Nobody’s Perfect.

The thing about depression is that, while everyone experiences sadness and grief, those of us who are actually depressed get frustrated when people tell us it will pass. It often doesn’t. We’re lucky if we have one day in a long string of months in which we feel normal and can actually contribute to society in an acceptable manner. It’s also very frustrating when people are shocked when we actually seem genuinely happy. That diminishes our identities and is a huge hurdle we have to deal with.

I’ve known I’m not wired to be happy for two decades. Twenty years is a long time.

Here’s the thing: one can say that they don’t understand how anyone can be depressed. Well, those of us who struggle every single day to force a smile when we’re screaming on the inside can’t understand how people can be happy all the time. And, us depressed folk, we are highly functioning people. I’ve managed to stick around for twenty years. It’s been difficult, but I’ve made it work.

Describing depression isn’t an easy task. We all experience it in very unique ways. The general idea of it is the same, but we all cope with it in our own ways.

“Depression doesn’t define me.” and “I’m a real person with real value.” These two stand out. While depression is one of many parts of us, it isn’t who we are. We have plenty of things to offer this world. We are well aware of this. While it can often be challenging for some of us to be motivated to shine, we have the ability to. Instead of being stigmatized, we need to be loved equally.

There are great resources out there for those of us struggling with some sort of mental health spark. [I use the word spark, because issue, disease, and disorder each hold such negative connotation. Spark, for me, is a happy word. It is a motivating word in my life.]

If you live in a town or city with a public library, I highly suggest utilizing it. Depending on the town or city, there is usually a good selection of self-help books and books about mental health. Remember that not all self-help books are created equal. They often have a bad rap, but there are some great books out there, I promise! I suggest books on mindfulness, creativity, and other task based guides.

I know that it’s often difficult to find the strength or motivation to get up and move. But, movement really does help. If you live near a park, walk there with a book & some tea or coffee. Sit & read, breathe in some fresh air. Attempt to smile at three people. Then walk home. This helps me find some momentary peace.

If you are a college student, use the health services your school fees pay for. Many higher education have mental health services. They are staffed by a few licensed therapists (who are often professors at the school) and graduate students who are training to become therapists. It is an affordable way to get some counseling. If they don’t offer counseling, they are well connected to resources outside the school, and are able to assist you finding affordable therapy.

Also, research graduate schools in your area. Often graduate psychology programs will offer affordable group therapy or other affordable forms of care.

If you are religious, connecting with religious leaders are a great resource. They are usually trained to counsel individuals as well as lead a congregation. They are also able to direct you to proper venues for help.

My last suggestion is to search online for “affordable online therapy.” You’ll find a decent list of (legally operated) websites that offer counseling done online, usually through private chat or video.

I hope this helps everyone! This only scratches the surface, but it’s a start. If you know someone with a mental health spark, please educate yourself. If you experience a mental health spark yourself, I hope this motivates you to reach out for help.

Please remember that I am not a licensed therapist or doctor, nor do I have a Ph.D in psychology. I am speaking purely from my own experience. Always seek out the help of a licensed professional.

Advertisements

Get Motivated

As someone who has struggled with procrastination and motivation most of my life, I’ve been trying to figure out the best way(s) to get excited about each day. I work well under pressure, as do, I feel, many people. But, daily productivity makes life just a little easier.

The first thing is to create a clean & functional living environment. When your living space is clean and clutter free, it is easier to relax and enjoy downtime. Also, it allows one to designate different areas for different activities.

I’m currently in the middle of decluttering & deep cleaning my bedroom. I admit that is totally chaotic. And, the older I get, the less I can tolerate controlled chaos. So, I am sorting through clothes, cosmetics, books, etc., and compartmentalizing everything. Hopefully, by the end of the week my bedroom will be a million times better.

[Let’s be real for a moment, this blog post is a distraction from the decluttering process.]

Decluttering my room is a daunting task, as I am known for letting things pile up/collect. I’m not a hoarder; never have been, never will be. The thing is, when it comes to my stuff/my bedroom, I don’t clean as I go. It’s a bad habit, one that I am trying to break.

In order to get me pumped to reorganize, I’ll choose a Genius Mix on my iPod, and let the music guide me. If I am able to hear things that make me happy, I find myself feeling much more productive and willing to work. Some people need silence to be productive. I’m the opposite. While I am very sensitive to loud sounds (slamming doors, screaming babies, trains, etc. all stress me out), if I am in control of my auditory environment, I am a happy & motivated person. If you are like me, I suggest you make a few different playlists to cater to any mood, setting, or goal. I’ve got countless hours of music in my iTunes library, so it’s not very difficult to create a plethora of playlists.

Next, I make sure I am well fed and hydrated. I don’t focus well if I’m not hydrated. And, I hate feeling hungry. If it means having a bowl of berries and/or cashews within reach, that’s perfect. If the project is longer than a few hours, I take into consideration meal breaks. It’s always good to step away from something if you’ve been at it for a few hours.

Lastly, I set a goal time and/or date. I’ll post it on my mirror, my calendar, next to my bed – whatever reminds me to get stuff done. Within that scope, I make sure to factor in all other aspects of life: work, school, rest, exercise, and socializing. And, I definitely make sure I do take breaks. I’ll go at it for a few hours, take a break, then get back to the grind if there is more to do.

With that said, the most important thing to remember is to remind yourself that even if the task at hand is extremely daunting, there is a purpose to it, and the end result will be worth it. So, do what makes you most motivated. Music, the chance to see a movie you’ve always wanted, a yummy snack or dessert, a friend you’ve been dying to catch up with. Give yourself an attainable reward to look forward to and be reasonable with your expectations and timeframe.

Vegan Living 101: Building Your Kitchen

Lately, I’ve been considering what a vegan pantry should look like. There are things I have kept in stock at all times, even before I fully claimed veg*n status. All kitchens should share the same basic skeleton, vegan or not.

Being a student, working retail only part time, I don’t get to splurge on fancy meals every day. Creativity is essential, and dry goods are my friend.

Every vegan kitchen should have a well stocked pantry. The most important things are salt, pepper, olive and/or coconut oil, and a variety of herbs & spices. In my opinion, these are non-negotiable.

What spices & herbs (aside from salt & pepper) do I always have on hand?

  1. Sage
  2. Oregano
  3. Thyme
  4. Curry Powder
  5. Rosemary
  6. Cinnamon
  7. Cayenne
  8. Marjoram
  9. Bay Leaves
  10. Chili Powder
  11. Onion Powder
  12. Diced Dehydrated Garlic (or Shallots, or both!)
  13. Cumin
  14. Turmeric
  15. Red Pepper Flakes
  16. Chervil
  17. Vanilla, Almond, and Peppermint extracts
  18. Cacao Nibs or Powder

It’s nice to have this selection, especially when it comes time to making soup or cooking up a big batch of lentils or beans. The bay leaves help if someone is transitioning into a lentil/legume rich diet, as they apparently help break down the starch that causes stomach distress/gas. Plus, bay just makes any soup, stew, or pasta dish taste great! Just remember that bay leaves are designed to enhance flavor and to never be eaten.

Other essentials are dried beans & lentils. Beans & lentils are often considered the backbone of veg*n protein. A 1-lb bag of beans or lentils usually costs $1 or $2. A pound of legumes can feed a person for at least a week, if not longer. I say a week, because I love legumes.

Sure, they are carbohydrate rich, so one shouldn’t eat a huge mound of them. The carbohydrates in beans & lentils are comprised mainly of fibre, and let’s be real here, fibre is very essential to one’s overall health. I feel that fibre is just as important as protein & fat.

I consistently have a airtight container full of lentils. I love how versatile lentils are. You can make soup, stews, burgers, “meat”balls, chili, “meat” sauce for pasta, taco/burrito/fajita filling, or loafs out of them. In fact, sometime soon, I am going to actually try making burgers out of lentils.

If soaking & cooking beans isn’t your thing, I totally understand. You certainly can opt for the canned variety. However, canned beans always have a higher sodium content, even the low/reduced sodium kinds. Also, canned beans end up always being more expensive than the dried variety. I will always soak a large batch of beans the night before I have a day off, then cook them in the morning. Or, I’ll let them soak while I’m at work or school and cook them when I get home.

In my pantry, I also keep a variety of grains. Oatmeal is always there. I love oatmeal for breakfast. It also can be used for other dishes as a binder, and, of course, cookies. Quinoa is a grain that is great for veg*ns, as it has a decent amount of protein in it. And, apart from potatoes, I was raised with barley as a cheap, nutritious, and filling starch. I love barley. Sometimes, I’ll have a barley & oatmeal mixture for breakfast. And, I find myself wanting barely more than I want rice. Rice is a great staple to have, but I always opt for brown or wild rice. However, I find myself eating barley & quinoa more often.

I’m also a fan of nuts and nut butters. I know that some people are allergic to one or all nuts, so if this is you, ignore this little section. My favorites are almonds and cashews. There is always a bag of either or both hanging out. I also consistently have almond butter on the ready. I’ve found that a handful almonds is the closest thing veg*ns have to an egg… With the added benefit of fibre. Sure, there might be less iron, but that’s what spinach & kale are for.

When people ask me for advice on transitioning into a veg*n diet, the main question is “what do I do about protein?” Well, beans, lentils, nuts, and dense vegetables have sufficient protein for the average human being. But, if you are of the mindset that protein is king, I always suggest investing in a well-balanced vegan protein powder. I’m a huge fan of Vega powder and PlantFusion powder. PlantFusion is wonderful, because the have a variety of flavors, as well as unflavored. Many vegan athletes will often use the unflavored version to enhance mashed potatoes, oatmeal, or other savory dishes. I like the unflavored in a strawberry & almond-coconut milk smoothie. On a daily basis, I use PlantFusion chocolate powder, because I’m a chocoholic. I mix it with Almond Dream Unsweetened Chocolate (almond, duh) milk. So, the protein factor is easy for us veg*ns to deal with.

Last, a veg*n truly invested in their health should, of course, have a fridge constantly stocked with vegetables. But, remember, never buy more than you know you’ll eat. No one should be wasting any food!!

My dream fridge would be full of almond & coconut milk, colourful vegetables, and enough lentils/legumes to last the week. My dream freezer would be full of vegan sorbet & SoDelicious Simply Strawberry Coconut Milk ice cream. (No, SoDelicious is not sponsoring this post. I just love that specific ice cream so much.)

These are my staples, and I fell that every new & seasoned veg*n should invest in the same. Buying in bulk & having airtight containers are very helpful. Remember, our health is a constant journey. We need to treat ourselves & our planet well. And, we all choose our diets for different reasons. I have chosen this for myself, because it feels right to me. If you don’t agree with the veg*n lifestyle/diet, that is absolutely fine & [most of us] veg*ns respect that.

[This is just a little preemptive disclaimer: I am not a licensed doctor or nutritionist. Please just take what is written here at face value. This is what works for me and has worked for me for almost two decades. And, through discussions, this is what works for many veg*ns. If you are deciding to transition into a veg*n diet, please do further research, including talking to a licensed nutritionist and your primary care physician.]

Vegan Living 101: Personal Transformation

After deciding to do pieces on vegan living, my mother and I embarked on a weight loss journey. It is The Fast Metabolism Diet by Haylie Pomory. So far, it has proved to be quite reasonable. I’m on day eight (of 28), and have lost about two or three pounds. Where I see it the most is around my chin and midsection. The most important factor is that I’m not required to forgo my quest for personal veganism. This diet is suitable for most people searching for optimal health. It’s broken into three phases per week and done for a total of four weeks. We are to eat five times a day: 3 meals & 2 snacks.

On Phase 1, we are supposed to load up on healthy, wholesome carbohydrates, such as oatmeal, barley, quinoa, brown rice and sprouted grains. Included in that is a lot of fruit. And, throughout the entire process, there is a focus on unlimited vegetables. Protein is included in two of the meals, and as a veg*n, I have to rely on lentils & legumes. These are the easiest two days for me, as I love me some grains and lentils.

Phase 2 is somewhat difficult for me, as it is protein heavy. The author (who has a BA in Animal Science & is a trained nutritionist) wants people to avoid soy for 28 days. She makes an exception for vegans on these two days, because she knows that a lot of natural vegan protein is somewhat fibre/carbohydrate dense. We are allowed edamame, tempeh, and tofu. I hate tofu, so that’s a no go. Frankly, tempeh isn’t my favorite. And edamame? That gets boring very quick. I have a couple vegan protein powders that are similar to the ones the author sells on her website. The ones I’ve found are half the price, so that helps. These two consecutive days are difficult because eating vegetables all day long can get a bit tedious. Also, drinking a protein shake that’s made with water instead of the unsweetened almond milk I usually use is not as delightful.

Phase 3 has a focus on healthy fats, such as olive & coconut oils, raw nuts & seeds, and nut butters. Again, this isn’t difficult for me. I love cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds, coconut milk, hummus… The list is endless. There is less of a focus on protein & carbohydrates, however, we start the day with a grain, have a couple pieces of fruit throughout the day, and can have an optional grain in the evening. But, frankly, I am usually pretty satisfied by the end of the day. I’d happily have a huge salad with some lentils or kidney beans topped with olive oil & lemon juice.

But, I have three more weeks, and I am doing this for the good of my body. I hope that this can train me to eat in a much more mindful and wholesome way. The logic makes sense, and a lot of what I am reading is stuff I have heard before from nutritionists and fitness buffs. It’s the practice that is the hardest. And, our bodies usually need at least four weeks to truly start to adjust to changes we make.

I do hope that in 20 days, I’ll be able to have half a cup of the So Delicious Simply Strawberry Coconut Milk ice cream waiting patiently for me in the freezer & be happy with that half cup. I hope that my body adjusts to this change and I don’t have to be so regimented, while not worrying if I’ll put on all the weight I’ve dropped.

After I complete the 28 days, I might do one more. After that, I plan on eating mindfully for 4-6 weeks, then doing a week of this, just to keep my body in check. She likens this process to cross training. This allows us to get our bodies out of a rut and get our organs working a bit better than they were. [Just a side note, I feel that this diet really should be called an internal reset, or spring cleaning for one’s health.]

Ms. Pomeroy does suggest we continue with the diet until we reach our goal weight (clothing shift, for me). After we attain our goal(s), we then maintain our metabolism & results be treating every day as it is Phase 3, but passing all allowed foods in each meal and snack. So, I could easily start the day with oatmeal & cinnamon, then have an apple & a protein shake made with almond milk as a snack. For lunch, I could have a salad filled with all the veggies & legumes I love, and for another snack I could have cucumber & cashews or some fruit. I could end my day with a wholesome meal, and feel full & happy. On days that I exercise, I’ll allow myself a tasty treat, such as my favorite ice cream. And, if I go out to eat with friends, I’ll do a Phase 2 day the next day. No one is perfect and maintaining health takes work.

I have been a fairly poor eater the last few years, not eating regularly and consistently skipping breakfast. And, I had a major relationship with Coke Zero. I still get cravings for it, but I’m happy without it. My main thing is running. I hate running with food in my stomach. This might force me to run early in the day. I’ll have an apple & almond butter half an hour before I run, then eat some oatmeal after I’m finished. This is definitely something that I feel will get my metabolism on the right track.

Anyway, I do hope I find success. I am just glad that this has pushed me head on into changing my lifestyle to be vegan. My diet has been completely vegan for 8 days. I love the way I feel, and after I get through the next three weeks, I will start putting more focus on lifestyle changes.

Vegan Living 101: Beginning

For a good portion of my life, I’ve been a quasi- to full-blown vegetarian. Seafood was the first thing to go, and I can’t even remember the last time I ate anything from the sea. Chicken was the last to go. For 11 years, chicken was the only meat I consumed, and, while I only ate it once or twice a year, I felt guilty doing so. For the last seven years, I haven’t touched any kind of animal flesh. However, I do occasionally have a splash of milk in my coffee if I’m at brunch and don’t want to make a fuss. I’ll also have the occasional bit of cheese and I’m trying my hardest to breakup with milk chocolate.

Soon, I’ll be living by myself, like I did just over a decade ago. This will be perfect for me to fine tune my vegan cooking skills. The only person I’ll have to feed every day is myself, so I can have complete control over the food that is kept and the food that I eat.

For those of you who don’t understand what veganism is all about, the simplest way to describe it is: a choice to abstain from any animal product or byproduct in everyday life, including nutrition, clothes, household items, cosmetics, and personal hygiene products. (The link provided is the Vegan wikipedia entry, and I feel like it does a good job explaining concepts.)

This means that the diet a vegan eats is completely void of anything that falls under the animal classification, including their excretions. One thing that drives us crazy is when a veg*n (an umbrella term that is inclusive of all vegetarians & vegans) gets asked “but you still eat fish, right?” This is a question that we get asked constantly and often results in some fierce eye rolling or a gobsmacked laugh. Sometimes, we’ll be blunt and ask “were you asleep when your fifth grade teacher taught you about animal classification?” Other times, we’ll be kind and say, “thanks for asking, however fish are technically animals, so we abstain from eating fish,” while screaming on the inside.

Here is a list of things vegans get asked if they eat, but don’t:
1. Fish/Shellfish/etc.
2. Honey
3. Poultry (this one really baffles me)
4. Milk/Cheese/Eggs
5. Anything with gelatin in it (i.e. most gummy candy, anything that is a mass produced gel)

I live in a part of the States that considers itself progressive and liberal. It was a hotbed of counter-culture activity in the 60s & 70s. Even with the runoff from that, I find that people are really confused by the concept of veganism. When having a discussion about it, I have found it turns out that people are confused by even the concept of vegetarianism.

So, a series of blog posts is born! I’m going to share a few posts that cover a variety of topics regarding veganism. These posts will include (and aren’t limited to) pantry & fridge staples, vegan candy, vegan cookbooks, vegan cosmetics & beauty products, vegan fashion, misconceptions, personal meal plans for 1, 3, and 7 days, and my favorite recipes.

Please contact me with any questions or possible topics you would like me to cover. Also, please know that I am not a nutritionist, chef, or MD. The information I am giving is purely from my own research, discussion with other people who live a vegan lifestyle, conversations with nutritionists & doctors, and my opinion. I’ll will be citing the information that I give you & will clarify if something is an opinion. If you don’t like or agree with my opinion, I do ask that you remain respectful in your approach. Part of veganism is respect for fellow beings, human and non-human.

Happy trails!!

Working Retail

How many of you enjoy going to the mall for a few hours to shop? A large number of people do. That’s one of the reasons why malls still exist.

The thing is, people often forget that the people working at the mall aren’t all young idiots. There is a growing contingent of well-educated Gen Xers and early Millennials who lost their jobs sometime between 2008-2010 and have had a hard time finding solid, full-time employment in their chosen career field since.

Working retail is heartbreaking, and sometimes very demeaning. Especially for those who have college degrees. As we live in a world in which we need do need money to feed, clothe, and protect ourselves, well-educated people will resort to menial retail jobs while looking for full-time work. Now, there are some people who make a career of working retail. And, the last ten years, I’ve worked retail. Seven years ago, I had the hope that I’d grow within the company I work for and the possibility of growth was dangled in front of me without actual promise. That’s why I buckled down and told myself to go back to school and do something productive with my life. I felt that the act of me going back to school was taken as a sign of defeat from managers at the company I work for.

“If you want to work at corporate, why did you make yourself less available by going back to school?” and “There is no time to develop you as you’re only here two days a week. Can you change that?” Both are questions that had a simple answer of “you have had seven years to develop me, which was a constant request on my part.” Truth of the matter is that this is an entire combination of me trying too hard and getting disheartened when my hard work never paid off, and management not spending the time to truly get to know my strengths and see my hard work.

Enough about me. Let me get to the real point. As I’ve said, those of us who work retail are not idiots. Sure, you’ll come across some less than stellar people whilst out shopping. However, the majority of us are wonderful, insightful, caring people. We don’t like being treated poorly, and no, some of us can’t just quit if we hate the way customers treat us. Many retail employees, like me, are there to pay some sort of bill, whether it be student loans, a second mortgage, car insurance, rent, or tuition, etc.

The things that customers put us through is enough to make any happy, stable person cry. We would love it if every single customer that we interact with, including the awesome ones, spend a year working at our store. In fact, I am in favor of giving all of the on floor employees a month-long paid vacation and have customers man the store while we are gone. Business probably would fail, I don’t doubt that. But, it would be a great experiment and valuable lesson for everyone who shops there.

The best way to describe how we are treated (or perceived):
each sales associate is a special hybrid of two-year old from a non-English speaking country and the CEO of the company.

We are spoken to as though we have never heard a human speak before, we are constantly told we are wrong (especially when we are right), and yet, are expected to have the right answer for everything (ie. what the customer wants to hear), know every little detail about how the company as a whole works, and have the authority to change any detail about our store that hundreds of customers don’t like.

We know how our company works in a broad sense, and as well as it pertains to our store. We are able to work with what our company has given us. And, we will do our best to go above and beyond for our customers. Our company has provided us with the tools to get you the product(s) you need within reason. But, we don’t have the executive decision to knock down the nine stores within our vicinity just to carry every single SKU that the company sells. We don’t have the executive decision to start selling brands that ceased to exist a decade ago. Our backroom does not consist of a factory or lab or series of offices that our headquarters are located in. If we all had any kind of executive decision-making or say, we wouldn’t be sales associates. It’s that damn simple. If that makes sense to a ten-year old, it should make sense to a university educated 35-year-old.

And, if I have to hear “I want something that is 100% natural, organic, and not manmade” and “I need something completely chemical free” once more, I might just scream. Most of the stuff you buy that isn’t food is not 100% natural, nor is it likely to be organic. It may have been processed & put together by a machine in a sterile. Does that process of synthetically making something count as not manmade? (Answer: no.) Oh, and a very minor fact you may have missed in fourth grade chemistry: everything you know to exist on this planet has some sort of chemical structure. So, asking for something without chemicals in it is physically impossible. Stop acting as though two hydrogens and an oxygen bonded together is going to kill you.

If you are going to be rude, fine. We’d rather you not be rude to us, as that’s just unnecessary. We don’t need to be treated like idiots. Our request is simple. Please, stop assuming that we get paid enough to make magic happen. And, a smile never hurts anyone. Neither does “please” and “thank you.”

If none of this makes any sense, I have an idea. Consider yourself. Imagine spending eight hours a day having someone expect you to give them everything you own, then expect you to give them more. Imagine them never asking politely or showing the slightest shred of gratitude. Imagine being asked to explain something you understand immensely and have studied for years, then be told that everything you have said is wrong. Imagine people yelling at you for absolutely no reason. Imagine people stealing money from you. Imagine going home with swollen ankles, having to do housework of your own and caring for your own family. Imagine having to do that multiple times a week.

Working retail is not thrilling. We work hard for very little money. And, while we have plenty of fantastic customers, not a day goes by without having to deal with unpleasant people. We’ve cried because of customers. We’ve felt threatened because of customers. We’ve had to leave halfway through our shifts because of exceptionally unreasonable customers.

Be kind. Be patient. Be mindful. Be aware. And, please, for the love of all things good in this world, know that you are sharing this planet with other human beings. So, stay classy and treat others exactly how you expect others to treat you.