Practicing Accurate Self-Assessment

On Tuesdays I go to a yoga class at Country Boy Brewing which is led by one of my favorite people, Cara Thomas. She is my favorite yoga instructor because she keeps the practice fun and doesn’t take herself too seriously. I’m sufficiently challenged during class but also get to relax and recharge which is my main reason for doing yoga in the first place. One phrase that Cara repeatedly states during class is “practice accurate self-assessment,” she’ll usually say this before going into a difficult pose or showing us how to take a pose to a more challenging level. She’s always encouraging us to listen to our bodies and know when we’ve reached our limit. I’ve taken this phrase and applied it to myself as a whole. I’ve practiced accurate self-assessment and realized that I’m not in the place I want to be at.

I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety for years but that doesn’t mean I am good at knowing when things are starting spiral downward. I have a lot of pride and I want to believe that I can pull myself out of a rut. I’ll exercise, I’ll spend time with friends, I’ll distract my bad thoughts with happy ones, I’ll take my medication regularly – and I’ll be fine. Sometimes this works, but sometimes it doesn’t. I feel guilty when it doesn’t work, I feel that I’ve failed with what should be a simple task, keeping myself happy or if not happy at least ok. But the truth is that my responsibility isn’t to keep myself happy, my responsibility is to recognize when I’m not ok and to seek help.

The past couple weeks have been a whirlwind of highs and lows. From celebrating the 100th Birthday of my Grandfather with family to losing another member of my family, and not getting the chance to say goodbye. Questions have settled on my mind, heavy questions such as “where is my life heading?” “Am I happy with who I am becoming?” “Am I enough to the people around me who rely on me?” I sit at my desk at work and often have the unexplainable urge to crawl under my desk and stay there. Any small miscommunication with my boyfriend turns into screaming and crying. If text messages that I send to friends aren’t replied to within the hour, I start to panic and wonder what I did to upset them. There are too many hours in a day when all the hours are spent overanalyzing every situation and at the same time there aren’t enough hours in the day to make me feel as if I’ve accomplished anything.

I actively try to fix it. I take my medication every morning, I take 10 minutes a day to practice Mindfulness, I attend yoga once a week, I attend Cyclebar classes at least three times a week, I make myself spend time with friends, I make myself call my father, I read books, I listen to podcasts. Unfortunately, it isn’t always enough. A few weeks ago, Kate Spade took her own life, followed by Anthony Bourdain. These deaths were all over the news and social media and I realized that I wasn’t ok. I wasn’t ok and I was afraid. Afraid that if I wasn’t ok, how much more not ok would I have to be to make a decision that I couldn’t take back.

So I made an appointment to get a therapist. I am a huge advocate of therapy for everyone, not just people who struggle with mental illness. I had an amazing therapist for three years but she wasn’t covered by my insurance and I couldn’t afford to go anymore. I realized that I need therapy right now. It was incredibly scary to call someone brand new and tell them who I am and how I feel. Would they take me seriously? Would they understand? Could they help me? I made an appointment and I told a complete stranger the inner depths of my messed up thoughts. I was placed with a therapist and went to see her this week. She listened to me and told me that I should be proud of myself that I was able to recognize the signs of a depressive episode and that I sought help.

I’m sharing this for a few reasons. First and foremost, I want to break the stigma around mental illness and therapy. Your mental health matters just as much (if not more) than your physical health. Never be ashamed to seek help for your mental health. Therapy is an amazing thing for everyone, you face so much in your daily life, getting an outside perspective is so good for you. Second, I want the people around me to understand more about anxiety and depression. If you want to help people around you struggling with mental illness, it helps to understand it. We need allies, people who support us on the good and the bad days.

I’m not in the best place but I’m practicing accurate self-assessment to get myself to where I want to be. I urge you to check in with yourself mentally and emotionally, it’s ok to not be ok, and it’s ok to get help.

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Book Review: Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

Happy Wednesday! I’m currently sitting in my favorite local coffee shop, drinking a Mexican cappuccino awaiting to go to a Lexington Legends baseball game for my company’s employee appreciation day. Not a bad way to spend a Wednesday morning, and it allows me some time to get my latest book review posted.

Goodbye, Vitamin has been buried in my TBR list since I received it from Book of the Month last June. It’s not quiet my normal read which is why I put it off but I finally picked it up last Friday. The novel follows Ruth, a thirty-year-old who is recently disengaged and a little lost with what to do with her life. She moves home with her parents to care for her father who has been diagnosed with dementia. The narrative follows her for the year living with her declining father and her strong but exhausted mother and secrets are unearthed from the past that affects the family’s relationship.

This novel was a big change from what I’ve been reading lately mainly because it isn’t plot driven. Ruth comes home to care for her father but not a lot of action takes place. Normally a lack of plot turns me off from a book but it really worked here for me. The novel is pretty short, under 300 pages and is told in a stream of consciousness style which keeps it moving forward.

The heart of this book is the taboo subject of caring for ailing parents. This is so common but it isn’t written about a lot, I think because it is painful. Truth is I was avoiding the novel because it hits close to home. I don’t have a parent with Dementia or Alzheimers but my father is aging and his physical health is definitely declining. As a child it’s hard to see your parents deteriorate, knowing you can’t do anything about it.

The other main idea in this novel is betrayal and what do you do when what you’ve believed about your parents is a lie? I think a phenomenon in everyone’s life is when we realize that our parents are not perfect. And as children we have to decide what we can forgive and what we can’t and it’s different for everyone. Ruth loves her father but has to face the fact that he was not the perfect man that she always thought he was and as he declines in health she has to decide if that fact affects her love for him going forward.

I found this story incredibly powerful. My critique would be that we didn’t get enough from Ruth’s mother and brother and I think they had a crucial story to tell from the little information that we are given. This was Ruth’s story however I think the story brushed with the idea that everyone’s familial experience is different and I would’ve liked that to be a fully realized idea.

I recommend that everyone picks up this book – no matter your own family situation. This topic is so relevant and definitely not discussed enough and Khong’s novel explores it beautifully with injections of humor and light.

Book Review: The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy

Another sunny week – another summer thriller added to the books read pile. I’ve been living poolside these past couple weeks which has really increased my book time. This week’s novel is about as buzz worthy as they come – this best seller already has a movie in the works produced by and starring the Scandal megastar Kerry Washington. The Perfect Mother is one part The Couple Next Door meets one part Not that I Could Tell with an injection of The Mothers

The Perfect Mother is centered around a Brooklyn mommy group called the May Mothers. The women meet in the park twice a week with their babies to discuss motherhood. One night they decide to go out without the babies and have a drink – the first time since they had their children. All is going well until it is discovered that one of the babies has gone missing.

The May Mothers are thrown into a frenzy as they search for baby Midas. As more time passes, tensions rise and everyone has a secret that will be unearthed before the story concludes. What happened to the baby? But more importantly, who is to blame? The only thing stronger than the mystery surrounding the disappearance are the opinions on motherhood.

I didn’t expect to enjoy this book very much, the plot line is very familiar, there didn’t seem to be anything unique about this novel. And to be fair, the mystery itself was mediocre. There wasn’t much shock and it seemed to go back on a lot of track laid throughout the novel. What I found myself really enjoying was the commentary on motherhood. We live in an age where everyone has an opinion on what being a good mother needs. In this novel we are given a cast of very different mothers, all facing their own challenges and judgments all facing the critical eye of the people around them. I think this book really gives a great look into mommy-shaming culture and pushes the reader to realize that good motherhood has more than one look.

 

Book Review: Still Lives by Maria Hummel

Happy Monday! I hope you had a good weekend. Mine was low-key, mostly hanging by the pool and getting a nasty sunburn. It was worth it though. My time poolside allowed me to finish another book even if my body paid the price for my persistence to finish the novel. I could’ve finished the book inside but there isn’t as much fun in that.

My most recent read was a May Book of the Month pick, Still Lives by Maria Hummel. This mystery novel is set in the early 2000’s in Los Angeles. Our narrator is Maggie Richter is an editor at a trendy art museum prepping for the event of the year, the opening of the  buzzworthy artist Kim Lord’s latest collection – Still Lives. The collection consists of paintings of Lord dressed as famous murdered women including Nicole Brown Simpson and Chandra Levy.

Maggie doesn’t want to be anywhere near the opening, she isn’t a huge fan of Kim Lord and it has a lot to do with the fact that Lord is dating Maggie’s ex – Greg Shaw who also works at the museum. Of course, Maggie is pulled in to work the event, escorting a New York journalist. But the opening doesn’t go as planned, the star of the show doesn’t show up. At first if feels like a stunt for publicity but soon Kim is believed to be missing. Suspicion falls on Greg and Maggie gets entangled in the disappearance and finds herself also in danger.

I’m about the furthest thing from an art connoisseur but I do enjoy reading novels with art as a backdrop, the world is foreign but also very interesting to me. Hummel sets up this story beautifully. Maggie is likeable but also fallible. She immerses us in the art world and builds out the small details. The characters are rounded and captivating.

This is another mystery where I feel that she built an intricate and fascinating arc but didn’t follow through on the final act. Hummel puts a lot of people at play in this mystery but seems to fall back on an easy conclusion instead of completing the complexity that she started from the beginning. She also introduced a character in the first act that we never see again which would be fine except this character was given a lot of time and backstory for them just to disappear.  I enjoyed the ride, just not the destination.

How Fiona the Hippo got me through my Darkest Days

If you are from the Greater Cincinnati area or anywhere within a 200-mile radius of the area – you know exactly who Fiona the Hippo is. Even if you aren’t in the area, the name should spark something in your back of your mind because this hippo took over pop culture in late January 2017 for a few months. I’ll give you a little refresher.

The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden opened their hippo exhibit, Hippo Cove in 2016 with two hippos – Bibi and Henry. By the end of the year the zoo keepers suspected Bibi was pregnant and it was confirmed on January 9, 2017 when scientists captured the first ever ultrasound image of a Nile hippo fetus. However, on January 24, Bibi gave birth six-weeks early.

Fiona was on 29 pounds at birth, 25 pounds lighter than the lowest recorded birth weight for the species. Her brain and muscles were very underdeveloped, and she was unable to stand. She had to be taken from her mother and fed with a feeding tube and had a special care team who cared for her around the clock. Everyday the zoo updated their website with Fiona’s progress which went up and down frequently. Even the Cincinnati Children’s Vascular Access Team assisted with her care. In June she was reintroduced to her parents and allowed in the exhibit. And in January she turned one-year-old as a perfectly healthy hippo. Get the much more detailed story here.

Ok, cute story but what’s the big deal, right? It may seem like a nice heartfelt story to be seen on Facebook and then to scroll by and forget about it, but it meant a lot more to a lot of people and I’m one of those people.

On December 31, 2016, my mother died. It was sudden and unexpected. I was devastated. I was my mother’s only child and she was my person. She was my best friend, my mentor, my inspiration, and my adversary and enemy at times. Our relationship encompassed every emotion. I called my mother every day, I’d never gone more than a few weeks without physically seeing her and suddenly she was gone.

On January 14, 2017, we held a memorial service for my mom. I naively thought that would be my darkest moment, if I could get through that day then it would start to get better. I didn’t realize that the time between her death and the memorial service that I was too busy notifying friends and family and making sure that I honored my mother in the right way that I hadn’t started to grieve yet. No, the grief didn’t begin until all the flowers and condolence cards were given, and the people left the service. I had called everyone that needed to know, I had written the obituary, I had given the speech at her memorial service, I had honored her last wishes and now I had nothing left to do but to hurt.

At that time in my life, I also was unemployed. I had no distraction from the pain. I woke up, grieved, slept – repeat. Soon I didn’t even get out of bed. What was the point? I no longer had purpose and I no longer had my person. On January 24, Fiona the hippo was born. It was clear by the zoo’s statements in the first few days that they didn’t expect her to live. And why would they? There had never been a hippo born this early that survived, she wasn’t even half the weight she was supposed to be at birth.

I found myself checking in on Fiona daily. At first it wasn’t on purpose, any scroll through social media held stories and photos of this baby hippo, I couldn’t avoid it even if I wanted to. But then I started to seek it out. My routine changed ever so slightly – wake up, check on Fiona, grieve, sleep. Everyday, I checked on the hippo’s progress and everyday I expected to hear the news that she lost her fight.  I didn’t feel like I had any reason to keep going in my life but something that seemed as trivial as the survival of a premature hippo gave me a reason to live to the next day.

Following Fiona also gave me the feeling of being apart of a community. The city of Cincinnati rallied around this hippo like nothing I’ve ever seen before. From t-shirts, car magnets, ice cream, beer, cookies – they put Fiona’s face on everything and sold it to raise money to pay for her care. And these items sold out. Everyone checked in for their “Fiona Fix” daily and when she was out of the woods and the care team said they would stop their daily updates, there was such an uproar that they quickly went back to the updates. With everything negative that divides us daily, everyone seemed to unite around this hippo and her fight to live.

My mother wasn’t supposed to die. She was 54 years old and still had so much life left in her. Fiona the hippo wasn’t supposed to live. She was born six-weeks early at a zoo that hadn’t cared for a newborn hippo in 75 years. This world doesn’t follow anyone’s rules and some days it is extremely hard to see the good in it. But watching this hippo defy the odds and not only live but thrive gave me enough good on my worst days to keep moving forward.

Book Review: The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Whenever I travel, I get anxiety about not bringing enough reading material. Last week I traveled to San Diego too work a trade show and I packed my current read at the time, The Oracle Year by Charles Soule (review of that book can be found here). At more than 400 pages, I figured that it would be enough to tide me over for the trip – but just in case I packed another book. By the time I was ready for the trip home, I had finished The Oracle Year and wasn’t feeling my second choice so I dropped into a bookstore and grabbed this much talked about novel, The Woman in Cabin Ten by Ruth Ware.

If you’ve read my book reviews before you know that I, like many avid readers, hate the trend of every unreliable female protagonist driven mystery being compared to Gone Girl and even Girl on the Train. This genre is really growing right now and I really like unreliable narrators and I’m always here for a female protagonist – but let the genre live on it’s own without tying it to one or two popular novels that happen to be made into movies. That being said, I am going to compare this book to Girl on the Train – do as I say, not as I do.

The Woman in Cabin 10 follows Lo Blacklock, a journalist for a travel magazine who nails a dream assignment on a boutique cruise to the Fjords while her boss is on maternity leave. Lo has a history with anxiety and depression and before she leaves on assignment she gets burgled (note: I love this word) and gets in a bad fight with her boyfriend so she isn’t in the best frame of mind. The rest of the guests on the ship are a mix of journalists including Lo’s ex-boyfriend, Ben. In her first night on the ship, she borrows mascara from a mysterious woman in cabin 10 before heading to dinner. A lot of alcohol later, Lo hears a scream and something hitting the water. She is determined that someone has been thrown overboard. The head of security doesn’t seem to take her seriously and the only person she thinks she can trust is Ben – but can she? The tension builds as the cruise continues and Lo becomes in danger herself as the plot hurdles to it’s climax and conclusion.

I really liked how this novel began. It felt like a mix between the classic Agatha Christie closed loop murder mystery (all suspects are contained so no possibility of an outside character committing the crime) and the shaky unreliable narration from The Girl on the Train. Lo is a complicated character, as a reader you can sympathize with her but also not understand why she puts herself in bad situations (like drinking all night while on antidepressants on a work trip). She is determined that a murder took place but has no evidence to back her up. The set-up is wonderful but I think Ware looses it in the execution. I wish we would’ve explored the characters on the ship more (more Agatha Christie) and I wish the reveal was more unexpected.

It’s a good read but I think it could’ve been an amazing read if some different plot choices were made in the back half of the book.

Book Review: The Oracle Year by Charles Soule

Greetings friends! These past few weeks have been incredibly busy and I have a lot to add to my blog but haven’t had the time to do it. But I’ve found rime in the form of getting sick. A combination of what my co-worked and friend Abby calls “the travel crud”, lovely Kentucky allergies, and just downright being rundown has knocked me on my butt. So I’ve made myself a home on the couch and I’m heavily armed with Mucinex, my heating pad, and Halls cough drops. Here is my first of two book reviews.

Last week I traveled to San Diego, California to work the 2018 Association of Talent Development Conference. The cross-country trip gave me the perfect opportunity to return to my TBR list. On tap was the much hyped freshman novel, The Oracle Year by comic book author Charles Soule.

The Oracle Year follows New York bassist Will Dando who wakes up one morning with 108 predictions about the future. He creates a website and slowly doles out these predictions while staying completely anonymous. As you can imagine, chaos ensues. Everyone is after the mysterious character that has been dubbed “the oracle.” Financial institutions are after any information they can use to maximize their stock portfolios, a famous preacher denounces the oracle and wants to expose him, even the President of the United States is after Will. As more predictions are released, the tension rises and the danger for Will and his friends becomes more imminent until finally crashing toward a conclusion.

This novel is a very fast paced adventure. From page one, the reader is thrust into the middle of the action and it doesn’t slow down for 400+ pages. The plot gets incredulous at times but I was able to overlook it for the entertainment factor. I particularly enjoyed the diversity of the characters. In plot heavy adventure novels like this one, it is rare to get many characters that aren’t straight white males. Let me be clear, the protagonist of this novel is a straight while male however, his supporting cast is much more diverse than I was expecting. It was a nice surprise.

I really enjoyed this novel, I think it’s a great book for summer. It feels like a movie – charismatic characters, high stakes, fast-paced. The ending wasn’t anything special in my opinion but the ride of the plot was enough to make up for a lackluster ending. I’d recommend it for a beach read or in my case, a plane read.