Maybe I Don’t Know

Written by: Emily Blair, Director of Operations

Image source

Riding home on the L from my karate class this week, Jon Bellion’s song “Maybe IDK” came on shuffle.  The song states a variety of “I wonder why statements…”. Here are some that Bellion mentions in the song:

I wonder why I say yes to everyone in my life.

I wonder why I can’t run that fast in my dreams.

I wonder why I miss everyone and I still don’t call.

As I sat listening to the song on the train, I thought about how I would finish those “I wonder why…” statements.  The theme of the song touches on questioning why something is the way that it is or why something happened – something we all have probably done.  Sitting on the train car, I started to think of my mental health journey and started to finish those “I wonder why” statements in this framework.

I wonder why I still get anxious when I go to karate.

I wonder why I still have difficulty setting boundaries and saying no.

I wonder why my depression still creeps in.

I wonder why I’m not as bold and confident and sure of myself as her.

I wonder why I put up walls when I know vulnerability is so important.

I wonder why I even struggle with anxiety, depression, and body image issues in the first place.

This list could go on and on and on and on.  That would be an uplifting post, wouldn’t it?  

The truth is, I think that in our journeys’ with mental illness and recovery, we often get bogged down with figuring out everything from A to Z.  What is the root cause of my anxiety and depression, what are strategies to saying no, how can I stop comparing myself to other people, etc., etc.  We create plans, attend groups, take our medication, and when we still have a panic attack or when we still struggle with that one fear food, our head becomes filled with “I wonder why” statements.  This cycle is so dangerous because mental illness will always be an “I wonder why.” I wonder why people have to struggle with it to begin with, so where do we get ourselves if we just keep asking why?

The song is not solely about questioning why certain things are the way that they are.  The pre-chorus and chorus say this:

Although I guess if I knew tomorrow

I guess I wouldn’t need faith

I guess if I never fell, I guess I wouldn’t need grace

I guess if I knew His plans, I guess He wouldn’t be God

So maybe I don’t know, maybe I don’t know…

But maybe that’s okay.

I can’t help but sit back and marvel at how true these statements are.  Now, I believe in a higher power, a God whose fingerprint is always at work in our lives.  In fact, spirituality is a core value of Unpolished Journey. In recognizing this, I think there are some things we may not understand for a long time or possibly never understand in our journey with mental illness and recovery.  And if we constantly question why we are still struggling, we’ll be left walking in circles, because, while there may be some behaviors someone is partaking in that are feeding his or her mental illness, the truth of the matter is we will never really know – we’ll never know why he struggles with bulimia or she turns to alcohol or he has manic episodes.  

I think of it this way.  Say someone gets a cancer diagnosis.  The doctor may explain the diagnosis at a scientific level – maybe it was genetic or maybe the individual smoked a lot.  But the question is a deeper why.  Why that person, that individual, that human being.  

And the same goes for mental illness. We will never know why [insert what you struggle with] has to be an issue for us.  We may never really uncover the exact root cause of our depression that we are so intent on finding or read enough self-help books to create a perfect, foolproof plan for recovery.  

I want to take a moment to say that taking medication, attending groups, reading books, creating coping ahead plans, and everything that you do to help your mental illness is beyond necessary, in the same way that someone with a cancer diagnosis needs to get radiation and chemotherapy or whatever the treatment might be. The point of this post is not to discredit any of those things.  The point of this post is to remind us that even while doing those things, we may never fully understand parts of our journey.  And that’s okay. If we let these “I wonder why” statements cloud our thoughts, we will never fully experience recovery.

As I see it, Bellion reminds us that without these struggles, without these hardships, we wouldn’t truly appreciate faith and grace and all of the beautiful things that exist in this world.  So, while we’ll never fully understand our journey, we can be patient, watch it unfold, and appreciate faith and grace in the process.

P.S. I highly recommend listening to the song.  Click here to do so.

The Crack in the Crystal Ball

 Written by: Gracie Mayer, contributing writer

We will never fully understand the world by trying to look into the future and predict where our paths will take us.  We usually only understand our experiences when we reflect back on where we have been and what we have learned.

Because we spend every day with ourselves, we fail to see how much progress we make on a daily basis.  Progress and growth are often so uncomfortable and painful, yet we don’t take time to stop and appreciate the process that is happening and give ourselves recognition for all we have walked through.  My birthday is at the end of November, which is also very close to the New Year.  So each time I add another year to my life, I make an effort to reflect on the calendar year that has passed.

Looking over the last year of my life is one my favorite self-reflection activities.  And yet sometimes I can feel paralyzed when I reflect on the unexpected detours my journey has taken.  I am reminded of how the unknown used to leave me so shaken that I would return to negative patterns of behavior that I knew would ultimately lead back to treatment – a predictable and safe conclusion.  However, the more I stepped into recovery, the more I realized that the universe does not curse or bless.  The universe does not dole out good and bad.  The universe only provides neutral experiences.  It is in the way in which these experiences impact our lives for better or worse that is in our conscious control.  A broken heart can render us incapable of leaving the house.  It can color our views of the world so much so that we refuse to trust those around us.  It can drive us to put up guards, locks, and walls around our hearts to make sure that nothing and no one will ever harm us again.  And little do we know that these guards keep the hurt out, but along with the hurt, these walls also keep out any potential good as well.  A broken heart can also drive us to create a masterpiece.  A broken heart can inspire us to chase a dream that has long eluded us because we realize the fleeting nature of our existence.  A broken heart can help us re-evaluate the kind of life/partner/career/family we want which instills a new sense of self-worth and a refusal to settle for any relationship, situation or activity that makes us feel “less than” or “not enough.”

Sometimes I see pictures of my younger self, and I sit in wonder.  This 6, 9, or 12 year old Gracie had no idea the turns her life would take.  Did she know that the college experience that she dreamed of — advancing with ease throughout all four years, meeting the love of her life and friends that would last a lifetime – would change into a series of residential treatment centers, struggles to go back to school, and ultimately attending a small college nothing like any that she had dreamed of?  Did she know she would fall in love like the magic she dreamed of only to have it crumble and leave her questioning what she could have done differently to keep it?  Did she know she would also have the chance to go to Africa, Europe, and South America?  Did she know she would fight back for her life and become strong enough to run two marathons?  Did she know she would meet people that would change her life forever and that she does have friendships that will last a lifetime?  Did she know that the turns in her life would grace her with empathy, resilience, fortitude and courage she never understood a fraction of before?

I no longer fear the unknown like I used to.  Of course there are still days where my stomach turns with anxiety, longing for a crystal ball that will assure me everything will be okay.  But more and more I have learned that the crack in the crystal ball – the unexpected event, or the unexpected gift that comes from the sometimes devastating turn of events – is really the most exciting and inspiring part of the journey.  Now I embrace change, and I even chase it.  I make a concerted effort to step into the unknown.  In the last year I decided to start the journey of yoga teacher training and became a certified yoga teacher, meeting friends and finding a community that brought such healing to pieces of me that I hadn’t realized needed it.  I graduated with my master’s in Social Work and was able to have the gift of working as an individual therapist, returning the gifts of a listening ear, understanding friend and unconditional support that were given to me at my hour of need.  I packed up my life and decided to move to a new state, start two new jobs and throw myself into a completely new climate and community.  I embraced change, leaned into it and actually chose it.  I chose growth.  I chose to trust the crack in the Crystal Ball because honestly it has been the most beautiful and transformative influence in my life.

I cannot wait for the future and yet I am constantly in awe by the beauty of the present.  I am so excited to see where this journey will lead me in the next year of my life.  I cannot wait to look back at pictures of my 20, 21, and 24 year old Gracie and think…she had no idea of the beauty that was to befall her life.

Free Refills Unavailable

Written by: Florence Taglight, contributing writer for Unpolished Journey and blogger at findingflo.co.uk

Free refills unavailable.

Unlike most places in America, here in the U.K we don’t get free refills at restaurants, so once you’ve drunk your drink, you’re done and either order another, or perhaps switch it up to water.  Needless to say on first trips to America I was guzzling so much iced tea and Arnold Palmers (something the UK needs more of) that I was constantly going to the bathroom and on return to England, practising my tiny sip taking to make my drink last the duration of my meal.

Okay, so you are probably thinking, what on earth does this have to do with compassion?  Followed by I’m reading this to gain some insight not learn about refill differences in USA and UK.  Well, be patient.  It’s coming.  Now in fact.

Often people in recovery from a mental illness, or perhaps those caring for one, tend to love and love and love, and care and care and care or even cry and cry and cry till we can love, care and cry no more.  That’s ‘normal.’  You are not emotionless or cold-hearted, merely a human being. A human being who needs to replenish, revitalise, rest and recuperate.  It can be extremely difficult when all you want to do is love someone and show them you care, but by taking time out for yourself, you will be able to be more present for them when they need love, more caring for them when they need caring for.

But although helping others is fantastic, and what I do believe we are put on this earth to do, throughout recovery I have learnt that as I try to be compassionate to others, I end up neglecting myself.  Sound familiar?  I will bake, cook, shop and clean for all those around me who show me love, because it’s a two-way street, right?  But I forget that these people also bake, cook and shop for themselves.  They also tell themselves nice things, refill their own cups not just everyone else’s.

I used to find it impossible to sit down and watch TV.  I HAD to be doing something – emptying the dishwasher, folding, organising.  I’ve always been a fidgeter but just watching TV for me seemed, well, wrong.  I’ll tell you what is wrong – that thought process. It could not be more wrong.  So, although I’m still learning, I’m learning pretty fast and enjoying the time I am spending with me.  After all, no matter if I meet my soulmate and we become attached at the hip (unlikely), I will spend my whole life with ME, so surely I should be the one most compassionate toward myself and not rely on those around me to give me love or to give my love too.

So if you are stuck on how to refill yourself so you can refill others, here’s what I suggest:

  1. Write yourself a poem, and then read it to yourself.
  2. Take yourself on a date, for hot chocolate preferably.
  3. Watch a film like Pretty Woman or The Lizzie McGuire Movie – I know extremely different genres.
  4. Buy yourself a present – fluffy socks? Fairy lights? But don’t go overboard…I fell at this hurdle; I own enough notebooks to document my life, twice.
  5. Paint your toenails – it is surprisingly relaxing. Plus if they suck, chances are nobody is going to see them for a while, so you can leave them all messy, which personally I find extremely satisfying.
  6. READ someone you trust your poem about YOU.

“The Flesh is the Surface of the Unknown”

Written by: Florence Taglight, contributing writer for Unpolished Journey and blogger at findingflo.co.uk

When an Artist starts a new artwork, they don’t start by imitating one they have already seen, one done by Hockney or Rothko.

When Musicians write a new song they don’t use the lyrics to other songs, or the same beat as the last number 1 hit (albeit, they come around, there are only so many words and notes)

And so why do we look at others and decide that’s how we should look too?

(N.B inspiration is allowed, after-all where would we be without it (Ellen D))

How boring would an art gallery be if each room were filled with the same paintings?

How tedious would car journeys be with every song the same? (Maybe this wasn’t the best metaphor as so many songs do indeed sound the same but imagine no indie-pop or Bob Marley dispersed throughout the Bieber’s and Swift’s).

And how DULL would life be if we looked all the same.

Wait.

New thought – Imagine if all dogs looked the same? No cute squishy faced pugs. No Great Danes standing next to a sausage dog the length of it’s own leg. Just all the same one dog. I mean not only would that be boring but talk about CONFUSING!

What I am getting at here is what Victor Hugo puts eloquently in an abridged version. The flesh is just the surface, that’s all it is, a layer on the top, like the waves are the surface of the ocean.

The ocean itself is far more than the waves, and you are far more than your flesh.

And I can appreciate the former so whole-heartedly, so why can’t I start to appreciate that I, too am more than the flesh on my body?

Although I will never visit the ocean floor – if it means wearing any further equipment than a snorkel; I tried, I really did but me + underwater with no escape is a bit like those horrendous food concoction lists you see on Buzzfeed…(e.g. Hot Chocolate & Curry…feel free to Google the rest if you are that way inclined.), hence never discovering an amazing new type of starfish or seahorse. What I will do is try and discover something new about me; and that’s why you should try to discover something new about you too – on a regular basis.

Alike paintings and songs and dog breeds (not saying I am pro crossbreeding dogs) even animals in general there are always more to discover. You may think you know all your talents, whether that be singing, dancing, eating a whole tub of hummus most days… I guarantee you can find one more hidden beneath the waves.

The Body Wasn’t Meant to Shrink

Written By: Emily Rutherford, contributing writer and mental health advocate. Check out her Instagram @artwithanxiety for more of her work!

My body wasn’t meant to shrink, it was meant to stand tall and grounded.

My body wasn’t meant to make me feel insecure. It’s meant to make me comfortable in my skin. It’s the only thing that hasn’t given up on me, how could I possibly hate it?

My body wasn’t meant to be punished. It wasn’t meant to be starved, scratched, cut, and given up on. And, those scars are now signs that I am stronger than my mental illnesses. That depression and my eating disorder did take control at one point, but I’m not letting that happen anymore.

My body is not yours. It’s mine. It takes me where I need to go, tells me when I’m hungry or full or tired.

Learning to love my body still seems like a daunting task. And, it doesn’t happen overnight. Right now I’m learning to not hate my body. It doesn’t mean I have to go from hate to love. I can feel indifferent about it or even insecure at times, but my body does not define me. I’ve been weight restored for a while now, and last night as I got out of the shower hating every inch of it, I told myself “this is what i’m going to look like for the rest of my life, I should probably stop hating it and trying to change it. I should probably work on acceptance.”

Normally I hate “should” statements, because they drove my disorder. “You should go to the gym.” “You should skip lunch.” “You should go on a diet.” “You should wear pants and longsleeves in 90 degree weather.” “You should hate yourself.” The list could go on and on. The difference now though is that body acceptance is in line with my recovery. It’s what I’m encouraged to learn, and it’s not something I let myself feel guilty about that I’m not there yet. I’ve spent 15 years hating it, it’s going to take time.

Instead of saying you love your body, bring your attention to its functions. My legs allow me to walk around the city. My arms allow me to do art. My eyes allow me to see the beautiful world. My voice allows me to be heard. My flexibility is being enhanced through yoga.

Your body is SO much more than what it looks like on the outside. That’s the most uninteresting thing about you. Cultivate awareness to your personality, your spirit, your kindness, your hope. Don’t lose hope. Your body believes in you. Treat it kindly in return.

Close Your Eyes and Open Your Soul

Written by: Gracie, Facebook manager and contributing writer at Unpolished Journey

I wish I could blindfold the world.  I wish for just one day, I could speak to your soul and not your concealer.  I want to see your spirit, not your eyebrow pencil.  I want to connect with the light inside you not the lip color painted on your mouth.

I promise I am not going to write an anti-makeup essay disguised as a spirituality blog post.  I simply want to use makeup as just one example of the many ways I often escape my spiritual journey.  It’s not the makeup’s fault, though.  It’s not the fault of the fashion or the new outfit.  It’s not the fault of the six pack or the thigh gap.  The fault is in the entire focus on the body as a show piece instead of a suitcase.  I see the body as a suitcase for the soul.  The body is a vessel not vouge.

I have been struggling a lot lately with how my body looks in recovery.  These recent few years in recovery have been the longest I have existed in an adult woman’s body and let me tell you, it does not feel like I have arrived.  I do not wake up and feel flawless regardless of how many times I blast Beyonce as my alarm.  I do not look for every chance I can to rock my bikini and I still find myself flipping through filter after filter to fix my figure and my self-esteem.  I have been feeling this lack of body confidence more and more recently and I began to feel that my worries, fears, and criticisms were drowning out any strength and wisdom that might come from my soul.

After a particularly hard week last week, everything came to a halt on last wednesday night.  I was at my very last class of yoga teacher training.  The 200 hour teacher training graduation took place on Wednesday night and I walked into the yoga studio of wall to wall mirrors.  I wanted to hide and I wanted to crawl out of my body at the same time and preferably both.  Our instructors informed all of the newly certified teachers to lay down our mats and settle into child’s pose.  In child’s pose, the instructors asked each student to close their eyes and feel around the top of our mats for a surprise.  I wiggled my fingers up to the top of my mat and felt a small piece of cloth that I began to realize was a thick, stretchy headband.  The instructors told us to pull the headbands down over our eyes and that they were going to lead us through an hour long, blindfolded practice.  I think I was the only one in the room who was over the moon with elation.  I gave my Higher Power a quick mental high five and praised the universe for disposing of the mirrors for at least an hour.

I was unprepared for the 60 minute journey I was about to take.

When I couldn’t see, I had to feel.

I felt my shaky legs struggle for balance.  I felt my body dance with the soft, flowing music.  I felt my fingerpads sink into my mat.  I felt my chest swell and empty with my deep inhales and exhales.

And then, I felt my spirit begin to talk to me.

I felt all of the fears that had been masquerading as dissatisfaction with my body.  I felt the fear of the unknown, the fear of failure, the fear of being alone, the fear of not being enough.  I felt the hurt of heartbreak, the hurt of being used, the hurt of taking the road less traveled, the hurt of having to ask for help.  I felt the pain my eyes had been convincing me was caused by the circumference of my thighs and the roundness of my face.

My soul tries to talk to me on a daily basis, but because I live in a physical world I often cannot hear my soul above my eyes.

When I was blindfolded I was forced to listen to my soul.  My soul reminded me that I am a light.  My soul reminded me that I am joy.  My soul reminded me that I am unique.  My soul reminded me that I am worthy and deserving.  My soul reminded me that I am an overcomer.  It is funny to me that the instructors had us begin the class in child’s pose, because I often look at pictures of my younger self and instantly see my soul.  I see that untamed, mischievous grin.  I see those genuine, unconditionally affectionate eyes.  I see what my eyes used to see – I see my soul.

Some days I wish I could untrain my eyes to see all of the things they see now.  I wish I could travel back in time to tell little Gracie to close her eyes before she starts to compare, despair and shrink.  I wish I could tell little Gracie to put on a blindfold and just TAKE UP SPACE.  Take up SO much space, because little Gracie, your soul is much too expansive to ever fit into any physical body.
Spirituality is truly my saving Grace.  Spirituality is the unconditional love that guides and gives me strength to live to my fullest potential, my fullest purpose, my most meaningful life.  My connection to my higher power and the energy of all of the souls around me is what makes my life worth living and it is therefore my reason for recovery.

I Hate Body Image Campaigns

Written by: Gracie who is a friend, spiritual and recovery warrior, and contributing writer to those at Unpolished Journey.

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Don’t think about the color purple.

Don’t think about the color purple.

Don’t think about the color purple.

Ok…Ready…What are you thinking about?

Maybe…the color…purple??

The media is slowly beginning to recognize society’s call for equal representation of body types and images that are real and untouched.  Certain individuals and campaigns are shouting for media to display men and women who love and accept their bodies just as they are.  Many of us want to see the diversity in hopes that we can better begin to accept our own shapes, freckles, curves and uniqueness.  I absolutely agree that media is extremely damaging and the images currently on display idealize a very specific body type and look which makes it extremely difficult for individuals to accept their body exactly as it is.  However are we missing something in the body image movement?  Are we again distracted by the physical body when the real appreciation and beauty is something at a much deeper level?

Accept your body.

Embrace your pudge.

Love those wrinkles and that cellulite.

Don’t get me wrong, these statements can be very empowering and campaigns that focus on loving a round belly, thick thighs or maybe flat butt, longer torso, etc. are trying to get into consumers heads to break the cycle of negative talk that may have come about in relation to the perfect images that do not mirror what we all see in the mirror.  I have often felt empowered by these statements that challenge me to love my body exactly as it is in this moment, even when I don’t have a flat stomach and my thighs chafe creating holes on the inseams of all my leggings.  I know that I have leaned on these statements that encourage me to embrace all of me.  However I also know that these statements and approach to body image still shine the light on the body.  These movements and campaigns are still labeling parts of the body like “pudge, squish, or flab”.  These statements are still reinforcing some of the negativity because if society tells us cellulite is bad but a campaign tells us to embrace cellulite….I am still aware that I am desperately trying to embrace it because I know that I hate it BECAUSE I was told it was bad in the first place.

Don’t think about your cellulite.

Don’t think about your cellulite.

Don’t think about your cellulite.

OK….What are you thinking about??

You’re still thinking about your body, aren’t you?

I would propose a challenge.  Maybe the real body image work needs to be focused on the soul.  So instead of telling you to ignore you flab, not think about your flab, and forget about your flab.  Instead I will tell you to focus your attention on something else.

How is your soul?

What is the state of your heart?

Where do you want to travel?

Whose day will you make today?

What if body image campaigns worked to move the body to the back burner?  What if as a society we stopped focusing on the body all together?  Stopped focusing on shaming it and stopped focusing on fighting like hell to accept it.  What if instead of going to personal trainers and weight watchers meetings we went camping and took guitar lessons?  What if we found hobbies, friends, and moments of spiritual growth.  What if we read a memoir instead of a 500 recipes under 500 calories cookbook?  This is not at all to shame anyone who goes to a personal trainer or attends weight watchers.  If an individual needs to reach certain health goals, that is completely up to that individual and their medical team.  Health should be defined on an individual level with support of a team.  However still in the journey of health it is easy to get lost and consumed with the end result, new image and develop tunnel vision for the perfect body.

I know the struggle for me is still constant.  I often have to choose between the actions that I know aid in consuming my mind with thoughts of my body and actions that enrich my spirit and feed my soul.  I want a new body image campaign that focuses on embracing our stories, experiences and individual souls.  I want a body image campaign that is radically calling individuals to look beyond the body into what really makes them unique and makes their presence on this Earth vital.  I believe that each of us has a distinct purpose and I would hate for that purpose to fade into the background because the individual was focusing on their body, trying to perfect, tone, and manipulate.  Think about the yearnings of your soul and ask yourself if your actions are leading you closer to those yearning or if your actions are aligning with false yearnings that only detract and distract.  I know that I personally loose connection and passion with my true yearning when I spend all of my days on a treadmill or making a new diet plan.  Suddenly my true purpose fades as I become consumed with a desire to perfect a body that inevitably will continue changing as I age, whether I like it or not.  And because our bodies age, this process to perfect can truly consume our entire life.

SO….What would you chase if you weren’t chasing the ideal body?

What makes your spirit sing?

What about your story makes you strong?

Are you compassionate, funny, smart, creative, logical, organized, free-spirited, friendly, shy?

If you could quit your job now and do anything in the world, what would it be?

What makes you, you?

Are you thinking about your body now??

I hope not.