Expanding One’s Comfort Zone

Hello beautiful people! And hello… September?

Wow, summer certainly did go by fast! It was a whirlwind for me, with big adventures and tons of exciting changes and amazing new opportunities. These last few weeks have been consumed with finishing up writing my Masters thesis so that I can soon complete my degree. I’ve been itching to write this blog post because I’ll be discussing something that I feel is so important to talk about. However, I think that perhaps a part of me also wasn’t quite ready to write this yet, as I was still reflecting on the events of this summer. So, what have I been up to and what’s prompted me to write a post about expanding one’s comfort zones?

I look back to three years ago and I would have been afraid to drive a mere two hours on my own to go to Toronto. It’s not a difficult drive, nor am I a new or inexperience driver. However, taking such a journey on my own was outside of my comfort zone. The thought of making that drive alone seemed quite intimidating. It wasn’t until I did it that I realized, it really wasn’t so scary after all. Voila! In making the drive alone I had unknowingly expanded my comfort zone just a bit.

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Beautiful BC, Canada

Fast forward to last September, 2015, and I find myself boarding a plane all alone to go out to British Columbia to visit friends. This was the trip that really pushed the limits of my comfort zone. It was spontaneous and exciting! I’d never really traveled alone and the though of doing so was intimidating. So many “what if’s” ran through my mind; a dozen reasons not to go. But I felt it was something I had to do and even though I was afraid to, I was determined that despite feeling the fear, I’d do this anyways. And in those moments, my comfort zone was again expanded as I set off to travel in BC.

Fast forward again to this summer, July 2016. I’m once again getting on a plane alone, this time from Toronto Pearson International Airport, heading off for Europe. My biggest solo adventure yet! As this would be my first solo trip to another continent, I opted to go with a tour group so that I could get a feel for solo travel. It was a whirlwind of a trip! In fifteen days we visited several countries, big cities, and cute little towns. I saw and experienced incredible sights and moments, and met some of the most wonderful, beautiful people.

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Lovely canals in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

We started in London, England, and from there went to Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Amsterdam was beautiful and charming, with it’s pretty canals and plenty of fun night life. The next day before we left I wandered around the city, stopping in several cheese shops along the way, taking it all in.

From there we went to Germany, and what a beautiful country it is! Stunning scenery and friendly people. Our first stop was the little town of St. Goar on the Rhine River, where I saw the worlds largest free hanging cuckoo clock. The town was was so quaint, and I couldn’t help but feel like I’d traveled back in time as I walked along it’s old streets and colourful buildings.

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The Rhine River in St.Goar, Germany

The next day we visited Munich, which is a wonderful city with beautiful old streets and buildings. That evening we visited a traditional beer hall, taking in the sights, sounds, and lively atmosphere. I am not a beer drinker, however on this occasion I did enjoy a ‘rattler’ at Hofbrauhaus. I will certainly be returning to Munich in the coming years, next time for Oktoberfest!

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Charming Munich, Germany

Austria was our next stop. In truth, I hadn’t really expected much from Austria as I didn’t know all that much about it. However, this turned out to be one of my most favourite stops along our way. The countryside was incredibly gorgeous, with mountains and rivers and green fields. As a nature lover, these are the sorts of features of a place that I am often drawn to. We made a few stops along the way, one of which was in the Austrian Tyrol mountain range. Most of the group was going for a white water rafting excursion, however given my health limitation with respect to water, I sat that particular event out. Instead, I decided to go for a hike on my own and found a path leading up to the base of a mountain. I found a quiet, private spot and decided to do a bit of yoga, as I hadn’t had the opportunity to practice yoga in days and being a daily yogi, I was starting to miss it. The experience was such a memorable and beautiful one for me. Alone with nature and at the base of a mountain in Austria, doing yoga. It felt surreal really, that I was here in this place and on my own, feeling perfectly comfortable and content alone with myself.

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Beautiful mountains in Tyrol, Austria

I had started to learn from my trip to BC that by traveling alone and challenging my fears and hesitations, I was subtly expanding my comfort zone with each experience and moment. And so, as I practiced yoga in the Austrian mountain range surrounded by beautiful scenery and nature, I felt the most tremendous gratitude for this opportunity to travel alone, for this perfect moment, and for the personal growth I was experiencing on my journey.

From Austria we made our way into Italy. The landscape was different but equally beautiful in its uniqueness, as the places before had been. Our first stop was Venice. With its narrow streets, tall buildings, bridges, and waterways, there was no shortage of beautiful things to see. While wandering through the streets I again felt as though I’d been transported back in time.

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St.Mark’s Square, Venice, Italy

The weather was hot and I enjoyed delicious pistachio gelato in St. Mark’s square. Sometimes I felt as though I was in a dream, that I couldn’t really be here in such a remarkable place. And yet, here I was. So many times during my trip I had little “pinch me” moments like this, where I had to remind myself that my experiences were genuine and that through them I was evolving into another person, expanding my comfort zone little by little.

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Getting ready for our gondola ride through the canals in Venice, Italy

The next stop was Rome, and boy was it hot! Walking around the city center and seeing the ancient buildings and ruins was such a surreal experience. I’m a bit of a history fan and have always had a deep interest in ancient civilizations. There’s something fascinating and authentic about the way people once lived and interacted with their surrounding that draws me in. Perhaps it’s because I feel there’s so much one can learn from examining history, both the good and the bad aspects of it.

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Trevi Fountain, Rome, Italy

We spent two days in Rome, touring the city, eating more gelato, and visited the Trevi Fountain, Vatican City and the Colosseum, among others. It was an incredible experience to walk through structures that had been constructed centuries ago, and to learn more about the city and culture.

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The Colosseum in Rome, Italy

From Rome we traveled to Florence, my favourite of our three Italian destinations. It really is a beautiful city full of history, beautiful architecture, and lovely people. Ahh, and let us not forget… more gelato! We did a walking tour in the city that day and visited well known historical sites. The atmosphere of Florence was what really completed the experience for me though, between the laid back vibe, fantastic food, and the stunning buildings, it’s definitely on my list of places to return to.

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Enjoying the beautiful views in Florence, Italy

Given my love of nature (and cheese and chocolate!), I was quite excited to leave the hot city scene behind as we headed for Lucerne, Switzerland. The views as we drove through the mountains were absolutely breath taking. Beautiful lakes below, mountains engulfed in fluffy clouds, and crisp, fresh mountain air. So much natural beauty in one place. In Lucerne we were fortunate enough to go on a guided boat tour around the lake, which afforded us incredible views of the charming city and picturesque mountains.

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View of the mountains from the boat on Lake Lucerne, Switzerland

That evening a few of us decided to try traditional Swiss cheese fondue. Now I’ve eaten fondue a decent number of times, but never before had I tasted such delicious cheese fondue! Unfortunately, our time in Lucerne was short, however the experience was no less memorable and I certainly plan to return there one day to spend some time exploring the mountains and all that Switzerland has to offer.

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Spectacular view at dinner of Lucerne, Switzerland, by night

Our last and final stop was in Paris, France; such an old and historically rich city. When I arrived I was amazed by how lovely the city was, with incredible monuments and beautiful big buildings. That evening we went to see the Eiffel Tower. In truth, I hadn’t really expected much but when we got to the tower and as we traveled higher and higher up, I was in awe. The views from atop the tower were spectacular and you could see the entire city sprawled out for miles around.

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Paris, France, at dusk from atop the Eiffel Tower

Back on the ground, the view of the tower at night – all lit up and standing huge against the black night sky – was truly incredible. I felt so grateful to be there in Paris, in that moment, with the beautiful new friends that I had made on this journey. I remember thinking to myself: this is living. I’m not the same as I was when I started this adventure, and I won’t be the same after.

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The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, by night

The next day was spent wandering around Champs-Elysees, a famous street in Paris, and basically eating all things delicious and pastry-like, such as custard tarts and pistachio macaroons. That evening, and our groups final evening together, we went to a Cabaret show. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but was so thankful that I had decided to attend the show because it was a truly magical experience. Not only was the dinner delicious, but the show was so much fun with tons of dancing and singing! Should you ever find yourself in Paris I highly recommend checking out a Cabaret show.

After the show we made our way to one of the local pubs for a few cocktails and to say our goodbyes. After spending almost two weeks with such incredible people, and making so many new friends, it was really difficult to say goodbye knowing that I may never see some of them again. However, they and the experiences we shared together will always hold a special place in my heart.

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Final days in Paris, France, exploring the city…

Once back home, I finally had time to stop and reflect on my adventure and experiences, and about how I’ve changed and grown. A few years ago I never would have expected that I’d hop on a flight to Europe alone, to go on an adventure with strangers. However, looking back over the past two years or so, this now made sense to me as it was a logical progression in the continuous expansion of my comfort zone. Once afraid to travel anywhere alone for various reasons, I now really enjoy the experience and embrace it wholeheartedly!

Often when I tell others about my travels and upcoming travel plans they say “aren’t you afraid to go alone?” And it’s true, at one time I absolutely would have been afraid to travel alone, but as I’ve challenged my own perception of my comfort zone I’ve unintentionally expanded it. Now, I intentionally seek out experiences and opportunities to expand my comfort zone, as I believe this is integral to personal growth. This is not to say that I am not afraid (because sometimes I am!), or that I am devoid of feeling doubtful in my success. However, I choose not to focus on this fear as I feel it serves little purpose. Instead, I choose to challenge these fears and doubts because from my perspective, there are only two outcomes: I will either succeed, or I will fail and learn from the experience. Either way, the end result is personal growth and an expansion of my comfort zone which, as far as I’m concerned, is a wonderful opportunity that I am continuously grateful for.

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Visiting the Louvre while in Paris

So, now that I’ve tackled some of Europe and expanded my comfort zone in the process, what’s my next move? After spending a few quiet weeks back home, I already began to feel restless knowing that soon I would be finishing my Masters degree, and felt I needed a new and bigger challenge. I’ve wanted to go to Australia for years now, and after meeting so many awesome Aussie’s during my trip, I decided that once I completed my degree, now would be the perfect time to go on a big adventure! I applied for an Australian working visa on a whim and was approved within a few days. Following this, I have started planning my trip down under and applying to jobs there. My hope is to have something set up before I go, and I will of course be blogging about my travel experiences while I’m there as well!

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My next adventure: Australia! (PC: Google Images)

I’m sure some people may think I’m a bit mad, taking off to Australia to potentially start a new life there. It may not seem like a very ‘safe’ or stable thing to do, but I firmly believe it is the right choice for me. Am I nervous to travel to the other side of the Earth alone to go on an adventure and start a new chapter in my life? Heck ya I am! But that’s another reason I am determined to do this.

I am confident that this is the next step for me on my journey of personal growth by continuing to challenge and expand my comfort zone, and cultivate true happiness…

So, after this rather lengthy blog post which I hope you’ve made it to the end of (hehe), I want to leave you with a challenge to expand your personal comfort zone. This doesn’t mean that you must take off and travel the world if that’s not something that interests you. Expanding your comfort zone can start with something as simple as trying to cook a new dish or meal that interests you, or taking a day trip to somewhere you’ve never been, but have wanted to go.

It’s okay to start small, but it’s simply getting started that’s the key

In the words of Albert Einstein: “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving” – So, wonderful people, I challenge you to keep moving, keep challenging yourself, and to keep expanding into new spaces, ideas, and places; to continue to cultivate personal growth and happiness by expanding your own comfort zone.

Until next time, wishing you infinite health and happiness!

XO Julie

 

 

 

 

 

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10 Year Cancer Free Anniversary

Hello Lovely People!

Today is a pretty special day for me – it’s the 10 year anniversary of my surgery! On this day one decade ago I was at Victoria Hospital getting a stage IV malignant tumor removed from my throat, along with my thyroid and voice box. Apparently, after the 10 year mark it’s unlikely that the cancer will return, so it looks like I’m in the clear! 🙂

I find myself filled with mixed emotions on this day. Happiness and gratitude to still be alive and not just well, but flourishing. But also feel some sadness for having lost such an intimate part of me – my voice; it’s a strange feeling knowing that a part of you, part of what makes you who you are, is missing. I feel hope as well, for my future and the possibility of achieving my dreams, and for having the opportunity to help others to learn how to grow and thrive.

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Achieving one of my many dreams – Graduating with an Honours Degree in Psychology!

I believe it’s no mistake that I survived. I think that certain things happen for a reason, just as certain people come into our lives for a reason. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my experiences over the last 10 years. Contemplating what I’ve learned and how much I’ve grown. I can say with surety that I am proud of who I am today.

 

This evening I’ll be celebrating dinner with my family, as we always do on this day. However, in celebration of this milestone I would also like to share with you 10 things that I’ve learned in my 10 years since my whole world changed:

1) While anger can be useful to help you get through certain experiences, it does no good to hold on to it longer than is necessary. Holding on to anger is like consuming poison that, day by day, will drain your energy, happiness, and life. For many years I allowed anger to consume me. Learning when and how to leave anger in the past, to let go, and move forward is a key step towards actualizing one’s potential and flourishing.

2) Happiness comes more easily when you focus not on the things that are out of your control and that which you don’t have, but rather on those things over which you do have control, such as your attitude. There are many things that will inevitably happen in life which are out of our control. However, we always have the ability to decide how we choose to react to our given circumstances, and the extent to which we allow them affect us. Remember, as said by psychologist Carl Jung – “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become” 

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Cultivating happiness and personal growth through adventure! (Emerald Lake, Alberta)

3) As the years go by and I get older, I’ve come to realize and appreciate that the most important things in life are not material, but rather experiences and memories made. Relationships with others, opportunities to learn and grow, adventures, helping others – including those those who can never repay you – is what makes life worth living. Being grateful for each day we have, as we never know when it will be our last.

4) I used to be so insecure and hate the things about me that made me different from others – namely, my whisper voice. But now that I’m older (and arguably wiser hah) I’ve grown to appreciate those things that make me unique; to embrace them. Now for me personally, I can think of little worse than to spend my one life being perfectly ordinary and unexceptional. This is not to say that I don’t still experience insecurity, as we all do. However, as I discussed in this post on insecurity and personal growth, the key is learning how to challenge ones insecurities when they arise, so that you may overcome them, grow, and thrive.

5) Our experience in this world is greatly a matter of perspective. For the longest time all I wanted was to be “normal”, but what is normal? It’s so subjective. What’s normal for some may be bizarre for others. My point here is that learning to live with an open mind and an open heart, and to consider a multitude of perspectives, fosters personal acceptance and growth. “Normal” is a fallacy we create to feel comfortable, but it doesn’t really exist as it’s entirely dependent on our perception and perspective of things, events, people, etc.

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Challenge your perceptions of normalcy, accept and love yourself – learn and grow

 

6) In these 10 years I’ve realized that, with respect to dating and love, I needed to learn to love myself first, and to be content with being on my own, rather than looking for someone to love me. I’ve come to appreciate that I need not wait to meet the “right” person to start living my dreams. Sure, this may seems obvious but learning how to embrace and practice self-love and acceptance was one of the greatest, and most rewarding, challenges I’ve overcome. Learning how to accept and love oneself is paramount to personal growth and happiness.

7) As I’ve discussed in a previous post on the Value of Vulnerability, I’ve learned that not only is it okay, but also necessary, to be vulnerable. Embracing vulnerability helps one to be more open to others and to life. Many of us have been conditioned to perceive vulnerability as a weakness, but is it really? I think not. In fact, I’ve come to appreciate that having the capacity to accept and embrace ones vulnerability is instead a strength. It was only through allowing myself to be vulnerable and embracing it, that I was able to let go of my anger, move forward with my life, and cultivate happiness.

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Embrace vulnerability and open yourself up to life! (Adventures in Ucluelet, BC, 2015)

8) One of the most exhausting and toughest lessons I’ve had to learn is that depression is not a black hole from which there is no escape, though I appreciate that it can sometimes feel this way. As I discussed in my post on my personal journey with depression, it CAN be over come. However, this requires that you truly want to heal; recovery and healing are a choice. You must both want it and be open to it. It was not until I decided to take accountability for my circumstances and an active role in healing myself that my life began to change positively. No one could make me do that, except for me. The same is true for each of us.

9) Life gets busy, and it’s easy to push relationships with loved ones to the back burner, because we tend to (falsely) assume that they will always be there. My close call with death and the struggles I endured afterwards have taught me that life is indeed short, and the relationships we have with those we care about are essential; we should strive to appreciate and nurture them, as we never know when that person could disappear from our lives. Make time for loved ones, whoever they may be, while you can – family, friends, significant others, pets, yourself – as you never know when their (or your own) time will expire.

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Appreciate those you love and care for – celebrating my birthday with baby Calvy!

10) Our time here in life is finite – it will not last forever. Having come close to death, I no longer fear it. What I fear most instead is failing to live while I have the opportunity to do so. By stepping outside of my comfort zone, I’ve grown tremendously, and I encourage you to do the same. Travel, explore, try new things, meet new people! Be vulnerable, uncomfortable even, because this is how you learn and grow. Challenge yourself constantly, even (and especially) if it’s something the scares you! I’ve never lived far from home, but in June I’ll be moving to Vancouver Island in BC, and let me tell ya – I’m nervous as all get out about it! haha. But I feel this is the next step in my journey and I’m excited to see what the future has in store for me 🙂

Well, here are 10 of the most important lessons that I’ve learned in the past decade. I hope you’ll find some meaning in these, perhaps some inspiration, or hope. Please, do not allow life to pass you by. Embrace it, live it, and savour every last precious moment you have!

Wishing you health, happiness, and love!

xo Julie

The Value of Vulnerability

Hello Beautiful People!

After the positive response to my post on Insecurity and Personal Growth last week, I thought this very honest, raw post would be a fitting follow up. It also so happens to coincide with Valentine’s Day tomorrow, which can be rather difficult for some, as well as the 10 year anniversary of my official cancer diagnosis. Today I’m going to discuss the value of vulnerability.

I’m curious: how many of you upon the mention of “vulnerability” automatically associate this with weakness and negative connotations come to mind? Likely a great many do, and that may be because in many societies we have been socially conditioned to perceive vulnerability as a weakness. (It should be noted that limited research exists on this and there appear to be cross-cultural inconsistencies within the literature).

However, perhaps vulnerability isn’t a weakness at all. Consider this: humans are social creatures and many traits we exhibit have been evolutionarily preserved. By this I mean that since our early ancestors, qualities in individuals that were useful, such as altruism, stuck around because such qualities helped promote survival. However, for the most part qualities that were maladaptive (such as an inability to cooperate with others) and did not help an individual to get along with their social group were unlikely to be passed along to future generations (through reproduction).

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Altruistic behaviour – caring for orphaned baby squirrel, Theo (Summer 2015)

Whether we’d like to admit it or not, feeling vulnerable is something all of us have experienced at one point or another. It’s innate and has been evolutionarily conserved, therefore it must serve some sort of beneficial purpose to survival. So why are we taught to perceive it as a weakness? Could it be instead that those who allow themselves to be vulnerable in social situations are actually at an advantage? As research suggests, this may indeed be the case.

Allowing oneself to be vulnerable facilitates social bonding and helps cultivate closer relationships with important individuals. Historically, this would have helped with survival because it’s good to have someone who’s “got your back” when things get rough.
Yet in the modern emotionally constipated climate in which we live, the notion of being vulnerable has all but been suppressed.

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness”Brene Brown

Given the evidence, it is plausible that we are actually fighting against years of evolution for an adaptive and beneficial trait. Further, perhaps this discrepancy is resulting in negative consequences regarding our ability to function socially and build the close, intimate relationships we often crave with others. Moreover, this suppression of innate vulnerability may be fueling the increasing levels of anxiety and depression which many individuals now struggle with.

From my own experience, I’ve come to understand that vulnerability IS a good thing, but requires balance. Here’s a personal example: On February 14th 2006 I was diagnosed with a stage IV malignant tumour in my throat. I was told that if I did not undergo surgery to remove my larynx (voice box), followed by chemo and radiation, I would without a doubt soon die. I still remember lying in the hospital bed hiding under the covers, crying for hours. Then came the rage, as I angrily told everyone I’d rather die than have to end up with no voice, all alone, and unloved (oh the theatrics and naivety of teenagers haha, but I genuinely believed this would be my future at that time). I had resolved not to receive the surgery; to simply allow myself to die rather than face a future of struggle and uncertainty.

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Social bonds – my wonderful family & two of my beautiful best friends for over 20 years (June 2014)

What made me change my mind were my family and friends. I saw how much this hurt them and how afraid they were, and it broke my heart to see their pain. I’m a very empathetic person and find it distressing to watch others suffer. Fortunately, this motivated me change my mind and I agreed to have the surgery.

After the surgery physically I recovered quickly. It’s amazing how rapidly the energy returned to my body once I didn’t have an enormous tumor sucking the life out of me (quite literally). But soon after came the chemo and radiation treatments, which nearly did kill me. I underwent 6 weeks of radiation and 3 intense chemo sessions. The chemo made me extremely sick. Then there was the radiation, which burned my skin, scarring it and the underlying tissue. Due to the pain and nausea, and fact that everything tasted metallic (a side effect of the treatments) I could eat very little. But I’m stubborn and I refused to give in to my broken body. It was my anger and the walls I’d put up since my diagnosis that I believe got be through it. I’d resolved to be invulnerable. To show no weakness to the disease that was trying to take my life.

For example, the radiation suite was on the basement floor of the London Regional Cancer Center and there was a flight of spiral stairs to get from the main floor to the basement (or of course there were also the elevators). I’d decided that no matter what I would take those stairs every single day, down and back up. Though near the end I was so weak I literally had to crawl up them (what a ridiculous sight I must have been hah), I still forced myself to take the stairs. I laugh about it now, even though I recall how at the time it was exhausting for me to do this. But this was my way of fighting back and proving to myself that I was not vulnerable, but rather I was tremendously strong. Death was not an option.

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About a year after treatment (Spring 2007)

My (perceived) invulnerability had served it’s purpose: I survived. However, after all of the struggle and treatments my walls did not come down, but rather stayed up for years. Unfortunately, it took me several years to realize that I needed to let my walls come down in order to move on with my life. I needed to learn how to be vulnerable again. This was a terrifying prospect for me. I’d experienced considerable trauma and the emotional and psychological aftermath nearly consumed me. I didn’t know how to be vulnerable anymore, but I knew that I needed to learn how to cultivate my vulnerability so that I could start living again.

And so I began meditating and practicing yoga. Reading as many books as I could  (“Happiness” by Matthieu Ricard, is one of my favourites and has helped me greatly), and learning all I could on how to open myself up to others and to the world; on how to be vulnerable again.

One of the most influential sources that helped me rediscover my vulnerability was a TED talk by Brene Brown, in which she discusses the power of vulnerability in a delightfully humorous way, and how it IS ESSENTIAL to allow oneself to be vulnerable. Because, as you will learn:

Vulnerability allows us to connect with others; to experience joy, happiness and love

Please, if you do one thing today make time to listen to this talk because the message is tremendous and truly life changing, especially if you’re struggling with how to allow yourself to be open to others and the world; with how to be vulnerable and accept yourself. I still get shivers when I listen to this talk; it’s truly brilliant.

What I can tell you about vulnerability based on research that has been done, as well as my own experience, is that it is not a bad thing. Indeed, in the years since my cancer I’ve come to understand that those who allow themselves to be vulnerable are the stronger ones. It’s easy to put up walls to protect yourself from the pain and fear you may feel by putting yourself out there and being open to others and to new experiences. It takes far more courage to allow yourself to be vulnerable and open, knowing full well that you may get hurt and you may fail.

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Stepping outside my comfort zone and learning how to golf in Shuswap, BC. 2015

 

And that’s okay. Pain and failure suck. No one wants to experience that, and yet without it how can we grow? If we’re not making mistakes and experiencing things there is little opportunity for growth.

I would now like to challenge you to be vulnerable. Let down your walls and open yourself to life. Be curious. Go on adventures. Learn and grow. Step outside your comfort zone. LIVE! My experience has taught me that life is brief and can end very suddenly and unexpectedly. So please don’t hide behind your walls and shelter yourself from life, because you only get this one.

You will feel fear, and it will be uncomfortable, and that’s perfectly okay 

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Experiencing my “spiritual awakening” in magical Ucluelet, BC, Canada

Do not allow whatever it is that you fear stop you. We all have fears. Acknowledge that fear, then walk right through it. I am no longer afraid of dying. Having almost done it before, it doesn’t scare me anymore. What I’ve realized and what I now fear most is the prospect of not allowing myself to live, savor, and experience every opportunity this life offers me.

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Happiness with feathered friends in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (2016)

One of the most remarkable characteristics I’ve come to appreciate about individuals is their ability to overcome adversity, to adapt and to heal, so long as there is a willingness to be open to recovery. This requires vulnerability. It’s taken me nearly 10 years, but I have finally learned to be vulnerable, and I’m a much happier and more fulfilled person for it, able to love and accept love. Whatever walls you’ve built, for whatever reason, consider that perhaps it may now be the time to let them down and to let life in.

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Exploring beautiful Emerald Lake, Alberta, Canada (2015)

With love and gratitude,

xo Julie

ps. If you’re ready to take a step outside of your comfort zone, leave a comment about something that you fear or which makes you feel vulnerable. Simply getting it out in the open is the first step to overcoming it! 🙂

Insecurity and Personal Growth

Happy Saturday everyone!

This post is a more personal one. Some of you may relate to this, others may not. With so many big changes recently happening in my life, thoughts of insecurity and fear of the unknown have often come to my mind. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for many years and I’m no stranger to the insecure, self-defeating, negative internal dialogue that tends to pervade the thoughts of those struggling with these conditions.

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Feeling happy (and a little chilly) at Emerald Lake, Alberta Canada (2015)

Fortunately I’ve found ways to overcome these challenges, which I’d like to share with you. I also want to share my experience as I know it can often feel like you’re facing depression and/or anxiety all alone. You know there are others struggling but the experience can feel extremely unique to you, and you may feel isolated and as though no one can truly understand how you feel. I get it. I’ve been there too.

I used to be very insecure. I placed far too much value on my own appearance and developed a near obsession with maintaining control over all aspects of my life. While rigid control gave me a false perception of comfort, it was not until years later that I realized I was actually closing myself off from the world and from life. In the wake of challenges that life was presenting me, I’d forgotten how to live and how to enjoy life.

I suppose it was my pervasive need for control and my vanity that ultimately facilitated the development of an eating disorder. During that time I recall being very unhappy, anxious, and depressed. Then came my cancer; a stage IV tumor that had nearly engulfed by larynx (ie. voice box). I was on the path to an early grave within a few months. Fortunately, I survived the aggressive surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments and slowly my physical health began to return. However, now having no voice and the physical challenge presented by the tracheotomy, my insecurities and lack of confidence in myself became more pronounced than ever before.

Again I fell into depression and this time it was much worse. I remember feeling entirely hopeless, consumed with grief because I felt like I lost a part of me and that my situation would make it impossible to connect with others and achieve my ambitions in life. For many years I struggled with this. Trying slowly to pick up the pieces of my life and put them back together. To get back to who I was. But this wasn’t possible because having gone through these experiences how could I ever be the same person I was before it all happened? Looking back now I laugh because it seems so obvious to me that this was a pivotal event in my life that beckoned an opportunity for growth. However, at the time it felt like a black hole sucking me into darkness and I had little hope.

This went on for years, until finally I began to realize that I would never again be the Julie I was before and that I was in control of how I chose to let my circumstances affect me. I started putting the pieces of “me” back together, while adding the new pieces I’d gained in the years since. I learned to let go of that rigid need for control. I realized that there are far more important things than physical appearance. And I finally had to confront my anxieties and insecurities regarding my feelings of inadequacy.

I sought out alternative treatments, approaches, and experiences which opened me up to the world again. I found yoga and meditation very helpful in the healing process and read several books (“Happiness” by Matthieu Ricard was among the most influential for me). I’ve learned much about how diet and nutrition influence inflammation and how it can either enhance or minimize anxiety, and especially depression.

For instance, accumulating evidence suggests that inflammation is likely an underlying factor in depression, and that one’s gut microbiome and diet can have major impacts on the development and severity of depressive symptoms. I suppose this is one of the major reasons I’ve become so interested in nutrition and diet and seek to share this life-changing information and nutritious recipes with others.

Black Cherry smoothie bowl
Eating a nutritious, anti-inflammatory diet can help reduce inflammation in the body and may decrease symptoms of depression (Black Cherry Avocado Smoothie Bowl Recipe)

Coming back to my discussion on insecurity, today I consider myself to be a pretty confident person and have worked hard to minimize my insecurities. But don’t get me wrong, many still lurk in the back of my mind and occasionally try to again gain control. When faced with a new challenge or endeavour I might find myself thinking things like “You’re smart and you’d be good at that, but how could you do it without your voice? You can’t”. However, my years of education in psychology have taught me how to recognize these negative thoughts, and I’ve developed strategies to stop them in their tracks and alter the content to reflect a more positive (and realistic) perspective.

When I begin to have negative thoughts telling me “I can’t” or “you’ll fail” or “they won’t like you”, I immediately challenge them in a way that allows me to alter the pervasive thoughts, followed by subsequent behavioural modification. This approach is a strategy used in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

As an example, my internal dialogue might then go something like “Okay, if you “fail” what can be learned from this? What constitutes a “fail”? I then reason through my thoughts logically to challenge the negative and destructive cognitive patters. This allows me to view the situation in a more realistic way, altering my perception of the circumstances and facilitating a more positive approach to tackling any situation.

The main reason I wanted to share this post is to emphasize that we all have insecurities and lack confidence in a few or more areas of life. And this is completely okay! It is perfectly normal to feel doubt, particularly when you begin to tackle something new and push the boundaries of your comfort zone.

Emrald Lake Alberta 2
Exploring Emerald Lake, Alberta, Canada (2015)

One thing I’ve learned more recently regarding pushing ones boundaries is that each time I step outside of my comfort zone, I grow tremendously as does the confidence I have in myself. At one time I’d have been terrified of traveling alone. Now having done it a few times I realize I actually quite enjoy the experience. I’ve learned to embrace the unknown and the uncontrollable.

Ucluelet BC
In Ucluelet, BC, 2015… One of the most enlightening travel experiences I’ve had yet!

I realize that building confidence and learning to be secure with oneself is both a process and a challenge, but it’s absolutely something you can achieve if you truly desire to do so. This is because confidence, and subsequent alleviation of insecurity, is something that you can learn once you have the appropriate tools to develop it!

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received on how to tackle insecurity and build confidence was actually from this TED talk based on scientific evidence that basically said: “fake it ‘til you make it”. And what do you know, it works!

Life is a journey and we’re not meant to know what’s coming. That was one of the toughest life lessons I’ve learned to accept (being a “recovered control-freak” and all hah). Presently, the thrill of adventure and exploring new places, the unknown, and meeting new people is something that drives me forward; seeking out new opportunities to travel and explore the many marvelous things this life has to offer.

Adventures in BC
Exploring Beautiful Tofino, British Columbia (2015)

Helping others brings me tremendous satisfaction and happiness, giving me a sense of purpose. By opening myself up to the world and to life, I’ve become passionate about fostering my own personal growth and helping others to do the same!

Until next time, wishing you health, happiness, and personal growth

xo Julie