Perfect Imperfection: Celebrate You!
When do you celebrate yourself? Is it typically during your birthday, when you accomplish a goal or when you feel like it? What does celebrating yourself typically entail? Does the type of celebration depend on the occasion?
For me, what I celebrate and how I do it varies depending on the occasion and how I feel. This year, most especially during my birthday month, celebrating myself entailed stepping out of my comfort zone. I have learned that stepping out of our comfort zone is where growth happens. On the other hand, we don’t always get to choose when to step out of our comfort zone, life experiences involuntarily takes us there.
Here’s to stepping out of my comfort zone by sharing my most challenging experiences in hopes that someone will be inspired and empowered to face their fears and share their story. This way we would create a ripple effect of encouraging people to embrace (celebrate) who they are now (perfect imperfection) while working towards who they want to be.
You know that Christmas song (yeah Christmas in March), So this is Christmas… In place of Christmas, I inserted birthday and sang it like this…
So it’s my birthday… And what have I done… Another year over… And a new one just begun…
This pic was taken in March of 2015 which was a VERY challenging year for me in many aspects. Financially, emotionally/mentally, physically and yes spiritually. That year was the last time I celebrated my birthday in that manner, as in inviting friends out for dinner. The following year (2016) I went indoor rock climbing (facing my fear of heights) and last year (2017) I went on a solo soul-searching trip. This year is still loading… :)
Permit me to paint a picture of what that year (2015) looked like. It was my last year of graduate school. I moved back to Maryland (MD) from Massachusetts (MA) after about three years to complete the last phase of the masters in Occupational Therapy program which was the fieldwork also known as internship/rotation. While completing this phase of the program which was Monday to Friday 8AM to 4PM January to June. I worked on the weekends as a residential counselor with adults with developmental disability. I worked eight hours overnight on Friday, then 16 hours on Saturday and Sunday which gave me 40 hours per week in order to be considered full-time with the benefits.
Guess I can say I worked seven days a week, two jobs with one paid and the other unpaid. Can you tell that my social life was almost nonexistent during that period? That had been the case for most of the time I was away at school, hours away from family and friends surrounded by a completely different culture. Some said it shouldn’t have been that challenging given that I went to a boarding school for five years. In my opinion, both experiences cannot be compared; it felt like comparing apples to oranges; yes, they are both fruits but they differ in appearance and… I’m sure you know how else.
Attempts at getting a part-time job while in MA were futile so I relied on school loan and work hours at my previous job when I came to MD during the summer holidays or Spring/Fall break to keep me going. It was one challenge after another month after month. After the graduation ceremony in May 2015, then the celebration in June, I thought I could breathe a little. I picked up work hours during the week and swapped weekend hours when opportune just so I could attend some social events.
July was less stressful so I started studying for my board exam with plans to take the exam in September. August became turbulent so I left Facebook in order to focus. In September my youngest brother became seriously ill so I postponed the exam to November. Towards the end of October, I was faced with a situation that felt like a knife was repeatedly stabbed into my chest and for weeks I felt norm. Again, I postponed the exam to the second week of December and at this point I was determined to take it before the end of the year.
Two days before the exam, I had an upper respiratory tract infection. No, I didn’t postpone the exam. Surprisingly, while clicking my way through the questions, I was not worried about passing or failing, I just wanted to get it over with. When it was over, it felt like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulder. I went home and went to bed till the next day. The following week I found out I passed. It took me a week of constantly logging into my account and refreshing to see if the results were real.
Are you wondering if I got depressed at some point? To a certain extent yes! Given that I don’t wear my emotions on my sleeves, one couldn’t tell by just looking at me. I knew it was not clinical depression based on what I had learned during the graduate program and my knowledge in Psychology from undergraduate studies. I however knew what would happen if I did not do something about it. Yea there were friends and family around and they did what they knew best how to. Some said or may have said I choose to suffer in silence but I say I choose to express it to those who inquired and what I expressed to whom depended on how they responded. Sometimes people just need to be heard or listened to (yes there is a difference between hearing and listening), not necessarily needing advice or fixing.
On December 27th of that year which was a Sunday, I sat in church physically present but mentally absent. After church there was a reception where something happened that made my knees weak and I dropped to the floor. In the perfect location/position to pray, I did not know what to pray about. Then I knew I had hit rock bottom. I went home and went to bed and was in bed for most part of the following day. Looking for a job as an Occupational Therapist was not really on my mind even though I was aware that my school loan repayment will soon kick in. I was still working as a residential counselor which took care of the basic necessities but I took some days off till the third of January.
On December 29th, as I rolled in bed that morning, I noticed sunlight shining through into my room which I had done everything the night before to make it as dark as possible. In that moment I remembered this quote; “People are like stained glass windows, they sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is light from within” (oh by the way I’m a collector of quotes). Then I knew no one else but me could rebuild that light from within.
How did I get through that year? That year was the first time I did a three day liquid only prayer and fast. The pic above was taken during that fasting period. In addition to that, I got into meditation, bikram yoga (hot room yoga), took long walks without music, taking in the scenery and sounds of nature, learned to listen to the silence, learned to use breathing to relax, to think about my thinking, I delved into reading more books including books on how to study/understand the Bible because I felt I needed another way to understand it.
Three books I read during that time that changed how I viewed my past experience and how I approach situations now are; The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embracing Who You Are and Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms The Way You Live, Love, Parent and Lead both books by Brene Brown. I learned a whole lot from these books including others. In order to keep myself from writing a book instead of a “blog post”, I’ll highlight just one point from each book.
The Power of Now set me on a mindfulness/consciousness journey practicing to stay present in the moment, thinking about my thinking and addressing situations in the context of which they occur not necessarily in the moment it occurs. Learning when and how to respond by understanding the mind (brain/logic) and body (heart/emotion) interplay/connection. It has been and still is a challenge because I have to remind myself to stay grounded and be present. On the other hand, it has been a freeing experience to understand myself in relation to how/why I respond to what happens around me.
Daring Greatly encouraged me to face my fears of heights as I went hiking and indoor rock climbing for the first time after reading the book. It introduced me to the strength in vulnerability. I learned that it requires strength to allow yourself to be vulnerable. Also, knowing whom to and how to express vulnerability without expecting a specific response because not everyone can handle it. Vulnerability is not weakness nor does it present as being clingy. I know... I know, it is easier said than done, but being aware or knowledgeable about something is the first step in responding from a position of growth.
Reading The Gifts of Imperfection introduced me to owning and embracing every aspect of who I am. My hips or should I say thighs and forehead are features which have been mostly pointed out. As such, I became overly conscious about them because the comments I received about them appeared to come with a negative connotation. So through the years, I avoided outfits and hairstyles that highlighted those features. I did diets, got into vigorous exercise and at my smallest size of four in 2012, with the hips less pronounced, I wasn’t fazed. I thought I would feel accomplished or like I was “on cloud nine” but I didn’t.
Last year (2017) I cut my hair and dared to wear more dresses but they weren’t form fitting because I was still conscious about my thighs. This year, for my birthday, I was challenged to step out of my comfort zone. I dared to be vulnerable and wore a form-fitting pants/slacks and a somewhat form-fitting strapless formal gown. I decided to have a photoshoot to document my stepping out. I got comments from others such as “you need to get back to working out” “it’s about time you lose some weight as seen in those thighs.” Because I was receiving those comments from a place of growth, I allowed myself to think about my thinking with regards to the comments rather than responding on impulse.
My initial thought was to justify my weight by saying “I’ve had those pants since 2013 and five years later they still fit.” The only difference is I tucked in the shirt which revealed by hips. Also, different pics taken from different angles revealed different thigh thickness. Has the number on the scale changed between 2013 and now, oh yea it has! However; in this moment, like the commercial “if it fits, it ships.” I probably wouldn't have worn it had I been in my previous mindset… But oh well, here we are now. To some people who could tolerate some reality check I said, ‘what we see depends on where we are looking from or what we are looking for.”
I was initially inspired to embrace my body type after reading the book titled The New Body Type Guide by Dr. Eric Berg. I came across the book from a coworker last summer. It helped me understand myself down to the cellular level. Interestingly, an image of my body type is the one featured at the front and center of the book cover; the reason why is explained in the book. It also has information for men too. This is in no way encouraging unhealthy lifestyle and blaming it on our body type as seen on the book cover; let us not judge a book from it cover. The author of the book believes in getting healthy to lose weight instead of losing weight to get healthy. This incorporates more than just what to eat or not eat, when to eat and the type of exercise.
Still along the lines of embracing my boy type, what hit the nail on the head was when I listened to Hannah Swayerr’s story; a guest on the SitMpodcast. She’s the author of For Girls Growing Into Their Hips. It was like I had an awakening. Check out the episode for other areas of inspiration besides hips! :)
On that note, this is cheers to stepping out of our comfort zone, owning/embracing and sharing our experiences/challenges for that is how we grow individually and collectively. For without them, we would not journey towards our highest potential or our purpose.