Tag Archives: health

If You Don’t Have Your Health

If You Don’t Have Your Health
By Maile Sundquist

I’d always been an optimistic person.  The life of the party, a dreamer, someone who would break into song and dance with furry woodland creatures… until the wicked witch cast a spell on me.  When I was 25 I suffered injuries at work and in a car accident.  They brought on chronic pain and physical limitations that prevented me from being as active as I once was and caused me to lose my job.  Rather than accepting my physical limitations and learning to work around them and thrive with them, I was in denial and active retaliation against them, and, in the end, because I lacked the tools and knowledge to manage my emotions and stress, I became one of the many depressed sufferers of chronic anxiety.  

In our society, too much importance is placed on our physical health and hygiene.  We need to have teeth so white they make snow jealous, be a size one if you’re a woman, be able to bench-press a bus if you’re a man, shower regularly… okay, well, that one is reasonable.  Anyway, we spend too much time pumping up our muscles rather than our character, and so a huge, arguably more important aspect of our health is neglected and at times actively sabotaged by our lifestyle and priorities: our emotional hygiene. 

I find it sad that someone could be in acute emotional distress and that the people around them, even people who care deeply for the person, might say, “You’re overreacting, you should just get over it and shrug it off.”  Or they might not know what to say, but in the back of their minds, they’re thinking that the person is unstable, crazy, or weak.  

We wouldn’t tell someone with a broken leg, “Just shrug it off, it’s in your head, just walk on it and jump and play like you did before.”  No, that would be considered insensitive and crazy!  Obviously, the leg needs time to heal, the right surgical procedure must be performed, and supports must be in place before it can work normally again.  It’s the same with emotional injuries.

Growing up in an emotionally unhealthy family where my parents didn’t take physical or emotional care of themselves, it was a sign of weakness to cry, and “butt nugget” was a term of endearment, there was a lack of good examples for me to emulate.  I embraced spirituality at an early age in the form of the Christian faith, which was and is extremely beneficial to me in terms of hope, inspiration, direction, and as a foundation for my beliefs, but due to poor theological teachings at one point, I lived in a constant state of shame for a period of time.

It was this shame over various aspects of my personal and spiritual life, coupled with a perfectionistic, all-or-nothing mentality, that compounded the struggles and challenges I was facing physically and emotionally.  So now I was down, had chronic pain, and lacked mobility.  Needless to say, I packed it on a bit and my curves became curvier.  Realizing my trajectory and wanting to avoid becoming a human version of Lombard Street, I implemented a thrice-weekly exercise routine into my schedule.  However, a combination of laziness and my love for eight-course meals always seemed to derail any progress I made… strangely enough.  I have always struggled with prioritizing my physical health.  Although I had a good knowledge of nutrition and appropriate exercises, I lacked the discipline to make it happen.  

I realized later, however, that it wasn’t just discipline I lacked.  My mental health was in such disarray that trying to get myself to accomplish these goals would be like asking a five-year-old to operate a crane.  I was attempting to lose weight because it was my most outwardly visible problem, but the source of it was hidden inward.  My emotional hygiene was out of whack.  It is true that the body is intricately connected and that helping one part will exert a ripple effect that improves other aspects of your overall health, so when you work out it produces endorphins that help your mental state.  But in this case, my hopelessness, despair, and anger, which were not being dealt with properly, kept perpetuating my depression and anxiety, which made me mope at home and eat too much.  It had me convinced that my best years were behind me, that I had gone too far, and that it would take too much time and effort to recover what had been lost.  Hopelessness is a dangerously powerful thing that can render someone immobile mentally, emotionally, and physically.

I wish I could say I was writing on this subject having surpassed my health goals years ago and that I now stand before you as a flawless specimen of feminine perfection and mental-emotional stability, able to tout my foolproof method for becoming the sexiest, most well-rounded human alive, but, alas… I cannot.

Let’s be realistic.  It can take years to get yourself back into shape after years of bad eating and self-neglect and the same can be said for regaining mental health.  But both must be accomplished if we are to live a happy, healthy, balanced life.

Having a toddler, I have this topic fresh on my mind.  We want our children to become mentally balanced, physically healthy, productive, thriving adults and so we teach them the best practices we can.  But we can’t teach them what we don’t know, and, despite our good intentions, they will follow our example more than they will follow anything we tell them to do.  How can I take care of him if I don’t take care of myself?  Do I want him to grow up prioritizing everything and everyone else while neglecting his own health, personal and artistic goals, and development?  Do I want him beating himself up over arbitrary goals or not being able to meet the important ones?  Or do I want to give him the knowledge and tools to succeed by living them out myself and making sure I emphasize the importance of not only working out and eating properly, but of loving himself and being open and honest with himself and others about his thoughts, feelings, struggles, questions, and emotions?  Our bodies are amazing, magnificent creations that are minutely intertwined and connected and what we put into our brain affects our body just as much as what we put into our mouth… except maybe for s’mores.

Why we struggle with self-love and self-care could vary from person to person.  Most everyone’s default excuse is laziness, and that might play a part, but I think that, in many cases, it goes deeper than that.  Perhaps you are unorganized and struggle with time management so you can never find the time.  Maybe you are an all-or-nothing perfectionist like me and you convince yourself that, if you can’t execute your ideal health and diet regime perfectly, then there’s no use in trying at all.  Maybe you don’t feel that you’re worth the effort.  Or maybe you’re an alien.  I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on the reasons that keep you from taking care of yourself and, once you’ve found them out, consider what you can change, add, or take away from your life, outlook, and commitments to allow the necessary tools and time for self care to grow and be utilized and prioritized.  I believe a healthy mind begets a healthy body, but that, ultimately, nurturing the two in tandem will reap the greatest benefits.

Whatever your personal struggles, I encourage you to not get discouraged.  Just like mastering any new skill, cultivating self-love, emotional hygiene, and physical health takes time, practice, and perseverance.  I’m still working it all out myself in real time, but I’ve listed some tools and actions or mindsets that have helped me on this journey so far.

Let Go and Let God

This is a religious-based sentiment, but it just means releasing the control that we fight to maintain over things that are out of our control or in the past that are bringing us down.  Letting go of the past self you are hoping to recreate, the emotional and physical hurts you experienced, unreasonable goals, and missed opportunities will bring only freedom and make room for healing, new experiences, and joy.  We are good at allowing regret, fear, and worry rule over our lives, sway our decisions, and prevent us from moving forward.  Forgive yourself and those that have hurt you and choose to embrace the abundance of the current moment and the beauty that is the current you and move forward.

Make Time For Self Care

There’s a reason they tell you if a plane is in distress to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you attempt to help anyone else.  If you pass out, you are no good to anyone.  Oftentimes caretakers are so busy taking care of those in their charge that they neglect themselves and are unable to give their best to those who count on them.  Do something for yourself, even if it’s a ten-minute walk or a bath, writing, singing, dancing, or working on a hobby.  You only get one life, so staying healthy will bring more happiness and length to it.

Make Smart Goals

Rather than setting large goals without concrete set steps for achieving them, break goals down into smaller, more manageable ones to keep momentum and focus.  For instance, if you want to lose 20 pounds in the next six months, break it down into four-pound chunks, then decide what steps need to be taken to lose those four pounds every month.  Create daily and weekly goals such as running 20 minutes a day, drinking eight glasses of water a day, or only having a sugary dessert on Fridays.

Join Community

The support and encouragement of an in-person or online community of people who understand your struggle – weight loss, chronic pain, depression, etc.- can be very helpful and it can simply be reassuring to know you aren’t alone in your struggle.

Seek Help

Get the help and treatments you need and don’t procrastinate.  If there are treatments that exist that could help you don’t let anything stop you from pursuing them.

Be Informed

Seek out trustworthy resources for up-to-date information.  In the ‘90s, fat was bad, but today, fat is good.  In the past, shock therapy was used for mental disorders; today, it’s cognitive behavioral therapy.  The medical and nutrition world is always growing and shifting.  Being knowledgeable about past and present health trends and treatments can help you know what questions to ask your doctor and what options you should consider, to address whatever physical or emotional issue you are struggling with.

Create a Routine

When I was young I wanted nothing to do with restrictions of any kind.  I was convinced that it could only bring stagnation and boredom.  I’ve grown to realize that, without well-balanced and considered boundaries, I fall victim to the extremes of my personality and end up becoming a prisoner of my bad habits.  Rather than exerting self-control and self-discipline to aid me in meeting important goals and milestones in my life, I was floundering, wallowing in my self-made pool of regret.  Routines can help us figure out what’s most important to us and aid in setting goals and life trajectories.  Old habits die hard, but once we take the first step to a better life, the ones that follow are easier.  

Pace Yourself

Listen to your body, know your limits, and be proactive in managing your time so that you can use proper ergonomics, take the time you need to process information, decompress, and get the job done without added mental or physical strain.

Manage Stress

Be proactive in addressing conflict and stress in your life.  When you find you are tense, excessively worried or tired, or showing signs of stress, take a few minutes to reflect on your life and write out all your stressors (good and bad), from the one that is causing you the most anguish down to the least.  Then find ways to address the stressors.  In some cases, like sustaining an injury or losing a loved one, the things that are causing you stress are out of your control.  In such instances, coping techniques will need to be employed.  Other stressors, like aggravating and negative coworkers or family members, could be addressed by creating boundaries to protect yourself from continued conflict.  Utilizing de-stressing techniques such as prayer, meditation, calming visualization, deep breathing, light exercise, journaling, or even getting a massage can aid in relieving your stress and bringing about a sense of calm to your spirit.

Go Play

Find a hobby like biking, birding, rock hounding, hiking, or rollerblading – one that will get you active and outside the house – or just walk and wander this beautiful planet of ours.  We weren’t made to sit within dead trees, we were made to dance under live ones!

Help Others

I have found time and time again that helping others, whether it be buying groceries for an elderly neighbor, being a big brother or sister to a child in need, or volunteering in the community to help the homeless, gets your mind off of yourself and your problems, brings about perspective, and helps to heal the soul.

Keeping my all-or-nothing mentality at bay, not comparing myself to others, and rejoicing in small victories has been key in helping me make the small but impactful steps forward that I have so far.

I pray for mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical healing and success to you, now and always! 

“Live BRIGHT!”

More Time, More Money, More Meaning: Living Simply to Simply Live

More Time, More Money, More Meaning: Living Simply to Simply Live
By Maile Sundquist

Aloha Stars,

I read a Facebook post the other day by a friend who was reflecting on an article in the New York Times which tells the story of a few Stanford students who, although accomplished, buckled under the pressures of campus life and took their own lives.  It then proceeded to state that campus suicides throughout the U.S. are on the rise.  My friend spoke about how mentally unhealthy Silicon Valley is, and how he, although at an extremely successful point in his life, still struggles with the sense of feeling like a failure.  He then suggested that we take a sledgehammer to the whole facade and “get real,” as our lives and our children’s lives could depend on it.  With this sentiment I wholeheartedly agreed.  It broke my heart to read about these beautiful, talented kids with so much potential snuffing their lives out over something that has no value in the spectrum of things – and surely no value compared to the valuable life they once had.  They bought into the lie of perfection which people are killing themselves literally and figuratively to reach. 

I could relate to my friend as well.  As a self-employed artist, musician, writer, and perfectionist, I’m my own worst boss, and a horrible employee to boot!  I get hung up on the fact I’m not producing at the level I should, I hold myself to unattainable standards and get down on myself if I don’t reach them, or I just get overwhelmed by all the things I want to accomplish but know I can’t before I die.  If only I could borrow a few extra lives from a cat.  No doubt the length of my to-do list on the day I die will earn it acclaim in the Guinness Book of World Records.  But to what end?  Who am I doing it all for, and why? 

Many people, even if they are not ruled by it, still feel the pressures of society and its definition of success.  Some of these pressures are born out of our fundamental need for love, acceptance, and purpose, but others come from society or culture such as corporate and government attempts to keep us in a perpetual state of discontent through advertising to spur economic growth.  I recognize that without a healthy economy the U.S. couldn’t offer us the opportunities, provisions, or leisure time it does.  Nonetheless, this race for continued self-improvement, better grades in school, higher numbers at work, this bigger-better-newer-nicer mentality, has eaten away at more than just our pocketbooks. 

Of course obtaining success in life is awesome!  Thankfully we live in a country where people can make their own choices about how they will make and spend their time and money.  The problem comes when we lose sight of ourselves and the big picture of what is truly important in life.  Seeking out superficial aspects of success such as good looks money and popularity leaves the spiritual, mental, and emotional parts of us longing for substance. 

In 2005 I suffered major work and car injuries within a few months of each other, setting the course for the chronic pain, weight gain, stress, and anxiety that I struggle with to this day.  Coupled with my growing discontent regarding my slow rate of artistic-goal completion, these injuries and my physical limitations due to them drew me into a depression.  During that time I questioned life, my character and purpose.  I had to pray and remind myself of what was most important to me in life to regain perspective and keep from giving up.  One of the more unproductive things I did to cope with the way I felt was to use retail therapy.  Although it was against my value system, I had been sucked into believing that a tangible item could make me feel better about myself, make life easier, or remind me of a better time in my past.  As anyone who has shopped to make life more bearable knows, the positive feelings are fleeting and they leave you with less money and more junk and stress, especially if you are going into debt while doing it.  I’m not saying that shopping is bad, but when it started to control me, and in turn kept me from accomplishing what I wanted to in life, I knew it needed to be addressed.

In early 2014 my health was extremely poor and my stress was out of control.  I had reached a breaking point.  I was convicted spiritually about the life I was leading, or not leading, as the case may be.  I concluded that one area of my life that was having the most negative affect on my spiritual, mental, and physical health was stress.  I began to research stress reduction techniques and grew interested in meditation.  This got me considering Christian monks who live their lives devoted to God and service, with minimal possessions.  I wanted a more serene and simple existence free of distractions.  Through my beliefs as a follower of Jesus Christ, I strive to live up to his calling, which is to set my mind on things that have eternal meaning; life, people, love, and matters of the heart, mind, and spirit, de-emphasizing the physical world and its belongings and concepts of success.  The phrase “store up your treasure in heaven” rattled around in my head and convicted my heart.  I knew I needed to do and be the best that I could with what God had given me up to that point and not focus on what I didn’t have anymore so that I could start to heal and move forward.  I needed to live each day with humility, thankfulness, and love for myself and those around me.  And I needed to live simply.

In December 2014 my aunt bought me a book entitled Do Less, which helped me to refine my efforts and gave a name to what I was pursuing: minimalism.  I had never heard the term before, but I recognized many of the book’s suggestions as things my husband had always done to help us keep our home tidy – like allotting ourselves a given amount of space for a certain kind of item – say, one bookshelf for books – and requiring that, if we exceed that limit with a new book, we have to get rid of one we have.  We may have been reaping some of the benefits of minimalism since we were organized, but what I was missing was a sense of peace and purpose over my possessions.  I was not living intentionally or mindfully and was allowing my anxiety to dictate my actions, which caused me to shop for things I didn’t need.  What made it worse was that, because I needed to get rid of something old to make room for something new, a “purge and splurge” cycle started that ended up being a waste of time and money and causing tension between my husband and me.  This habit, combined with my search for methods of de-stressing and my sense of wanting more out of my life, money, and time, was the driving force behind why I embraced minimalism, simple living, or living light. 

I think we can all agree that the majority of us are in search of more time, more money, and more meaning in our lives.  Who would have thought that one big path to meeting these desires would be less stuff?!  For some, the term “minimalist” brings about visions of stinky “green”-obsessed vegan nomads carrying all their possessions on their backs and obsessing over the fact that they can’t own more than 100 items.  This is not the face of minimalism.  To me, the goals of minimalism are to free us from the bonds of consumerism and the discontent that comes with it, to help us recognize that we don’t need a lot to live or be happy, and to free up our mind, time, and resources for what’s most important so that we can lead happier, more fulfilling lives with less stress.  The positive impact on the environment is a plus of course.  Living simply is a lifestyle and takes re-training our mind and habits away from the overindulgent society we have grown up in.

I started my simple living journey by praying and considering what is most important to me right now and what will be important to me in the future.  I made sure I didn’t rush myself and focused on stripping away any denial or social pressure and was honest with myself about the things that really matter to me.  I concluded that they were as follows: God, my family, my health, helping others in need, spending quality time with those I love, enjoying nature, and making meaningful traction with my dreams and artistic ambitions.  Once I had my priorities, I made sure that they remained in the forefront of my mind daily, by creating a photo collage of images and words that I keep on my smart phone and on my wall.  It encourages me, no matter what struggles or circumstances come along, to ensure that my actions, the money and time I spend, the faith I practice, and the people I surround myself with are in line with those values.  I found it helpful to involve my husband in this new lifestyle, for encouragement and accountability.  He was a bit resistant at first, so I made sure to give him space and time while positively encouraging him in the lifestyle rather than forcing him to embrace it, and he’s been warming up to it.

Next, I removed all physical possessions (with my husband’s approval of course) that did not support my new vision for myself and my life.  That included my fashion sense, hobbies, business, spiritual and philosophical convictions, and home aesthetic.  I went through every room, drawer, closet, and shelf, touching every item I owned and asking myself if I had used it in the last year, if it brought aesthetic beauty and joy to my life, or if it was practical and useful in aiding me in the life I am focused on leading.  For the items that didn’t fit into the prior criteria and were not enriching my life, I threw out the garbage, sold what I could, and gave away the rest.  A motto I like is “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without”.  The one area that I have allowed myself to keep “just-in-case” items is in our 72-hour emergency survival bags.  Other than that, I buy things as I need them (except for Costco toilet paper of course) and don’t buy duplicates of things unless I know they’ll be used up in a week.  Technology makes this process a bit easier by offering the ability to replace CDs, movies, and books with digital versions that don’t take up tangible space, and the ability to scan documents rather than have a file cabinet.  I am always refining my digital organizational system and keeping “digital clutter” at bay, as it can be just as overwhelming as physical clutter.

One thing I was mindful of while purging was the endowment effect.  That is the phenomenon in which, once someone owns something, it means more to them than it would if they didn’t own it, which then makes it harder for them to let go of, even if they don’t really like the item or wouldn’t buy it again.   I had to be honest with myself and step back from my attachment to the item and look at it objectively.  When deciding on sentimental items, I reminded myself that the item itself does not hold the memory that I love, but that it’s in my heart forever.  If an item is truly special I might frame or display it in some way, otherwise I will write about the memory and item and/or take a photo of it to remember it by.  I found viewing YouTube videos on minimalism and decluttering super helpful in this process.  Lastly, I made sure I paced myself and didn’t set unrealistic goals, and chose a level of minimalism that was right for me and my family in which to thrive.  We have gotten rid of so much that we are planning on moving into smaller quarters!

I then made a promise to my husband and myself that I would only buy an item when it needs to be replaced, when it adds measurable value to my life or actively aids me in reaching my goals and maintaining my vision for myself and my life.  Definitely easier said then done!  I started by unsubscribing from retail emails and mailings.  I have begun to do other things with friends such as hike, play a sport or craft instead of shop, and stay away from retail stores as much as possible to prevent browsing and impulse buying.  I try to work on a hobby or watch a movie when I feel the urge to splurge.  Distraction is a helpful tool when trying to break a habit.   Also, keeping a short list of a few big purchases and our dream vacation we are saving for helps to remind me of the cost of buying something now.  I try to think of the things I buy taking money from the big thing I want.  It also helps to remind myself that a penny saved is a penny earned.  Even if I saved $50 off of a $100 item, I still have $50 less in my bank account.  I have begun to choose quality over quantity!  

Lastly, to prevent “clutter creep,” I remind myself of all the soul searching and hard work it took to get myself to this point on my simple living journey and of all the benefits I have gained thus far by embracing intentional living such as:

1. Mental Clarity and Energy:  I concluded that even if something is out of sight, it doesn’t mean it’s out of mind.  All the things we possess – their use, state, storage place, and where we obtained them – take up mental space that could be used for more important information.  Also, every time people make a choice it uses mental energy which can deplete focus and the ability to make good decisions.  Minimizing the choices I had to make throughout the day gave me more mental, emotional, and physical energy. 

2. Empowerment:  By embracing this lifestyle where the main objective is to help me focus my life and energy on what I most value, I found a renewed sense of resolve to fight against consumerism and society’s concept of “success.”  I was motivated to focus on my health and my personal and professional goals, and to prioritize and set healthy boundaries in every area of my life, including diet and relationships.  It made me realize the extent to which stuff was controlling me, as well as areas of my life where I had lost control, and made me recognize that I have the power to improve my life. 

3. Contentment:  I have experienced less stress due to fewer distractions, less stuff that can pile up or get lost, and less things to manage, clean, and maintain.  It has reduced my sense of discontent through rebooting my focus and objectives onto the things that are important in life as well as reminding me to be thankful for what I do have and not focus on what I don’t have.  It has contributed to a sense of peace and hope for a bright, more productive future. 

4. More Money and Time:  I realized how much of my life, mental energy, and money were spent working for, searching for, buying, displaying, storing, moving, and maintaining stuff I can’t take with me when I die.  Just thinking of all the memories I could have made, the art I could have created or the people I could have blessed with the time and money I wasted on the above process over the last 20 years was mind-blowing.  It made me more mindful of opportunity costs and helped me to consume less and produce more.  I have more money to spend on the things that matter to me, such as experiences, gifts for others, donations to charities, items of higher quality that will last longer, and equipment and tools that will help me reach my goals.  I have more time to spend with my loved ones, to learn new skills, to pick up old hobbies, to work on bettering myself, to do community outreach, and to be more productive in ways that are meaningful to me such as starting to blog about real topics.

It takes time to learn how to navigate life, others, and ourselves on this messy, mysterious, and beautiful journey called life.  My ultimate hope and prayer for myself and you is that we will have grateful hearts, not lose sight of the important things, and have peace, hope, healing, and success in life.  Not “worldly,” temporary, shallow success, but success that is lasting and meaningful, that makes us happier, more productive, mentally, physically, and spiritually healthy, balanced people who are able to love ourselves and those around us. We mustn’t forget that we alone have the choice to opt in or out of anything that comes our way, and that it’s never too late to change our course, our habits, our beliefs, and ourselves for the better.