Letting Go of Expectations

From hectic life in the USA to island life as a stay-at-home-wife, this blog follows the musings of an anxious Type-A as she learns to slow down and tune in to the important things in life

 

Month: November 2016

Giving Thanks

With the holiday season rapidly approaching, I keep wondering what my first holiday season away from my family will be like. I feel incredibly fortunate that I made it to my mid-twenties before spending the holidays away from my family and their familiar traditions.

This afternoon will be the first time that I will not be with my parents, brother, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandma as they sit down to Thanksgiving dinner together. They will gather at my grandma’s house, whose counters will probably be covered in snacks and appetizers despite the approaching feast.

My uncle will most likely follow my late grandpa’s tradition of brining and grilling the turkey. After everyone stuffs their faces with mashed potatoes, turkey, and Grandma’s sticky buns, someone will help Grandma carry her Christmas tree up from the basement and set it up to the left of the fireplace in her living room.

By the end of the day, everyone will have forgotten which wine glass is theirs, and Grandma will make sure that at least one whole pie goes to every household, along with the rest of the Thanksgiving leftovers.

While I am already missing that time with my family, I still have much to be grateful for.

I am grateful for my loving, dedicated, supportive husband. I am grateful for the friends we have made in Grenada, some of whom we are lucky enough to be spending Thanksgiving with. I am grateful for my dog and his growing appreciation of cuddling.

I am grateful to have such a great relationship with my family and for all the memories and traditions that we share. I am grateful for my friends back home and that it is easy to stay in touch with them thanks to technology. I am grateful for my able body, the place we currently call home, the chance to live on abroad, free Wi-Fi, and the existence of ice cream.

That’s all well and good. While I really truly am grateful for all those things – and too many more to count – two things stand out to me about that list.

The first is that I’m surprised more food items didn’t make it onto the short list of things that I am grateful for. I mean, I plan my day around my meals. I am also truly sad for Husband, who does not seem to have the capacity to experience the pure joy that I do from eating delicious food. The short list may have to be revised to include Chipotle – of course I know the guacamole is extra – and pizza, at the very least.

All kidding aside, the other thing that stands out to me about the list is that most of the things that I am grateful for are the people in my life and the time that we are able to spend together.

The holidays can get so busy with gift buying and social engagements that it is easy to forget about what the person that you are buying the gift for means to you, or that you should be enjoying the time with the company that you are in.

As we gather with friends and family today and through the rest of the holidays, take a moment to really notice and appreciate the people you are with. Step back and notice the little conversations everyone is having, how the turkey smells, what the kids are doing. Take a snapshot of that moment in your mind so that you can remember it later.

If things get hectic during the coming weeks, return to that moment or think about the people in your life who you are grateful for and connect that to what you are doing. Connect it to why you are cooking, shopping, or traveling.

After all, it’s not just the decorations or the weather or the food or the gifts that make the holiday season special. It is the time that we take during the holiday season to spend time with loved ones and show them how much we care about them and to feel how much they care about us, that makes it such a great time of year.

I think that if we can keep sight of that, it will make the holidays even more enjoyable.

The Welcome Surprise of Low Expectations

Having high expectations for something is an easy way to set yourself up for disappointment. Maybe you heard that a movie that just came out is “literally the best movie ever made”. You go into the movie expecting a visual masterpiece and a plotline to rival the works of Shakespeare.

When the movie is over, you agree that it was good, but probably not the best movie ever. What’s more, since you went into it with the expectation of watching the best movie ever and it didn’t live up to that, you probably like that movie a little less than you would have if you went into it with no expectations.

I was recently happily surprised by a situation in which I had no expectations for myself while I was practicing yoga. I started doing yoga about four months ago, and while I love watching people who are good at yoga maneuver their bodies into elegant poses, I know that I am a long way away from that.

Occasionally I get impatient with myself and wish that I could progress with yoga more quickly, but most days I am ok with where I am at, and I am ok with the fact that the journey to more strength and flexibility will take a long time. I also know that I am not very flexible, especially in my lower body.

That was why, when my heels touched the floor in downward facing dog, I was ecstatic.

In downward facing dog, your hands and feet are on the mat and your butt is up in the air, with your body in the shape of a V. I remember in one of the first yoga classes that I ever attended, the instructor said to think about your heels coming all the way down to the mat in downward facing dog. With my heels four inches away from the floor, I thought she was crazy.

If I had any expectation about my heels touching the mat, it was that it would happen after years of practice. Honestly, though, I didn’t think about it much. I just enjoyed stretching out the backs of my legs in downward facing dog.

Then, one day, I was practicing yoga at home following a video online. This was after about three months of practicing most days, but not every day. Toward the end of the video, I went into downward facing dog and it happened! Both heels touched the floor!

I was so excited that I couldn’t even go into Shavasana, the final resting pose that you are supposed to end your yoga practice with. Instead, I ran into the other room to show Husband, who was happy that I was happy but not quite sure what all the fuss was about. The dog, on the other hand, was super happy about all the running around and excitement.

Most of the reason why this was so exciting was that I hadn’t expected it to happen for a very long time. If I had expected my heels to touch the ground after one or two months of practicing yoga, just like expecting to watch the best movie ever, I would have just set myself up for disappointment.

Yoga practice has been a great way for me to embrace the moment and release any idea of how things should be. I have become better at tuning into my body and accepting where I am every day. Since that first time my heels touched the floor, I have had days where that has happened again, but I have also had many days where it hasn’t, and I’m perfectly ok with that.

I enjoy yoga much more when I think about it as a journey, instead of a time to push myself into perfect poses. You can think about life in much the same way. It is a journey that will be much more enjoyable if you take the time to enjoy where you’re at each day, instead of just rushing to get to a place where you think you’re supposed to be, such as having a certain job or relationship status.

The key to enjoying the journey is not holding onto expectations about what a yoga pose should look like, or what you should be doing at a certain point in your life. My heels touching the floor in downward facing dog was a lightbulb moment for me about how great it can be to have low expectations.

Of course, I don’t want to have low expectations about everything in my life. I still want to have goals and things to strive for, but I hope to hold onto my goals without turning them into expectations. It’s great to have something to work towards, but much less great with the unnecessary pressure of expectation.

So go on, enjoy the journey, and open yourself up to feeling surprise and joy over the little things.

The Ebb and Flow of Mental Illness, Part 2

I didn’t anticipate this being a two-part post, but it seems fitting that since I wrote the first part during a high point in my anxiety, that I should touch on the topic again now that the high point has passed.

I knew that this was going to happen, but somehow I was still surprised and disappointed. After a few weeks of being incredibly productive, making phone calls like a champ, and doing scary things on my own without a feeling of impending doom, the sense of confidence and ease slowly started to dissipate.

I once again began to feel that familiar sense of disquieting, quick heart rate for no discernible reason. Things are once again getting pushed to the bottom of the to-do list because I haven’t been able to work myself up to doing them yet.

I am distracted. I feel like I can’t do the things that I want to do because there isn’t time. There must be something else that I should be doing, even if I can’t think of it. I spend a lot of time staring at my to-do list and re-organizing it.

Instead of feeling happy and connected to people after a conversation, I sometimes try to avoid social encounters altogether. The gardener at our apartment is the nicest person ever, but occasionally I find myself walking quickly from the car to the apartment, all the time hoping that he won’t talk to me.

The past few days, I have been obsessing over a number of social encounters that I have had recently. My anxiety keeps telling me that I said something weird, or stupid and that the people that I said them to probably do not want to talk to me anymore.

As Husband and I were lying in bed reading the other night, my brain suddenly decided that we were going to get worked up wondering if the front door was locked or not. Husband and I always lock the door. The rational part of me knew that it was locked. It didn’t matter.

Unable to tamp down the wave of anxiety on my own, I asked Husband if the front door was locked. He said that it was. I felt a little better, but I secretly went and checked a little while later. The door was locked.

One of the most frustrating facets of my anxiety also made an appearance recently. Some part of my mind latched onto an idea of how the day was going to go, without the knowledge or consent of the rest of me. Then, things changed. This small change of plans launched me into a sh***y mood for the rest of the day.

It wasn’t until later reflection that I realized what had happened. In the moment, I was just moody and angry. I didn’t know why I was in a bad mood, I didn’t know how to fix it, and I was frustrated with myself for being unable to fix it. Husband, who unfailingly will take action to make anything better, was also frustrated because he wanted to help but neither of us knew what to do.

Looking back, it is obvious to me that the slight change in plans is what threw me into a bad mood. It doesn’t happen every time something changes, but this has happened before, more than once. Sometimes, I feel a lot of security in being in control of what I am doing. When I am in that place and things don’t go how I expected them to, it can trigger this negative emotional reaction.

Needless to say, this stuff has not been a ton of fun to experience. It never is. I keep trying to find the silver lining in all of this, though.

One good thing is that, even though I’m experiencing a low point with my anxiety right now, the high point that I just left was one of the longest I’ve experienced before. As someone with a background in science, I know that one data point is not enough to say that there is a trend, but I can still hope that the next high point will be longer, too.

Another good thing is that I have an incredible support network of people that I can reach out to. When I was in my more social phase recently, I contacted a lot of people and I was reminded of just how awesome all the people in my life are. That feeling didn’t go away when anxiety decided to occupy a larger portion of my life again.

For better or worse, I know I’ll always be on this roller coaster of anxiety. Through the good and the less than good, I can always keep working toward better and trying to find the positive. At times like these, I feel comfort in repeating the famous words of Dori to myself.

Just keep swimming.

How I Accidentally Climbed a Mountain

Ok, I knew that I was going to be traversing a mountain. But I think the term “hike” must be used very loosely in Grenada.

You see, when I signed up for a “hike” up Mount Saint Catherine, the tallest mountain in Grenada, I was expecting to trudge up mountain trails, get some nice scenic views of the rainforest, and have really sore legs the next day.

What I got instead was crawling through mud, using ropes that were probably secure to pull myself up the side of the mountain, and a healthy dose of fear for my life.

It all started out innocently enough, though. We began with the usual bus ride, where the one-eyed driver managed to not drive off a cliff in the winding, mountainous interior of Grenada by the grace of some higher power. When the road got so steep that the bus could go no further, the hike began.

About ten minutes in I was panting and hoping that the 12 liters of water that I brought for the day would be enough. To my great relief, though, the trail started to level out after that and we were able to enjoy a stunning view of the ocean.

ocean view from mount saint catherine hike

After a period of hiking through the rainforest – and occasional deep mud – we came upon a spot where a clump of tall bamboo had fallen away from the mountain and was obstructing the path. One by one, we clambered over the bamboo.

As I was putting all my weight on the hand of the guy helping me up so quickly that I just about pulled both of us over, I thought, “Wow, we are getting to do a little climbing on this hike! How exciting! Surely this will be the hardest part.”

I could not have been more wrong.

Eventually, the path got very steep, and we had to start climbing. Only it wasn’t quite climbing.

The mud that was a mere nuisance on the flatter path behind us made the vertical cliff walls that we were climbing treacherously slick at points. Okay, maybe they weren’t vertical cliff walls, but since I have the climbing skills and upper body strength of a toddler, it sure felt that way.

In any case, the going was slow, slippery, and much more closely resembled climbing than hiking.

Above us on the path, I could see that the trees cleared. The first few people who made it to that point exclaimed that everyone had to look at the view when they got there.

I continued climbing and finally reached the clearing. I looked around to see…

Nothing.

We were so high up on the mountain that everything was shrouded in mist, and all I could see was the frighteningly narrow, steep path extending a little way above me and a very little way below me.

I panicked. Suddenly, I couldn’t find good handholds or footholds to continue climbing, and I was stuck, clinging helplessly to the side of the mountain.

Luckily, someone that was ahead of me on the trail was able to pull me up the rest of the way. Otherwise, frozen by panic, I’m pretty sure my fellow hikers would have had to turn around early and get me air-lifted off the cliff that I was glued to.

This bit of climbing was followed by a narrow ridge where the sides of the path dropped out abruptly in places. As I continued, I clung to the plants on either side and kept my gaze focused on the path in front of me, trying to ignore the clouds below the path that I could see through the foliage.

Scurrying across the ridge, trying to stay as close to the ground as I could, I’m sure I resembled some type of Gollum-like creature. Despite living in the Caribbean for three months, I’m still definitely pale enough to pull off the comparison.

After the Ridge of Doom – as I affectionately named it – we came to a place where the path was so steep that there were ropes there to help you pull yourself up. As I was climbing with generous use of the rope, I heard someone below me call out.

With all my weight on this ancient rope and nothing but clouds below me, “check the knots in the rope when you get to the top,” was not what I wanted to hear.

After a good deal more climbing through the mud and dense foliage – during which time I began my pre-emptive panic about how we were going to get down the mountain – we finally reached the top and were greeted by this view!

top-of-mount-saint-catherine

Ok, so the clouds were kind of obstructing any real view that we would have had from the top of the mountain, but it still looked cool, and the howling wind and low visibility made me feel like I was Matt Damon in The Martian when he was stuck in that storm on Mars.

As we ate lunch in the gusting wind and dense clouds at the top of the mountain, I was able to collect my thoughts. Probably nobody had died on the mountain. A few of my hiking companions had done the “hike” before and obviously they hadn’t died.

On the way back down, all I had to do was keep my wits about me, go slowly, and try not to slide off the side of the mountain. Easy peasy.

When all the obligatory top-of-the-mountain pictures were taken, we began our descent. In order to stay as close as I could to the ground, I made liberal use of a technique that I’m pretty sure many professional mountain climbers use – the sliding butt-scoot. Whatever hope I had held onto about not being 100% covered in mud was quickly eliminated.

I descended the scary rope part of the mountain and was once again crouching Gollum-like on top of the Ridge of Doom, where I was waiting for the rest of the group to climb down. There, I reflected that going down the mountain was much easier than I had anticipated, and maybe my preemptive panic had been unnecessary.

It was all downhill from there (ba dum tss) and slowly the path began to widen and become less steep. Just after the adrenaline wore off and I was sure my legs were going to give out, we reached the bottom of the mountain. I never thought I would be so relieved to see our one-eyed bus driver as I was in that moment.

As we careened across the narrow, mountainous roads home, I began to reflect on the “hike”. I was proud that, despite my exquisitely unobservant nature and arm strength comparable to that of a T-rex, I had made it to the top of Mount Saint Catherine and back without becoming the target of a search and rescue mission.

Now, I am home. I have scrubbed the mud off my scraped and stinging skin and I am so sore that I need to hold onto something to lower myself onto the toilet, but it was worth it.

In all seriousness, it was a great way to push myself out of my comfort zone. It was yet another example for me that when I get out of my own head – like I did on the way down the mountain – things are not nearly as bad as I think they will be. Also, I went on the “hike” with a group of awesome, helpful, encouraging people who made the day fun, and it is definitely an opportunity that I am glad I did not miss out on.

Maybe next time, though, I’ll find out what is involved in a “hike” before I go.

From Breadwinner to Housewife

First thinking about it, it sounded great. I get to quit my job and become a housewife?! Sign me up! Sure, I figured I would do a little more cooking and cleaning than before, but then I would have most of my time to myself.

I had this image in my mind of a housewife living a luxurious lifestyle including coffee dates with friends in the middle of the day and regular manicures. I knew that would not be me, though – and not just because it is too hot in Grenada to drink coffee. Being the wife of a medical student means lots of debt, a tight budget, little time with Husband, and lots of time spent doing the housework of two.

Let me back up a little bit, though.

From a time well before marriage and medical school, I always thought of myself as a strong person who wouldn’t ever change my life path just for “some boy”. I was an independent horse girl, and Husband (Boyfriend, at the time) knew that he would always be second to my horse. I had been riding for far longer than I had known him and he respected my commitment to riding, my passion.

While we were dating, we were essentially financially independent from one another. We had our own vehicles and were able to move about as we pleased. Looking back on it now, I see that we were moving through life on two parallel paths.

Then, on a glorious summer day, surrounded by our family and friends, we were married. It was a joyous next step in our relationship, but I really didn’t think that marriage would change things that much. We were already living together. We had been dating for three years. I figured we would continue on exactly as we had, but with new titles and joint tax returns.

One short month after we were married, Husband started medical school in Grenada. We were both well aware of the fact that if I didn’t want to give up my life in the US, I wouldn’t have. Truth be told, though, I was feeling burned out and thought a change of scenery would be a great way to re-connect with where I wanted to go in life.

After a brief period of time exploring the island together, classes started and Husband hit the ground running. That was when I became responsible for every aspect of our lives outside of his studies, and at first, I misunderstood what that meant.

I thought it was going to mean doing a little more laundry than I was used to, not changing the laundry schedule that I have always kept because that schedule doesn’t fit his needs. I thought it was going to mean making more of the decisions, not making the majority of them because it is more important for him to be studying.

I really grappled with this feeling of making changes to accommodate Husband. It sounds terrible, I know, but hear me out.

On the one hand, I knew that he is in school, he is incredibly busy, and him being in school now is something that is going to contribute to our future together. He is busy because he is driven to succeed in a difficult field and I am super proud of him for that.

On the other hand, I pride myself on being an independent person who wouldn’t change who I am for someone else. I also refuse to fall into gender roles and being the good wife who has a clean house and a hot dinner ready for her man when he gets home is not at all what I aspired to be.

I always had goals, and I attained them for myself. But when I was no longer sure what those goals were, or what direction I wanted my life to go in, and I seemed to be turning into the good little housewife without her own goals or aspirations, I began to resent doing the things that were my side of the bargain while Husband is in school.

It was only after a lot of reflection that I was able to understand the source of the resentment. I realized that instead of walking on two parallel paths, we needed to be walking on one path, together. His path was the one leading to a more stable future, and he had already made room for me on it, so I finally decided to leave my path and join him on his.

He is leading us down this path right now, but I know that will not always be the case. And now that we are on one path together, I am not doing things either for myself or for him, but everything we do from this point forward is for us.

Now, I feel like instead of doing things for him, I do them out of respect for him. And out of respect for me, he is giving me – as he always has – the time and space to try new things and have fun.

It was worth it, but it wasn’t easy. It was only when I ceded my expectations about what it meant to be a strong, independent person that I saw that I could be that person and help my husband through medical school at the same time.

Now, I am okay with being a housewife, because I finally understand that this is the best thing that I could be doing right now to help us achieve the future that we want.

And, someday, when I am leading us down the path chasing my dreams, I know that he will be right behind me.