My Day With Oprah

I spent this week researching and writing about the blatant connections between large-scale animal agriculture and disease in humans. And until last night, I had planned on today’s post being about that specific cycle of speciesism and the commodification of life producing dire consequences for human health and safety. Because to a vegan (and a whole lot of scientists) the writing is on the wall, and it’s time to hold ourselves accountable.

After leaving my small business yesterday where I spent about ten hours talking to many women I consider friends, I decided that now isn’t the right time for that content. I’m not suggesting that “fluff,” or timely distractions are the answer to panic, uncertainty and fear. But I am suggesting that a good writer knows when to steer the audience to something positive until the true reality of a situation can be assessed and absorbed. We’re in the speculation phase of COVID-19, and the last thing anyone needs right now (myself included) is more uncertainty or stress about the unknown. My goal in helping others make a connection between eating animals and sickness can wait for another day when introspection is an option, and the initial reaction has ceased.

So today, I’m talkin’ about Oprah!

Yes, the one and only, Oprah Winfrey and her Your Life in Focus tour. I snagged my mom, sister, and myself tickets to go last month in Los Angeles, and now I can officially mark “seeing Oprah live” off of my bucket list.

First of all, let me explain that as a latchkey kid with limited access to television, it quickly became my after-school ritual to watch The Oprah Show with my sister. Later, as an aspiring news and editorial writer in my high school and early college years I idolized Oprah for her humble beginnings in broadcast journalism. Her ability to consistently ask the right questions provoking a spectacular interview and a deeper look into what it truly means to be human were skills any writer hoped to hone even half as well as she does. Fast forward to present-day – I listen to both of her podcasts: Supersoul Conversations and Oprah’s Masterclass on a regular basis. As a woman and an entrepreneur I look up to her even more now for her unapologetic attitude toward her fantastic success – she is truly a force. But I believe her true talent is in balancing that incredible power and energy elegantly with a genuine empathy and an unbelievable presence that draws truth from people coming from every center and walk of life. She is one talented lady.

We spent roughly seven hours at the event. It began with a full-on dance party of around 13,000 people followed by an extensive talk Oprah gave about her health and wellness journey. Throughout the day several experts took the stage to lead us through dances, guided meditations, and breathing exercises. Then to wrap up the show Oprah gave another in-depth talk about her background which led us into an interview with Jennifer Lopez. It was amazing, and I am so glad that I took the time to go.

Throughout the day, Oprah would instruct us to open our workbooks (which she provided in our gift bags at the start of the show) and she guided us through them, step by step to hone in on what our wellness focus and intentions will be moving forward, and how we will accomplish real change in our lives through commitment to these specific goals.

One of the first things you see in the workbook are the words

“You are here. You are exactly where you are supposed to be.”

Then Oprah’s definition of wellness:

“Wellness for me is simply all things in balance. We long for a life without constraint, free from conflict, fear, or judgment– where our health, relationships, career, and finances coexist in perfect flow with our spiritual center. This is the highest form of well-being.”

I thought the most useful way for you to see what we spent much of our day with Oprah doing would be for you to participate, and for me to candidly share my results with you from my own workbook. These are the answers I wrote on the spot, and they have not been edited. I know they may be a little hard to read, but I did the best I could to brighten up the photos for you.

The first step was to figure out our “wellness quotient” through a series of questions, because it is hard to know where you want to go if you have no idea where you actually are.

“Knowing where you are on your journey is a gift. It grounds you in the moment and guides you to a hopeful future. Knowing why you’re on this path creates intention, which gives you the motivation to take the next right step.”

113 was my total. “Purpose” and “relationships” were tied. And the phone number is one you can text if you want help with your goals!

After we finished this section, she walked us through setting our wellness intention, because she, like me, believes that

“You don’t get what you want; you get what you intend.”

We did this by first, writing down and examining a time where we set a goal that we didn’t accomplish. More often than not, we did not accomplish this goal because our intentions did not align with the truth of who we really are. For example, I listed “Opening a business with a partner” as my goal that ultimately failed. I wanted to achieve this goal to “combine our talents and provide them to the community, to make money, to move forward in my career, and to employ more people in my town.” Those all seem like good intentions, but when you turn the page there are a list of underlying motives for accomplishing these goals. I read them through, and ultimately decided that underneath those reasons for opening that particular business with that particular partner I also wanted to: “prove something to someone. I wanted to win and to live up to someone else’s expectations. I felt obligated, and I felt like I was supposed to want it.” The goal failed because the “why” did not match up with the true person I am.

The next step was setting our intentions, because when they are not clear it is hard to accomplish specific things, and it is impossible to see if those goals line up with what is truly right for ourselves. I decided to set a general mind, body, and spirit intention with an understanding of how this intention will bring me more meaning and fulfillment.

Then Oprah says:

“The commitment to do well and be well is a lifetime of choices that you make daily. The space to live in is not ‘I’ll try.’ Not ‘I want to.’ Not ‘I really want to.’ It’s ‘I have decided.’”

Which leads us to the last part of the workbook where we commit by setting three healthy habits based on the areas of focus we determined from our “wellness quotient.” I didn’t include “nutrition” because for me, that’s not something I want to actively work on at this time. And then we conclude with a contract to ourselves that will hold us accountable.

Honestly, I have to admit that most of this introspection I’ve done before. Countless times. It’s in my nature to plan goals, explain them, and execute them through planning. If you follow this blog regularly, or you know me in person, you know this to be more than true. But what it did do for me was something unexpected and interesting. It challenged me to level up, and to expand my goals beyond myself and my own wellness and to really think about what that truly means. The bigger picture. There is always room for improvement and self-growth, and I have made my mental and physical health a serious priority that I work on daily. But what I realized is that I’ve been thinking too small. I’ve outgrown many of these goals because thankfully they’ve evolved from goals into my daily practices. Lately I’ve been feeling lost searching for new things to strive for. I think the key is to keep searching.

“Nourish what makes you feel confident, connected, contented. Opportunity will rise to meet you.”

-Oprah Winfrey

Give Yourself Permission to be Vegan – My 4 Year Veganniversary Post

When my vegan lifestyle comes up in conversation, more often than not, by husband and his dietary habits become the immediate object of curiosity. The center of the interaction. Everyone wants to know if he’s vegan. Since he isn’t, everyone wants to know how we cohabitate. How we grocery shop, cook our meals, agree to disagree. Everyone wants to know how two people can be happily married and hold two completely different ideological viewpoints when it comes to food. And for us specifically, when it comes to animals and morality.

Let’s back up. When I was dating I had three (yes, only three) requirements for my future boyfriend. At that time I did not think that I wanted to be married, ever, so they looked something like this: He needs to have a job, a car, and his own place to live. Like I said, they were simple requirements, but shockingly hard to find. I had decided that I didn’t want to muddle things up with extraneous requirements like what kind of job, or car or dwelling. Or make it even more impossible with specifications pertaining to diet and lifestyle… like vegetarianism. At that time, I still had a few years to go before making the switch from veg to full on vegan. I don’t want to say that my standards were low – in my opinion, they were just realistic. I was only in my mid-twenties, wasn’t looking for a husband, and had so many amazing people in my life from diverse backgrounds, so I didn’t want to limit my possibilities based on assumptions like: If I date a vegetarian we will be more compatible. Because honestly, that might make eating easier, but that’s about it.

Then I met Kanan. For those of you that don’t know the story, he moved into the apartment next door to me and we noticed each other from afar before I finally took the plunge and slipped a note under his door asking him to go grab a beer with me. He called me back TWO WEEKS later… so much later in fact that I had assumed he had a girlfriend, or wasn’t into me, so I went about my life and honestly kinda forgot about it. Over the months (and then years) we lived next door to each other, I had made several observations about Kanan’s habits: He wasn’t home a lot; when he was home he never had any visitors and almost never left, and sometimes his car would remain parked in the spot next to mine for long stretches without moving. So basically, I had concluded exactly what any logical person would: If he had a job and wasn’t just sitting in his apartment playing video games all day, it must be some nefarious illegal activity that kept him away for weeks at a time, or he was a firefighter. One day I took a little gander into the back seat of his car and noticed a pile of ropes. After that, I added potential serial killer to the list, but was happy to learn that serial killers almost never murder their neighbors.

Being from Kern County (near Bakersfield), where everything is dry, and hot, and dusty it never occurred to me that some people actually could make a living fishing. Fishing was something my dad made us hike upriver at 3am on the weekends to do. Something I was more than happy to leave behind after I declared vegetarianism as my new world view somewhere around junior year of high school. So when we finally went on a date and Kanan explained that the ropes were for crabbing and not for some sort of mass strangulation scheme, I was relieved. But I was also a little sad and confused. I liked him instantly, and after only a few dates I was ready to marry the guy. Seriously. I was used to most people eating animals, but had never even considered dating someone who made their entire living by killing them. I was from Kern County but clearly I had never dated a meat or dairy farmer…

So this brings us back to the topic at hand. How did I reconcile dating and then MARRYING a man who had basically the complete opposite viewpoints and values when it came to the treatment of animals? Although he has since then changed careers and no longer kills animals for a living, we still hold different views. He enjoys recreational fishing, and on occasion eats animal products. I decided to go full-blown vegan. But now we enjoy a mostly compatible lifestyle based on generally healthy whole food eating habits and a shared philosophy of sobriety from drugs and alcohol. While I completely omit all animal products and refined sugar, Kanan allows himself the occasional splurge but has grown to have very strong viewpoints on health and whole foods. He balances me out when I’m going crazy for vegan fast food because hey, I went vegan for animal rights, not for health! And I feel like I can sometimes act as his moral mirror, and the conduit for new enlightening vegan nutritional information.

A lot has evolved and changed in our relationship because of two factors, which I believe are the key to making any relationship between a vegan and a non-vegan work. I can give you all the “tips and tricks” you want for day to day living, but until you get these two concepts dialed in, none of them will actually work for you.

#1: Give yourself the emotional permission to embrace what you know to be right for you. If you’re considering going vegetarian or vegan, chances are you’ve already done the hard work of unlearning societal programming regarding food consumption. Your husband (or partner) has already done that for themselves as well by accepting that the way they choose to eat is normal, and everything outside of that worldview is “other” or delinquent from the way people are essentially “supposed to eat.”

This is a simple concept once you wrap your head around it. There is always something that dominant society has deemed “normal.” Someone (or in this case, several powerful “someones,” like large, corporate agribusiness, big pharma, and our for-profit medical system) has a stake in maintaining the status quo, therefore a lot of effort and energy is put into poking holes in other ways of thinking, trying to prove them “wrong,” “unhealthy,” or “worse for our planet.” But here’s the thing – our planet is dying, we’re dying, and animals are dying using the old framework, so maybe let’s just test out this new way and see what happens? Everything is normal, until it’s not.

I’m here to tell you that if you know that for you, veganism or vegetarianism… or just eating one plant-based meal a week is better, then give yourself the permission to shift your consciousness, moving your new held ideas or ideals from the margin (or what is unusual, weird, or not normal) to the center, which is usual, normal, and good. Making yourself the center in this way will ironically produce a series of completely unselfish and empathetic consequences, like caring more for the health of humans, animals, and the earth.

Instead of feeling guilt and assuming that you and your new moral and/or dietary choices are the burden, flip that on it’s head and ask yourself why your partner’s choices aren’t the burden?

To challenge these deeply ingrained ideas of normativity even further, ask yourself why anti-speciesest beliefs are thought to be inferior to those socially constructed speciesist beliefs that we are the inherently superior beings atop the animal and nature hierarchy.

#2: After you’ve got #1 down, then just lead by example. But be tactful.

Once you start viewing the world through this more critical lens, a lot changes internally, and it can be difficult to not judge and criticize other people, or proclaim your new lifestyle as better. Trust me, I still do it often because I choose to be vocal, and believe in making social change. Everything is seen as a deviation from the norm, until it’s not.

People who aren’t vegan or vegetarian navigate their lives as “normal” simply by living in a country that accommodates them, facilitates their behaviors, and rewards their dietary choices with limitless options, advertising that aligns with dominant culture and a convenient separation between our individual choices and policy. Because of these reasons, vegans are criticized for speaking up. We’re casting a bright light on something that needs to be seen, something that doesn’t look good under that light.

If being in a relationship with a non-vegan for almost seven years has taught me anything, it’s that that voice that I choose to use in a political sense only drives Kanan away if directed at him in a more personal sense. For a lot of people, unlearning what they think they know about nutrition and veganism is painful because food is so closely woven into every fabric of our society and life. It also calls on people to look inwardly at their choices, forcing moral introspection. This can be extremely difficult for most people to do- it challenges us to level up and be accountable for our choices, which also requires an acceptance that our choices matter. Veganism calls people to look at how we treat the planet, other beings, and ourselves. That is simply overwhelming. Every vegetarian or vegan, including myself, went through that period of difficult growth. Every vegan or vegetarian you’ve ever met had to go through intense changes in realizing their accountability, unless they happen to be one of the very few vegans who’s parents raised them that way since birth. We understand what you may be going through.

I will tell you with 100% certainty that the longer I am vegan, the simpler the concept becomes for me. I try to do as little harm as possible, and all that can possibly do is ripple kindness out into the world. That’s all it’s about. All food, human rights, animal rights, and global arguments aside.

So just lead by example. Share positive things about being vegan, cook good plant-based food and share it, shop from vegan vendors who also value the planet and other humans, incorporate more whole foods, watch veg documentaries, read books about animals. And learn, because I’m finding that the more I learn, the more I realize that we’re all so interconnected that each choice you make really has a positive impact elsewhere. Only good can come from a lifestyle based on love and kindness. And others (including your husband/partner) will see this over time.

_____

Photo: Hennygraphy https://www.hennygraphy.com

Vegan Tattoo: Seven Stars Tattoo, Eureka CA

I Guess I’m A Digital Minimalist Now

My digital declutter ended about three weeks ago. After submitting a short article about it to the editor of the local magazine I freelance for, she had some logistical questions. I thought that the most beneficial way for me to answer these questions (and some others that I’ve gotten from friends and clients) would be to work them out in real time, on the blog. That way you can benefit from the broken-down, simplified answers. It’s important to be philosophical and introspective, but what about real-life application and practicality? This post is meant to wrap up my digital declutter series by breaking it down to it’s simple foundation – the “bones” of the experiment. That way you can move forward with practical tools and ideas to help implement digital minimalism principles into your own life.

Question 1: Was quitting all unnecessary technology hard?

The short answer is yes. Like any major lifestyle change, it was difficult for about the first week while I re-acclimated. That is exactly why I constructed a plan to implement less technology use over time, that way when I went “cold turkey” it was not such a shock to my system. I also defined what things I absolutely “needed” for my safety, and for my business to function properly, so I did not go 100% tech-free. Remember, it is a “digitally minimal” lifestyle, not a lifestyle completely devoid of all technology use.

The key to success is to have a plan. It’s as simple as that.

Question 2: What was your plan and how did you implement it?

The first thing I did was figure out how much technology I was using to begin with.

I would like to stress this point:

WITHOUT KNOWING HOW MUCH YOU ARE USING TECH, YOU WILL NOT HAVE AN OBJECTIVE STARTING POINT FROM WHICH TO REDUCE IT.

Numbers don’t lie.

For six months prior to my declutter experiment I tracked social media, texting, emails, and miscellaneous internet use, totaling out everything and writing the times down in my journal. I made it a point to reduce my consumption, if even by a small percentage, or a few minutes each week. After six months, I had reduced my consumption significantly (by about 80%) by just tracking it, and reducing it by nominal, almost unnoticeable (at the time) increments. This helped me to put into perspective how much time I was wasting, and how truly unnecessary most of the technology we spend our time with is.

The next part of my plan had to do with the actual 31-day period of time when I’d go without any technology that was not “necessary.” This means being extremely honest with yourself.

JUST BECAUSE YOU LIKE IT DOES NOT MAKE IT NECESSARY FOR YOUR HEALTH, SAFETY, OR MAINTENANCE OF YOUR LIVELIHOOD.

Seriously.

I went through all the things I use and basically figured out what I could omit without it having serious real world implications for myself personally, or for my business.

I:

• Deleted email, social media, entertainment streaming, and shopping apps off of my phone. I decided that I could check email at work during business hours only, and taking a break from all the other things would be FINE.

For all of you small business owners who think the world will go up in flames if you do not participate in social media for one month, this is for you:

IT WILL NOT. AND YOU NEED THIS EXPERIMENT MORE THAN ANYONE TO SHOCK YOU BACK INTO HAVING SOME PERSPECTIVE.

I was you. The time away will HELP your business.

• Did not watch TV unless it was a movie that I specifically wanted to watch as part of a social activity with others. So no streaming, mindless watching, watching anything alone, commercials, or background noise. Yep, this means if you cohabitate with others who watch TV, you will spend a lot of time in the other room. This will be weird and isolating at first, but then you will realize it’s actually quiet and wonderful alone time.

• Only texted and checked emails during three fifteen minute, predetermined time frames. This included personal and business text/emails. Once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once in the evening. If I was at work that day, I would schedule these in so I wouldn’t miss them, giving me an excuse to check my phone later. If someone wanted an immediate response, they would have to CALL me. All business was responded to during business hours, and NEVER outside of them. I set up an auto-text response so these hours were very clear for clients.

• Allowed myself to use technology that does not drain my energy, but enriches me. I know this is very subjective, but I encourage you to really dig deep when determining what these areas are for yourself. The whole point of this experiment is to differentiate between technology that promises value, and technology that actually delivers it for you specifically. I allowed myself unlimited podcast and audiobook listening. I still used my phone calendar, weather app, to do list app, my fitness apps, and Pinterest (for recipes only!).

• Did not use my phone for ANY internet surfing or searching at all. I set this hard and fast rule so that it couldn’t spiral out of control. If I needed to look anything up, pay bills, or do things for my business that required the internet, I waited to do it at work.

• Allowed myself room to fail. I had a situation come up where it was necessary that I use the internet to email and sign documents. I did this outside of my normal digitally minimal parameters. But in my opinion, it was necessary and I wasn’t going to let that ruin the rest of my experience. So I just made sure to take care of business, and then go back to my plan.

Question 3: Did your husband do it with you? How did that go?

No he did not. In the beginning it was difficult to see him constantly watching TV or being on his phone when I wanted to interact or not remove myself from the space he was in to go be by myself. But I got used to it after about a week. And I did notice as time went on that he was watching a bit less TV so we could eat dinner together, or relax before bed together which I really liked. He respected my boundaries but all in all, we did spend a lot more time apart.

I realized that just because we’re in the same room does not in any way mean that we are actually spending quality time together, and being around a noisy TV puts me in an instant bad mood if I don’t like what’s on. So after a while, I started to value my quiet, alone time, and noticed that when I get to spend my time reading or listening to a podcast instead of passively watching something I don’t like, I’m in a much better mood, and I’m much more relaxed after a long day. Noise just drains my energy.

Question 4: Have I gone back to how I was before?

No. Nor will I. I have made slight adjustments, but plan on living a digitally minimal life moving forward. I am much happier, and more mentally alert and productive this way.

I obviously have gone back to posting to social media and my blog once per week. I do not go on social media more than this. I download the apps to my phone to make my posts and then delete them right after. I plan to post using this same method for my business on occasion, but this stepping away from social media has actually had positive impacts on my business, allowing me to work on bigger ideas and projects which produce better, tangible results. If my books are full at work then it is irrelevant how much time I spend on social media.

I do not plan on putting email back on my phone ever. Checking it at work is just fine. I no longer respond to potential business through social media – everyone gets an auto response to call or email. This will not change. I did not reinstall any other streaming or shopping apps. I don’t need them, and they are a waste of time.

I have been more lax with my internet and texting use – straying away from the fifteen minute intervals, three times daily. But I can already notice that this is beginning to drain my energy, so I plan to figure out a happy medium where I can use the internet and check texts, but not do it all day. I like to be able to plug my phone in and just leave it alone.

And with TV, I have started watching some again, but I plan to make sure that the time spent there remains small.

Question 5: Would you recommend a digital declutter for others?

Yes. Just have a plan and stick to it. I wouldn’t waste time doing it for any period of time shorter than 2-3 weeks. Less than that, and it’s not long enough to reap real benefits, in my opinion. I felt like a month was perfect.

Question 6: What was your favorite part of your experience?

Aside from learning A LOT about myself, it was all the reading I did. My attention span dramatically increased and my real, true love for reading and learning was reignited. I read FOURTEEN books in January. Last year, I read 21 TOTAL.

My new life goal is to learn how to feel like my true self- how I felt in my favorite wedding picture of myself, as often as possible. Purely happy and free.

_____

Photo: Hennygraphy https://www.hennygraphy.com

Resources: https://www.calnewport.com

Digital Declutter Diaries Part 2: I Can Feel

Being underwater dulls everything down. Light and sound. You try to laugh but it’s hard. You try to see but that’s hard too. You try to listen but nothing sticks. The details are all lost anyway.

All you know is that for some reason it feels as close to good and familiar as you can get with your head dunked slightly below the surface. Everything’s fuzzy. Slower. After a while it becomes normal to feel that way. Watching your life through a blurry lens of indifference and numbness.

You try to believe you’re happy. But deep down you understand that knowing you should feel happiness, and actually experiencing it are two different things. You think you’re sad, but at the end of the day you could take or leave whatever made you feel that way. Disappointment isn’t real, anger is just a response to another thing that isn’t real. Love feels real, but comes with a handful of emotions that are fuzzy now too.

So back underwater you go. Lukewarm.

Sometimes you can’t help it and you get upset – you don’t even know why. But you enjoy being angry, because at least it’s something. The few things you do care about, you distance by a few degrees just in case.

That was me. That is me still, sometimes.

Compartmentalized.

I had accepted this as my normal. It’s like being outside where everything feels bad for so long that you put a protection around yourself that makes everything feel about half (or less) of what it should. It’s okay at first. But then time went by and I started to worry that I’d completely forget how to really be happy, or sad. Or anything. I just wanted to feel a genuine emotion that I wasn’t capable of putting inside a box and neatly stacking on a shelf of 10,000 never-again-opened boxes. It had become SO easy to do that.

What’s it like to feel real joy? Or gratitude? Or disappointment? Without immediately putting it in check with the opposite emotion.

Neutralize it.

During this process of decluttering my mind I realized that my emotional shutting down happened in two stages.

The first began as a defense mechanism-type response to an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship I was in for about four years in my early twenties. Until I conducted this experiment, I hadn’t even realized, let alone accepted that what I had gone through was actual abuse.

Yet for years I lived in a constant state of isolation, uneasiness, fear, and defensiveness. I lost myself navigating the complexities of loving someone with mental illness, depression, and sometimes uncontrollable, unpredictable anger. I developed resulting post traumatic stress, and have often found myself exhibiting those same destructive behaviors – learned out of necessity to protect myself, then. Now I’m finally realizing that I can stop living a defensive life. Everything isn’t an argument; constantly worrying about my plans going off track is unproductive. I don’t need to always be on the highest alert.

Back then I retreated inside. Put up protective barriers. And apologized. A lot. I numbed myself to my reality because after years of mental manipulation it becomes extremely difficult to separate what’s real from what someone tells you are just your own “unreliable” emotions. It’s even harder to accept what you know is true when the good times are good, and when everyone around you seems to think everything is mostly fine.

And then there is the shame and the fear. I chose to be there, so obviously something must be wrong with me because I stayed. I’m not a “victim.” I’m smart and capable. So it must be my own fault for not leaving. It’s my own fault for not bringing it up until now. It’s my own fault.

I spent years worrying about his mental health and everything I was doing “wrong,” while my mental state and self worth deteriorated. But I couldn’t see what was happening.

That lightbulb didn’t even begin to flicker until about a month ago when I read Gavin DeBecker’s book The Gift of Fear. I thought long and hard about all the behaviors that he argues are precursors to violence, and how our intuition knows before our minds do that something is wrong. Back then I had gotten very good at ignoring my intuition and rationalizing behaviors that I now see as completely dangerous and unacceptable. I never once worried about my own safety, focusing primarily on getting him help for his mental illness. Only now that seven years has passed do I realize that I should’ve been extremely concerned about my own mental and physical well being.

The second stage of my emotional shutting down happened after he died, about three months after our final breakup. For more information about this please reference my first ever post, Context.

A huge part of my identity and self worth was caught up in a person who made me feel disempowered and small. Overnight, I lost everything I thought stabilized me, and I couldn’t help but feel partially responsible. I feel guilt now, as I write these words. But staying silent hasn’t helped me to heal. And protecting his memory and family should’ve never taken precedent over my own mental health.

The tragic reality of what happened to him, coupled with the awkwardness people feel discussing death and trauma had effectively rendered my experience within that relationship invisible. Somehow petty and unimportant. So I threw myself into a full fledged effort to convince myself it was petty and unimportant. And I simply cannot live that way anymore. In sharing my experience, it becomes visible, and there is freedom there. For me, and others like me.

I think that ever since I was a little kid I’ve known that I feel very deeply. That I can absorb energy from those around me, and that I can sometimes tap into the pain and sadness and love and happiness of animals and other people that I may not even know. Until I got into that relationship, I felt confident to exude that passion is everything I did. In my learning, in my work, in my friends and family. I felt deeply and unapologetically about everything. And I wasn’t even the slightest bit ashamed or afraid to show it to the world- thanks parents.

In a nutshell, I loved being me and I was not afraid to show it, and tell everyone about it.

And then all that passion and self confidence evaporated and I accepted it.

My therapist has asked me on multiple occasions if I minded being alone. My answer has always been a hard no – ask my husband; he knows. I love spending time alone. What I believe she should’ve been asking me (now that it’s 2020) is if I like being truly alone. Without all the things that make it so easy to never actually be by yourself. No phone, no internet, no TV. Because my answer would’ve likely been something like: I don’t know. Because I’ve never tried that. Solitude wasn’t something I had prioritized.

I thought I’d been healing myself the best ways I knew how. And I suppose to a degree, I have been. But I’ve always felt like I was hitting a wall, beyond the healthy eating, and exercise, meaningful work, therapy, and positive, supportive, loving people in my life, something still eluded me. Something still felt like a hole in my heart. A missing piece.

After a month of solitude, and A LOT of thinking, I realized that the missing piece was partially realization and acceptance. Moving through my past. The other part was remembering the confidence in my own spirit and abilities that used to come so easily, and the permission to feel everything and anything again.

I condensed about five years of therapy into one month, just by allowing myself to really think. I’ve already started to see glimpses of my “old self,” but in a new way, still trepidatiously approaching emotion. I can finally begin to heal the parts of me that have developed as coping mechanisms, shields, and responses to trauma. I can forgive him and let him go – he was hurt too.

I’m not sure if my mind had guarded me from my full reality on purpose, or if I was in denial. I’m not sure if I was being protected from recognizing my past as what it truly was until I was strong enough and stable enough to handle it. Or if I was consciously shoving it aside because it was too difficult to look at.

All that matters now is that I am beginning to see love in little things again and am so overwhelmed with gratitude on a daily basis for every wonderful and painful part of this life.

_____

Artwork by: TanyaZCdesign https://www.etsy.com/shop/TanyaZCdesign

Digital DeClutter Diaries Part 1: I can think.

On the fourth day I began to think I had gone down some sort of mental rabbit hole that I wasn’t sure I could retreat from. That statement likely comes across as unnecessarily melodramatic, but it remains the best way to describe the swift losing of what I thought was my mind, in order to replace it with what actually is my mind, or rather myself.

Let me explain.

As the month I spent without unnecessary technology use comes to a close, I realize that ultimately my month “away” gave me the opportunity to temporarily grasp a small piece of what it feels like to be me. A pinhole glimpse into my understanding of who I’ve become. Not nearly large or tangible enough to hold onto or fully comprehend. But just wide enough to intrigue my interest and teach me that this experiment was really just the beginning of some more complex journey to widen that pinhole, if just slightly. Draw out the blackened edges little by little. Turn what feels like a metaphorical lesson from a dream into something I can hold in my hands.

What I thought would be 31 days to reduce anxiety, social pressures, and redefine what activities are important to me turned into 31 days of exploring around in my own head. I thought it would be all reading, and working out and time with friends and family without constant pressure from emails, social media, TV, and texting. It was all of those great things, but I had to go through this experiment in order to stop missing the point:

The real opportunity to learn lies beyond the simple omission of all the world’s noises and ideas. What remains in their absence is room for myself, which is the most important discovery of all.

The clean slate I forgot I was even capable of being. The ability to let my mind wander however it wanted to, sometimes for however long it could, with no interruptions. The freedom from input, from distraction and attention-grabbing, from anything that is the opposite of solitude. Which I still define as simply being alone with your own thoughts, not necessarily physically alone.

In the beginning it was easy. I liken it to a food detox. You feel great for that first couple of days. It’s easy and simple. I can give it up, no problem. Life without it will be so much better. Healthier. It’s quiet here. No one to bother me. No TV or internet to distract me. Reading all day with a cup of tea feels like vacation. Until it’s your third day in a row, and all the errands that used to take days to complete take a few hours, total. And I’ve worked out, and meditated, and spent my allotted fifteen minutes texting clients back, and cleaned the house, and did all my laundry, and it’s somehow 10:30am.

I seriously began to wonder what I was going to do with 31 days as I anxiously awaited a work day. A clear direction, tasks. It’s that moment when you realize you are truly addicted to sugar and you cannot possibly go without it because it is literally in everything. How is it in everything?!

Time slowed down and I watched it happen. It began to creak by, painfully slowly.

I had to have that moment of panic to realize that what was happening to me was exactly what I asked for. For life to slow down long enough for me to think. On the fifth day I woke up, meditated and immediately thought to myself: For the first time in as long as I can remember, my brain is waking up. I feel like I’m thinking clearly.

For the last decade or longer I’ve felt like someone sitting in a room while twenty radios play just as many different stations at miscellaneous volumes. I picture myself strapped to a chair with something covering my eyes. While it’s difficult to focus on one song long enough to really hear it, if I manage to do so, it would only be for a second before another song would cut in. Twenty songs or commercials or news reports always competing. If something familiar comes on, maybe I could concentrate on it long enough to sing along, only to have that song end and another immediately begin. What this model promises is always the same, whether we enjoy one of the stations, whether we recognize a song or find value in one of the news reports, the ultimate result remains identical: The last thought I have time, space, or energy for is the one in my own head.

Everything is a response to something else.

I went from that room, to a room with nothing in it at all. Or at least that’s what it felt like at first. Just me inside an empty room with the loud sounds of my own breathing. No blindfold because there’s nothing to see. No chair because there’s no where to go. Once the initial panic starts to wear off I realized that I can put whatever I want inside that room. I was the one who put the radios in, and cranked them up, and refused to remove them. I was the one that blindfolded myself and refused to get out of the chair, and now I was the one that decided to shut it all off. Suddenly. And I can always leave the room. Or put things back into it.

That’s when things shifted from scary to interesting. Because holy shit; I can think.

On day six I wrote: “All I know is that right now I feel like the volume of my thoughts has gotten turned way up, so I’m trying really hard to listen.”

Although this post is rife with metaphor (apologies), there is truly no better way to explain this experience. My attention and concentration has improved, my dreams and meditations are more insightful and introspective, and I’m beginning to remember myself.

On day nineteen I continued: “As I think about how my mind feels woken up and truly focused for the first time in years, I wonder what that means for my brain – what dormant state has it been in? I wonder if anxiety isn’t always a response to something outside myself, but rather my own thoughts suppressed to the point that anxiety and depression manifest from their frustration and inability to break free – to get out.”

Which leads me to my next observation: I can feel.

Signing Off

I’m signing off until February first.

My biggest non-work-related goal in 2019 was to blog once a week and I almost made it! This is my 49th post this year, and while I’m proud of what I created, I’m mostly proud that I allowed myself to follow my curiosities enough to reconnect with writing. It’s led me down so many interesting paths and opened so many new doors in just one year.

But mostly, it’s opened my eyes to one big truth about myself that Elizabeth Gilbert explains so eloquently in her book Big Magic:

If I’m not actively creating something, then chances are I am probably actively destroying something- myself, a relationship, or my own peace of mind.

For those of you who have followed my blog continuously throughout 2019, you’re likely aware of my “digital declutter” and the inspiration for my sabbatical from technology. For those of you who may be new to The Real Life Vegan Wife, I’ve been researching, preparing, and writing about this plan for the last six months, and my “Digital Minimalism” entries are great references for additional context.

This post is going to outline my plan to live more presently, more free of anxiety and social pressures, and to ultimately implement a long-term plan to coexist with technologies in a much healthier, (for me) minimal way. This is not meant to be a short term “break from social media” or “vacation from technology” for work. My goal is to teach myself how to use technology to my advantage when applicable, and let the rest fall away to make room for what I truly value in my life – in-person engagement with my community, time with friends and family, writing, reading, meditating, fitness and food, and growing my business without all the unwelcome mental clutter that 24/7 engagement encourages.

I plan to spend the month of January reflecting on what technologies are truly useful to me and what I do not need in my life moving forward. This will also be a time for me to sit quietly with my thoughts in order to remember (although I do have a fairly clear idea) what activities truly bring me happiness, contentment, joy and prosperity and what activities promise these things, but ultimately do not deliver. Lastly, during my month away, I plan to reconnect with my creativity in order to bring you thoughtful writing moving forward in 2020. And in order to write about interesting things, I have to actually go do or learn some interesting things. Obviously I’ll start back with an assessment of how my month off went.

Over the last six months, in an attempt to make the sting of digital minimalism hurt just a bit less, I have significantly minimized my engagement with social media and have set clear boundaries in my work life regarding communications. But in order for this plan to succeed, and for me to learn anything useful from it, I realized early on that I would have to have an outline of specific and clear “rules” and regulations that I can follow. This way I won’t become so worn down with decision fatigue that I ultimately give up mid-way through, or as soon as something becomes too inconvenient.

Here is the outline I’ve come up with so far:

Social Media Use:

Currently I use Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube and have systematically reduced my usage by about 90% since I first began this experiment. I now rarely make personal posts and use my accounts strictly for business, blog, and book club purposes. I will be uninstalling these apps from my phone and will not use them at all during my digital declutter. I have determined that not posting anything for my blog (which I will not be publishing anyway for the month of January) and my business will not have any lasting negative effects on revenue or traffic. If anything, I think this will free up mental space for me to work on my business and writing in different and more efficient “big-picture” ways. After this experiment is over I hope to have a clear idea of how often I want to use social media in ways that only benefit me without wasting my time or mental energy.

Entertainment:

This includes television, radio, podcasts, news, music, video games, using the internet in any capacity and/or any apps on my phone. Since beginning this journey I have categorized all of the apps on my phone into different folders and have tracked my usage and their overall usefulness. The only apps that I will be using during the month of January are ones that I have determined to be “productive” to my overall well-being or my enjoyment of learning and that do not make me feel like they are presenting unwelcome demands on my time. This means that I will allow myself to listen to audiobooks, podcasts and music, will continue to use apps that track my workouts, my to-do lists, and my notes, but will not use my phone for internet use beyond those applications unless it is absolutely necessary for my business to function. Ie: Paying work bills online. I will not watch TV, play video games or games on my phone, and will not watch movies unless I’m going to an actual movie theater with friends or family as part of a social activity. I have curated a small media collection which includes physical subscriptions to Rolling Stone, Esquire, The Sunday New York Times, Veg News Magazine, and The New Yorker. These publications will be where I get my current stories and news from. My goal is to use this time to connect more closely with analog activities like reading, writing, crafting, exercise, etc. And possibly even try out some new activites.

Client & Personal Communication:

This category has been more difficult to navigate because of the work element. I use my phone to communicate with most of my clients and although I set up auto responses to all my social media accounts that instruct clients to call or email my business directly, I still struggle with constant texts, calls, and emails. I decided that the best way to handle this would be to set up specific hours during which I would respond to client communications – I have done this with an auto text response and this has been working well for the last several months. Essentially, I only respond to clients, check email and business voice mails during actual business hours, which has been a huge improvement over 24/7 checking and responding. The part that will change during my digital declutter will be how often I check these things. Currently I check my phone for messages between each client appointment during business hours, but moving forward I plan to have three designated times to check and respond to messages, therefore minimizing my overall time spent checking for communications, capacity for distraction, and therefore minimized productivity. I will set aside fifteen minutes in the morning, mid way through my work day, and then in the evening before I leave work.

As far as personal communications go, I will only read texts, emails, and listen to voicemails people send during the predetermined times I set aside for business, and will not respond unless it is absolutely necessary to do so. If someone would like to have a phone conversation we can do so during a predetermined time, but aside from that I will not be texting or emailing unless the consequences of not doing so will be negative and seriously high. I will answer phone calls from my favorites list which essentially includes close family, friends, and necessary vendors for my business before 6:30pm and then will put my phone on do not disturb so that anything received after that time will have to be from my favorites list and will be assumed to be an emergency so I will answer it.

I’m sure that I will encounter scenarios that I did not plan for, and will journal everything so that I can report back with the solutions and potential blind spots where my plans failed. Maybe this can help any of you looking to do your own digital declutter in the future.

_____

I’ve already experienced significant improvement with my anxiety and stress levels over the last several months working toward this goal. And I’ve successfully reallocated hundreds of hours of time to other interests or tasks. I’m excited to put enough perspective between myself and the technologies that I use to be able to make clear decisions regarding what I will keep in my life moving forward and what I plan to leave behind. And to be honest, I look forward to the solitude. I’ve learned that my productivity levels increase and my mood drastically improves when I allow myself time away – quiet time alone with my own thoughts, work, projects and hobbies. And while some people are content with little bits of solitude here and there, or an hour alone after work, I am learning that I require much more. Time to settle into myself and really think. Space where I can just be and exist without the constant pressures and demands of others on my time.

Recently I’ve been meditating on my young self – remembering to be more like her. Somehow when I was younger (we’re taking elementary school age) I intuitively knew solitude was the key to my creativity, incite, and peace. And I wasn’t afraid to go sit alone while everyone else was sitting together. Certainly, this means I miss out on some information, events, and even some tasks that others consider important. But I’ve made some peace with that part already because I’ve honed in on what is truly important to me, and I’m willing to let the rest go to be a happier person. After a month of reflection I’m excited to learn what my intentions and goals for 2020 will be.

I’ll see y’all in a month.

_____

Photo: The Studio by Kimberly Ann

2019 Book List

Every January first I sit down with my journal and I write down five personal and five business-related goals, then consciously forget about them until the following January when I finally quantify the progress I’ve made. Then I make new goals. Sometimes I’ve not met the previous ones to my standard, so I repeat them, acknowledging it’s a process and not a failure. Some goals I’ve repeated several years in a row.

As I get older I realize that for inspiration to find me, I must always be learning. The perfect Liz cocktail therefore includes: A specific amount of solitude (mental stillness or quietness alone with my own thoughts), time set aside for writing and writing alone, and a steady flow of books. Reading great stories helps me to learn style and flow, story construction, new words, and most importantly, new and different ideas. Reading brings me back to my real and true self, writing aids me in showing it.

At times, reviving my creative self has felt like waking up from a sleepy but satisfying hibernation, hungry to come out of my den for new ideas. Other times it feels like a violent reviving of my soul, shocking myself back from unconsciousness and a kind of temporary creative death.

As a strategy to read and create more, which ultimately makes me connect with my true and happy self on a regular basis, I implemented some strategies in 2019.

1) Read 30 minutes every morning before work when you’re having your coffee.

2) Try to also read on your days off instead of watching TV, or being on your phone.

3) Aim for completing one book per week.

4) Write one blog post per week for one year to see how it goes. It can be any length.

5) Set aside about five hours per week to write. Divvy it up however you want. Write about whatever you choose.

6) Try to freelance at least one article.

7) Start a book club.

Reviewing this list overwhelms me with gratitude for the progress I’ve made getting to (re)know my creative self this year. I mostly stick with goals one, two, and five on a regular basis, with some room for improvement of course. I only missed a couple of blog posts this year, but published one almost every single week. I freelanced several articles, and did in fact start that book club, and we’ve met twice so far. As far as the books go- I read 21. I plan on reading a couple more before the year is through, but I wanted to share my list with you for two reasons. One: So you can get new book ideas! And two: So you know that I didn’t even make it half way to my goal. But I don’t at all consider it a failure- I still read about fifteen more books this year than last, and I have no doubt that I’ll read even more in 2020.

Liz’s 2019 Book List

These are simply listed in the order I read them, with asterisks next to the five I most highly recommend at this time, based on how interesting they were, how much I learned from them this year, and their ability to influence my research and work. I read very little fiction, therefore I feel that the couple novels on the list deserve an imaginary and automatic asterisk for being amazing.

1) Lullaby, Chuck Palahniuk

2) American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land, Monica Hesse

3) The Stranger Beside Me, Ann Rule

4) Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout, Laura Jane Grace

5) Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country, Pam Houston

6) Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds, David Goggins

*7) Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, Jon Krakauer

8) Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered, Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff

*9) Deep Work, Cal Newport

10) Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport

11) I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, Michelle McNamara

*12) How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence, Michael Pollan

13) Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, Sheryl Sandberg

14) The Testaments, Margaret Atwood

*15) Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, Sarah Smarsh

16) Hungry: Eating, Road-Tripping, and Risking it All with the Greatest Chef in the World, Jeff Gordinier

17) The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem, Stacy Schiff

18) The Happiness Advantage: How a Positive Brain Fuels Success in Work and Life, Shawn Achor

*19) Into The Raging Sea: Thirty-Three Mariners, One Megastorm, and the Sinking of El Faro, Rachel Slade

20) Shit the Moon Said: A Story of Sex, Drugs, and Ayahuasca, Gerard Powell

21) Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert

Next on the List / Will Read Before 2020:

22) The Gift of Fear, Gavin De Becker