The Lessons A Year Of Reflection Taught Me
For the majority of last year, I've journaled almost daily—sometimes two, three, ten times a day. I'm talking poems, affirmations, tear-stained pages of frustrated rants and emotional pleas; detailed accounts of my biggest goals and worst fears. Last year, I found solace and sanctuary in writing, and yet somehow the task of reflecting on the year in its entirety feels daunting.
2017 was about stripping things away.
Some change was extremely reluctant, some was exciting. I had to come to terms with a lot of unhealthy behaviors and hold myself accountable to a standard higher than I previously felt capable of living. I also had to embrace myself fully, and learn that I can be imperfect and amazing, anxious and ambitious, hurt and whole at the same time. This is honestly the first time I've felt a real emotional connection to the year that has gone, and a true expectation and exhilaration for the year to come.
2017 was transformative for me. It broke everything down to be built back up on more solid ground. I feel it would be negligent to let such a pivotal year pass without serious reflection and extracting the lessons that I have learned. That extraction may be painful, but the year also taught me a lot about my ability to handle pain. Below are other lessons I learned over the course of a year.
Pain Is A Wonderful Motivator, But She Burns Out Quickly.
It's the kind of food that fuels you but leaves you starving at the same time. Pain forced me to claw my way out of a dark place, but when I emerged, I realized that it alone would never keep me going. Once pain has served its purpose—to awaken you, to kick you into action—let it go, and choose to operate from faith instead. I'd rather be running toward something good than away from something bad. Love-based over fear-based actions, always.
Don't Get Over It - Get Through It.
If you were on a track running laps and came to a hurdle, naturally, you'd want to jump over it. But when you lap around, there it is again, waiting to trip you up. Every time you jump that hurdle, you make it over and you smile…but every time you come back around, your body is more tired and your mind more exhausted than before.
What if instead of jumping over, you ran right through the hurdle? It would shatter and splinter. You'd fall and scrape your knees, get injured, and probably lose the race. But when you got back up and ran another lap, that hurdle would be gone—demolished—nothing standing in your way.
The track is your journey and the hurdles are the obstacles. Whatever those obstacles may be—rejection, loss, sickness, unemployment, etc.—don't try to get over them, work through them.
It was about confronting my pain, looking it in the eye, getting to know it intimately. That meant a lot of writing it out, even and especially when it felt messy, ugly, or embarrassing. Initially it hurt more than anything, but slowly I discovered root causes of my problems and now I believe they have significantly less power to trip me up because I can see them coming.
You Are Not Your Mind.
This was a big one for me. Struggling with anxiety and (at one point) depression, I've battled with the notion that I was defective because I just couldn't think like other people: Why can't I just be positive? Why is this so hard for me and so simple for others? Why am I so afraid of things? What's wrong with me?
Nothing is wrong with me.
I realized that just because I have "bad" thoughts doesn't mean I'm a "bad" person.
I am not my mind or my thoughts, but rather the observer of those thoughts. I've learned the distinction between being defective and harboring a defective mindset. As the observer of my mind, I can choose new, productive thoughts, remain vigilant against unhealthy habits, and build a new experience of life. It is a slow process and I'm still working on it every damn day (can't stress that enough), but it is possible. My first step was realizing that I am not a negative person. I am simply a person who has been practicing negativity for far too long.
Hobbies Are Vital.
When all your ducks aren't in a row, it can feel trivial and even irresponsible to indulge in "free" time. We think we don't deserve to enjoy ourselves because we haven't achieved enough. Bullsh*t. Enjoying your life should be a MUST, especially when you're healing.
For me, that meant dancing, writing, and for the first time, exercising for enjoyment. Make sure you confront your pain but don't make your ENTIRE life about whatever's hurting you. Go dance, read, sing, whatever. Blow off some steam. Why constantly strive to build a life you won't even allow yourself to enjoy?
I Thrive In Purposeful Isolation.
I discovered that I have to get really still to hear God's signals. That meant not only clearing the clutter of my mind by free-writing stream of consciousness into my journals, but also clearing social clutter. I skipped out on social events I didn't absolutely need to attend; my phone was often on airplane mode or turned off altogether.
I did way more things solo and discovered that my time alone should be a sanctuary, not a sentence.
In spending more time on my own (in vital combination with addressing my issues, working through my pain, and taking action toward improvement), I felt more at ease with myself and less concerned with where I was in comparison to others. A few strategic hiatuses from social media now and again also don't hurt! Now, I love being alone not to hide from the world, but to reenergize in the midst of my own being.
It's OK Not To Know The "How" Of Life.
I'm still working on everything on this list, but this one in particular is really challenging for me. On a rational level, I recognize that lots of people, especially people my age, have no idea what the hell they're doing. However, my anxiety tries to convince me they've all got it figured out and I just didn't get the memo. It is a work in progress, but I'm letting go of the "how" and focusing more on the "what" and the "why."
There Are Upsides To My Anxiety.
Before last year, I never, ever thought I would look upon my anxiety with anything other than resentment. But last year, I made a purposeful shift in perspective. Yes, it brings me really low, but in another way, it has allowed me to build up the best parts of myself. When you know what it feels like to feel controlled by your mind, you're more empathetic toward others and the struggles they might be going through. I'm an imperfect person who still judges and misreads, but I am proud to say, I have become much more aware of the words I speak and the power they hold to either affirm or cut someone deeply. My anxiety makes me more compassionate, more understanding.
It has also pointed me in the direction of my purpose. Even if all the details may not be planned out yet, I know that in whatever I do, I want to help others not to feel the way I have felt for so much of my life. I want to support people and lift them up; empower them to reclaim their lives from an overactive and often over-negative imagination. While I can't say I love my anxiety, I love that it has shown me the purpose in my pain.
You Are Not Your Circumstances.
I have been seeking full-time employment since 2014. Anyone who knows that struggle knows the havoc it can wreak on your mind. Though things are in a better place, this is something I struggle with on the daily and remains one of the biggest triggers for my anxiety. Still, in the midst of my year of healing, I have gradually come to accept (stubbornly) that where I am is not who I am.
Before you had a career or "likes" or relationships, you had a soul; therein lies your worth, not in any title or status. I have to remind myself time and time again that I am a good-hearted person, I am trying, and I am more than enough—right where I am.
There are probably a million other things the year has taught me, but I have to end this somewhere. On April 25, 2017, I turned 25, which made it my "golden year". Admittedly, at the start, it felt anything but golden. But now that I sit here re-reading my journals and writing this all out, I am nothing but grateful for the way this year has molded me. It set the foundation so that I can build on more secure ground in 2018 and beyond.
For anyone also coming off a difficult year, I urge you to reflect. Indulge in your transformation, in your strength for making it through. Celebrate all of your tiny victories because sometimes, that's the momentum you need in order to keep going.
Don't stop now. You are never alone.
*Originally published on Medium
This article is in partnership with Sensodyne.
Our teeth are connected to so many things - our nutrition, our confidence, and our overall mood. We often take for granted how important healthy teeth are, until issues like tooth sensitivity or gum recession come to remind us. Like most things related to our bodies, prevention is the best medicine. Here are five things you can do immediately to improve your oral hygiene, prevent tooth sensitivity, and avoid dental issues down the road.
1) Go Easy On the Rough Brushing: Brushing your teeth is and always will be priority number one in the oral hygiene department. No surprises there! However, there is such a thing as applying too much pressure when brushing…and that can lead to problems over time. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and brush in smooth, circular motions. It may seem counterintuitive, but a gentle approach to brushing is the most effective way to clean those pearly whites without wearing away enamel and exposing sensitive areas of the teeth.
2) Use A Desensitizing Toothpaste: As everyone knows, mouth pain can be highly uncomfortable; but tooth sensitivity is a whole different beast. Hot weather favorites like ice cream and popsicles have the ability to trigger tooth sensitivity, which might make you want to stay away from icy foods altogether. But as always, prevention is the best medicine here. Switching to a toothpaste like Sensodyne’s Sensitivity & Gum toothpaste specifically designed for sensitive teeth will help build a protective layer over sensitive areas of the tooth. Over time, those sharp sensations that occur with extremely cold foods will subside, and you’ll be back to treating yourself to your icy faves like this one!
3) Floss, Rinse, Brush. (And In That Order!): Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you do, but how you do it”? Well, the same thing applies to taking care of your teeth. Even if you are flossing and brushing religiously, you could be missing out on some of the benefits simply because you aren’t doing so in the right order. Flossing is best to do before brushing because it removes food particles and plaque from places your toothbrush can’t reach. After a proper flossing sesh, it is important to rinse out your mouth with water after. Finally, you can whip out your toothbrush and get to brushing. Though many of us commonly rinse with water after brushing to remove excess toothpaste, it may not be the best thing for our teeth. That’s because fluoride, the active ingredient in toothpaste that protects your enamel, works best when it gets to sit on the teeth and continue working its magic. Rinsing with water after brushing doesn’t let the toothpaste go to work like it really can. Changing up your order may take some getting used to, but over time, you’ll see the difference.
4) Stay Hydrated: Upping your water supply is a no-fail way to level up your health overall, and your teeth are no exception to this rule. Drinking water not only helps maintain a healthy pH balance in your mouth, but it also washes away residue and acids that can cause enamel erosion. It also helps you steer clear of dry mouth, which is a gateway to bad breath. And who needs that?
5) Show Your Gums Some Love: When it comes to improving your smile, you may be laser-focused on getting your teeth whiter, straighter, and overall healthier. Rightfully so, as these are all attributes of a megawatt smile; but you certainly don’t want to leave gum health out of the equation. If you neglect your gums, you’ll start to notice the effects of plaque buildup, which can irritate the gums and cause gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease. Seeing blood while brushing and flossing is a tell-tale sign that your gums are suffering. You may also experience gum recession — a condition where the gum tissue surrounding your teeth pulls back, exposing more of your tooth. Brushing at least twice a day with a gum-protecting toothpaste like Sensodyne Sensitivity and Gum, coupled with regular dentist visits, will keep your gums shining as bright as those pearly whites.
Imma tell y’all what — it seems like not one week goes by when I don’t see some sort of so-called term that has me like, “What in the world?” For instance, when I first stumbled upon “self-partnering,” honestly, I laughed. Then shared it with some other single people as well as married folks I know. And I kid you not, every individual was like, “What the heck does that mean?” When I told them that it was yet, one more way to seemingly define single living, basically everyone’s follow-up was, “Oh, brother.”
Why can’t (more) singles just be single and be okay with that? Good Lord. Why does there need to be some sort of relational play-on-words to make it sound like we’re with someone — even if we’re not?
Now masterdating? Even though it’s not even close to being a “real” word, it’s something that also brought a laugh outta me — although it was then followed by a genuine smile. The laugh because I almost immediately caught the play-on-words. The smile was due to the intention behind it all.
If you’re not familiar with what masterdating is and you’re curious about why you should even care, take a few moments to at least skim through what it’s about and why I think participating, as a single person, is a pretty cool (and effective) concept.
Masturdate: a date w oneself
What’s Masterdating All About?
Masterdating. Okay, so let the word marinate for just a moment. What does it sound like? Yeah…exactly. And since a huge part of masturbation centers around self-pleasure, it’s cool to explore how “self-dating” could produce similar (as far as pleasure is concerned in a broader sense) results. Because masterdating is all about spending quality time with yourself, pampering yourself, treating yourself— and yes, taking yourself out on dates.
Any of you who may think that masterdating is a consolation prize — and a pitiful one at that — for not being able to go out with another human being or get that dream $200 first date that social media was all in a tizzy about last year (bookmark that) — personally, I think that you’re the demographic who needs to try out masterdating first and the most. Why? Off top, I’ll share my three good reasons.
3 Reasons To Strongly Consider Masterdating
1. It’s an intimate way to get to know yourself better. I’ve been working with couples for a pretty long time at this point and if there’s a pattern that I see arise, OFTEN, it’s that two people are oftentimes so busy trying to “find their person” that they didn’t even know who they were. As a direct result, they found themselves in a relationship with someone who only complemented the “kiddie pool version” of who they were.
That’s why it can be so beneficial to spend time getting to know yourself on the “deep end” of things: what makes you tick, what your passions are, what you want most out of life, what are your interests beyond obvious things — and masterdating can help you to discover all of this. Whether it’s traveling alone or taking out a weekend to drink some wine and journal, the more you get to know yourself, the clearer you’ll be about who complements you on a romantic and friendship level.
2. It will definitely help to boost your confidence levels. I guess since I’m an ambivert, I don’t really get why people freak out at the mere thought of going to a restaurant or movie alone. Personally, I think it requires a helluva lot more energy and gumption to wait around and plan stuff with other people (#Elmoshrug). However, whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert, there’s no way around the fact that the more comfortable you get with doing things alone, the more your confidence levels will increase — no, soar — because of it.
One article that I read on the topic said that doing things alone can make you more creative, improve your mental health, and help you to be totally okay with being alone (so that you’re not “needy” for other people’s attention). A psychotherapist from a New York Times article on the benefits of spending time alone said, “Getting better at identifying moments when we need solitude to recharge and reflect can help us better handle negative emotions and experiences, like stress and burnout.” And when you’re able to stare negativity in its face without flinching, how could that not make you bolder, more self-secure, and hopeful about your life?
3. It will teach you to value your time more effectively. In every facet of your world, you’re gonna operate from a healthier place if you’re operating from a “full cup” rather than an empty one. When it comes to this topic, think about it — if you’re constantly waiting on someone to call you to go out or wishing for a dream date with some guy, all you’re doing is wasting precious time that you could be spending taking a cooking class or hell, hiring a chef to make you dinner at your own home.
Indeed, waiting has two sides to it: when it’s in the form of patience, it is indeed a virtue, yet when it’s wrapped up in the notion that you’re not really living life unless you have an audience…it is totally working against you. Choose wisely.
10 Solo Date Ideas To Help You To “Master” Masterdating
So, what if you’re someone who has either never considered actually masterdating before or you don’t really know what to do beyond dinner and the movies? Here are a few ideas to consider:
1. Attend a workshop or masterclass that you’re interested in. If there’s something that you’ve always wanted to learn, sign up for a workshop or masterclass. The cool thing about this option is there are probably some in your city, as well as some that you can find online (like here) that are convenient and affordable.
2. Binge-read at a local coffee shop. Aside from their coziness and oftentimes inviting scents, I once read that a lot of us gravitate to coffee shops because we can be around people without having to actually socialize with them. So, if you want to “hang out” while still being able to enjoy a bit of solitude, take a book that you’ve been trying to finish to a local coffee shop, order your favorite latte, and sit in a big-ass comfy chair. Usually, you can sit there for hours, and the staff will be just fine with it (another bonus).
3. Have a spa day in the next town. You can never go wrong with a spa day. And while going with a friend can be fun, sometimes there’s too much talking transpiring to be able to fully chill out and relax. So, go off of the grid, get a change of scenery, and hit up a spa in the next city (or town). There are lots of studies out here supporting that day trips or “daycations” can actually be really good for your long-term health and well-being.
4. See a community play. Some of the best solo dates that I’ve ever been on consisted of taking in some of the local arts in my city. What’s really cool about this particular option is, oftentimes, they are extremely inexpensive, if not totally free of charge (in exchange for making a donation or putting money into a tip jar).
5. Plan a trip. Whenever people say something along the lines of, “If you don’t expect anything, you won’t be disappointed,” I know that they low-key have some (additional) healing to do from past disappointments. There’s simply too much intel out here to support that anticipation (of good stuff) makes us more motivated and optimistic, keeps our dopamine levels up, and makes life more exciting overall.
Since traveling alone is more cost-effective, gives you the freedom to do whatever you want (when you want), and increases the possibility of meeting new people and having new experiences on your journey — why not devote a day this weekend to planning a solo trip? All the way around, it’s good for you.
6. Try your hand at your own “$200 date.” Uh-huh. Roll your eyes if you want to, but it’s real easy to talk left about how a man should be able to just drop $200 like it’s nothing…until you actually try to do it. So yes, while taking yourself out on this type of date could serve as a bit of a reality check, it can also “scratch the itch” of waiting on some dude to do it for you. It’s also way less emotionally draining because, at least when you’re taking your own self out, it’s guaranteed that you’ll enjoy the company…right?
7. DIY some pampering. When you get a chance, check out “5 Reasons You Should Unapologetically Pamper Yourself,” “Want To Love On Yourself? Try These 10 Things At Home.,” “I’ve Got Some Ways For You To Start Pampering Your Soul,” and “When's The Last Time You Actually Pampered Your Vagina?” The bottom line here is pampering is all about, not mere self-maintenance; it’s all about treating yourself to levels of EXTREME SELF-INDULGENCE. So, if nothing else tickles your fancy on this list, at least consider doing that, chile.
8. Feed your creativity. Something that I used to be really good at is art. That said, one of my goddaughters is insanely talented, so she has reminded me to tap back into it. Also, a big part of what got me into the writing world is poetry; I actually used to be a house poet at a local spot. Sometimes, my best quality time moments with myself have been revisiting these creative sides of me — and this is definitely easier to do (and enjoy) alone.
9. Try some stargazing. When’s the last time you took a blanket into your backyard, laid down on it, and just stared at the stars for hours on end? While some say that stargazing can teach you to be mindful, others say that being in that form of nature reduces stress, while others believe that looking up at the universe at night can increase your attention span. All solid reasons to give it a shot, if you ask me.
10. DO. ABSOLUTELY. NOTHING. Let me tell you something that nobody will ever be able to make me feel bad about: doing absolutely nothing. I’ve got data to back me up. Good Housekeeping shares that doing nothing can help you decide how you want to respond or react to certain things. I like howThe Guardian says that taking this approach helps you to regain control of what you give your attention to.
TIME magazine says that it can ultimately make you more productive.BBC offers up that it can help you tap into your ingenuity.Henry Ford Health says that it can make you kinder and a better problem-solver. So, if you want to invest in yourself, do nothing sometimes.
Closing Thoughts from the Lovely Javicia Leslie
While some of y'all may know Javicia Leslie from being the former Batwoman, I discovered her back in the day from the indie series Chef Julian (and yes, "Julian" was right to say that "Mo" looks like Tatyana Ali...the real ones know). Sometimes I'll hop on her IG to see what she's got going on and this story popped up within a few hours of me penning this...so, I took it as hella confirmation.
TREAT YO SELF. WAIT FOR NO ONE.
WAIT FOR NO ONE. TREAT YO SELF.
RINSE AND REPEAT.
Sooo…what kind of masterdating plans do you have for this coming weekend? While going out with others has its perks, hanging out with yourself has a ton of ‘em too. Enjoy!
No…for real. ENJOY!
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