How I Came To Know Pure Happiness

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2016 was my year of personal development, growth, and understanding what self-love and self-compassion meant. Last year, I experienced some of my most trying and lowest points, but I also encountered some of the best life-changing experiences I’ve had thus far. It was a year of learning about who I am, what I want in life, and what I stand for.

This time last year, I was in a very toxic relationship. I didn’t view his behaviour as such during the time, but it was clear after the fact that I had been both mentally and emotionally abused. You would assume that with the high standards I hold myself and others to, and my honest approach in my relationships that I would not have stuck around for as long as I did. In hypothetical scenarios, I always knew exactly what I was going to do; after the first act of betrayal, I would have left and never thought twice. It is clearly easier said than done, as I am a prime example. In reality, you have so many factors that influence your decision to stay or go: your feelings towards this person, your history with them, how long you have been together, and what future plans you have made.

I realized I was trapped in this relationship because I kept seeing his potential. Hoping that someday, through a lot of self-growth and compassion, he would love me the way I wanted him to. Deep down, I knew that someday would never come, or at least not in my lifetime. It was a vicious cycle of him betraying me, me being heartbroken and ready to leave, and then him showing me his potential to change, that had me trapped for much longer than I should have allowed myself to be. When I finally reached my breaking point, I remember sitting down and telling myself “You need to see who he is, by his actions, not his words.” And it was at that moment I knew I had to leave. I did not hesitate nor have I looked back since.

As cheesy as it sounds, the day I finally closed the door on a 3.5-year relationship was the day everything started falling into place. I sat on a park bench and wrote for hours and just admired everything in my life. I had so much to be grateful for – my supportive family, my incredible friends, my motivation and determination to achieve all my educational and vocational goals, and best of all – my resiliency. I felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders that day, like that I was free from carrying around someone else’s burden. Things were brighter and more beautiful, and my head was out from under.

My journey to self-love did not come over night. It has been years in the making and began when I wrote my first blog post here in 2014. This past year has just really deepened the journey for me, because of the experiences I had gone through. For you to understand how I developed my definition of pure happiness and bliss, you needed to know that it came from a place of pain and betrayal. I needed to experience both sides, to fully grasp and appreciate the whole.

I can genuinely say that I am the happiest I have ever been. I have many external factors that have contributed to my happiness over the last year, but most importantly I have myself to thank. I made the conscious decision to be happy, to challenge myself mentally and emotionally every day, and to live an honest and authentic life – where I am my number one priority. I said, “This year I am going to be selfish.”; I am only engaging in things that truly make me happy, excite my passion, and bring value to my life. I am not wasting time pretending to enjoy things for the sake of others or hanging on to relationships that no longer satisfy me.

I know it sounds blunt and pretentious when reading this, but think about it…at the end of the day, the person you spend the most time with is yourself. If you are not tending to your heart, mind, body, and soul, it will affect all the other areas in your life. You can’t love someone truly or to the best of your ability until you love yourself. That’s how I see it, plain and simple. After you’ve fallen in love with your toughest critic, nobody else can scare you off. No matter what obstacles come your way, you know that at the end of the day, you’ll have yourself to fall back on.

I took a lot of time for myself this year to foster and promote all my self-growth and self-compassion. It was challenging at times, but what kept me motivated and disciplined is my “why?”. Your “why?” is what gets you excited about life. It’s your purpose and the reason why you wake up every day and do what you do. The only “why?” that kept repeating in my head was my love for people. I am passionate about people – their walks of life and how to help them live a more meaningful and authentic one. I hope that through sharing my journey, I can inspire others to see more, want more, and do more for themselves and others.

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As We Are Interview

My wonderful friend and Founder of As We Are, Zoya Jiwa, asked me to do an interview and photo shoot for her foundation. For those who don’t know, As We Are is a style website for people living with health conditions. It combines peer mentorship and storytelling to support individuals experiencing symptoms and side effects of diseases, disabilities, and chronic pain. This is a space where comfort meets style, where functional fashion thrives, and where courage shines. My meeting with her really inspired me to get back into my blog, so here are a few of the interview questions I wanted to share with everyone.

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1) Tell me a bit about yourself. What’s your story?

I am passionate about living life with a heart full of happiness and gratitude, appreciating the moments I have with my friends and family, and relentlessly chasing my dreams. I am a strong and kind-hearted person because of the experiences I had at a young age. I was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) when I was 13 years old – almost 12 years ago. It was a day I would never forget and an event that has changed me for the better. If you had asked me to take part in this interview and photo shoot six years back, I probably would have said no. But in the last few years, I have been focusing on growing as a person, finding new ways to inspire myself, and achieve internal peace and happiness. I am currently in my fourth year of my BA in Psychology at Kwantlen University. I am an aspiring Clinical Psychologist, and hope to be accepted into the clinical psychology graduate program at UVIC, UBC, or SFU. I work as a server at the beautiful restaurant, Nightingale, in Coal Harbour. I love my job because it brings both my passion for people and food together.

2) What advice would you give to others who are going through similar health challenges to yours? What has helped you or made you feel better emotionally along this journey?

As cheesy as it sounds, I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. I believe that I would not be dealt these cards if I were not able to handle them and overcome these obstacles. During my darkest periods, I had to constantly remind myself that there was more to all of my suffering. You get so trapped in your own world and forget to step back and take another perspective. I continuously remind myself that there will always be someone in a better or worse position than I am in and that I have a lot to be thankful for.

One of the greatest things I have learned in the last few years is to show yourself the same level of compassion, understanding, and forgiveness you show to friends, family, or strangers. This task sounds much simpler than it really is, because we naturally are our toughest critics. I was unhappy with my situation for a very long time being that I was constantly fighting against myself. For the majority of the last twelve years, I saw my lupus as a weakness or a handicap and I felt as though I had to work twice as hard to prove that I could do anything that any “normal” person was capable of. I pushed myself to the point of a mental breakdown. I was overworked, exhausted, and ignoring all the signs my body was telling me, just to get an ego-boost. I learned that allowing yourself to be vulnerable and appreciate those moments of weakness are the greatest signs of strength, humility, and wisdom.

3) Where do people stumble with their language or understanding about your health condition? What changes would you like to see?

I think there is a stigma when it comes to lupus, or any illness for that matter, that does not have a visible physical disability. People fail to understand that lupus is a real chronic disease that affects millions of lives and can lead to premature death. I have had coworkers or acquaintances tell me that lupus is not a real disease and there is a cure – unbeknownst to them, I had lupus. Just because I don’t wear the lupus label on my face or body does not undermine the severity of the disease. It does not discount the amount of time I have spent in hospitals, in doctors’ offices, getting blood drawn, doing x-rays and ultrasounds, receiving bad news, and the days I just wallow in bed. Not having a physical disability does not disregard all the challenges I have endured and sacrifices I have made with my lupus. I would like people to be more open-minded and to not take things just at face value. Just because I go to school and work everyday with a smile on my face, does not mean I am perfectly happy and that life comes easy for me.

4) In consideration of the challenges you have faced, what are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the progress and growth I have made in the last few years. I have developed my own understanding of strength and that is, that it’s okay, to not be okay. I don’t need to have it together all the time. I don’t need to prove to myself or anyone else that lupus is not my kryptonite. It is not an excuse nor is it something anyone should feel sorry about. Before when I was on the verge of a flare, I would just push myself harder and tell myself that it was a test of my character and perseverance. When in reality, it only ended up hurting me and setting my health back further. I have had to learn that the hard way, but now I can appreciate those instances when I can see past my ego and self-pride and just know and do what is right for me in that very moment.

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5)  Who or what are you inspired by?

I am most inspired by my friends and family and the love and support they show me. I remember the day I shared my first blog post about living with lupus. I was literally shaking as I uploaded my post. I felt sick to my stomach and was so nervous to see the response I would get from everyone, or even worst, if I got no response. I remember sitting there afterwards just crying and feeling this huge weight off my shoulders. I had finally let my walls down and was letting people in. I had hid everything to do with my lupus from everyone for ten years, and I got to a breaking point. I just couldn’t pretend that I had it all together anymore, when I was literally falling apart at the seams. The days following my initial post consisted of some of the highest and greatest moments of my life. The outpour of love, compassion, support, and encouragement I received from everyone was something I did not anticipate for. I cried even more tears than I thought possible, but for the first time, in a long time, they were tears of joy.

6) What are you grateful for in this moment?

I am grateful for the moments I have during the day when I’m just with my thoughts. Those moments are when I feel most at peace and can appreciate everything around me. Relishing in my own calm was not something I ever enjoyed before. I am the happiest I have been in a very long time and for that I am eternally grateful.

What has school taught me thus far?

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It has been almost 5 months since I last posted. With the craziness of school, work, volunteering and the natural stresses of life, my blog has unregrettably fallen to the wayside. Today I want to emphasize the importance of engaging in activities that brings you pleasure, a total sense of absorption, and something that distorts time completely. It is during these activities that we can experience an optimal level of flow and awareness without judgement. It does not matter what the activity is, as long as you are fully immersed in something that you are passionate about, you will reap the short-term and long-term benefits. We need to be able to escape from the stresses of life and invest energy and time into rebuilding, changing, learning, and growing. We need to be the ones in control of our mental health and well being, and not let external factors dictate when our minds and bodies need a break. Do the daily maintenance and routine checkups for your mental, emotional, and physical well being, so you can prevent the big mental breakdowns or physical ailments due to exhaustion.

Ironically, the most important thing I have taken away from my post-secondary education is the importance of making time for yourself. I learned how crucial self-development was once my weeks started running 70-80 hours long between school, work, and volunteering. In retrospect, I am astonished by how much time I wasted when I had free time. The things I used to engage in during my free time were mindless and did not promote engagement or self-realization, activities like aimlessly watching TV when I was bored or surfing the net.  Now that I have such little free time, I’ve learned the importance of maximizing the little time I do have and committing to 20-30 minutes a day for myself. Here are the things I find utterly absorbing and relaxing:

  • Meditation – I enjoy mindfulness, loving kindness, and transcendental meditation
  • Reading – the last few months I have been reading a lot of positive psychology books, I am currently taking a positive psychology class and this area of psychology has really intrigued me. One book that I would highly recommend to everyone is “The How of Happiness” by Sonja Lyubomirsky. She gives you the simple,short-handed findings in the field of positive psychology and evidence-based strategies that can help you cultivate happiness depending on the type of activities that best suit your style.
  • Cooking – intertwining creativity with something that could be considered a daily hassle allows you to enjoy even the mundane tasks. I appreciate the time I put aside each week for meal prepping, because I have the opportunity to make great, healthy food that will nourish my body.
  • Journalling – this could be writing about anything. A specific stressful event that you are experiencing, the day you had, or a memory that you wanted to relive. I have been doing a lot of gratitude lists/entries, it may be that somedays I am grateful for the most simplest things in my life, but regardless it always cultivates appreciation and recognition. I also have a journal that is dedicated solely to quotes. Every few days I try to find a quote that really resonates with me and how I’m feeling at that present moment, I will write it down with the date so when I look back at it I can remember that specific moment.
  • Physical exercise – as soon I get to the gym and start pumping my workout playlist I lose myself in my workout. Once I start my workout I turn my phone off immediately – it is me time. The world can wait while I work on myself. For that hour, no one can disturb me or distract me without my willingness.

Those are the main activities that I engage in to escape my crazy life! Please feel free to share those fully-absorbing activities you practice and would suggest to others!