I ever got to see that man from the airport again, I would tell him with conviction and certainty that he was wrong in the rightest way. One of the most frustrating and satisfying feelings is thinking you lost something only to discover it was right under your nose the whole time. Even if he spent the last 40 years yearning for a feeling and sense of self that he always had the ability to uncover, can’t we all take a little solace in the fact that it was never out of his reach?

Take more Action

Don’t be that man at the airport with the undertone of bitterness. Take more action, invoke more sense of self to see that youth is a state of being that just needs your consent in order to be felt. Youth is wasted on anyone, any age that chooses to let it go. 

Like that guitar in the attic from college, go pick it up, brush it off, tune it up, and play the tunes that make you feel alive. 

Youth never leaves You

Don't let your youth collect dust. Frank found someone, so you go out and find something that makes you feel young again. And remember that it was never gone, it's right where you left it.