Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dear Ally

Dear Ally,

Today is the first Monday, of many Mondays to come, being off of work due to a medical leave. My illness is psychological in nature, an eating disorder, which has resulted in some physical illnesses. As of today I would like to start to rediscover myself as a part of healing.

Previously I've dealt with my issues by managing my body image, taking on a lot of projects and setting the standards as being perfection. Now I've cut out many of my responsibilities to focus on myself and the treatment I need to do in order to get better. However, for the first time ever, I'm at a loss on how to start this personal project of self discovery. Waking up with nothing to do but whatever I want is causing major anxieties.

I have goals like being more in touch with myself, developing assertiveness, loving my inner beauty, appreciating my exterior appearance and being able to better control my destructive thoughts. I have no clue on the how to reach these goals. Any advice on how to start would be greatly appreciated.  xo

Signed, Ashelle

Dear Ashelle,

Your question and situation are very serious, so I'm going to treat them with the utmost respect and care.  Your life and happiness are at stake here.

I'm glad you're receiving therapy.  I used to think it was a cop-out when Ann Landers reflexively told questioners to "get therapy" but, in your case, you have a real need for it.  I hope therapy helps you sort out what's wrong and provides you with tools to improve.  The perspective of a trained professional is often very useful to us in seeing things we're blind about.

Trying to be perfect is a common way people who are struggling wrestle with their demons.  I know -- I used to be one of them.  The idea, which is actually an illusion, is that if you're perfect, all your problems will disappear.  But, they won't.  You'll still have the same problems.  And it takes Herculean effort to achieve perfection in anything.  Some of that effort can usually be directed better elsewhere.

In 1764, the philosopher Voltaire wrote that "The perfect is the enemy of the good."  He meant that trying to be perfect is not be worth the effort if it costs you in other ways.  Good enough is better than failed, depressing attempts at perfection.

The goals you state are valuable ones, but they're indistinct.  It's easy to say we want to become raise our self-esteem but harder to figure out how to do that.  What I think you need to do is make your goals more concrete -- visualize them in a form that can be turned into action.  For example, instead of saying you want to be more in touch with yourself, identify activities that do that for you (e.g., writing a journal) and commit to doing those activities.

Then, after you've done that, break down your goals into smaller sub-goals.  It's easier to met a sub-goal on the path to a larger objective; plus, doing that is rewarding.  You'll sense accomplishment in meeting sub-goals which will spur you to continue on the right path.  Often, facing a big project like writing a 50-page term-paper is paralyzing whereas facing smaller steps toward the goal (e.g., doing research; sketching notes; writing an outline; drafting an opening chapter) can be attacked with more confidence.

I hope this advice helps.  And please keep me posted with your progress.  I care!

** If any of you readers have suggestions or advice for Ashelle, please chime in.  She and I have agreed to open the discussion up to include your thoughts and contributions. **


  1. I myself have flaws and hardships, but who doesn't?..I can tell Ashelle that therapy is one best way to start, then attend some classes about emotional help. These classes are given through the evaluation of your physician if you happen to see one. Myself, when i felt I am starting to lose my self esteem, i read novels that are self motivating...I watch youthful movies...and I paint. I take inspirations. Seeing friends that are more positive in the way they think is always good. Don't forget to exercise or join a club and take fitness classes..this will help a lot not only physically but your blood circulation and mind relaxation..soak in a warm bath and take time to breathe...lastly, when our bodies are still complete, we live luckier than the blind or the crippled.<3 take care...

  2. I could never better you words, but I back them 100%.

  3. Good advice and yes without any training or education on such subject matter it is hard but what you said about breaking big goals into smaller ones also help. I would also add since these are very intangible goals (if I am using that word correctly?) i think she needs to find some tangible activities to do while trying to achieve the others. May be volunteering or going for daily walks or bike rides... Also a fun project like visiting all the different parks in the area and having a picnic lunch and sitting and thinking outdoors type of thing. Can visit one park a day or park a week type of thing. I always feel getting out of the house is always a positive thing. Just some suggestions.

  4. Ash is one of the bravest people I know. She is taking the initiative to look fear in the eye and stop the cycle she's been in. Not everyone has the courage to get started, but she is going for it!

    I think you presented some GREAT advice, Ally. Especially about making more concrete goals and formulating a less overwhelming plan to achieve them. Sometimes just getting started is the hardest part, but when you break it down like that, it doesn't seem so insurmountable.

    And, of course, me being me, you know I love your stance on perfection (or the lack thereof!).

    Something that helps me tremendously is my vision board. I made one a year and a half ago and have achieved almost everything on it except for one. When I look at it now and realize that, I marvel. Mine was all life stuff I wanted to achieve, but you could just as easily make one for goals like these. Just steer clear of adding magazine photos that have to do with appearance or "how you wish you looked" unless those images constitute health and vitality. Inspiring phrases and quotes are especially helpful. If a board seems like too big of a project, try cutting a notch in the top of a shoe box and dropping clippings or notes in it as you're inspired. I just read about the box idea yesterday. It doesn't matter how you go about it; the idea is that the physical act of doing it is your way of stating to the Universe that you believe your goals are going to happen. When you really believe it...they do. Uh-oh, I feel a blog post coming on. ;)

    Volunteering is a good suggestion from Daphne. Don't do it to the point that it starts keeping you just as busy as all your old tasks did; then it becomes nothing more than another attempt at distraction. But when it's balanced, volunteering in some way takes you outside yourself long enough to realize how good you have it and gives you a sense of purpose (and therefore self-worth). It doesn't have to be something that would make you depressed. It could be reading to kids, walking dogs at a no-kill shelter, rocking babies at the hospital (if they still let people do that), etc.

    You know how much we're all rooting for you, Ashelle!! Biggest of hugs to you.

  5. Thank you Ally for taking the time to answer my question. It really means a lot that you are supportive. And thank you everyone for commenting as well. I have kept this open in my web browser since it was post and keep reading it.

    I agree that there needs to be smaller goals that are more concrete. That image of perfection is something that always haunts me in whatever I do, and whenever I look at myself. I'm never enough and that causes a lot of pain. Right now, I'm not happy with who I am and what I look like. But I see the light and want to change.

    My plan is to start taking it one day at a time. And make small but attainable goals in the pursuit of happiness and self love. Some goals I'll set for myself are: to bike at least 4 times (bicycle and motorcycle) through out the week. To take at least an hour a day to be outside, away from web, to be with my thoughts alone. To journal more. Once I complete those, I'll think of some more.

    It's helpful to have people like Ally, Jen & Kam who I've connected with blogging. These are positive and supportive people who are a real big help on the days that I feel down and not motivated. Thanks ladies :) xo

  6. You're welcome, buddy. We care.

  7. I can relate somewhat, Ashelle. I had to take a couple years off working while coming to terms with my bipolar diagnosis. Not working was a stressor in and of itself. Explaining why you're not working to nosy people was also not fun! (I told people I was doing online college classes and needed the time to focus on my weak subjects like science and math.)

    I found that coming up with a schedule that accounted for all the things I needed to address was the most important thing, but to keep the demand low, I only made one thing per day that I "had" to accomplish. For example...

    Maintenance Monday. This is the day that I took to make myself, and sometimes my surroundings, look good. Wax my brows, paint my toes, etc.

    Therapy Tuesday. Period. Going to therapy is exhausting enough without adding more demand.

    Wife Wednesday. This day I tried really hard to do something loving and giving for my husband, who carried a LOT of the burden those couple of years, and still does.

    Think outside the box Thursday: Time to try something new. Anything. Watch an opera or NASCAR race, read some poetry, listen to Rush Limbaugh or jazz.... challenge something you think you don't like or don't understand.

    Physical Friday - yes, I know the alliteration is weak. Physical activity is very important, and I chose rock climbing because the pace varies and it is a team activity.

    Silly Saturday. This is the day to take advantage of all the fun stuff in my community, and get out of my own head. There are festivals here nearly every weekend, most of them free or low cost. Getting into the community is important.

    Sabbath Sunday. I increased my church attendance during this time, and went to a Unity church where meditation is part of the service.

    I think this gave me a balance of relationships, self, body, mind, and spirit. Be kind to yourself, and forgive yourself as you would a child. We are all children in our hearts, who only want to be safe and loved. I wish you nothing but peace.

  8. I don't really have anything to add to the many excellent suggestions I saw already. I wish you the best for your healing and happiness.