A Book You Must Read (or Hear)

Credit: Audible.com

If we’ve been friends for an hour or more, you know that I love reading. Chances are pretty good that we’ve been to a bookstore together, or we’ve talked about going to a bookstore together, or we’ve exchanged books, or I’ve borrowed a book that I’ve never given back. (Sorry about that.) And if we’ve talked about books in the last year, I’ve rambled on for far too long about why Audible.com is one of my favorite ways to “read” lately. I know that multitasking isn’t en vogue any more, but I still want to be able to listen to a book when I walk around Baltimore or run through the airport between flights. Audible is also great for long car rides or for keeping you company in your 500-square foot apartment during a blizzard while your husband lives in Wisconsin. Oh, that’s just me. Right. Maybe you can just listen to books while you do the dishes or fold the laundry.

Anyway, that brings me to the primary point of this post. Stop whatever you’re doing right now and download a copy of Mary-Louise Parker’s new book Dear Mr. You.

I’m not sure if you remember Mary-Louise Parker, but you’ve likely seen a few movies or shows that she’s totally killed it in, including Fried Green Tomatoes, The Client, and Portrait of a Lady. When she played Amy Gardner in The West Wing series, I developed a full-blown woman crush on her. I’ve not seen Weeds, but I might take that on right after I reread Dear Mr. You in hardback.

Honestly, I had no idea that Mary-Louse Parker was a writer, but she won me over after listening to Dear Mr. You. If you’re reading this, we’re likely friends or related (hi, mom), which means you’re bound to hear me talk about this book at some point. Consider this fair warning.

Dear Mr. You is a collection of essays written as letters to people in Parker’s past and some letters to people she doesn’t yet know, like the man who will one day love her daughter. Strung together they form a memoir of sorts made up of the critical moments in Parker’s life. They are deeply personal and revealing, like the kinds of conversations you’d have with only your best friend or your diary.

Parker’s prose is also rich and textured, oozing of the imagery and poetry of a woman who has lived a full life of joys and heartbreaks. It is clear from her words that she is immersed in the emotional lives of those around her, even strangers. In some letters, Parker revisits interactions she had with strangers at the lowest points of her life and tries to bring a new level of compassion to the memory for herself and those around her. But it isn’t all heartbreak. Parker also writes about romantic love, her love for her children, and for her friends.

What makes Dear Mr. You such an enthralling read is her raw vulnerability. Parker’s audiobook is even more rich because her voice carries the stories with the pacing, tenor, and emotion she used in writing each piece. Listening feels more like attending a small reading in a gallery or independent book shop than a well-produced product (even though it is that too).

I’ve listened to a lot of memoirs in the last year and they are all very different, but they’ve all been by women. Maybe part of my book selection is just the suggested book algorithms of Audible and Amazon, but I think it is also about my desire to read more work by intelligent, complex women. If anyone is interested, I’d be happy to make more recommendations. Maybe I’ll even post a few more here.

Happy downloading or Amazon shopping. Remember to support your local bookstore.

 

Airport Treasurers

Credit: Olivia Hwang
There is something magical about taking a trip. The moment you leave the comfort of your home and work, you are just you. You can carry as much or as little of your “self” with you. Traveling can be the most liberating experience in our lives if we let it be. And yet, we move so quickly through the terminals to catch our connecting flights that we sometimes miss this freedom. 

You don’t have to be a government employee or a teacher or a musician or a school bus driver. You don’t have to be anything except a person with your one piece of carry-on luggage and one personal item. 

I love to watch people in the airport when they are in this in-between space. Some rush by too busy to notice, while others dive deep into a novel or stare blankly at a wall or, like me, watch those around them imagining the stories of strangers. 

Before you board your connecting flight and land safely at your final destination, you can just be you. Who will you be? What will you do? 

I’ve Heard Enough

I’ve heard enough. I’ve heard enough of the outrage expressed by people I know and by people I don’t about how the young man who drove away from a cop or ran away from a cop or the young woman who played on her cell phone for too long in class and refused to put it away were the problem. They should have known better. They should have respected authority. They should be punished for defying authority.

As white woman in my 30s, I’ve spent the last three decades being told to stand up for myself, to acknowledge when I am hurt or afraid or depressed. I’ve been told that if I am afraid of a police officer and I don’t want to stop on the side of the road in an unpopulated area, I can continue to drive and refuse to pull over until I feel comfortable. Find a well-lit area, I’m told. Find a place where other people can see the officer approach your vehicle. I’m told that this is my right because I deserve to feel safe, because an officer might try to take advantage of a young woman alone.

I’m told that I need to stand up for myself so that my voice is heard when I’m in a board room or in situation where I feel compromised. And if I am depressed, I am told that there are resources available for me. I am not pressured to be tough, to be strong and to move on like nothing has happened. If I snap because I’m having a rough day, people assume that something is wrong and want to help. They don’t assume that I’m a problem.

For the last nine years, I’ve lived in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Before that, I lived in New Orleans. I’ve seen poverty in my community and at my work. I’ve volunteered in schools, mentored kindergarten students and high school students who, if accepted to college, would be the first generation of their family to make it past high school. I saw a four-year-old boy belittled and laughed at by his teacher for not knowing his colors or numbers because no one at home bothered to teach him. I later saw him expelled for playing “neighborhoods” on the playground and then watched as his teacher failed him. Did you know that a child who fails kindergarten is 60 percent less likely to graduate from high school?

I know that I didn’t live it every day. I didn’t walk into a classroom of kids who were struggling at home and who might not have a parent who had the time or resources to devote to them. I know I don’t know the whole picture. No one can. No one walks with a child from the moment they wake up in the morning till the time they rest their heads–if they are lucky enough to have a safe place to do that. I know that I lack some experience and that I will be told that I just don’t understand.

What I do know is this. There is so much outrage in this world. There is outrage about how children in elementary school and middle school and high school are growing up too fast. We want them to slow down. We want them to wait to have sex. We want them them not to play violent video games. We want them to be innocent for a while longer.

But then, a child does something wrong. I’m not arguing that a child doesn’t make mistakes. Many of the children we see in the news with a horrible headline have made some kind of mistake. But just a few moments before the outrage occurred, and a few minutes before the mistake we also wanted that child to be a child and children make mistakes. Children don’t have all the answers and they are often scared and feel alone. Their brains are still developing; they are still learning to navigate in an incredibly complex, ever-changing world. That’s why they can’t drink legally and some can’t drive and why they can’t vote for elected officials. We don’t expect children to act like adults because they aren’t adults. That is, we don’t expect them to act like adults until they make a mistake. When they make a mistake, we want them to act like adults and we want to hold them accountable as if they were.

And then, if they are different or they have an attitude or they wear their pants too low or their clothes too tight or they have too many tattoos, they don’t get the same response as I did as a white child at a good school. We assume that they are a bad kid. We assume that they just want to break the rules and fight authority. They need to learn respect. That is the phrase that I hear most often. They just don’t understand respect of authority.

And that would be fine, really, if authority treated all children the same as they treated me when I was a child. The same way they treat a petite while girl from the suburbs with middle-class parents. Parents who would be outraged if I was thrown backwards from my desk and dragged across the floor before being handcuffed for disobeying a teacher.

Before I get any further, I want to say that most police officers I’ve ever met have been kind and respectful to me. But my experience isn’t not the experience of everyone I know. And I’ve been told more than once by African-American friends that they try to limit any interaction with the police. I had a friend get punched in the face by a white kid at an LSU football game. My friend stepped between the white guy and his girlfriend as the white guy tried to hit her. The police in the stadium arrested my friend who was black instead of the guy who was assaulting his girlfriend. They made a snap judgment. It was the wrong one.

But the world doesn’t treat all children the same way that I was treated as a blonde-haired, blue-eyed petite girl from the suburbs. I was lucky. My parents loved me and supported me. They paid for my field trips and helped me with homework. They chaperoned school dances and my mother, God bless her, drove me an hour each way to ballet classes. I was really, really lucky. And that made it easier. It made it easier to respect authority because authority figures had always loved and cared for me. I was respectful to police and teachers and leaders in my community because I was taught love and respect. Those lessons imprinted on me because I was a child and children are learning.

Researchers say that we learn so much when we’re little. We touch a hot stove and it burns us, so we don’t touch it again. We steal and we’re punished so we don’t steal again.

What if the lesson a child learns when they are young is that an authority figure won’t take care of them, won’t protect them and might hurt them? What is the lesson that they learn and carry with them into adolescence?

I know that a child’s home life or their economic status or their community’s policing policies can’t always be to blame when a child acts out. At a certain point, children are responsible for their actions. But when an adult is the other party in a situation, the adult is responsible for acting like an adult.

So this is all that I have left on the subject: Not every child grows up in a stable home and is loved and taught respect. When we aren’t taught at young age to trust authority figures it is much, much more difficult to trust them as we grow up. Children are responsible for their actions, but if we want to build stronger communities and help children learn from their mistakes, we have to have compassion. We have to love them. We have to understand that not every child grows up trusting the police or their teachers. We have to admit, particularly those of us who are white and privileged, that the way an authority figure responds to us may be very different than the way they respond to someone who looks different or wears different clothing or speaks a different language or drives an old car or lives in  poverty or many, many other circumstances. And not all of those differences are wrong because they help authority figures do their jobs sometimes if there is truth behind the assumptions, but we can’t simply make assumptions with children. When we do, we perpetuate the understanding in a child that an authority figure can’t be trusted. We only get stronger and better if we have compassion and understanding. We can only build a better future if we remember that children are children and we are the ones responsible for being the adults.

How a Fixed Mindset Kept Me From Learning

When I graduated from college, my mother decided to hand over all of the sentimental things she’d kept for me — favorite stuffed animals, photo albums, my christening gown and a folder stuffed with my childhood test scores, including my first IQ test.

As I looked through this folder I thought, “What happened to me?” My childhood IQ was high. I was labeled “gifted” and took advanced courses throughout my primary and secondary education. Though I excelled far more in my language courses than in math, I took high school math classes in middle school and did exceedingly well in them.

My teachers and parents told me that I was smart. My friends said I was the smart one. I felt smart and that feeling was propped up by the reality that I never needed to study in high school. I could write a paper 20 minutes before it was due and still get an A. It was all so easy, including that classes that were supposed to be difficult. Then I went to college.

At Tulane University, many of my classmates were from the Northeast. They’d attended prep schools and much of what we’d eventually learn during our freshman year was merely a refresher on information they’d learned during their junior and senior years of high school. That’s when it happened: I no longer felt like the smart kid in the room.

I was so intimidated by my classmates that I didn’t raise my hand in class to answer a question. I often skipped class altogether. I thought that my abilities were all an illusion created by the fact that I’d attended public schools. While I may have been “smart” for a public school kid, I wasn’t nearly as smart as the kids I went to class with at Tulane.

So, I shrunk to the back of the class, if I even attended class at all. I was a horrible student for more than half of my four years in college.

It wasn’t until Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and I spent a semester at Duke University that I realized I could still learn. Despite battling some of the most intense stress of my life, I buried my head in my books to study, to get away from the pictures of flooded streets and displaced children and I did really well. That semester at Duke was the first time in college that I got a 4.0 GPA.

But then I went back to Tulane and, though I kept it up, I never quite kept the essential lesson from Duke with me. The lesson that I really could learn. So when I saw the folder my mother gave me with my old test scores and aptitude tests, I thought something must have happened. I was no longer “smart.”

For the last 10 years, that’s been something I’ve struggled with daily. Even in marrying my husband, at times I felt intellectually inferior to him. Luckily, Nick Hwang thinks I’m intelligent and his confidence has boosted me through some major challenges, including becoming a fellow of the New Leader’s Council, a yoga-teacher’s training program, taking on the role of the communications director at the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, and going back to school via Harvard Business School’s online HBX CORe program.

The first week of the CORe program was incredible. I was learning new things. I was excited about financial accounting and walked around my office trying to talk to our fiscal division staff about how incredible interesting accounting really is. Then I took my first quiz and did not do as well as I’d hoped. I made a passing grade, but immediately felt defeated.

I called Nick. “I’m not smart enough for this. I thought that I could do this, but what if I can’t?”

He propped me back up again. “You can do this.” And though, I believed him, I still didn’t feel “smart.”

Almost 10 years after graduating from college, I was letting the same mindset take over again. If I didn’t do well at first, it meant that I wasn’t smart enough. That’s when I decided not to let it rule me. I can learn these concepts and I can improve.

That shift in mindset is something I’m attempting consciously and it has been helped dramatically by a 45-minute lecture from Carol Dweck. Her theory is simple: if we tell a child they are smart, they only attempt the tasks at which they believe they will succeed. They will shy away from challenging material and will set themselves up to believe that they are only “smart” at certain things or subjects.

The lecture focuses on something called the Growth Mindset, which instructs us that if we believe that we can learn new things, grow and develop, we can. Dweck says that when we tell a child they are smart, they limit themselves. And when they encounter something that they cannot do, they begin to believe that they are not smart, which keeps them from trying harder, revisiting the materials and, ultimately, from learning.

I know that changing my own mindset won’t happen overnight. It is going to take a consistent effort and many, many years of practice. Participating in the CORe program is an incredible opportunity for me to put that mindset to work.

When I get something wrong, I’ll have to say that I haven’t yet gotten it. When I miss a quiz question, I’ll need to go back to the concept and really dive into it again rather than moving on because I believe that I’m not going to get it.

This is something I want to do not only for myself but also for the kids that Nick and I will one day have. Dweck’s theory encourages removing “smart” from our repertoire of praise. Instead, she says, we should praise the learning process. The more that we do this, the more inclined children are to learn new things, even those things that at first seem too difficult.

The only limitations on our minds are the ones that we put there ourselves. I don’t need to be “smart,” but I need to really want to learn.

Did your parents call you smart as a child? Do you tell your children they are smart? How do you face the challenge of learning new things that seem difficult?

Additional Thoughts:

I want to note here that I think telling a child that they are smart is an incredible compliment. It comes from the most genuine place of adoration and affection. When I’m with my nieces or nephews, I often tell them that they are smart in lieu of saying they are pretty or cute. Smart is what we all want to be, so being told that we are just that thing boosts us up. In fact, there is an entire movement led by Amy Poehler called Smart Girls that I really love.

There are so many theories on the right and wrong way to raise children. When I was a kid in the 80s and 90s, telling a child they were smart was exactly the thing psychologists told parents to do.

These observations about learning are meant only as a way to share my personal exploration with learning.

I also want to note that my parents are wonderful, loving, kind people who raised me very well. They gave me incredible opportunities to grow and learn — opportunities that got me to Tulane in the first place. Thanks, Mom, Dad, Tracy and Jim! <3

Thirty Days

Processed with VSCOcam with c2 presetWedding planning and working at a high-stress job simultaneously have taught me this: I’m too focused on nearly everything that doesn’t matter while forgetting the things that do — love, faith and remembering to breathe. Luckily my body’s impulse to suck in a deep breath kicks in after a few minutes and I don’t die.

Here are the things that gone from normal to nasty in the last year:

  1. My skin,
  2. My weight, and
  3. My ability to take a deep breath.

That’s just the stuff on the outside, but I know that these are signs that the stuff on the inside is suffering.

Instead of fighting myself for another day, my plan is to take 30 days to commit to myself. My hope is that if I take better care of myself, I will be a better person to care for and love the people around me. My friend Renee said tonight that I should try to treat myself the way I’d treat my best friend. She asked if I could have that kind of compassion for myself. I think, I hope, I pray that I can.

So for those of you joining me for the next 30 days, here’s the plan.

Daily Devotional Reading

Beth Moore’s Whispers of Hope: 10 Weeks of Devotional Prayer 

My soon-to-be sister in law is reading this so I’m diving in too. This has daily readings with scripture to accompany it and encourages journaling, which I’ll get to in a minute.

Alternative (or Supplemental) Devotional Reading

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For those of you who would like less Christianity in the reading and a little more yoga, I’d suggest Judith Lasater’s Living Your Yoga, Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life. I love this book and there are 21 chapters that you could stretch out over the 30 days.

Optional Before Practicing Yoga

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I love Meditations from the Mat, Daily Reflections on the Path of Yoga by Rolf Gates and Katrina Kenison. I also love God Makes the Rivers to Flow by Eknath Easwaran. I keep both of these books on my iPhone so I can pull them out when things are getting crazy stressful or if I’m at a yoga class and don’t want to bring a printed copy with me.

The Yoga Practice

For this 30-day period, I’m committing to a minimum of 20 minutes of yoga per day. It doesn’t have to be in a class at a studio; on my mat alone in the living room is fine. There are some great yoga videos online too if you don’t feel like making up your own home practice. I use YogaGlo for that.

I also consider meditation to be yoga, so there will be days that I’ll suggest longer meditation sessions in lieu of long yoga sessions. I’ll be meditating for at least 10 minutes each day too — even if that means I’m listening to mediation to help me get to sleep. I love David Harshada Wagner’s meditation, but I’m going to try to branch out. If you’ve never meditated before, using a guided session is a great way to get started. Even the Headspace app is a great way to start.

I’ll post updates each week on the focus of the classes I’m doing in the event that you want to do the same thing.

Week One

Day One – Jan. 29

Get grounded with this practice. I’ll be taking the 60-minute class with Jason Crandall on YogaGlo called Grounding and Centering with Hip Openers. If I’m starting somewhere, it might as well be at the bottom.

Ten-minute meditation on making a blank slate.

Day Two – Jan. 30

This process is all about love, so I’ll do Kathyn Budig’s Love Yourself class to celebrate the end of the workweek rather than have a weekend cocktail.

Day Three – Jan. 31

Whatever my kula is doing. Saturday there is no excuse for me not to make a yoga class in person, so I’m going to do whatever my incredible teachers tell me to do.

Day Four – Feb. 1

I’m flying to D.C. for a conference on consumer engagement in electronic health records (exciting stuff), so I’ll do something for an immunity boost. This yin class is a great way to work on the lymph and immune system.

Day Five – Feb. 2

I doubt that I’ll have much time for anything, but this Jason Crandall class for travel is one of my favorites and I can make time for that at some point during the day.

Day Six. – Feb 3

Who knows what I’ll be eating or how my body will be freaking out because of the cold weather, so something like this Heat and Fire Flow class by Kathryn Budig will be a good way to keep from freezing and getting too tight from sitting in conference rooms all day.

Day Seven – Feb. 4

Though I’ll be reading, journaling and praying, it might be easy to let the physical practice get too much about the workout and not enough about the devotion, so before getting back on the plane to come back to Louisiana, I’ll try this Strong Flow to Explore Devotion class. This is a new teacher for me, but I am trying to be more open to stretching my routine.

If you’re joining me, how will you structure your devotional to best meet your needs? What classes are you attending so I can join you?

Sending my love to each of you. I am so happy that we are doing this together and can’t waiting to talk to you each about how this is going.

All my love,

Liv

 

Love in the Time of Ebola

I love Nick Hwang and am giddy to be planning our wedding with him this fall. We spend evenings after work talking about catering and music, flowers and invitations. In the first few weeks of our engagement, all our newly married friends warned us that scheduling was crazy so we should get on it asap.

“Everything books more than a year out,” they said.

So we got right down to business and found a venue that felt true to us (the library) and we sent the Save the Date cards. I found my dress 🙂 and we had Nick fit for a suit at J. Crew.

With Natalie Mancuso signed on to take the photos, we felt like we were on our way to having the details secured.

That’s about the time we started talking more seriously about Ebola at work. While our subject matter experts had begun preparing long before, I didn’t receive my first press call until late September or early October. Since then, it’s been non-stop press calls and meetings, conference calls and late Friday nights spent dispelling Ebola rumors in the media.

I love my job. I get to dedicate my days to sharing important information about health care in Louisiana. I get to talk about obesity, wellness and a host of other subjects. The last month also gave me the chance to work with other agencies and stakeholders on how we care for survivors of sexual assault, an issue that is incredibly important to me.

All that work means very little time for planning and making meetings with the caterer. If it wasn’t for Nick, we would be in a tough spot with the big details. When I get called away for work, he still makes our meetings and made it possible (I hope) to get Magpie Cafe as our caterer. (Y’all they may be making gluten-free, dairy-free supper for us and it is going to be delicious.)

Despite all the awesome work Nick is doing to keep us on track, I’ve still been stressed by the details and have complained about it to friends. When I talk about how much it stresses me out, many of them say that we don’t have to do any of this. We don’t have to have the big ceremony and the reception with dinner for family from all over the world.  I know they are right, but I also know that I want to do it. I want to do it not because I’d dreamed about my wedding since I was a little girl (I have zero memories of planning my wedding as a little girl or fantasizing over the white dress). Whenever I did think about getting married in the past, I’d alway dismissed the notion of a big party in lieu of something casual in a friend’s backyard or just eloping.

“It’s all about what happens after the ceremony, right?” I remember saying to friends.

But planning our wedding with Nick made me realize something else. The ceremony is about us, about joining our lives  and starting a family together. The reception is about our families and celebrating the people that have supported us and helped us find each other.

To Nick and me, the receptions is the way to say “thank you” to our parents, friends and relatives for raising us, befriending us and being a part of our lives. I want to music to draw them onto the dance floor, the food to fill their bellies and the cake to send them into a sweet sugar coma. The reception and all its glorious little details are not really for me and Nick, although I am so looking forward to that cake and our first dance; it is for our guests.

So with all the chaos at work and the late nights the people who’ve stepped up and offered to help have been the very people who we are throwing the reception to honor. My sisters and Nick’s sisters have offered to help do crafty projects for decorations and for the kids’ section. My mom and dad are helping actually make the whole thing possible in several ways. My friends are helping find vendors and some are even playing music for the ceremony. And my team members at work are helping me remember to do the little details like creating a schedule, and helping me problem solve how to save money on flowers (who knew they were so expensive). Even the members of the LSU Women’s Ultimate Frisbee team that Nick coaches have offered to do crafts and help run the reception so we don’t have to spend a large chuck of our budget on a real planner.

Work may be stressful and planning may be too, but what it has shown me is just how much the people who love us are willing to lend a hand or several. The wedding reception is our way to show family and friends how much we appreciate them, but the planning itself is daily demonstration of how much the people in our lives love us. If this is the start of the rest our lives together, it’s going to be pretty wonderful.

We have so much potential!

Not to bombard the internet with the musing of my brain, but I feel wonderful today and simply must share. It’s Day One of resolving to take better care of myself so I woke up and headed to 11:30 class at Purusa Baton Rouge. If you haven’t been there yet, make it happen. The teachers are wonderful (several are my dear friends) and they have so much beautiful energy.

When I arrived, the door wouldn’t open and I thought for a moment that I was doing something wrong with the handle. Remember that comic from Far Side with the “gifted” kid pushing on the door that said “pull” on it? That’s me, a lot.

This time, though, it wasn’t me. Purusa brought in a wonderful AcroYoga teacher for workshops this weekend and they canceled the 11:30 class to make time for some fun flying.

By the time I was back in my car, I was determined to find a class elsewhere and so I searched every studio in town for a class early enough to still allow time to prep for the LSU women’s ultimate frisbee team to descend on our house for a pumpkin-carving party. There were none.

Instead of finding a studio class, I headed home and pulled up this beauty on YogaGlo from Kathryn Budig.

Kathryn Budig’s Creative Core Flow

It is only a level 2 class, but I was dying inside — muscles shaking, will giving in from time to time. Kathryn made everything laughable and thus so much easier to fight through with a smile. So this time, instead of think just how weak and out of shape I am, I thought, “Look how much potential there still is in my body! I have so much more room to grow and to get stronger!”

Isn’t that such an amazing thing? No matter where we are today, no matter how strong or weak, stubborn or easy to sway, we have so much room to grow.

Kathryn’s class also reminded me of something my mother said a few weeks ago when I was feeling particularly “puffy”, aka out of shape. She reminded me, “This is your body today. It is not your body yesterday or your body tomorrow. You have to love what you have right now and if you want to do something differently, you can.”

Isn’t that fantastic? We have so much potential for growth and change because this vessel we are in, this body, is so adaptable and so malleable. Next time you’re feeling a little down about your fitness level, your stress level or even your attitude, just think, you have so much potential! You have so much room to grow. 🙂

 

TLC for My Prefrontal Cortex

I’m burnt out. Over the last few months, I’ve taken over the Bureau of Media and Communications, dealt with employee turnover, hired, counseled, messaged for the State on Ebola, West Nile virus, chickungunya, rabies, health care policy, the flu, wellness and sexual assault. I also got engaged and am planning a wedding. Cue the tiny violins, right?

I try not to complain and keep the posts about long nights working at the office or till 1 a.m., on Friday nights to myself, but lately I’ve started to worry about what all this stress, lack of exercise, no days off and pressure is doing to my brain. More specifically, I’m worried about what long-term stress is doing to my prefrontal cortex.

There’s plenty of research out there and plenty has been written about long-term stress. What most of it shows is that a little stress can be good for us. It can help us handle intense situations, help us focus and amp the body up to meet a challenge. When that stress continues for long periods of time the result is burnout — physically and mentally.

Those effects, it seems, are also amplified in individuals with ADHD. While I’ve never been diagnosed with ADHD, the symptom list reads very familiar — difficulty following a conversation, reading without getting distracted, forgetfulness, etc. A paper by Dr. Sarina J. Grosswald, an NIH-funded researcher at the Center for Natural Health and Prevention, which you can find here,  outlines how chronic stress not only amplifies the effects of ADHD, but actually damages neural connections. In the paper, she notes that, “Chronic stress damages or kills neuronal connections. As much as 34% reduction in cells in the prefrontal cortex have been reported [11]”. Later, when she outlines the similarities between chronic stress and ADHD, it reads like a catalog of my day.

Past the studies and the research and the Washington Post articles, I just don’t feel right. I never seem to feel rested. My body is tense. I can’t sleep through the night and (as I noticed in a recent headshot taken for work), I just look like crap. That’s not exactly how I want to feel now or in a few months when Nick and I get married. I want to feel happy, joyful and relaxed.

I’ve also noticed that my “brain training” scores in Lumosity are plummeting — not exactly a confidence building result.

So, what’s a girl to do aside from quit her job and run for the hills? I think the answer is to learn how to better deal with the stress I have and to make time to take care of that prefrontal cortex. The better I’m handling stress, the better I will be able to perform at work and in life. I might even look better in our engagement pictures.

In a TEDx talk by Kelly McGonigal, she says that stress isn’t killing us, just how we think about stress. That’s extremely oversimplified, but the general idea.

So I need to think differently about my stress and remember why I’m doing the work that I’m doing in the first place.

I’m also trying to get more sleep. My regular sleep schedule is something like bed at 12:30 a.m., sleep till 6:30 a.m. at which point the alarm goes off and I snooze for an hour. It leaves me feeling rushed and frazzled for the rest of day (not to mention, tired).

So my prefrontal cortex self-care plan goes a little something like this:

  1. Sleep
  2. Yoga
  3. Sleep
  4. Think better thoughts about stress
  5. Sleep
  6. Meditate
  7. Do something fun

I know that I won’t see the results overnight, but I’ve got to start somewhere. Maybe in 30 days, I’ll start to feel slightly better. If not, my vacation home to see my dad should help.

What do you do to fight stress? What do you do when you’re so overwhelmed you can’t think straight? Seriously, I want to know. 🙂

 

 

Am I really a Millennial?

This week, NPR asked Millennials to submit a selfie with the hashtag #NPRcensus for their New Boom project. Within the selfie, they requested the standard info: age, sex and race. They also asked for fields that wouldn’t be a part of the standard U.S. Census survey, fields that more accurately define an individual.

A few weeks ago, one of my awesome team members, Chelsea, and I were talking about our office culture and what makes the workplace worthwhile for her. We have “huddles” to discuss team projects. We go for walks together. We focus on wellness and we are leading the Health Department’s participation in the Louisiana Marathon.

But when the conversation turned to what Millennials really want, she pointed out that I am a Millennial. Most of the time, I don’t feel like a Millennial. I don’t really like taking selfies. I work in what some would call a boring government job. I haven’t started my own business or taken a year off from the “real world” to travel and explore different cultures. Mostly, I worked in high school, during college and nearly every day since graduating. Now I pull 60-80 work weeks (unhealthy, I know) and I don’t get out much.

All that said, Chelsea was right on the mark. I am a Millennial according to the definition. I was born smack in the middle of the 80s and for all my fussing about feeling more like Gen X, I am part of the culture shift that is being led mostly by ambitious 20-somethings.

So when I saw the NPR challenge, I decided to post a submission.

#NPRcensus #newboom @NPR Because we don't fit into just one box.

A post shared by Olivia Watkins Hwang (@sweet_olive) on

So what does my selfie say about me? I work a lot, probably too much. I’m lucky enough to come from a family with a mother, father, stepmother, stepfather, plus siblings from each of those marriages. As if I weren’t already too lucky, I’m marrying this guy. I’m a little uncomfortable at the notion of taking selfies unless I’m doing something really awesome, like I was when I took this photo on a motorcycle with my father over Thanksgiving last year. At my core, I am a writer. I work pretty hard to be a yogi and, no matter how many odd, uncomfortable stereotypes come along with it, I’m a Southern woman.

My submission looks pretty different from most of the ones that have been posted thus far, but maybe that’s the point: Millennials come in all shapes and sizes; we’re hard to box in.

If you posted a #NPRcensus selfie, what would it say?

 

Can I fake it till I make it?

I am terrified. I am petrified. I am so afraid of what you might think and what you might say that I am paralyzed.

I am scared that I am not what I say that I am and that you will find out. I lay awake at night thinking you’ll find me out, discover that I am a fraud.

I am afraid that when I write and you read it, you’ll see that I’m not very good at this after all; you’ll see that I’m not an artist.

And that fear is what freezes my fingers. It keeps me from putting pen to paper or fingers to keys. I am too scared to even write for fear that everyone will know that I’ve been faking it all along.

I told Natalie this two nights ago at her kitchen table hugging my glass of wine to my chest tightly. We’d been talking about her art, how she’d found her way back to what she really loves and how she wants to do that no matter what anyone else thinks.

“You have to read this book; take my copy. Seriously, I won’t let you not take it,” she said.

Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, it is called.

So last night, I sat on the floor of my living room eating take-out sushi from the celephane box and read the first chapter. Everything that I’ve been thinking and feeling was housed within the edges of those first few pages. Everything that was keeping me from writing was all right there. So I cried. I put down the book, slept, started my day all over again and now here I am, writing.

I won’t tell you what the book said. If you want to know, you’ll need to go read it yourself. But I’m writing again. That’s all it took, but it was everything I needed.