This whole business of self-compassion is most definitely a practice, which (for me, anyway) means days that come easily and days that don’t. Yesterday was a difficult day. I forgot something relatively important, which I should have remembered (and had set numerous reminders to myself about), which set off a spiral of anxiety about feeling unproductive, disorganized, etc.
This is a typical cycle for me: giving myself a break, often because I’ve gotten sick, and then undoing a lot of the gentleness with a subsequent panic about what hasn’t gotten done. The inconsistency in my productivity and motivation, the cycles of procrastination and doing, is something I’m still working on—and I know that burnout has plenty to do with it. But enhanced insight has yet to lessen the worry that I feel when it seems as though I’ve fallen behind. And the DI creates more deadlines, paperwork, and logistics than usual.
I do think I’m becoming more adept at breaking the familiar cycle once it starts. At the heart of this is the fact that I don’t want to waste any more time than I already have with the exhausting business of self-blame. In the past, I suspect that negative self-talk and self-censure was so much a part of my way of being that I was attached to it, whether I knew it or not. I feel very differently these days—aware that we’re all our worst critics sometimes, conscious of the fact that all behaviors take a while to change, but very ready to change this one.
Yesterday I spent my afternoon feeling especially rotten about myself. It didn’t take me long to realize how much I didn’t want the remainder of my Saturday to follow suit. I downloaded Kristen Neff’s book, which had been on my wish list for a while. I spent some time with it, and with Sharon Salzberg’s introduction. Then I met up with a friend for dinner before attending a kirtan at my yoga studio.
In spite of the fact that I’ve never been much of a singer—not for karaoke, not even in the shower—I love kirtan. I can’t think of too many life experiences that give me more joy than mantra and song with my spiritual community, and last night was no exception.
My friend and I were running late (as always), so the music had already began when we arrived. I found a blanket and joined in the song with something that felt a lot like glee—I haven’t been able to practice yoga with regularity this fall, and I’ve missed my home studio more than I realized. I didn’t know how much I was craving the company of my fellow yogis until last night, nor did I understand how starved I’ve felt of a sense of devotion to something bigger than me.
I spent the next two hours singing, clapping, snapping, and occasionally jiggling a tambourine in celebration. Celebration of what? I don’t know—the kirtan had a new year’s theme, but I wasn’t really thinking about the transition from last year to this one. If anything, I was celebrating the practice of new beginnings, which is personal and unattached to the calendar. I was celebrating the fact that my day could have felt a certain way, and a mere four hours later feel so differently. I’ve been ruminating lately on the power of starting fresh with each breath, each new moment, and last night felt like an embodiment of that possibility.
Most of all, though, it was a celebration of shared voice and song. And it reminded me that, while my practice of self-care often looks like taking it easy, resting, giving myself the gift of solitude, cancelling plans to take it easy, etc., that isn’t always what’s needed. Sometimes the best medicine is for me to step outside and choose to be with my community. I sometimes forget what a gift it is that it’s there. We’re all stumbling and celebrating, on our own and sometimes, if we’re really lucky, together.
I’m starting this new week with a sense of lightness and gratitude—and lots of video clips of last night’s music on my phone, which I’ll watch whenever I need to be transported back to the feelings I felt at the kirtan in the days ahead.
I wish you some inner or outer music of your own. Here are some recipes and reads.
I think I’ve met my next vegan breakfast taco!
A very cozy, very easy, wintery potato goulash.
I love the looks of Steven’s protein-rich Southwestern vegan posole.
Another simple meal: Aysegul’s one-pan Mexican quinoa.
Finally, Sarah has created one of the most beautiful whole roasted cauliflowers I’ve ever seen!
1. On the topic of burnout, a few readers have sent me the link to this Buzzfeed article now. I’ve found it to be, just as they did, incredibly relatable.
The article identifies a constellation of struggles, but especially a difficulty in managing everyday tasks and errands, that I’ve had a hard time owning up to. Why? Because the whole issue feels incredibly embarrassing (why should so-called adulting be so hard for me?), and because until now I understood it solely as a symptom of my depression, when I could admit to it at all. I may be much less alone than I think I am.
I don’t want to say too much, as the article’s worth reading in its entirety, but I did especially love this quotation (underscored to me by a reader and friend who was compelled by it as I was):
But for the first time, I’m seeing myself, the parameters of my labor, and the causes of my burnout clearly. And it doesn’t feel like the abyss. It doesn’t feel hopeless. It’s not a problem I can solve, but it’s a reality I can acknowledge, a paradigm through which I can understand my actions.
2. A fascinating look at alpha-gal allergy—which makes people allergic to animal meat and anything derived from an animal or its excretions—and its link to tick bites.
3. This interesting article reports on biomusic, an interface that allows for detection of anxiety or other emotions via physiological signals. It holds special promise for researchers and caregivers working with patients who can’t communicate through motion or words.
4. This New York Times article describes early research on the power of expectation or belief to impact satiety and the capacity to exercise. It’s one intriguing experiment only, and the results—which point to belief/expectation as vying with genetics in mediating the food/exercise-related measures—don’t mean that genetics are unimportant.
Still, I paid attention when I read this, as it’s long been my observation that strong beliefs and outcome expectations (for example, the idea that one’s relationship with food is incurably damaged) can reinforce struggle with eating and fitness.
5. It’s taken me years—and a lot of failed baking experiments—to figure out this critical distinction.
Speaking of Taste, the magazine has helped to make possible an awesome ebook promotion of Power Plates! For the next week, the Kindle version of the book is only $2.99, which makes it a great deal. If you’ve thought about getting the book but have been deterred by the price point, if you’d like to explore the recipes before or without investing in the hard copy, or if you’re a fan of cooking from your Kindle in general, you can check the promotion out here 🙂
Happy Sunday, friends. I’ve got an awesome, healthful cookie recipe coming your way in just a day or two!
Weekend Reading | The Full Helping
A week-long head cold wasn’t how I planned to begin 2019, but the nice thing about having some time off from the DI is that I’ve been able to absolutely nothing in the last few days, aside from drinking tea, answering emails from my phone, and catching up on television.
In the past, I’ve been great at talking about the importance of rest and slowing down, very bad at actually doing those things without an overlay of guilt or nervousness about what isn’t getting done. It’s amazing how fully and happily I’ve embraced staying put this week. I’m so grateful I feel that I can actually let things slow to a halt and give my body a chance to recharge.
In the spirit of not filling up my time any more than I need to, I’m keeping the weekend reading intro short today—with the sincere hope that, even amidst the hustle and energy of a new year, you can all find small pockets of rest and restoration this week, too.
Enjoy the reads and recipes, everyone!
First, I’m loving Sue’s bright, crisp, and colorful black-eyed pea salad for the new year.
I make a lot of tofu scrambles, but I haven’t made one with different spice blends or global flavors in quite a long time. I’m getting inspiration from this vibrant curry tofu scramble, via Gastroplant.
Vegan comfort food perfection: a creamy baked gnocchi dish with lemon zest.
I never say no to a dish with pearl couscous! This seasonal salad also has pumpkin and pomegranate arils, and it’s easy to veganize by using maple syrup in the dressing.
Christmas may be over, but I’ve never been more excited to bake. These chewy vegan ginger almond cookies look fantastic, and they’re now at the top of my list.
1. Amanda Mull has some critical, humorous, and compelling thoughts on cosumerism and the culture of New Year’s resolutions. I especially liked this:
Accepting the fundamental fact of myself has allowed me to take stock of the things I do and to change the things within my control that I dislike. None of that has involved buying something on sale.
“Accepting the fundamental fact of myself”—sounds so simple, yet what a challenge it is, and how freeing when it actually happens.
2. I had a very difficult time reading this New York Times piece on wildlife electrocution, but it’s an important topic and worth sharing.
3. An interesting new approach to treating addiction by modulating memory.
4. I couldn’t believe how science writer Josie Glausiusz has often been told to make her articles digestible: by writing “[s]tories that pass the “Aunt Myrtle” test—would your hypothetical elderly aunt be able to appreciate our work?”
Along with many other science journalists, I have encountered this stereotype time and again. We are advised to ask scientists to explain their research to “your granny,” “to your mother or a ninth-grader,” to “Aunt Gladys.” As Einstein supposedly said in innumerably repeated memes, “You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.” (The quote is “probably not by Einstein,” according to the Ultimate Quotable Einstein, published by Princeton University Press.)…
The well-worn formula is a prime example of the subtle ways in which sexism pervades science in a manner so entrenched that it is difficult to recognize. We are never asked to explain science to “your dad” or “your granddad.”
Kudos to the writer for sounding off about this kind of sexism and ageism in science journalism!
5. And while we’re on the topic of women and science, an awesomely comprehensive reading list.
Wishing you a great start to the second week of 2019, friends. Be back this week with an easy slow cooker recipe, which can transition perfectly into plenty of not-quite-a-recipe recipes.
Weekend Reading, 12.30.18 | The Full Helping
I’ve been reading a lot of Pema Chodron’s writings about tonglen practice lately. One quotation of hers keeps sticking with me:
Tonglen practice (and all meditation practice) is not about later, when you get it all together and you’re this person you really respect. You may be the most violent person in the world—that’s a fine place to start. That’s a very rich place to start—juicy, smelly. You might be the most depressed person in the world, the most addicted person in the world, the most jealous person in the world. You might think that there are no others on the planet who hate themselves as much as you do. All of that is a good place to start. Just where you are—that’s the place to start.
It seems appropriate to digest those wise words right on the cusp of a new year, when even those of us who don’t do much to commemorate NYE get to thinking about endings and beginnings and starting new things.
Actually, though, the quote resonates retrospectively more than prospectively. Starting where I am—treating each new moment as an opportunity to approach life with a fresh perspective—is at the heart of the resilience I’ve been feeling in the last few weeks, as my hospital rotation wrapped up and I entered the holiday season.
When I was interviewing for DI programs, I was repeatedly told that the most crucial quality in a strong dietetic intern was resilience. It confused me at the time: I was expecting to hear about other traits, like critical thinking, clinical judgment, or empathy.
Now that my first 15 weeks of the DI program are behind me, I know why resilience kept coming up. The year demands constant change. A lot goes into doing the job well while one is at work, but what happens outside of the clinical workday itself—adjusting to new commutes and new communities of patients, being willing to work around each preceptor’s schedule, processing information quickly but thoroughly—is equally important. And it’s a test of flexibility more than anything else.
Flexibility, of course, is as far from being one of my inborn strengths as anything could be. It’s a deficit, actually, but I think the DI is helping me to build it up, little by little. A therapist told me long ago that I’d responded to a lot of stuff in my past by clinging to control, and that this would always be complicated for me, because control had (for better or for worse) become one of my strengths. It was true, and I’ve spent the last few years of my life working hard to release my grip, soften up, and move with the flow of things. It’s good for me, but I do feel robbed of a strength, not to mention frequently disoriented (“thrown out of the nest,” to use another Chodron expression).
Like anything else, it’s a work in progress. Sometimes I flow without trying to. Sometimes I can’t lighten up or loosen up at all, and the opportunity to tread lightly is in having a sense of humor about a clingy/grasping/reactive day. What feels really good is when I can move between these states quickly—in other words, when a craggy morning doesn’t necessarily become a proverbial “bad day.”
This was, I remember, such a huge struggle for me in ED recovery: flipping my experience around quickly, rather than writing a narrative about how it was going to be a bad day or a bad week because something ugly had happened with food. It took me a while, but I did get to the point where I could struggle midday but feel grounded, balanced, and sane by dinnertime. And, as with so many other things, the skills I learned in ED recovery are now being cultivated in other areas of my life.
The last few weeks of my hospital rotation where chaotic and messy. I felt powerful and competent sometimes, totally overwhelmed at others. In the past, each moment of mess would have gotten drawn out and intensified by my tendency to judge and agonize about struggle as its happening. With the DI in full swing, I didn’t have the time to get sucked into that kind of a vortex. I had to bounce back quickly from feeling tripped up, caught off-guard, or overwhelmed.
So I did. When things felt chaotic or messy or rough, I took a few minutes to breathe, to get into my body, to feel sensations. I invited myself to start over. And I invited myself to believe that resilience was possible. Sometimes it felt a little forced. It almost always felt like some version of “fake-it-till-you-make-it.”
But there’s a lot of wisdom in “fake-it-till-you-make-it”—or at least in having faith that repeated, small behaviors and actions can sometimes bring about inner change (rather than the other way around). I wasn’t always sure that I could shake off a heavy or anxious mood when I invited myself to take a deep breath and move forward as if I could. Most of the time, though, it worked.
I’m now inviting myself to believe that this experience of resilience can stay with me outside of the DI—through early January, and then moving beyond next summer. I’ll proceed as if it can, and it will. And as a new year gets underway, what I wish for myself—what I wish for any person who needs it—is faith that each new moment, each new breath, is a chance to begin again. New beginnings don’t have to look any particular way, and they don’t require preparatory self-improvement. They’re an evergreen possibility, and they can take all sorts of tiny, everyday shapes.
As 2019 begins, I’m celebrating any and all opportunities to see and do things differently. And I’m giving thanks for all of the goodness in my life that abides—friends, family, food, and especially my body. I wish you all light, joy, and continual moments of starting anew—on New Year’s Eve, and always.
And now, some recipes and reads!
What a beautiful concord grape bread, perfectly veganizable with non-dairy milk.
I’m all about cozy winter recipes like this right now: an old-fashioned vegan French onion chowder.
More soup! Tomato barley with all of the cheesy roasted chickpeas.
And now, for some baked goodness, starting with this cozy and creative maple dijon butternut sage & apple bake.
Finally, a lovely vegan winter centerpiece from the talented Thomas: Finnish rutabaga gratin.
1. HDL cholesterol is regarded as the “good” cholesterol, and a strong body of evidence shows that very low levels HDL are actually associated with an increased risk of heart disease. A new study, though, suggests that very high levels of HDL might also be problematic, which means that the relationship between HDL and cardiovascular disease risk is what’s known as a “U-shaped” pattern. This Scientific American blog discusses the interesting findings!
2. One of the most painful, yet often under-discussed consequences of having childhood cancer and cancer treatment is that fertility can be permanently altered. A new cryopreservation procedure—freezing whole parts of an ovary, rather than individual eggs—may give childhood cancer patients hope. The Guardian shares details.
3. On the topic of cancer and other chronic illnesses, The Boston Globe profiles doctors who are working on earlier, more precise detection methods for disease diagnosis.
4. This fall, I witnessed firsthand how important palliative care is for those who need it. As this Washington Post article makes clear, many people in this country can’t access palliative care because it’s unavailable or uncovered by insurance. The piece gives exposure to a really important healthcare topic.
5. Also from the Washington Posta great perspective on how people can better prepare themselves for the challenges of behavior change. I love the author’s differentiation between adopting a habit vs. building a life skill—I tend to think that most changes with food and nutrition fall into the latter category, which is why robust support and patience is so necessary for them to happen!
Happy New Year’s, a little early, friends. Sending love. And may all beings living be happy and free.
Weekend Pause, 12.23.18 | The Full Helping
Happy Sunday, friends! I finished up my clinicals on Friday, and life is good. I’ve also got the cold/malaise situation that I typically develop at the end of a busy semester, so I’m taking this afternoon off to rest and drink tea.
While I’ve been too tired to do much, I haven’t been too tired to bake, and I’ve got a delicious new snack cake recipe coming to you tomorrow—and some great article links for next weekend.
For today, so much love.
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