Best Laid Plans

It was my escape hatch from one horrible job to the next: I was already in the financial industry, why not follow friends out of high-stress personal insurance and into high-stress investment banking? If I was going to live with high blood pressure and chronic migraines, why not make $80k a year doing it?

After a third coworker departed for Lehman Brothers, another friend reached out from a huge brokerage house. Come try it out, she urged. She claimed to love her job and she, knowing I’d been burnt out by the second day of a three-year “career,” made the offer sound like an interesting new challenge.

“Brace yourself,” someone warned me in the elevator on my first day. “This place is no Utopia.” I smiled, “I survived three years at XXX; I can survive anything.” His eyebrows raised. “Noooo thank you. No one survives there for any period of time. You’ll be just fine.”

Three months in, my eye was already on the door. From one grist mill to the next, I moved rapidly through three different positions and three very different bosses in the year I was there. This was not better; it was far worse. The infighting, the lying, gossiping, underhanded behavior was mind blowing. Weren’t these people supposed to be professionals?

Dress code was casual. Jeans were considered acceptable in the summer months, which was unheard of in the Financial District. (No longer having to maintain a wardrobe of proper suits and stockings meant considerably more expendable income.) During the rest of the year, business separates were encouraged but enforcement was lax. Department heads were almost always male and wore chinos and button-downs, the downright rebels going without ties. (The *one* female department head wore a sharp suit and pearls to work. Every. Single. Day.)

With the dress code, or lack thereof, I noticed a mindset I hadn’t seen in any of the other brokerage houses in the city: We were back in high school. Girls who could afford Seven jeans and cashmere sweaters were clearly superiors, looking down upon those who dared shop in the jobber stores found throughout the city. (Let me put it this way: when you’re a young family of three in NYC, even shopping full-price at The Gap feels financially reckless.) Dressing for success was clearly not a thing at XXX, which was unusual for NYC, and I discovered quickly that the best way to drive my department supervisor out of her mind was to dress each day as if I were interviewing on my lunch break. (Because on some days I was doing just that.)

HR at Lehman scheduled interview after interview, with one department head after another. Many mornings I left my house before six to catch a very early ferry. Scheduling morning interviews were tricky, especially when the interview took place on Park, in Midtown, and my job happened to be along the waterfront in Lower Manhattan.

Shaking hands with two junior staffers, I noted the woman’s eyes traveling from my face, to my suit, to my borrowed Furla. Her lips tightened and I realized we were not off to a good start, whatever the reason. Somehow I was making a bad impression.

I was interviewing this time for an assistant position to Mr. Top-Super-High-Level-VP. He needed a Girl Friday and HR had assured him I was up to the task. He shooed his junior staff out of the room and sprawled in the chair, leaning an elbow casually upon the conference table. He grinned, trying to be charming and disarming–I knew how this worked.

“I’m not very up on what’s PC,” he started, and I knew it was the beginning of the end. He could ask my religion, sexual preference or number of children and by refusing to answer I would automatically invalidate myself. (Let’s not pretend that level of discrimination doesn’t go into hiring practices every single day.) We had discussed my language skills, willingness to travel internationally, typing speed and salary requirements. This was going very well until… “I would love to send you to conferences in my place. With your background, I can count on detailed notes and you’ve got good presence. I hope you’re willing to travel a lot, and you know we’ll have to work long days. But tell me…do you have any kids?”

There it was. Just like that, I was going to be crossed off the list because I had a toddler at home. And indeed, that was exactly how it transpired. After months of stonewalling from the hiring team, I found out they’d filled the position with someone who had “fewer personal obligations.” Apparently having a son and a husband meant I was unfit.

The day LB sent staffers home with filing boxes filled with the contents of their desks, it felt like a normal workday–to me. I’d taken another job, and finally I was working with people who were largely competent, friendly professionals.

I watched the drama unfold on the TV screen in the reception area, a hand over my mouth. I’d laid such careful plans and tried so hard to land a job there, sure that the opportunity would open doors to a lucrative career. Instead, I’d have been another resume’ flooding the market, worried about how we were going to pay both the mortgage and the daycare bill.

Being a ducks in a row kind of person, I don’t enjoy uncertainty, or do well with it. Despite my best efforts, I hadn’t landed what I’d thought would be a great job. The disappointment had been surprisingly dispiriting. It felt like failure.

Sometimes what feels like a failure is a blessing in disguise; we’re being saved from ourselves. Accepting that we have very little control is an extraordinarily difficult thing, especially when we don’t know the “why.”

If something isn’t working out despite your best efforts, give yourself the time and head space to examine what it means to you. Why do you want it so badly? What will attaining that goal, landing that job or dating that person give you? Will life go on without it?

So often we’re directed to prepare ourselves for success: work hard, get a good education, find a way to set yourself apart. What we’re rarely taught is how to deal with disappointment. Remembering that life is a collection of passing emotions, prepare yourself for better days. This too shall pass.

When You’re Out of Whack

The changes were so gradual that I didn’t notice for several years, and even then I chalked most of it up to advancing age. The dark patches on my face started with a blotch taking up residence on my otherwise-pale forehead. To someone who’s about as sun kissed as freshly installed drywall, this was noticeable and irritating.

A little time spent on the Internet convinced me that it was fairly normal: I’d had our second child a few months earlier. Sometimes “Pregnancy Mask” was a postpartum issue and surely it would resolve itself quickly.

Cue the exhaustion of parenthood and childcare in a large metropolitan area, complete with extreme on-the-job stress and overwhelming commutes. No one’s getting enough sleep, and in all honesty, sometimes pasta and tomato sauce comprise the entirety of a “healthy” dinner.

Our son was eight and our daughter 18 months old when we moved cross-country for work. The move was financially, physically and emotionally overwhelming, as we left one bad situation for another entirely unknown. We had lived in NYC for ten years and despite the drudgery, the exhaustion, and the frustration with a string of unfulfilling jobs, I wasn’t ready to leave the city that never slept. (Hey, we had something in common.)

Try moving from a major metro area to Florida–and I don’t mean Miami. The culture shock was instantaneous and extreme. Potential employers fawned over work experience, education and processing speeds. It was the standard in New York, but in Florida it was Wonder Child material. Still, the cloud of stress hung over my head as I pushed myself to work faster, harder, more efficiently.

It was in Florida that I began to realize I had no lifestyle excuses left. Sure, I still spent a lot of time commuting but the weather was generally so nice, why wasn’t I outside? Why weren’t my kids outside, playing and getting dirty and building forts?

“Mama, I love nature,” my daughter said one day after spending hours in the back yard, climbing like a monkey through the tall branches of a bush that had glossy, magnolia-tree-like leaves. “It makes me feel so calm and peaceful.”

She was right. On the days I could spent hours working in the yard, I was never happier. I wouldn’t say the time helped to quiet my brain, but I was able to focus frenetic energy into tangible results, digging my fingers deep in the dirt.

Slowly, slowly, the hyper-pigmentation has begun to disappear. Thanks to years of sun damage, it’s unlikely to ever completely disappear, but the hormonal basis seems to be balancing out. Although I credit this to a number of things: cleaner diet, better sleep habits, more stress management, there are a number of things to yet improve upon. (More salmon, less Malbec? Yeah, probably that.)

What are some simple ways to balance your hormones? First of all, it’s a good idea to get tested so you can figure out which are actually out of whack. It’s not uncommon for women to be too high in estrogen or to have abysmal progesterone levels. For men, low testosterone is quickly becoming an epidemic. In many cases, these issues point back to the thyroid, that tiny little butterfly-shaped gland near your Adam’s apple. (Did you know you have thyroid receptors in every cell of your body? That gives you some idea of just how important it is.)

If you find yourself to have any major imbalances (especially thyroid), I’m not going to say it’s impossible to fix things. However, your chances of fixing it faster and completely are with medical guidance. Do your homework on this one, as not all doctors (or even naturopaths) are created equal.

But what can you do for yourself? Well, a couple ideas:

-Try incorporating adaptogens into your diet, either in edible form or as a supplement. Some examples: Maca root, Holy Basil, Rhodiola, or Ashwaganda. (Lion’s Mane, Chaga, Cordyceps are all also excellent.) Any and all of these will help to support your body’s stress response, and I notice when I keep myself on a regimen of adaptogens, I feel more “leveled out.”

-Increase your veggie and fruit intake. A lot. Eat leafy greens until you think think they’ll ooze out of your pores. Cut out scary trans-fats (donuts, for example–sob!) and add in healthy fats like genuine extra virgin olive oil and avocados. Work in cold water fatty fish, trying to consume up to a pound a week. (Can we talk about intermittent fasting later?)

-Improve sleep hygiene. It might take implementing a nighttime routine to get your brain ready for sleep. This could mean a hot bath and a good book. Maybe a cup of hot tea, or warm milk, and certainly some magnesium glycinate and potassium supplements within an hour of bedtime. (Some also swear that CBD helps them sleep.) Unfortunately, a glass of wine before bed isn’t a great way to prep your body for sleep. (This makes me sad too.) Alcohol messes with your ability to fall and stay asleep, in part because of the blood sugar swings that can take place while you try to catch some shut-eye.

-Find joy. This is something that’s really hard to do. If you’re a workaholic, a parent, commuting tremendous distances–all of the above? Well, you probably don’t have much time to do the things you love and oftentimes taking a moment to do those things makes you feel guilty. Remember that there’s truth to putting on your oxygen mask before helping others: If you’re exhausted, emotionally overwhelmed, burned out or sick, you can’t even help yourself let alone others. Giving yourself a small space each day, or every few days, to do something you love will help to fill your life with meaning and purpose and will keep the fires of inspiration burning.

-Last but not least, and this is something in which I firmly believe: You need some form of a spiritual practice. Your practice doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. Some people find peace in meditating, taking long walks in nature or in praying. Some people journal; others go to church. The common factor is that for people who feel they’re connecting to something larger than themselves, whether or not they call it Divine, tend to be healthier. They’re more grateful and optimistic and are better able to let things slide off their backs.

Life will forever be a perpetual balancing act. Even with great lifestyle habits, stress happens. Illness and sleepless nights happen. It’s easy to get out of whack–easier than it is to maintain good lifestyle patterns, I’m afraid. But with a few tweaks and changes, you’ll start to notice a difference and you’ll wonder how you ever survived before.

 

 

Diving Into the CBD Controversy.

You could say I’m late to the party in talking about CBD, as it’s the hot new…what is it, a “buzz acronym” these days? And, like religion and politics, it’s almost as shocking to some sensibilities as walking into a stiff dinner party with a joint in your hand. (Obviously, some people don’t bother to discern between CBD and marijuana at all, lumping it all together as a tool of the devil.)

CBD has gained popularity as the snake oil of the day. Migraines? Take CBD. Sore after a workout? Having trouble sleeping? Suffering migraines? Horrid PMS? Try some CBD.

While this seems entirely too good to be true, that it could possibly have such positive impact on such a wide variety of maladies, both studies and user-based evidence point to great effectiveness. Naturally, this is on a case-by-case basis. It would be great if I could tell you that this was the silver bullet, no questions asked, no need to conduct any further searches, CBD was your end answer. But that’s something you’re going to have to test for yourself and the state you live in will likely have a very strong opinion about whether or not you can legally test it for yourself.

Not surprisingly, most studies indicate CBD is a powerful anti-inflammatory with results similar, if not superior to standard painkillers, but without the harmful side effects of long-term use.

If you’re interested in further researching the areas CBD has demonstrated measurable effectiveness, Chris Kresser has a well-researched article here. I stumbled across this as I researched anxiety, as an increasing number of clients I’ve begun working with have complained of crippling anxiety or acute panic attacks. Some have tried CBD and have noted calming effects, while others didn’t feel it made a dent.

In our household, we use non-THC CBD for sports recovery (my husband) and insomnia (me). Strangely, I found that when we transitioned to what I call our “Paleo-ish” diet, falling asleep was no longer the issue. Staying asleep became the issue. I chalked it up to hormonal fluctuations (pregnancy, then miscarriage, then sleep disruption due to insufficient carbs, massive amounts of stress due to a business merger and a cross-country move…and let’s be honest, there may have been a few too many late night glasses of Malbec. Perfection ain’t my bag, because it’s not interesting.) With CBD, magnesium glycinate and low-dose potassium taken just before bed, I found I woke much less during the night, slowly coming to consciousness naturally around 5:30 every morning. For people who know my sleeping habits, it’s an outright miracle that I could be conscious at 5:30 in the morning. (Note that I didn’t say I was actually *out* of bed yet at that time of day!)

If you’re looking for a personal account of the benefits of CBD, check out this article on mindbodygreen.com. (Yes, for avid Kresser fans, I did spot the immediate irony. But fair and balanced, right? I try.)

New research tried for a hot second to point out dubious “fact” that CDB-based pharmaceuticals had been linked to rapid liver damage. Most researchers were quick to disagree with what they found to be very flawed results and a separate study pointed out the enormous flaws of the first.

What I found most interesting about the first study was that the drug in question was not a pure CBD oil, but a CBD-based prescription medication developed for children with epilepsy. (First red flag?) Secondly, the study was not performed on human children, or even adults, but on mice. And last but not least, I cannot imagine anyone, human or animal, intentionally ingesting 1/4 of their weight in CBD-based anything.

This will undoubtedly be a hot topic for some time to come, or at least until the pharmaceutical industry figures out how to most effectively monetize Mother Nature’s anti-inflammatory properties for themselves.

 

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