As some of you know, this past year has been a real struggle for me. So, I’m writing this not from a place of expertise, but as a reminder to myself and as a way to gain better perspective.

Become Antifragile

In 2020, when the world went into lockdown, it went on wayyy longer than any of us expected – and we financially suffered. As a result, we relocated for a job that appeared to give us more stability, and I’ve regretted it ever since. My life went from work-balance to out of balance quickly.

I won’t go into all of the gnarly details, but let’s just say, Saturday mornings became sobbing + venting sessions while my husband listened and comforted me as best as he could. And for the first time, in a very long time, I understood the seductive power of suicidal thoughts. When I saw Big Think’s YouTube video “Don’t chase happiness. Become antifragile” I knew something profound yet simple was inviting me there.


There are only two kinds of people who don’t experience emotional pain, the first kind are psychopaths and the second kind are dead.

– Tal Ben-Shahar

Actually, I’ve been on a Big Think binge. I love their videos and the questions they ask, so I’ll be sharing a few here. Anyway, something worth considering is what Tal Ben-Shahar introduces in the above video – the SPIRE model:

Spiritual – finding a sense of meaning and purpose
Physical – look at ‘stress’ the silent killer, find recovery time
Intellectual – be curious, ask questions, deeply engaging with material
Relational – #1 predictor of happiness, the quality of our relationships
Emotional – “gratitude is the mother of all virtues” – Cicero

If we’ve experienced a collapse in meaning? How to we go about restoring it? – Jamie Wheal

I could write a book about my spiritual journey. I was loosely raised and influenced by Buddhism and Christianity. I think a challenging childhood also pushed me towards world religions, occult studies, and self-development as soon as I was old enough to grapple with it.

So, you’d think with this foundation that I’d be “happier”, but actually, I fiercely resented that I no longer had free time to pursue my passion (writing). I felt like I was falling behind and hitting the big fat pause button on my dreams.

Teaching full-time is exhausting business. I have special needs students, cultural differences to also contend with, along with all the other crap that goes on in schools. Not to mention, you’re supposed to be teaching. Where was the energy or the time to write?

Don’t laugh, but I got up 15 minutes earlier each day so I could sit down and chip away at my writing. Some days I could squeeze in a mere 5 minutes before I had to run out the door, and some weeks, it felt like I could only get three out of the five days. Weekends were better, but only after grocery shopping, chores, and all that other stuff was done.

But I did it. Eventually I finished my memoir manuscript. I sweated out a solid query letter so I could sent it to agents. I did loads of research. I revived old writings, banged out new stuff, and have sent them off to literary magazines. Rejections have been part of the process. And there is still so much ahead, but it’s my writing journey, and I haven’t given up on it.

Physical

We’ve gained weight since we moved to Lampang. Gone are the days where we had access to a pool and gym, and when I had time to cook at home. The air quality is also bad up north, so there are months where it’s simply not a good idea to be outside. As I said, a lot changed for us, and we tried our best to exercise in the apartment.

But once again, I made small changes. Don’t underestimate micro-adjustments to your schedule as you’re more likely to stick with them. A colleague and I share our little victories and maybe that helps too.

Since I was used to getting up earlier, I switched out writing time with exercise. (Don’t worry, I now have the energy to do more after work and on the weekends.) It’s only 10 minutes. On the weekends, I do 20 minutes and try to spend time with Eric walking in the park, etc.

However during the week, I’m pretty knackered after school, but I don’t like taking naps. I never have. It doesn’t work for me. Also, I have a shower and dinner soon after I come home, and I don’t want to nap! Sleeping throughout the night is also problem, so I have to be careful of caffeine consumption or anything that might disrupt my sleep. But here’s the solution I found – yoga nidra.

Who knew there was a yoga practice where you just lie on your back and relax!?

Yoga nidra or yogic sleep in modern usage is a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping, typically induced by a guided meditation. – Wikipedia

I do 10 minutes from Ally’s channel.

It’s a much needed reboot and helps me enjoy my evenings without creating problems for my normal sleep patterns. On the weekend, I’ve tried her longer yoga nidras, too. Highly recommend.

Intellectual

This is probably the one area that comes the most naturally because I love to read and learn, and quite frankly, is the easiest to control. Nevertheless, it’s all about balance, isn’t it? I definitely fall into the overthinking camp, but I love what Seth Godin has to say about smarts. He has a new definition from what most probably think of it as:

Smart is no longer memorization. It’s not worth much.

Smart is no longer access to information. Everyone has that.

Smart is:

• Situational awareness
• Filtering information
• Troubleshooting
• Clarity of goals
• Good taste
• Empathy and compassion for others
• The ability to make decisions that further your goals

The good news is that smart is a choice, and smart is a skill.

Relational

I try to be an uplifting and sympathetic colleague at work. I’m not alone in my misery. In some instances, this has created a stronger bond because we’re surviving a unique situation together. Never could I have predicted this.

I also try to be aware of other people, whether it’s the cashier or a Grab driver. I know how much it can make your day when someone is nice, to have that micro-moment of love and connection, but I’m no saint, there are times when the cultural differences or language barrier creates frustration and exasperation.

Folks in Thailand are very comfortable standing close to you. They also stare at me a lot. Sometimes I’m fine with it, other times, I want to yell. I have been known to snap and say, “get a good look in” or something similar. I wish I was better in those moments.

To be human in this world is to be in control of yourself. In teaching, I have to do it ALL the time, so when I’m free from school, I want to breathe a bit. The reason why they call it the “high road” is because it’s harder to climb up than down. But then after a long day, I come home and the husband needs attention, too, you know? So remember that singletons – relationships aren’t always receiving foot rubs, they’re also giving them when you’d rather floss your teeth.

At the same time, one of the reasons why I like being married is no one is going anywhere. We’re in it for the long-haul. Whenever I get down on myself or “spiral” as we call it in this household, he always says, “You are not allowed to say anything negative about my favorite person in the world. I won’t allow it.”

I hope you have that cheerleader for you too, inside and out because it’s tough being here.

Emotional

There are a lot of components to this one, but my first thought is from the Oracle at Delphi, “Know Thyself”. These days we seem to lack self-awareness and the ability to sense how others are feeling. Partly because we’re overfed on information and the idea that we’re more important than other people.

That guy who got fired from Google because he thought the AI he was working with had a soul comes to mind. We’re not emotionally equipped to deal with the super technology that has become entangled in our lives. Perhaps our over dependency on glowing screens over human contact, or the onslaught of news, or maybe its the economy that is the cause of rising suicide rates.

So, yeah, this is a big deal.

I’ve dabbled in stoicism, Zen Buddhism and meditation as a way to seek sanity. Many sources recommend a gratitude practice of some kind, but I’ve learned the hard way that it’s important to find what works for you, otherwise you’ll be “pouring pink paint on your problems and telling yourself that everything’s fine” to paraphrase Marianne Williamson. In fact, I stopped doing my #365daysofgratitude Instagram challenge many months ago because it became too painful.

Sometimes talking it out is good, but other times it felt like I was just massaging my misery, you know? I’ve had to learn to stop thinking and talking about all the stuff that was pissing me off, and simply get on with life.

So, to sum up, I think what has helped me through this school year is getting my emotions out, forcing myself to take small steps towards my goals, remembering the mantra “movement is medicine”, and being nice to other people. I also try to consume comedy, music, positive news and inspirational messages which can lift the spirits and motivate you to get on with the day.

What helps you?

27 replies on “How I’m trying to protect my mental health

  1. Hi Lani, I’m very sorry you’ve been struggling. Life is so lifey! But I’m also very impressed with all the things you’re doing to mindfully combat your feelings. Thanks for sharing. xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lani! I’m sending you big hugs, and also thank you for being so open on here. I’ve also been struggling this year, and hearing about what you’re going through and the ways you’ve coped has been extremely helpful to me. You have a lot of great advice on here.

    I remember teaching being the most exhausting job I’ve ever had. It’s meaningful, but the stress and fatigue is real. I am in such awe you carve out time for writing, pitching your book, and exercising. That is a huge feat in itself — I’m so amazed! I hope I can also get equally organized.

    Hope things are on the upswing… I feel like the whole world is running on empty. We were squeezed thin during covid and despite the light at the end of the tunnel, we are still being run into the ground.

    Take care dear!!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks so much, Mary! I do hope you find something useful here. And please, feel free to email me anytime.

      Things have started to balance out. There are many components to it, but overall, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

      And thanks for mentioning the whole world because, seriously, I felt like we needed a time out to talk about how to manage the seismic levels of grief and stress we’ve been going through.

      Hugs back! ❤

      Like

  3. Reading this post reminds me of why I left teaching more than a decade ago. Like you say, after you had to deal with a million different things in your day you actually still have to teach.

    This, so by the way, is a very powerful post, and I love your honesty, Lani. I also love the video links. I’m definitely planning to go down that same rabbit hole . . .

    As for trying to stay sane . . . I strongly believe in the “movement is medicine” mantra. These days on the quinta, I don’t have to look far to find chores that get me to move – with an added bonus of seeing an end result and an item scratched off my to-do list! Like you, I have realised that there are many different tools which are appropriate at different times in my life, and hence don’t beat myself up when I abandon a practice. And sometimes one just has to pour a glass of wine, listen to some uplifting podcasts and reach for a colouring book . . .

    I hope you are now officially on vacation so that you can regain your sense of sanity and balance. Big hug from Portugal. 💚

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Awww, thanks, Jolandi! That means a lot. xo

      I’m not quite on holiday, but just over 2 more weeks to go. Yes, ticking off the days. Exercise and sleep, right? 😛 Need to remember the wine… hahahaha

      Hope you enjoy the channel, and I’m looking forward to the day when I, too, can say it’s been years since I’ve taught because I’m no spring chicken anymore. ❤

      Like

  4. I’m glad to hear you are doing better, and I commend you for waking up early to write before work. It takes commitment to carve out time for our passions sometimes, and getting it done first thing means you’ve accomplished something right away. Teaching is exhausting and stressful at times but I commend you for doing the job – it is the most important in the world.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for your encouraging and kind words, Jeff. Haven’t seen you around — are you still in Thailand? Will have to pop over and have a look.

      Yes, it’s been a long, stressful year, I’m glad to have survived it! Thanks again. 🙂

      Like

  5. Lani, I swear this is one of the best, if not the best, post you’ve written. You’re so honest & the videos are interesting and helpful. Thanks for this & glad you’re hanging in there. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Oh, Lani – I hear you about your job and trying to stay sane and healthy at the same time – and to pursue your dreams and writing career on top of everything. School holidays started for me yesterday and I’m SO GLAD about that! 😂 After 1 and a 1/2 year of enforced non-teaching I thought getting back to school would do me good, but it has been the most challenging year so far and I’m tempted not to continue teaching. But the inflation… 🤔
    Thank you for all the vids – loved the one about anti-fragility and will definitely watch more BIG think vids! And the Yoga one was awesome – I watched it in the morning and had trouble not to fall asleep again! 😂 Going to do this next time i’m having trouble sleeping – which will be soon. 😂
    Anyway, so glad you kept working on your memoir through all the hardships! Congratulations on finishing it!!! Sending you big hugs! Take Care! ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Sarah. I appreciate you stopping by and being so supportive! Yes, I’m in the same boat, so to speak, wanting to move on but with inflation, is it the best thing?

      Glad you liked the vids. I find them helpful when I’m feeling out of sorts. And yeahhhh for vacation! I’ve got one more week — and it’s going to be a banger — a school play & graduation, getting my visa renewed and much more. Crazycakes!

      Thanks again, Sarah! xoxo

      Like

  7. Oh Lani, I wish I could give you a big hug. This year really does sound challenging for you. Good on your for trying to change small habits in your routine and move forward. Tal Ben-Shahars SPIRE model sounds interesting. Sometimes it really is hard to find time for things you really like doing. Have to admire you for finding even 5 or 5 minutes to yourself just to write. And it is admirable to be the positive and uplifting one at work – and your colleagues probably appreciate that a lot.

    For me, working out consistency is something that has helped, especially with maintaining energy. I also need to have alone time to centre and ground myself from all the chaos that is life – time for reading and really just switching off. Switching off can really be hard and I’m someone who likes to get things done before I rest, but you know, that’s not always possible. And I guess from this, I try to take things slower with the expectation that things will fall into place in due time.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, that’s true, a good reminder for those who like to check boxes and get things done. 😉

      I have to tell myself that there’s only so much I can do and there’s a lot out of my control. It’s about trust, too. I think the more I learn about the world, people’s choices, etc, the less inclined I am to trust that people will do the right thing because that’s no longer the world we live in. Or maybe I’m becoming less naive. 😛

      In any case, thanks for the hug and good wishes. Take good care and hugs back! xo

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Some simple meditation helps or deep breathing. Good for the heart/health too. Eat healthy, have a calm hr. post work of peace… Do you and hubby see yourselves living overseas forever or?

    I go cycling which I sometimes have to push myself since working from home 90% time now, I don’t bike commute to work.

    I’m sorry about the job and financial shock to you.. I just hope there’s a better one next year or so. Great your hubby is supportive. I miss my partner. Anyway… that’s where cycling is a form of comfort.

    I will be visiting family for lst time in 3 years plus some long-time friends too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you’ll be getting out. Funnily, I just asked you this on your blog 😛

      Good all around advice, Jean, thanks. And yes, I’d imagine motivating to get on the bike is a little more challenging when your WFH. Sigh.

      You know, I kept pining for the US, to return to my home country, but these days, not so much. It’s a hard question to answer because of the unreliability and unpredictability of world events!

      Like

  9. I saved this for when I could really devote my whole attention to reading it. I hope you know you have a cheerleader all the way in Maryland! And I also feel a lot of this. Absolutely adore Eric’s comment about not letting you say anything negative about his favorite person. The longer I’m on this planet, the more I realize surrounding yourself with those cheerleaders–whom you cheer in return–is so important. Our work consumes so much of our time; when it’s not fulfilling it feels like it takes its toll on everything else. I love all your techniques to manage your outlook, even–and especially, probably–when work is particularly stressful. “Movement is medicine” is something I try to tell myself often. It would be easier if my passion to write didn’t require me to sit still. I’m also trying to say no when I can. I used to think I could fit everything in–it was just a matter of juggling. But I’m not willing to sacrifice a lot of sleep anymore or nutrition, etc. You sound like you’re in a good place, but it is a journey, isn’t it? Smart is readjusting when something isn’t work, right?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Rebecca for your thoughtful and supportive comment!

      It is a journey and a process. I understand why ppl say “this too shall pass” and also why it’s so damn dismissive.

      At this point, I feel like I survived something and learned a lot, but I’m not going to force it out on paper just yet, maybe never? It sure does help to be on summer vacation! 😛 xoxo

      Liked by 1 person

  10. This yeah has been hard when I get stressed I like to call it the 5 minute rule. If I can’t change it in 5 minutes then I let it pass. Wonderful article and I’m so glad you’re here to share it!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply to Lani Cancel reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s