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This One Is Personal

June 22, 2017

Periods of transition can be extremely difficult, especially if the transition or change is significant. During the past few months, I have made big changes in my life. I left a job that I loved dearly, moved out of a city that I was happy to call home, and said goodbye to the beautiful San Diego weather. Needless to say, my mind has been all over the place, my thoughts very disorganized. Given that I am in a profession where my own mental health is super important, I have had to really make use of many of the coping skills that I frequently teach my patients.

There is still huge stigma around mental health issues, especially when it comes to health professionals. But our distress should not be minimized. Health care professionals have a higher suicide rate than many other professions. From my personal experience, I can say that I have struggled with very low self esteem, low sense of self confidence, feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and occasionally very dark thoughts, and I have often pushed these thoughts aside by telling myself they weren't important and they were temporary. Yes, they were temporary, but they were also important! They meant I needed to pay attention to myself.

During this period of transition, I tried to place the external demands of my life before myself. I tried to focus on the needs of others to the point of ignoring my own. Being aware that doing this may lead to burnout, I decided to make a list of the things that had happened, and the things that were happening. There were two major changes in my life:

1) - I resigned from a job that I had for five years, which gave me my start in the field of psychology, where I had the freedom of expanding my professional wings. It was hard to say goodbye to my patients and my peers. + I accepted an exciting position that allowed me increased stability and structure, with the awareness that I would be providing much needed services to an under-served population.

2) - I left beautiful San Diego where there is always so much going on, the home of San Diego Comic Con. + I moved to a city where I have family and have the opportunity to visit them whenever I want.

Aside from the consequences of these two major life decisions, there were also things that occurred that were entirely out of my control during the weeks these things were happening. The most significant was on my last day in San Diego.

After a day of packing, putting boxes in my car, cleaning, and right as I shut the door of the apartment I was moving out of for the last time, I received a message from one of my sisters late at night. Our grandmother had just passed away. The realization that I had no more grandparents hit me later. I focused on the fact that I was able to say goodbye to her, to see her one last time before she passed. The expectation of a loss does not decrease the pain of it.

Another thing out of my control was my hormones. Since I had a procedure for my thyroid late last year, my hormones have been out of whack and I've been gaining weight. I also have been losing my hair a lot (it's growing back), which will continue until my endocrinologist finds the most appropriate dosage for my thyroid medication.

Third, not being able to settle into my new home was taxing in itself. It was an entire week after I moved before I received the keys to my new place.

During the entire process, I did not maintain healthy eating habits. I have not been working out consistently. These things take a toll on you. I felt very unstable. I was having trouble remembering even little things, like what I was saying halfway through saying it. I was very tangential in conversations. I would go into a room and immediately forget why. I would start doing something, then begin something else and leave the other thing undone...

Honestly, the most organized thing I had going on was my daily work routine. So when I realized I needed to take care of myself, I decided to start with that and work my way out.

I decided to keep a physical calendar, since I really benefit from visual aids. Beginning with organizing my daily schedule, I went on to taking notes about my day, including how I was feeling and my memory, whether I drank water and ate. Because the visuals help me, logging things became very useful.

I became slightly more active across my social media accounts, like I was before the move. I focused on interacting with others, even people I don't really know that well, trying to spread kindness, psychology, support, or just good intentions. Sending positive thoughts to strangers here and there wasn't anything that was out of my way, and feeling compassion for others increased my ability to feel compassion for myself.

I enrolled an "ally", someone to help keep me in check when I would start to do the thing where I started something and switched to something else mid-thing and then forgot the original thing... this taught me to recognize when I was doing it so I could stop for a minute and organize my thoughts.

I focused on activities outside of work. I recently participated with TakeThis and got to help out at the AFK Room at E3, which I'd wanted to do for a while and was awesome. Seeing the positive impact something like that can have on people firsthand was very rewarding. Having that as a thing outside of work helped me to re-focus on my other professional interests.

I resumed working out by starting to use the on-demand workout service I'd signed up for, so that I wouldn't have any excuses, and started with once weekly exercises. I have recently decided to try daily 5 minute workouts after waking up in the mornings. Five minutes only, because I don't want to sweat in the morning, I don't want to be super sore, and five minute ab workouts are pretty intense!

I began to change my thought process by working on calming down and taking things one day at a time. This was especially helpful when I was sent to a conference to a different city even though I had made plans to be at E3. Not wanting to give that up, I decided to go anyway, which meant that I flew to three different cities for two different cons within three days. For a person who isn't used to traveling and who suffers from migraines... well, I was anxious about how my body would react. By being able to keep my mind from wandering I was able to enjoy my entire week and actually avoid a migraine. This was a huge, HUGE win for me.

And I started blogging again, evidently.

I am still coming up with little things here and there, like increasing my water intake, going out for short walks outside during my workday, and turning off my monitor during lunch.

There will continue to be moments when I feel low confidence, low self esteem, times when I doubt myself or whether I am doing my job well enough, but those moments will be temporary.

One of the most important things I've learned that I have benefited from practicing is staying in the moment, being grounded, and being mindful. Not trying to get everything done at once. Taking deep breaths. Not worrying about the thing I have tomorrow, just focusing on the task at hand. I've learned that it's important to be kind to myself first, and forgive myself for my mistakes. Otherwise, I can't focus on the things that I love doing.

What do you do to take care of yourself?

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