How to Keep Your Body and Mind in Check When at Home

Health Trackers

Photo provided by Siege Media

Keeping up with your mental and physical state is extremely important, especially during times of uncertainty like these. Luckily, there are at-home tools to help you do just that. From a pain tracker that records your hourly symptoms, to a mindfulness tracker that marks your head-to-toe sensations, there are plenty of options available no matter your wellness goals.

Documenting your overall mental and physical well being can help you answer pivotal questions about who you are and how you react to stress. Some questions that these trackers can help answer are:

  • Have you ever wondered what triggers your bad mental health days?
  • How did you physically feel a week ago vs today? What caused this change, if any?
  • Have you drunk enough water today?

The pain, healthy habits, and mindfulness trackers explained below will help you answer the questions above, while allowing you to understand yourself a little bit more.

 

Pain Tracker 

 

A pain tracker uses colors to help you understand the level of pain you are experiencing. By being able to track your pain hour-by-hour, you have a great resource to bring to a doctor if and when you choose to seek help for your pain management.

 

Healthy Habits Tracker

 

Are there specific habits you want to implement into your daily routine? If so, the healthy habits tracker allows you to record how much sleep you’re getting, if you’re eating food that is good for you, how much water you are drinking daily, and anything else you want to monitor.  How you feel when you wake up and when you are about to go to sleep is also recorded, just to see what habits might make you physically and emotionally improved. 

 

Mindfulness Tracker 

 

The mindfulness tracker allows for awareness of your mental well-being and while taking into account what your triggers may be. By listing out your everyday moods, you can see how practicing mindfulness and practicing relaxation techniques are improving your overall, full body well-being. 

If you’re feeling lower than normal, journaling and taking a moment to be conscious of your thoughts can be beneficial to reflect with later on. If it’s one of your better days, identifying the differences in what you’ve been eating, how many hours of sleep you got, or even how much coffee you’ve had can help you incorporate those habits again.

To integrate mindfulness and other healthy habits into your daily routine, the health-management tracker can be printed and used one day at a time, or even one hour at a time. Follow the link to download the printable trackers!

 

What You Need to Know About Weight Gain During Social Distancing

sheri-silver-tWOt1vRvob4-unsplash

Photo by sheri silver on Unsplash

Now is not the time to freak out about your diet. 

Honestly, NO time is the time to freak out about your diet, for most people. 

You might gain weight during social isolation because we’re all stressed out and impulse buying cherries and pie crust (just me? I stress bake). Gaining weight is fine. You will fluctuate to your normal set point after the stressful period. 

Gaining weight is okay.

Stress or comfort eating is okay.

Snacking “mindlessly” is okay.

It’s all okay — this is an unprecedented time, and sometimes the convenience of a frozen dinner you can throw in the oven on Friday after a timey-wimey work from home week is worth the sanity.

We have to take more time between grocery trips, and we can’t go out mid-week to top up on fresh produce. So that means canned food, frozen food, shelf-stable food.

We have to stay fed, but we don’t have to stay low-carb, counting macros, and sticking to a diet when the global stress level is off the charts.

Yes, do what you can to eat a balanced diet and include fruits and vegetables along with whole grains, and the whole healthy eating nine yards. But you have permission to not be on a diet right now (and forever after this is over).

Exercise During Social Distancing

Can’t get to the gym? You’re also not obligated to keep up a strict exercise regimen right now, especially if you’ve been ill or might become ill. The best thing you can do right now is be as healthy – and rested – as possible. 

Take this time to rest your body.

Embrace joyful movement. Do exercise that makes sense and makes you feel good. This could include taking a walk around the block or a short bike ride if you can go outside. You can do some gentle stretches or yoga. Lift weights or do home calisthenics if these are part of your regular routine and you want to continue them. 

But it’s okay if you just rest and recover right now without an exercise regimen. 

Diet Culture Resources

I highly recommend these amazing books to help you break the diet cycle so you don’t hate yourself for quarantine snacks — they might change your life for long after this social distancing period is over! 

The Fuck It Diet by Caroline Dooner

Health At Every Size by Lindo Bacon 

PS. I overcame my eating disorder with the help of the books above, and now I help others overcome boundaries and traumatic triggers in a six week class that reframes the usual negative spiral in your head. Email me to get on the roster for 50% off!

How to Work From Home for the First Time

A lot of us are working from home for the foreseeable future, some for the first time. It’s a big change to routine and it makes everything feel a little bit off. 

I’m used to working from home a couple days a week, but this feels different for me too.

Because it’s not really “working from home.” It’s being at home while big global events are happening and it’s not safe to do things you normally do…and trying to do your normal work.

It’s hard to focus, because you just want to go check the news all the time. But when it’s time for the show to go on, here are some tips for making work from home during this time feel a little more normal: 

  1. Shower and get dressed. It’s tempting to work all day in your PJs, but freshening up in the morning and getting some clean undies on will help you start the day in a good mood. This does not mean uncomfortable work clothes, just something clean and fresh. Stay comfy!
  2. Make a ritual. Normally we have a commute to mark the transition into and out of “work mode.” Create a morning and evening ritual to mark the start and end to your work day. This could mean making a cup of coffee and listening to your usual morning podcast or audiobook on the couch, taking an evening walk, or anything that helps you separate your day for work life balance when you work from home.
  3. Turn off your email. Just because you work from home and you’re home 24/7 doesn’t mean work is now 24/7. Separate work time and personal time by turning off your work computer or email program when it’s quitting time.
  4. Take breaks. Take your full lunch break and go outside if the weather is nice. Walk around the block for some fresh air. Take regular water and bathroom breaks, and give your eyes a break from screens at least once an hour for a few minutes.
  5. Make a shiny object list. When you’re working from home, you might be tempted to put in a load of laundry, quickly do the dishes, or take out the trash. These are fine to work into your breaks, but if you try to keep them in your brain you’ll get distracted. Keep a notepad nearby so you can write down the things you want to handle during break times. It’s also perfectly fine to save the household stuff for after the workday is complete; you don’t have to be the world’s most efficient person.
  6. Downtime is sacred. When you work from home, all the days can run together and Saturday might not feel any different. Make sure to plan relaxing, restorative, and creative time for your downtime so that you aren’t stressing over being productive all the time.

Any other advice for our work from home friends? Drop it in the comments. 

PS. I’m teaching folks how to improve their boundaries after trauma in a six week class. We start April 13, so there’s still time to reserve your spot. Shoot me an email and we’ll get you on the list.

Mindfulness Meditation for Healing

It’s okay to be having a hard time right now. 

I want to feel normal, but things aren’t normal. The world is in chaos and people are scared, stressed, and looking for hope. 

It’s okay to feel weird. It’s okay to feel worried. It’s okay to feel like you’ve done everything you can and you’re going to hunker down for a while and wait. 

It’s okay not to know what the next step is. 

For the time it takes to read this blog, let’s do a mindfulness meditation for healing.

Just for right now, while you read this, I want you to take deep belly breaths and let them out slowly. You can count to four and hold or just breathe deeply, letting your natural rhythm tell you when to breathe in and out. 

As you inhale, think about bringing healing and recovery to yourself. You can imagine a warm light around you, keeping you in a safe space, or any other visualization that feels good (including none at all). 

As you exhale, send that healing energy out into the world. Send that warm light out through your neighborhood, your city, your state, and outward. 

Inhale, heal yourself. 

Exhale, heal the world. 

Imagine if everyone found a tiny bit of peace for themselves and then sent it onward.

PS. I’m teaching folks how to improve their boundaries after trauma in a six week class. We start April 13, so there’s still time to reserve your spot. Just shoot me an email.

Why Can’t We Stay The F*ck Home? Why We Need Social Distancing

erik-mclean-tQ5QE587veU-unsplash

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

We all know someone who is struggling with social distancing. Someone who is going from store to store, sort of understanding the risk but unable to help themselves and just sit down.

It’s annoying, it’s frustrating, it’s even understandable. Staying at home when you want to is one thing, but being made to do it makes you feel stressed and, well, isolated.

But let’s be totally clear: it’s dangerous.

What is Social Distancing?

Social distancing, or physical distancing, is the practice of maintaining a physical distance to prevent the spread of contagious disease. It’s not the same as quarantine, which is a complete lack of contact with the outside world, but people are using the terms somewhat interchangeably. 

Basically, stay in your home as much as possible, and when you leave your home, stay a minimum of six feet away from people. At the grocery store. On a walk. Wherever you go, there should be a six foot radius around you.

Social distancing in practice is a set of individual behaviors. For some, it means not leaving their house at all. For others, it means only going to work.

But some seem to think it means to carry on like normal but use hand sanitizer. 

Social distancing is how we buy time.

Time for our hospitals to treat those currently sick before more get sick. Time for the science to catch up. Time for better treatments to be found. Social distancing is the only thing that can buy us that time.

Social Distancing Makes a Difference

At CV-19’s minimum case fatality rate (CFR), 3.8% of cases will die.

Some people are on board with the idea that these people are going to die anyway, so why not just “save the economy” and stop social distancing?

Besides the obvious moral and ethical issues with sacrificing human lives for the good of the economy (I’m judging you), there are two scientific reasons.

1) Those people may not die if we can flatten the curve to allow time for more consistent treatments and preventive measures to be developed 

2) The CFR can increase 

Flatten the Curve

Every person has about 300 people in their network. At 3.8%, that’s about 11.4 people you know who will die if CV-19 continues to spread widely without any controlling measures. 

Eleven people in your life that some would say are an acceptable cost for the sake of the economy.

As hospitals fill up and ventilators are in short supply for breathing complications, the best thing we can do is make sure the virus spreads as slowly as possible and keep our vulnerable populations as protected as possible.

We can limit how fast it spreads with social distancing measures to buy those people that time. 

COVID-19 Fatalities By the Numbers

Number two tells us about maximum fatalities. Minimum case fatality rate has a maximum counterpart. Approximately 18-22% of confirmed cases have needed hospitalization. Globally, the rate is 20.2%, so that’s roughly the maximum CFR.

Ideally, we never determine the max CFR by experience, only by calculation. 

CFR? Percentages? It’s all technical language and calculation driven math. 

Remember those 11.4 people you know that some are okay with sacrificing to lift the economically impacting measures? If we lift the measures and overwhelm our hospital systems, that number jumps to 60.6 people you know that could die.

The minimum of 3.8% is IDEAL, meaning everyone has access to medical care. The maximum of 20.2% is what happens when our hospitals are overrun.

Right now, we’re trending up. 4.01% a few days ago, then 4.31%. 4.64%. 4.72% as of March 29.

That means among those you know, that 11.4 is already 12.6. 

The Psychology of Capitalism

We have trouble staying home because we feel like “staying home” means being useless and not contributing. The political blustering about the economy’s trouble due to social distancing hits this home.

We’re taught from a young age that our value lies in how much value we add to society. 

Productivity means we are valuable. We contribute. We have a real job. 

Anyone who can’t participate at the average level of productivity is shamed and made to feel guilty and less-than. Disabled people. Underemployed people. People who work minimum wage jobs – which, I may point out, are now being highlighted as the essential roles that are keeping our society running at all.

In times of stress and crisis, we feel helpless we want to feel helpful. We want to do something so we’re not just sitting at home feeling useless. 

Because productivity is intrinsically associated with our personal worth in a capitalist society. We can’t just sit at home when there are productive things to be done. Like grocery shopping, for example.

In times of stress and crisis (say, a global pandemic), once a few people start to panic and stock up a surplus of goods, it cascades and causes more and more people to hoard and compete for resources.

Those who can stock up are immensely privileged if they can afford to buy weeks’ worth of food at a time. Parents on WIC assistance can’t get the food they need when people have cleaned out the shelves in a blind panic. People who need to wait until their SNAP benefits renew so they can get their usual groceries may also face empty shelves due to the people with liquid cash coming through to fill their bunker with canned peaches.

It’s biological. The stress of an oncoming crisis, and the uncertainty that comes with it, increases cortisol production which causes an impulse to hoard resources. Prehistorically speaking, stress means you’re going to run out of food, so you have to go get the food before anyone else can.

But we’re in 2020, and despite the global pandemic going on, we need to remember that the stores are staying open and we will not run out of food.

We need less “every man for himself” and more community support and resource sharing. Even if that sharing just means leaving groceries for your neighbors.

Capitalism encourages competition over cooperation. We can consciously choose otherwise.

How to Social Distance Like a Pro

  • Cancel gatherings, outings, and social situations
  • Visit virtually, play games online, and meet your social needs as much as possible to reduce feeling isolated
  • Restrict grocery shopping to one time per week or less.
    • When shopping:
      • Shop via pickup or delivery, if possible
      • Take a list
      • Be flexible and prepared to make substitutions – you don’t need a specific brand of toilet paper or to go to 5 stores looking for it
      • Maintain 6 feet of distance from others
      • Avoid touching your face (you can wear a cloth mask to help re-train yourself away from frequent face touching – be sure to wash it frequently)
      • Be patient and give people space 
      • Avoid going to multiple stores (one store is enough exposure, get what you need and go home in one trip)
      • Bring along disinfecting wipes for your cart
      • Wash your hands thoroughly when you get home for 20 seconds with soap and water
      • Disinfect your phone and phone case when you get home, because you probably touched it a lot without realizing
  • Only go into public for groceries, necessary medical care.
  • Focus on mental health before productivity
    • Use telehealth appointments with your therapist
    • Free therapy is available at 7cups.com
    • Practice basic self-care like making sure you drink water, shower/wash your hair regularly, try to get some fresh air outside or open the windows, and eat regularly 
  • Don’t freak out about stress/comfort eating or snacking
  • Realize risk of infection increases exponentially each day, as cases increase, so if you’re going to need it, it’s better to get it today than tomorrow (prescriptions, food)
  • Tip your delivery drivers like your life depends on them

Choose Community 

Social distancing is hard because many of us are feeling isolated, helpless, and afraid right now. But it works, and it’s necessary.

Social distancing works, but only if you act based on the idea that YOU are infectious. Assume you are. Act accordingly. Keep those numbers down and help flatten the curve.

If you need to be productive, you can by helping others not feel isolated, not by running around. If you want to be productive right now, do something helpful from your home. 

  • Donate to charities helping support front-line healthcare workers
  • Share news stories about worker strikes for hazard pay and benefits
  • Create art and share it with others
  • Lead an online class in something you’re an expert on (people are learning all kinds of things right now)
  • Check in with friends to give them someone to talk to
  • Add joy to the world however you can

Data for this article was provided by Ash Roulston.

Easy Ways to Check In With Your Friends

michael-sum-LEpfefQf4rU-unsplash

Photo by Michael Sum on Unsplash

I’m in Ohio, and we’re pretty much shut down. School’s out, people are working from home, and it’s stressful. To minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus and flatten the curve, we’re supposed to isolate ourselves as much as possible from other people. 

Luckily, we live in the age of the internet, which means we can still socialize and connect with others, even though we can’t see them in person. 

Everyone’s stressed right now and a check-in would go a long way toward feeling connected. And for those of us with mental illness like anxiety and depression, reaching out for support can be especially difficult. 

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to reach out to five friends to check in on them. See if anyone wants to be regular check-in buddies, and you can have a quick (or not so quick) chat every day to connect and have some social interaction.

It doesn’t have to be a heavy check-in. Try any of these ideas:

  • Send each other a funny meme or a picture of your pet
  • Play an online game together
  • Hop on Skype while you cook dinner and act like you’re on a cooking show
  • FaceTime after work hours to chat about your day
  • Watch a movie together and text about it or video chat while you watch

Offering to check in with a friend is an easy way to help support the people in your life during a stressful time.

Consider this your check-in from me. How are you doing today? Follow me on Instagram and I’ll send cat pics whenever you need them!

PS. My group coaching course to reframe the way you look at your boundaries after trauma starts on Monday 4/13 and I have a few spots left. Shoot me an email to get on the roster at 50% off list price!

Social Isolation Doesn’t Have to Be Monotonous

noah-silliman-gzhyKEo_cbU-unsplash

Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash

It’s a scary time in the world right now. The experts advise us to stay inside, self-isolate, in order to protect others from the spread of COVID-19. But we are social creatures, and even as someone who loves to stay home, I am feeling like I’m in the early scenes of a movie where shit is about to get very real. 

There’s a line between panic and caution, and I want you to be cautious. Wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your face, and disinfect frequently touched surfaces like doorknobs, phones, and your steering wheel and gearshift in your car. Stay inside as much as you can, and if you do go out, stay away from crowded places. 

There’s also a line between social distancing and solitary confinement.

Now is the time to recover and rest from the constant to-do list of your life. If you can work from home, do it. Use the time you used to commute to get extra sleep. Make sure you turn off your work email after quitting time. Honor that boundary between your personal time and work time.

Water and wipe down all of your houseplants. Pour care into yourself too. Remember to hydrate. 

Break out your stash of “for a rainy day” spa items and do a face mask or have a bubble bath. Paint your nails. Experiment with bold, fun makeup looks. 

Grab your yarn and needles and finally learn to master a knitting stitch. Teach your kids how to crochet. Paint something. Write poetry. Journal. You may be stuck at home, but it doesn’t mean you’re stuck doing nothing. 

Get online and video chat your friends while you watch a movie together. 

Remember that you are not alone. 

Looking for something to read while you’re home? “The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation” is available on Kindle, Audible, and Google Books!

Tiny Ways My Life Has Changed During COVID-19 Isolation

tim-mossholder-esakkQ61yuc-unsplash

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Obviously, big things are happening right now. We’re in the midst of a global health crisis. People are scared.

Lives have changed in big ways, but they’ve also changed in small ways. Sometimes the small things feel weirder than the big things.

I’m now in my third week of working from home full time.

I wash my hands a lot. I disinfect my phone a lot. I always knew phones were gross, but now a gross phone is a scary phone.

I’m going to the grocery store about once a week, but I think I stocked up enough to go two weeks this time. I keep having an urge to bake, and I needed to get ingredients. I continue eating the meal groceries I bought two and a half weeks ago, because that was practical Caitlin shopping. This is stress baking Caitlin, who is also learning to do cool eyeshadow and make cocktails.

It’s my birthday in two weeks. I was planning a party at my favorite local bar. My birthday has been postponed until further notice. I Venmo someone on the staff a $10 tip every time I get drunk in my house.

My sister is a teacher and school is out for the next month. She’s video chatting students to check in.

I’m still estranged from my parents, even though my dad reached out to “see if I was okay.” I had to evaluate if my boundaries still made sense in the face of a global health crisis. I decided they were. The boundary didn’t change, but the guilt feels a little worse.

I finally, after six months on a wait list, got to download Brene Brown’s “Daring Greatly” on the Libby app.

I haven’t had a commute in two weeks and won’t for at least four more. I try to make time to sit at my kitchen table and listen to Brene for about twenty minutes before the need to stand up and do something else consumes me.

I am so used to being in the car to start and end my day.

I woke up on the first Saturday at 10:17am and was sure I was late for work. It’s hard to know what day it is. My coworker called in for our Thursday conference call on Wednesday.

My friend had to order yoga pants and tee shirts from Target because she didn’t own non-work clothes.

I hired an employee at work. I will onboard and train her remotely.

I shaved off the back of my hair because when it gets too long and shaggy that’s my cue to go to the salon.

My eating disorder (I call it Carl) has gotten really weird about worrying that I will run out of food, so sometimes I am hungry for a while before I remember I am allowed to eat and there is plenty of food and I will not go hungry if I eat two servings of something. I am not rationing. Did I mention the pie?

I celebrated one month of dating my boyfriend via text. I write him letters and mail him watercolor paintings (I managed to keep them a surprise!), and we do video calls to see each other’s face. It’s a lesson in realizing I bring value to a relationship even when I am not physically with my partner to do things for them. That is comforting.

I miss sex.

It feels like my roommate and I have spent more time in the same place over the past two weeks than we did in the previous two months.

Dining room chairs are not ergonomic.

I tip generously – at least 25%.

I spend more time with my coworkers hanging out on Skype after work hours than we ever used to spend together when we worked in the office. I feel more like friends with them than I ever have.

I’m not using this time to become the most productive, self-improved version of myself just because there’s nothing else to do.

This is trauma. It’s big trauma, and I think it will affect us for the rest of our lives.

Some days I am productive. Some days I am not. Both of these are okay.

You can just survive right now. You can notice the tiny little ways this has changed your life.

You can be frustrated that you finally got off the Libby wait list and inexplicably have no commute anymore. (I really want to finish this book).

In what little ways has your life changed?

PS. If you’re looking for reading material, my book is available for Kindle and Audible, even if you don’t have a commute.

 

 

 

 

How to create a healthy work-life balance

victoria-heath-MAGAXAYq_NE-unsplash

Photo by Victoria Heath on Unsplash

Finding the right balance between work, rest, and play can be difficult to master. While success at work is important, so is your mental and physical health. Here are some tips to help you maximize your personal time so you can be your best self in and out of the workplace.

Work smarter, not harder

Your time is a precious resource, and making sure that you are always making the best use of it can be tricky. One of the ways that many people do this is by delegating tasks when appropriate. Knowing when and how to delegate is a very difficult skill, but when done correctly, it not only helps give you some time back, but also shows others that you trust them. Delegating work can help bring a team together, and in the end, create a better overall product.

Some companies have even started delegating tasks to robots. These robots help companies remove repetitive tasks, and make sure that the employees can spend their time on more interesting and important jobs.

If it’s within your means, you can also find a way to delegate housekeeping and home tasks as well, such as using a grocery delivery service (tip well, and in cash!) or hiring an occasional housekeeper so you can maximize your home time.

Find interests outside of the office

We are a society of tired people. To help break that working for the weekend mentality, finding ways to bring downtime and fun into your regular routine can make a big difference. Making sure that you have something to focus on outside of the office can help you mentally de-stress from all the pressures a workday brings.

Personal activities and hobbies can range from anything like learning how to knit, reading a book, or even just binge-watching a new series of your favorite TV show. While the main purpose of these activities is to get your mind off of work, having a hobby can actually help you in the office too.

Taking a little vacation time is also a great way to stop worrying about work. A nice change of scenery can do wonders, and it doesn’t even have to be across the country. Go explore anything within driving distance, make a day out of it. Get out of the office and go find something fun to do.

Pay attention to you

Many people get overwhelmed with stress and forget to take the time to check on themselves. If you’re starting to feel a little too much pressure at work, saying “no” to people isn’t something you should feel badly about

Make sure your self care routine is solid. This isn’t all about bubble baths — make sure you schedule time to shower and wash your hair, go to bed on time, and prepare meals that make you feel good. When we’re overwhelmed, these basics are often easy to overlook. Living off granola bars and dry shampoo is okay in a pinch but you’ll feel better if you can get the basics handled.

Physical exercise is also a great way to reduce stress. This doesn’t mean you have to spend 3 hours in the gym every day, but find a good way to get out and get moving in a joyful way that feels good. There’s always an interesting way to get your body moving, and you’ll find that it helps deal with some of that mental stress.

Use your time effectively

One of the best ways to make sure that you are staying on track is by setting goals. Similar to New Year’s resolutions, goals are very easy to set and then simply forget about. When creating goals, try and create SMART goals:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Bound

SMART goals can greatly help with your time management skills, and make sure that you always have something to strive for. Break down your long-term goals into 90 day goals with monthly or even weekly tasks to keep moving forward.

Utilizing your workday hours to prioritize and focus your work means you can leave work at work and not be glued to your email or computer after-hours. Bringing your job into your personal time is never good for your mental health.

Take a break from technology (every now and then)

Avoiding technology can feel like an impossible feat, but making sure that you aren’t surrounded by it at all times is important, especially before going to sleep. Technology can affect the way you sleep, so try and have at least 30 minutes of technology-free time before going to bed. It will help you get a better night’s sleep and wake up feeling refreshed and ready to go.

 According to a study by Udemy, 36% of millennial and Gen Z say they spend 2 or more hours per workday looking at their phones for personal activities. While this isn’t always a bad thing, make sure that you are aware of how much time you spend on technology at work, and make sure that you’re getting enough work done at the same time.

Work-life balance is often a mystery to most people, and it’s ok to not have all the answers. Trying a few of these tips might be able to help you or someone else, and as long as you’re always trying to move forward personally or at your job, that’s progress in itself.

The 9 Books That Defined My 2019

Part of being a good writer is being a good reader

After what can only be described as voracious reading of fiction and fantasy as a child, I lost reading for pleasure as an adult and switched only to “productive” reading. Self help. Motivation. Business building. Personal development.

After several years, I let myself read fiction again. I read Outlander for a book club and consumed the rest of the series, my childhood appetite for fantasy rushing back.

I switch back and forth now in a relatively 50/50 split between stuff to make my brain smarter and stuff to make my brain relax and have fun.

They’re both necessary for me to be the best writer I can.

These are the books that defined my 2019

  1. The F*ck It Diet by Caroline Dooner 

This book was the single most important book of the year for me, and honestly for every single person in the world. Go read this book. Caroline’s work changed me. I finally stopped hurting myself in the name of weight loss and thinness. I understood fatphobia and diet culture in a way I never had before. This book may have literally saved my life.

The F*ck It Diet provided the paradigm shift I needed to see the truth about my body and the fact that it’s okay to exist in it.

2. Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon, Ph.D.

Before and after TFID arrived at my doorstep, I decided to read up on other body positive books. Health at Every Size helped solidify what Caroline Dooner had already begun to teach me: my body isn’t inherently unhealthy because it’s fat. I remember calling my sister in a rage while I was listening to it, angry at the lies that had been told to me as fact about my body for 30 years. Everyone should read this book.

3. Dietland by Sarai Walker

I heard about Dietland on the Unladylike podcast and felt compelled to read it right away. This fiction novel follows the life of Plum, a lifelong dieter who is saving up for weight loss surgery. She goes on a whirlwind adventure and makes a bunch of new feminist friends, while the narrative weaves back and forth between Plum and a series of murders that appear to implicate a new friend. It was a delightful read (even with the murdery bits) that has stuck with me all year. Highly recommend.

4. Getting Past Your Past by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D.

Like TFID helped me see the ways I was stuck in diet culture self-talk, Getting Past Your Past helped me see the ways my trauma manifests in repeated patterns linked through a lifetime of unprocessed memories. Francine Shapiro, who died in June this year, developed the EMDR method of trauma processing therapy. Just reading the book helped me start viewing my trauma in a new light, and entering EMDR therapy has helped me process my eating disorder, my abusive marriage, and traumatic memories from childhood emotional abuse.

5. The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation by Caitlin Fisher 

In 2016, I wrote a blog post about an idea I couldn’t get out of my head: The idea that millennials as a whole were being systematically gaslit by older generations and the capitalist systems at play in our country. In 2019, I published my debut book of the same title. Each chapter highlights an aspect of society that our generation has supposedly undermined and destroyed, with advice on how to keep killin’ it on a regular basis.

Maybe some parts of society suck and deserve to be dismantled.

6. The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk 

Shockingly, this book is also about trauma processing. In The Body Keeps the Score, the author discusses the physical ways that trauma manifests in the body as chronic pain and illness. It turns out that neglect, emotional abuse, and other traumas can have lasting effects not only on the brain but on the entire human body. It was eye opening to learn about and helped me get a diagnosis for my fibromyalgia this year when I acknowledged the physical pain I had been ignoring in my body.

7. Cibola Burn by James S. A. Corey 

When I was married, I read the first three books of a great sci-fi series, The Expanse. And then I didn’t read any books or watch any television that I had ever associated with him for eighteen months. No Expanse. No superhero shows. Not even the shows I had enjoyed by myself when I was with him. I was on media lockdown.

But in 2019 I met a friend who also loved The Expanse and he encouraged me to get back into the series. Reading Cibola Burn, the fourth novel in the series, was my first contact with husband-related media in a year and a half, and despite my fears it felt safe. I’ve continued to work through the rest of the books in the series this year and I’m all caught up on the TV adaptation as well.

8. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

I have a list of things I’m going to do with my life, and they are: foster kids, rescue dogs, buy a house, and hug Brené Brown. Her work on vulnerability and shame helped me realize that I’m worthy of love and belonging right now. Brené Brown also taught me to play and have fun (which helps me read fiction and schedule socializing with friends). Whatever way you can get your hands on any of her content, you should do so immediately.

9. The Animorphs Series by K. A. Applegate 

Re-reading this series that I adored as a child is doing some kind of healing in me that I don’t fully understand. I am amazed that I still remember major plot points and even lines of dialogue decades after reading them once or twice each in elementary school between fourth and sixth grade.

As an added bonus, reading them has strengthened my resolve to start a young adult science fiction series. I’ve allowed myself to return to the parts of YA sci-fi that I loved as a kid, and my brain just tossed a fully formed idea at me in the shower, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

My 2020 reading list

Looking over my 2019 list, I realize that I need to start branching out. Last year was about survival, this year was about laying the groundwork to heal, and next year is about becoming an improved version of myself. This will mean some of the same type of reading (and writing!) as 2019, but I also feel a deep need to read from more diverse authors.

I want to help all people, not just people who look like me and have similar experiences. And I am aware that I haven’t always examined my privilege closely and critically. In 2020 I want to open myself up to listen to the experiences of others so that I can be more aware.

Simply put: It’s time for me to stop focusing on reading work from white people.

Rather than continue to ask people of color to educate us about how we can better understand their experiences and be allies, we have to do our own work. Here are some excellent titles I’ve started researching that are on my 2020 reading list for a start:

  • So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
  • Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper
  • Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D.
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

How do you measure a year?

In books, in words, in reconnecting with characters you thought you left behind a long time ago.