This episode should be subtitled “The Conversation That Gave Me A Vulnerability Hangover.” And that’s exactly why I love talking to Jessica – she’s a pro at being kind, inclusive, AND pushing you to examine your belief and your norms at the same time.
Jessica Murnane is an author, women’s health advocate, host of the One Part Podcast, and founder of endometriosis awareness platform Know Your Endo AND One Part Plant, a movement that’s all about eating one plant-based meal a day to make a big difference from small changes.
In this episode Jessica and I talk about depression, moving through mental and physical health struggles (especially in our “sharing” culture), her endometriosis advocacy, being an influencer vs having influence, fitting in with the other people in your industry, how the new-age wellness industry can step up their game and how YOU can help, and – my favorite – making change happen and creating impact out there in the world, FAR from the online space.
Every season, we’ll be spotlighting an organization that’s making strides when it comes to making shift happen. This season, we’re proud to support She’s The First, an award-winning non-profit organization that fights gender inequality through education. To learn more, go to shesthefirst.org
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I’ve always been a sucker for late 90s, early 2000s rom-coms. The soundtracks! The star power! The good person getting the job and winning the man!
(there’s always the man. more on that in a sec.)
I still love me a good rom-com for sentimental reasons. But the most clichéd ones? They’re now rough to watch. Many require you to majorly suspend your disbelief as you watch a completely problematic and unrealistic situation magically work itself out, and many (at least many of the early ones) reinforced a trope created in decades prior that looking, acting, and responding in a very particular way will get you what you want and deserve in life.
My main issue with rom coms when I watch them now, however, is this:
In many of these so-called “girl powered” movies, the storyline follows women positioning themselves as experts in a field, but somehow, they’re unable to tackle the problems they’re so good at solving when those problems hit the closest to home (dating expert, advice columnist, wedding planner…you get the gist). That’s usually when the man – or someone else – comes in and saves her or shows her the light. It’s rare that we’re shown how to move forward fearlessly when shit gets real, and how to do it on our own. And the message is that when darkness or hardship looms, someone or something will swoop in to save us and make us feel worthwhile again.
We need a new model for what to do when it all feels like too much.
You can know your through-line, crush Casual Negativity, and be a pro at shifting your self-talk…when life is going pretty well overall. But what happens when the you-know-what hits the fan, and it keeps hitting the fan? What happens when you’re in major need of a WIN, and that win just isn’t coming your way?
Here are five strategies for when life won’t let up:
1.) Focus on getting to NOW-Normal instead of BACK-To-Normal.
When things suck, we want to make them not-suck. We want to “get back to normal” or “the way things were back then.” THEN, of course, being a time when there were limited obstacles and you felt in control. This is totally expected and totally natural.
However, normal NOW isn’t the same as normal THEN. You’ve got a new normal in the Now.
Instead of trying to force old habits into a new set of circumstances, focus on accepting this new normal – not trying to adjust to make things like “what they were,” but maximizing “how they ARE.” What might have been easy or routine for you before simply might not work as well for your lifestyle right now.
Making lifestyle choices and developing positive habits, then, become like a game. What WILL feel good? What WILL stick? Inthis episode of the WANTcast with Lynn Chen, she tells us that when her father died and she was too overcome with grief to do anything, she treated her life like she was recovering from amnesia. Trying things out, from foods to workouts, to see what resonated and what didn’t. ZERO pressure to stick with one thing, and ZERO ties to what once worked.
When life feels the most challenging, do like Lynn and do a scavenger hunt to find your Now-Normal. If something doesn’t really stick, you have full permission to move on. If there’s a spark there, try it again. And again. And again.
I am NOTHING for ANYONE if I am not GROUNDING for myself. And so when shit starts to hit the fan – or when everything, good or not-so-good, feels like it’s coming at me all at once – I schedule what’s called “white space.” It’s time that is all your own, that you don’t plan to fill and don’t schedule over. It’s both everything and nothingness.
It can be an hour. It can be three minutes. It doesn’t need to be formalized “meditation.” It doesn’t need to be productive OR unproductive. But I’ve learned that white space time, time that belongs to ME and ME ALONE, time that’s like the “white space” on a canvas – TBD, no paint, open to possibility – is a deal maker or breaker for me. If I don’t take time to reconnect to myself with no external stimuli or things to answer to, and don’t take time when I need it most, I end up going off the rails.
After I wrote about my Instgram bully, I had many people write to me privately about their experiences with harassment and, specifically, others telling them to feel compassion for their bully as a coping mechanism. And how fucking INFURIATING that can be. For me, it’s moments like these that remind me why I practice white-space-moments on the regular. So that when shit gets real…when I’m hurt, when I’m highly emotionally triggered…I can pause even for a SECOND and remember who the F I am and what the F I stand for.Without anyone telling me who I am or what I SHOULD BE. It’s in these moments, these seemingly-millisecond moments, I’m able to do the thing that’s most proactive, not reactive (see last point). That I’m able to be the way I know I’m meant to be, not the way someone else told me I should respond.
I practice those white-space moments not for the moments I’m necessarily in. But for the moments in the future when I’ll need them most. It’s sunglasses in the subway and walking back and forth outside before I go and join the party. It’s hiding in the bathroom before networking not because I’m scared but because I can’t bear to not be myself. It’s what I do when the stakes are low so I know where to go when the stakes are high. It’s not the most sexy or socially acceptable thing but it’s what keeps me going. It’s not easy work, but it sure is right.
4.) Nix the one-sided emotional labor and replace it with a two-sided emotional investment.
This one is maybe the most profound (and hardest) for me. Emotional labor is what it sounds like: doing the emotional work to make something function. It’s actually a good thing, but becomes dangerous when it is ridiculously one-sided…and in which case, it’s usually the women who are doing the work.
Emotional labor can look like being the one who is constantly dissecting your friend’s toxic relationships and convincing them to see the light (then they do it again and you do it again, and so on and so forth). Emotional labor can look like putting on a happy face for your partner and “being a light” for them as they continuously stew in their own troubles. Emotional labor can mean decoding the unspoken subtext at work so that everyone can actually get things done. Emotional labor is brushing off micro-aggressions because they’re “not really that big” and “not really worth it” andexcusing your bully in the name of “compassion.” Emotional labor is why it’s so exhausting to be a barista or a server or in the service/hospitality industry in any capacity: you’re soaking in the emotions of each and every customer, many of whom are taking their daily aggravations out on you. It’s your job to keep the peace and “put a smile on their face.”
If you’re in the service/hospitality industry, there are going to be parts of one-sided emotional labor that are unavoidable – you need to figure out your own personal boundaries, makes, and breaks. But let’s talk outside of those instances.
Emotional labor is taxing, and gives all your good stuff to others while leaving zilch for yourself. You can’t drink from an empty well, so to speak. And it’s when we’re feeling empty, depleted, and emotionally dehydrated that things turn really dark.
An emotional INVESTMENT, however, is different. By definition, an investment is “an act of devoting time, effort, or energy to a particular undertaking with the expectation of a worthwhile result.” Start-ups present investors with data, proof points, and projections for a reason: to let them know their money isn’t going to waste and their investment won’t make them go bankrupt.
With an emotional investment, if you’re devoting your emotional time, effort, and energy to something, you’re going to see a return. Emotional investments might not be two-ways in the moment, but you’ve got proof points that when you need it, you’ll be getting that investment back in your direction. That’s why investors don’t just pour money into companies that sound cool, and why you shouldn’t invest in people who aren’t going to ever give back to you. That’s not being a friend. That’s being a savior, and dehydrating and bankrupting yourself of your most valuable assets.
When you’re feeling like the bad stuff won’t stop, immediately cut ties from one-sided emotional labor. This is the time your emotional investments should be making a return in the form of love, check-ins, and support while you slowly start to build up your emotional funds again. It’s not the time for you to mindlessly spend as you continue to overdraft.
5.) Ask yourself: is this decision PROACTIVE or REACTIVE?
When making decisions during tough, emotionally heavy times, I always ask, “Is this decision proactive, or reactive?” Its a practice that got me through a really horrible breakup in my 20s and it’s yet to fail me. Am I reacting to my situation and letting it dictate my actions, or am I proactively moving THROUGH the darkness, the fear, the anger, the confusion, the whatever-it-is, to make my way through to the other side? Here’s a post I wrote for some encouragement when it comes to taking and embracing the small steps that end up making a huge difference.
Above all, know that the know is not the forever. This is a moment in time – a chapter of your story. And while it’s just one chapter, how you choose to read it will inform how you view the other chapters to come.
The storm will pass and the dust will settle, and you’ll still be standing. But the great thing is, you won’t need saving, and you won’t need anyone to “show you the light.” You get to be the star, and you get to write your own success story.
My steps always feel heaviest in the winter. Confined to a treadmill and no wind or road variation to keep my gait a-guessing, I make do with what I have and fall into a sense of comfort doing three miles on a glorified conveyor belt…just enough work to make it work for me. It’s fine. I’m fine. My body is satisfied but my heart works hard to suppress its longing for open air and a pace that’s not made of buttons.
Running has been the only “sport” I ever really excelled in. Too independent for team sports and too scared for risky business, running was what it felt like my body was built to do. Unbridled enthusiasm harnessed, unending determination streamlined. Running long distances as a kid was NOT my jam, but the 100-yard dash? Start the timer and I’m zipping ahead of the crowd.
Each year the running opportunities got harder to find. First I moved to a school that mostly ran as punishment, then I got scared of the treadmill when my cousin was horsing around on my uncle’s NordicTrac and crashed through the wall. Then P.E. became a time you talked to friends instead of letting out your inner competitive streak, then I went to high school and opted for Dance instead of P.E. because that’s what you did if you were a theatre kid. I’ll never forget playing a cast-bonding game of Not It / It (ok, so it was Duck Duck Goose) and chasing one of the senior boys around the circle and him gasping for breath, “Katie Horwitch, you are FAST!!!” Yes, I am. I just don’t have a chance to use it.
And then I went to college and I discovered the escape that was The Gym. How liberating it was, so many people with so many shapes using their bodies in so many ways! The perfect respite from the image-obsessed world of Being Eighteen juxtaposed with the image-obsessed world of taking ballet and jazz every day and having to scrutinize your form in the mirror at 8AM. There was an indoor track and I quickly became enamoured. But dancers can’t run, I was told. Bad for the knees. I learned to use the elliptical and not only stay stationary, but never lift my feet. It’s fine. I’m fine.
Winter reminds me of those years that running felt all but forbidden. I technically have the freedom to move as I choose, but the oppressive gloom and dipping temps cajole me like an assertive mother figure to turn away; you don’t want that, it’s just better that way.
And so I finally come back to it months later, on a day where the weather feels…well, less like inviting, more like permissive. My legs feel heavy under my body as I force them forward beyond the comfort of the treadmills and taxi cabs that December through March make more readily available.
I get where I want to go in the winter…but do I get there the WAY I want to?
Seasonal depression is a thing, for sure, but I also think much of the rut we find ourselves in during the winter has to do with the lifestyle we succomb to regardless of the Earth’s placement on its axis. It’s not that we outright choose to live differently, it’s just that it feels…easier. We bother ourselves with the wrong types of stimuli, we stay on high alert for the stuff that feels trite. It’s not until we step outside the box we’ve built for ourselves, thinking we can so easily bounce from one lifestyle to the next, that we’re repulsed by the way we’ve adapted to our space.
It never felt this hard before.
I’ve been wasting time.
I’m so far behind.
It’s not just during the seasonal shifts when I need to relearn how to run. It’s when I’ve been giving so much of myself to everyone else that I forget what it’s like to have QT with my musings on a daily basis. It’s when over and over I say Yes when I’d prefer No, No when I’d prefer Yes, and one or the other when I convince myself that “Let me think about this and get back to you” isn’t a valid response. It’s when I tell myself too many times, it’s when I tell everyone else too many times: I’m fine. It’s fine. I’m fine.
As I ran along the river this morning, way slower than I would have preferred, way shorter a distance than I would have liked, frustrated by the struggle but committed to the act, I passed by a small girl kneeling down to tie her shoes by her scooter. Her tiny pink helmet punctured the grey of the sidewalk-horizon meeting the grey of the water-horizon meeting the grey of the cloudy-horizon, like a little flower-bud-blip of brightness poking out from the ground promising sweeter weather right around the corner. I noticed she was watching me.
Who would I have been if I had not had women to watch as they relearned how to run? Maybe I couldn’t see their struggle out loud but I could feel it, because feely people always know. I don’t know that I ever thought I was the only one with dark days and hard times, I just sensed that some of us felt it darker and harder than others. Even if they weren’t talking about it, I knew. They said It’s fine; I’m fine. I knew. Their secrets were safe with me. And they kept putting one foot in front of the other.
And now I know, a rough patch or tough spot or even a drawn-out season of stagnation is not my fault. It’s not a failure, and it’s def not a sign I’m falling behind. It happens to everyone, because life happens to everyone. What matters is the relearning, the way I not only get reacquainted with my abilities but I expand on them. Each time a little more learning, each time a tiny smidgebit fresh and new. First the walk, then the jog, then the run. My steps feel heavy and uncomfortable now, but I know they won’t soon. And I know that if I can get out of my own way and accept that it’s NOT fine and I’m NOT fine, that itself means I’m about to bloom and grow. Because little flower buds either wither in their pod or expand so uncomfortably hard that they burst into the epitome of springtime.
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I’m not gonna lie: the last few weeks have felt really, really tough. The kind of tough that’s hard to explain to people. The kind of tough that makes it hard to motivate yourself to write. The kind of tough that puts off tasks and escews social plans because there’s a rager going on inside your head 24/7. The kind of tough that make you question…well, not everything, but a whole damn lot.
I don’t know if it’s because we’re nine months into the year and still dealing with SO much of the same BS (you know what I’m talking about.), or because it feels like I’ve been doing double duty looking after both others AND myself and the load has just felt really heavy lately, or because the seasons here in NYC are starting to shift a bit early and I’m caught off-guard by a change I wasn’t ready for, or because the brainspace that is usually reserved for “future growth” in both the personal and professional sense has been hijacked by wedding/marriage prep.
((Or maybe it’s just because I’ve been listening to the new Phantogram album on loop and it’s making me feel things that have probably been repressed for a really long time.))
In any case – I’m not a stranger to this feeling of heaviness and toughness, which is why I think I’m not too crazily overwhelmed by it. I know it well. I used to get really scared that it was my default state. That I was destined for a lifetime of being in conflict with the way I was inside vs the way I was perceived by others: glass-half-full to everyone else, is-that-glass-even-able-to-hold-that-much-water-without-tipping-over to myself inside my head. It wasn’t that I was overly optimistic and constantly disappointed, OR overly pessimistic and cynical about the world. I just felt feelings about everything. Hence the heaviness.
And then I dated someone who was like this way more often than I was. He was one of the most creative, intuitive, empathetic people I knew – and most emotional, besides myself. I saw his highest highs and lowest lows, and he always seemed to bounce back to neutral eventually.
How did he navigate his tough spots so gracefully?
With a catchphrase I soon adpoted as my own: The emotions of the situation are not the reality of the situation.
This doesn’t mean your emotions are wrong. It just means they’re not an accurate picture of what’s going on OUTSIDE your head. You are allowed to feel exactly how you feel, and feel it about exactly what you feel it about.
So while, say, these last few weeks have felt really heavy and really tough, I know now that this is my emotional response to a set of situations at hand. And emotions are ever in flux. This is just an ebb in my flow.
The solution, for me, is to just start do-ing.
To do one small, small thing that sets off a chain reaction in my head and heart that tells me I’m okay.
That I’m capable of moving forward even if I don’t feel like I am.
The one thing empowers me in an oh-so-small-but-oh-so-big way to do one other thing, and then another, and then another. It’s like picking loose change up off the ground…eventually you have enough coins to make a full dollar. And you have to pick up every single coin to get there. Sometimes you luck out and find a quarter. Sometimes you’re relegated to pennies. But both make you at least one cent richer than you were the second before.
Ever caught yourself saying, “Eh, it won’t matter anyway”…or, “It’s not enough”…or, “It’s too small to count”….??? Welp, one step is better than no step. And you can’t move anywhere if you don’t take one step after the other. Send the email. Return the call. Write the thing. Write a LINE in the thing. Get your shoes ON. Heck, make the bed!!! When the world seems the most overwhelming the best thing we can do is just take life choice to choice. No choice is too tiny. No change is too small. No decision is insignificant.
I’ve started to work through my feelings of heaviness by doing small acts at the very beginning (or middle, or end) of the day that make a HUGE difference. I’ve learned that when everything feels tough, nothing feels doable. I tend to procrastinate and tell myself I’ll get to things once I feel “better.”
But – and this is something I need to KEEP reminding myself over and over – once I start doing *A* thing, whether or not it’s *THE* thing, then I start to feel two percent accomplished and two percent more likely to do another thing, and another, and another, and then eventually everything feels a lot lighter and a lot more manageable. And eventually, I’m back to writing again. And it’s like the toughness never happened.
Except the body remembers.
And the body takes with it the good stuff if you let it.
So accomplishing one small thing after another in the midst of tough times helps develop resilience and PROOF that the toughness is not your default state. It’s one part of the amazing, multifaceted person you are.
And that’s the reality of the situation.
Need some ideas? Here are some things to do when literally just getting out the door seems like a feat in and of itself, your heart is feeling either understandibly or inexplicably heavy, and you don’t feel like doing anything:
Make your bed.
Exfoliate and/or put on a face mask.
Brew yourself coffee.
Send ONE email you’ve been meaning to send (this is my own personal go-to).
Text a friend and tell them how much you love them.
Clip your toenails.
Read three pages of a book.
Lace up whatever shoes you exercise in and tell yourself that if you still don’t want to work out after 10 minutes, you can stop.
Blow dry your hair.
Take 10 slow, long, loud breaths.
Update your resumé, press kit, LinkedIn, or social media accounts.
Do your laundry, then – plot twist! – fold your clothes after (instead of leaving them on the ottoman what do you mean i never do this…).
Make or buy organizational tools for your drawers and closets so you know where things are when you need them – and then organize those things.
Make or buy yourself a healthy meal – or pack your lunch for the next day.
If you use a calendar app on your phone, set a reminder at a specific time (every day, if you’d like) to plan your next day or just to take a standing break.
Drink a full glass of water – it’s amazing how much simple hydration can do.
Hug someone. PS – a puppy is definitely “someone.”
Now I’d love to hear from you! What is something you do to help yourself get back on track when you don’t feel like doing anything? Leave a comment and tell me your go-to.
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