2016: Year of ME

10547499_10205543301921625_7496429007643350406_n2015 was focused on getting my feet rooted to the ground, reestablishing the “new normal” as a working woman after 20 some years spent as a student (quite a few of them spent ill). 2016 will be a year focused on ME: my physical/spiritual well-being, as well as in fostering relationships with those around me.

2015 was filled with chaos, new beginnings, some ends, and constant running, running, running. I hope to establish a solid relationship with me, myself, and I this year by taking a step back and some deep, deep breaths. I hope to create stable schedules so that I have consistency in my lifestyle, instead of finding myself at 11:30PM, wondering where my evening went. I need to learn more about who I am, what I like, how to budget my time and energy to incorporate healthier eating and exercise into my life.

As some wise person has supposedly said, “You have to help yourself before you can help others.” My life is without direction or purpose, my body with a few dozen extra pounds that I don’t need, and I have a humming in my brain telling me that I need to set my life back on track (if it ever were!), so I have come to the conclusion that I need to spend some time with myself. After all, friendships and relationships come and go, but I am forever stuck with myself and my body… In the literal sense of “until death does us apart“!

In 2016, I hope to run my first 5K since high school, as well as plan a fundraising event for The Aneurysm and AVM Foundation to celebrate my 5th “Annie-Versary” after my craniotomy.  I want to focus more on Burgundy for Life, possibly beginning the process for applying for Non-Profit status if I can get all the pieces together. (By the way, we hit 2600 Likes on our Facebook Page today! Horray!!)

I also want to dive deeper into my hobbies. Photography and writing are some that I want to begin pursuing seriously again (I’ve began taking some online classes).  I also began my “planner addiction” during the holiday season, since I figured there’s never anything wrong with getting more organized, and it’s high time I developed a hobby to spend a little bit of money on. Decorating, organizing, and utilizing my planner is like my love for writing, graphic designing, and compulsive planning all pulled into one.  I enjoy making cute things and sharing them with people on Instagram who are also into planners.

(The one I got was Filofax Pennybridge Raspberry Pocket Size. I wanted something small to fit in my purse and carry around.  And tiny, I got, but for hardcore planning, I probably want to buy an A5 sometime in the upcoming months…)

I will be devoting my 2016 to getting my weekly schedules established so that I can hit my weight loss and health goals, learning to cook more things and meal prep, and spending the next year figuring out what my long-term goals are in my career, life, and passions are!

Recap of 2015

  • I completed my first year of working full-time.
  • I leased my very first apartment.
  • I started a new job to further my career.
  • I no longer have to work 3 nights a week (like I did for a year with my old job) in order to feel secure about paying my bills.
  • I read 41 books. There were a few good finds. I now fully embrace the eBook culture (not enough money or space to be buying books in NYC; the library is great.)
  • I met a lot of people and made a lot of new friends.
  • I finally set up Burgundy For Life’s website, and reached almost 2600 Likes on the Facebook Page.
  • I celebrated my 4th “Annie-Versary“; for a while, I didn’t think I would get this far in life.
  • I saved up my first $30k.

What are YOU focusing on in 2016?? 

Cover Photo: Rokujizo, Kyoto, Japan

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My Mindset Challenge for Positivity

My life, all things considered, is going pretty well. Almost half a decade into brain surgery recovery, and I have moved to NYC and began a career, and my mind is at its most peaceful in years. One of the biggest improvements to my life is the new found outlook to life, which, until then, had been bound with anxiety and depression. Until recently, depression, anxiety, neuro-fatigue, and paranoia ruled my life.

My Mindset Challenge for Positivity:

The only person that can make me feel the way I feel is myself

21480187763_6c6a134822_zThe very first time I told myself, “I am the only person that can make me feel this way. No one else has that power over me,” I was rocking myself in bed, sobbing.  I don’t remember what the exact circumstance was, but my little heart had been wounded in some way or another, and I was having one of my meltdowns.

I repeated to myself that I had a choice: to allow myself to be sucked into the Negative Loop, and spend the whole day in bed crying, or I could break the cycle, convince myself that it really doesn’t matter, and I shouldn’t have to waste a perfectly good day.

To my surprise, after a while of mental tug-of-war, I stopped crying, my heart rate slowed, and I was able to breathe.  I spent the weekend actually doing things and occupying myself with activities, as opposed to spending it in the dark confines of my bedroom, blinds closed.

It was an epiphany: I can feel horrible and hurt and angry and sad all I want, affected by external or internal circumstances (real or imagined), but in the end, the only person who is sad and angry is ME.  Why should I suffer and ruin an otherwise perfectly fine day by brooding and being angry, when I could be having a great time?

As a matter of fact, the person who was the cause of my anxiety probably has no idea I am under such duress (though to be fair, my paranoid response to their actions/words are in most cases excessive, given the nature of anxiety disorders- in most cases, the physical or emotional reaction is an overreaction to a stimulus 1).

From then on, whenever I feel my anxiety welling up, panic setting in, or depression starting to shadow over me, I repeated the magic words: “The only person that can make me feel the way I feel is myself.”

Most of the time, it didn’t work, and I had a full blown attack. But increasingly, I was able to slowly talk myself out of the ditch.  With practice and repetition of my “thought curving,” events that incapacitated me before no longer affected me as strongly.  My recovery time became much quicker, enabling me to enjoy my days more freely.

For the first time in my life, I learned to convince myself that I am in control of my own emotions and reactions to events, instead of being dragged through the ride.

Why the challenge?

23703927706_65924fbab8_zThe above mentioned concept is probably one which comes naturally to many.  However, to many, like me, who have been living through life-long battles with social/general anxiety, depression, self confidence issues, and insecurities stemming from anything between social awkwardness to physique, Think Your Way Out Of Negativity was never really a possibility.

After all, Depression isn’t just being sad. It engulfs you. It eats you from the inside. It whispers dark and damning things into your ears, at the raw core of your existence, where you are most vulnerable. It stabs you where it hurts, and sometimes, it just hurts so good to wallow in it, allowing negativity to spiral out of control around you, swallowing you whole.

I was an unwilling subscriber to this lifestyle for many years. Diagnosed with depression in 7th grade, I was constantly medicated with cocktails of drugs to control my mood disorders (the diagnoses just kept piling on), until that one fateful day, half a year after my brain surgery, when my neurologist and neurosurgeon gave the okay for me to stop taking my medications.

They meant the seizure medications, which I had been taking before and after my surgery to keep any residual seizure activities under control.  But my mother and I made the decision to cut me off all medications, if only to see what would happen.  My psychiatrist was opposed to the idea (of course, since the only reason why I kept the 15 minute appointment every 3 months for $90 was to get a refill prescription of my medications…), but we figured, “Why not.” Summer vacation was coming up anyways.

The result was a myriad of disorders and conditions that we were completely unprepared for, but that’s for another post… Long story short, for the first time since pre-adolescence, I had to deal with my brain and its fickleness, along with the healing brain injury, without medications.  Since medications could not help me anymore to keep my anxiety or panic attacks controlled, I had to develop ways to “think my way” out of the attacks and bouts of depression that hit me from time to time.

23362090239_f74e3471fd_zI began therapy that summer, when my world fell apart, leaving me raw to come face to face with my brain injury.  Through trial and error (on both the therapy methods and choice of therapists), I began to understand that with my brain injury in the frontal lobe, my anxiety and executive functioning were highly affected, leaving me an anxious disorganized mess.

What I experienced, every time I was startled, or I was affected by someone’s look, tone of voice, or words, was called a Negative Feedback Loop 2, and by allowing my brain to loop itself deeper and deeper into a panic or depression by Negative Self Talk or brooding on a situation, I was allowing the Feedback Loop to noose tighter and tighter around my throat.

It is difficult to explain how anxiety could debilitate someone as much as it can.

How every subway ride could potentially trigger a panic attack; how I could burst out in random tears while being jostled around Times Square during rush hour.

How I had to read over every Cover E-mail 10 times, and be riddled with anxiety for the next few hours after pressing “Send;” how every snide comment or expression could haunt me for days, as I scrutinized every word, expression, and tone, chiding myself for my stupid remarks.

Being content and happy came laboriously, but catastrophe and jeopardy were quick and swift. My inability to prioritize tasks and execute them raised my anxiety, which in turn made me less able to organize and get my work done, my teeth brushed, or feet out the door.

Me & My New Brain.

10922450_10203701225950877_1227903726097777314_n I don’t know what’s going on with my left frontal lobe. I don’t know if there’s activity there again, or if the neurons have simply remapped themselves around the mass of fleshy gray that got damaged when they took my AVMs out. I haven’t seen my scans since my surgery, so all I know is that, at the point after my surgery, that area of my brain was no longer in commission.  What I know for sure is that have been seizure-free for over 4 years, and I am functioning fairly well for someone with substantial damage in the frontal lobe.

The frontal lobe is the control center for the brain. It is where the thinking, decision making, and planning happens, as well as where your personality lives. It is also essential for fluent, meaningful speech. It is the Executive Function Control Center, as well as Personality Control Center. (Want to learn more about parts of your brain and what they do? Here’s a good place to start!)

Damage to the frontal lobe can cause “changes in personality, limited facial expressions, and difficulty in interpreting one’s environment, such as not being able to adequately assess risk and danger,” along with executive function and speech issues 3.  In my case, I developed Executive Function Disorder, Anxiety Disorder (along with Panic Disorder), Stress Gait Disorder, and Non-Epileptic Seizure Disorder. Majority of the symptoms loop back to my Executive Function Disorder and Anxiety Disorder. They themselves do their own Negative Feedback Loop, as not being able to organize and do tasks spiked my anxiety, which in turn made it impossible to plan, organize, and execute tasks.

Have you made any recent changes to your mindset or lifestyle to invite positivity in your life? Please share with me! 🙂

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  1. “Anxiety is a feeling of fear, uneasiness, and worry, usually generalized and unfocused as an overreaction to a situation that is only subjectively seen as menacing. It is often accompanied by muscular tension, restlessness, fatigue and problems in concentration.” (Wikipedia)
  2. Addressing Anxiety and the Negative Feedback Loop @ GoodTherapy
  3. Frontal Lobe Anatomy & Pictures @ Healthline

Photographic Journey of Brain Surgery Recovery

On December 7th, I celebrate entering 5th year of recovery after my craniotomy to remove 3 Arteriovenous Malformations from my brain.

Arteriovenous MalformationMy surgery was on December 7th, 2011. I was 22 years old, a college senior, and had closed my fall semester early after my 3rd and final Grand Mal Seizure. The fact that it has been 4 years already baffles me still. It seems like just last year that I was lying in the hospital bed, throwing up blood in the ICU.

In almost all aspects of my life, I don’t think I would have been where I am now had I not been diagnosed with AVM, and had brain surgery. It’s amazing how your whole life’s trajectory could change in a span of half a year. Before my first grand mal seizure, I was finishing up my 3rd year in a 5-year Master’s program to become a Special Education Teacher. While I still got my M.Ed. 3 years later, I now work in IT; a field I would never have imagined myself in until a few weeks before I actually started.

In the past few days, I have been browsing my Tumblr (OneMoreTi.me) I kept during the days surrounding my surgery.  Since I am often asked by new members of Burgundy for Life what the recovery process was like, I decided to do a photo-journey to commemorate my 4 year anniversary. Please join me from two weeks before my surgery!

Hover over the photos for descriptions, and click on the photos for a larger version (slideshow). Blog continued below photos.

As of December 7th, 2015, I am Four Years AVM Free. Many days, I feel like I am treading in water or being pushed back by the currents.  However, going through photographs and blog posts from the past 4 years of my life have made it apparent that I am indeed moving forward, even if in baby steps.

Over the past few years, I have been diagnosed with over a dozen disorders and conditions. Some went away after my surgery, some came to be because of the surgery (and the brain injury that followed), but all in all, they have been bundled up as obstacles that make my life a little more complicated, but manageable with accommodations.

Instead of fighting against and rejecting my “disorders,” I have learned to “accommodate” them, integrating them into my life alongside various accommodations and modifications in my lifestyle, outlook, and tactics.  Since accepting them as part of me (that needs a little help), my life has become  more peaceful, allowing me to remain grateful and content about my life.

As much as I have learned to compensate over the years, I still have times of lapse, where the stress and fatigue is too much, or I didn’t see my warning signs in time.  I hope that while living with myself for the next foreseeable future, I will learn to better manage my fickle brain.

It is not often that you would see “Seizure” and “Thankful” in the same sentence, but I am truly thankful for that first Grand Mal Seizure in April 2011, which alerted us to the fact that there was something not quite right in my brain.  Had it not happened, a Stroke would have probably been unavoidable, and I may not have been here to write write this post. I am also greatly thankful for the community that banded together to help me through the difficult ordeal. People who had no reason to help me worked together to help, and for that, I owe my life.

I have many goals and ambitions that have developed over the past few years, and I hope that the experiences I’ve had in the past half decade have equipped me well for the challenges of the future.

“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” – C.S.Lewis

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Living Small

Living in New York City makes one contemplate many things.

The people, the consumerism, the money, the culture, the diversity.

But closest to the self, it makes one contemplate SPACE and way of daily living.

The space you are allowed to take up in this city is merely a fraction of that allowed elsewhere.

While I have been blessed with a decently-sized apartment for the past half year, before I took the dive and rented an apartment for myself, everything I owned and used was crammed into a closet and on the floor of one small bedroom; cardboard boxes galore.

Even this improved apartment is barely the size of my living room and kitchen (if even) back at my parents’ house.

In my previous living situation, where I slept under five layers of blankets and jackets all winter (the owners turned the heat off every night despite it being in the teens outside), I paid almost half of what I do now, for a small room in a three-bedroom apartment.  Someone was always living in the living room, curtains for walls, for $500 a month.

When I moved out, after only 8 or so months into my life in NYC, I was surprised at the sheer amount of STUFF I had to move.

Now, half a year later, I have somehow filled out ALL of my four closets of various sizes, and constantly looking for places to shove things into.DSC_5547

Recently, I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo.  Her full-time job is to teach people how to throw out hundreds of bags and live a clutter-free life.  While I think she’s a little too enthusiastic about throwing all the things away, some concepts did stick with me.

The most memorable one being, Surround Yourself with Only Things That Spark Joy.  Basically, only keep things that you love, and throw everything else away; you wouldn’t use it anyways because you don’t like it, and it just takes up room and dust in the depths of the closets or drawers. Also, what a waste of potential for the sad objects trapped in our closet, unable to fulfill its purpose!

Though I have a lot of STUFF, it’s true that I barely use a small fraction of them in my daily life.  I am a hoarder by nature, which means that I pack-rat basically everything, from random pieces of clothing and magazines to cardboard boxes and small packets of food (yuck!), with the belief that I’ll use it some day.

While sometimes, my “hunch” (hah) was correct, and I dig into my pile of cardboard boxes to find THAT THING I PACKED AWAY FIVE YEARS AGO LOOK NOW I’M FINALLY USING IT!, most of the time, things are only found when looking for other things, by sheer accident, packed away in boxes that I only open because I have too much stuff and need to hunt through all of my boxes to find it (and most of the time, I still don’t find it).

I look for the cheaper things to purchase, mostly because of my income bracket, and the high costs of living in the city.  However, I am beginning to wonder if only I could reduce the amount of things I have and buy, and buy only things I love or need at the moment, I could spend more money on each item, not have to replace them as much, and have less things I would never use or forget about.

In the grand scheme of things, though it is difficult for me, as a pack-rat, to come to terms with, things I get “for later” is going to probably just be forgotten and thrown away after a long period of time, I am beginning to think that it may be true. It really doesn’t help that my memory is horrible, so once I pack things away (for safe keeping, I swear), I forget where I’ve put it, or worse, forget I have it in the first place.

Relating to my memory issues, another point that spoke to me was the concept of: Keep Everything in Its Place.  Basically, choose a place to put certain categories of things, and don’t get lazy- put things back! This way, you don’t buy multiple chap-sticks, hair ties, and Aspirin (admit it- you probably have 3 bottles of Aspirin in various levels of use), because you know exactly how many you have left, and you won’t misplace things because what you’re looking for is always in the spot you’ve designated for it (not being able to find the thing may cause you go to out and buy it again since you need it).  It saves headaches, money, and time to know where to find things, and to know that they’re all in one place.  Given that my apartment is only a few dozen paces in length, putting things back really isn’t that difficult. Besides, knowing where things are helps me locate things quicker, which is helpful for my anxiety and irritation management.

While the concept of my things sparking joy was a strange one while I was reading the book (and felt the author was a tad too enthusiastic about things), on one of my rare shopping binges (retail therapy is an evidence-based treatment for stress, right?), I realized that it was true.  When I opened a package of something I’ve purchased after wanting for a long time, I was very happy.  It really did bring me joy.  Now the only problem is to become better at purchasing and keeping things that continue to spark joy, and to get rid of (and not even purchase in the first place) things that are only momentarily gratifying (this month has not been a good one in that regard).

If I love something a lot (even if I had to pay a little more money to get the perfect thing), I wouldn’t have to buy a multiple of them, because I fully enjoy the first one.  In the end, even if I had to spend more to get a better quality, more lovable thing, since I don’t have multiple of them (like purses or tumblers), I save money AND space; a win-win in a city like New York City, where space is tight and budgets tighter.

Recently, I subscribed to a newsletter that promises to help me declutter my life, and live smaller (I have my doubts about these claims, but any tips are good tips!). The first pointer it gave was to make a “Donation Box,” and to place one thing in it every day.

While that may be a bit of a high aim, given most of the things I have are not all that useful and I don’t think anyone really wants it, I do want to give it a try soon, to see how much of things I have could be put to so much better homes and enjoyed instead of being wasted in a closet (or under my bed).  Once there’s a good amount in the box, I will find an organization to donate it to… Less clutter for me, better home for things that deserve love, and someone in need can use it… Win-win-win!

I want to be THANKFUL for, and AWARE of everything I have; having too much of things I don’t need does not help me be thankful, and stresses me out.

Looking forward to Detoxing my life and belongings in the upcoming months and years, living with only things I love and need, and helping my journey towards my health and recovery.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and I am so glad to be back!

Header photograph taken at Bronx Zoo (Flickr)