At the moment, I’m feeling truly annoyed at myself. I haven’t posted to the blog for over three weeks, so now that I’m sitting down to do so, I have a lot to say. It’s going to take a long time. It would have been better to break this long update into smaller ones along the way. I’m tempted to close my computer and avoid blogging at all. I’m experiencing a moment of breakdown.

I don’t mean “breakdown” in the hyperventilating, curled up in a fetal position sense. I mean that I’ve hit a snag, an obstacle that’s preventing me from being who I want to be. The opportunity here is to turn this moment into a breakthrough by reacting differently than I normally do, in a way that makes me happier. This takes willpower and practice.

Any given day usually holds both breakdowns and breakthroughs. Here are some of the breakdowns that I’ve had in the last few weeks:

Bouncing between extremes, rather than maintaining balance. I’m an all-or-nothing sort of person, putting in 100% effort or not trying at all, with sleep, work, cleanliness, everything. Blogging is what causes me the most grief. I’m constantly telling myself that I’ll post frequent tidbits, rather than long, infrequent, all-encompassing posts. I want to share more with you than my perfectionism allows.

Letting work overrun my life. It’s been exciting to write articles about things important to me — small business, organic community gardens, and innovative youth programs — but I spend so much time on them that I have little energy left for blogging, and little time for my hobbies. I tend to take on too many assignments at once and have to write for several days straight to finish them.

Punishing myself. Frustration with myself, or even self-loathing, is an all-too familiar feeling. I’m my own worst critic and tend to obsess over little mistakes or shortcomings. When I accomplish something, I often think “You should have done that a long time ago,” or “You left this detail out,” rather than just celebrating the accomplishment. It’s an exhausting way to live.

Getting overwhelmed and stuck. I’ll look at challenges in front of me — a huge pile of laundry, a messy workspace, a string of unanswered emails — and panic, not knowing where to start. My mind whirs without a clear thought, and my chest tightens anxiously. I’m learning to stop, breathe, and figure out my next actions, but it takes a lot of effort not to get stuck in feelings of helplessness.

Avoiding money matters. I avoid thinking about money whenever possible, which is why I’ve never had much of it. Like many others, I have unconscious psychological blockages around financial matters that are irrational but real (”I’m worthless,” “I can’t live a life of service AND be well-off,” etc.). The bottom line is, money is a tool to achieve the things I want in life, social change included. I need to maintain a healthy relationship with money if I want it to be there when I need it — the same is true of any ally. So far I’m earning little more than beer money by freelancing only locally, so I’m going to expand my repertoire soon.

Each time one of those breakdowns happens, it’s an opportunity to react differently than I usually do — to show myself that yes, I have the power to change. It may take a few tries, but I can do it. Here are some examples of breakthroughs that I’ve made recently:

Breaking my 10+ year addiction to sleeping with earplugs. A light sleeper since birth, I began sleeping with earplugs when I moved into the party dorm at Santa Clara University (appropriately named Swig Hall). Howard Leight earplugs, which were made for drowning out the noise of power tools, let me sleep through the night no matter who was playing football in the hallway at 2 a.m. on a weeknight. After a while, I couldn’t sleep well without them, which isn’t ideal, or very safe (I might sleep through an emergency). Slowly, with the help of a ceiling fan for ambient noise, I’ve weaned myself.

Eating the European way. Reading the book French Women Don’t Get Fat a couple years ago changed the way I think about food. Following author Mireille Giuliano’s advice about the principles of French eating, I eat for pleasure, slowly, and in moderation. I eat a variety of foods, processed as little as possible (including whole milk, yogurt, and butter) and drink lots of water. The book discusses how maintaining your body’s equilibrium means sleeping enough, exercising regularly (especially walking and stretching), and laughing a lot. It’s about a balanced lifestyle rather than extremes of indulgence and self-deprivation. During my workaholic nonprofit years, I was doing the opposite of what Giuliano recommends, and my body felt lumpy and abnormal. Now that I’m following her advice, my body feels like mine again, which is a relief. I’ll write a full post on European-style eating eventually, because so many American women could benefit from seeing food as an ally rather than an enemy.

Reschooling myself through reading. After years of not reading much at all because I never made the time, I’ve taken to camping out at Lemuria Books, our local indie bookstore. I started by writing book guides for the Jackson Free Press. The latest topic was camping survival, so for three hours I read about how to prevent attacks by bears, snakes, or lightning and left feeling half prepared, half paranoid. After deadline, I decompressed by spending another few hours reading about planting organic gardens and interior decorating with reclaimed materials. Darren and I are going to start putting these ideas into action by building a raised garden bed next weekend.

Improvising on the piano and guitar. As a well-trained student, I’m terrified of improvisation. I can memorize what’s in front of me and spit it back near-perfectly, as I did on so many tests in school, but create something on the spot? What if it sounds awful? The other day I was listening to Amos Lee’s “Careless” and started strumming along on guitar, eventually finding the notes that fit the music. I sat down at the piano and did the same thing, playing around with chords without worrying about getting it right. It didn’t come out perfectly, but it was my original interpretation, and just playing by ear opened up the possibility of figuring out any song.

Doing impromptu interviews. I used to be terrified of being recorded on video or audio, but talking about Reschool Yourself has helped me relax. I try to focus more on the message than the messenger (me) and remember that it’s not a performance; it’s a conversation. I got the chance to be part of Mutual of Omaha’s traveling “Aha Moment” campaign that documents the life-changing realizations of everyday people (video to follow), and an off-the-cuff interview with Public Allies. It’s liberating to trust that the words will come instead of rehearsing them to death in advance.

Doing headstands and handstands in yoga. I’m not naturally a big fan of being upside down. It’s uncomfortable. I feel out of control and fearful of breaking my neck. But each time I kick up and down from the wall, with the help of my friend and yoga teacher Tara, I can do so with less assistance and more control. With practice, I’m building strength and faith that I can hold myself up.

Start observing your breakdowns and breakthroughs. Catch yourself in a moment of breakdown. Stop and choose the way you react, instead of falling into your usual patterns. You’ll be surprised at your own power to turn your challenge into a breakthrough.

Thanks to Landmark Education, which offers personal development courses, for introducing me to the concept of breakthroughs and breakdowns.

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