Why I Started Wearing a Bra: A COVID-19 Tale

It’s day 25 on the alien planet. I counted. 25 days since DC Public Schools announced their temporary closure. 25 Days since I stopped living in denial about the reality of COVID-19. As long as I had work to get up and go to everyday, I could keep telling myself that my world was still normal. Sure, COVID had put China on lock down over a month prior–as an online ESL teacher, I felt I was more aware of this than others, given that I was seeing first hand how the lock down was affecting my own students during each of our classes together. Sure, COVID was making its presence known on the West Coast of the United States, particularly in Washington State. Sure, there were a few confirmed cases of in DC and the surrounding area…but I was still getting up and going to work and going about my daily life as usual, and that made my life feel normal, unaffected by this illness that was ravaging the lives of so many. There were a few signs of concern here and there–the Sunday prior (my birthday of all days), I was refused a for-here cup at a coffee shop; due to concerns about the virus, the coffee shop in question was only giving its customers disposable cups. It had become more common place to see friends and acquaintances and hear, “Are you good to hug?” before embracing. The reminder to wash hands and be more vigilant about cleanliness was everywhere–on the Metro, at work, on the internet. Yet, until DC schools announced their closure on March 13, I was still happily living in denial.

Denial is easier than acceptance, of course. It’s why it’s so challenging for teachers to convince some parents that their child actually has a problem, whether it be a behavioral issue or a learning disorder. I thought I was too smart for denial, too aware of myself and the world around me. Yet, here I was, knee deep into my own denial about COVID.

The past few weeks, then, have been a journey towards acceptance. Accepting where I am in life–with COVID and with other aspects of myself as well. It’s been realizing that sometimes I focus so damn much on the positive that I fail to see the reality sitting right in front of me. It’s been learning to understand that as beneficial as positivity is in life–I’m an optimist for a reason, after all–sometimes it’s necessary to take a step back and take stock of the whole picture. To pay attention to the details, the facts spelling out the nature of our reality. I’ve learned in the past few weeks that positivity should be balanced and well-rounded. A healthy positivity comes from embracing and acknowledging the negative and still choosing to find the light in the world.

I’m a big picture person, see. My worldview is largely built around my (often) razor sharp intuition, which I gather largely by my big picture ability to make connections and see possibilities in those connections. My intuition guides me and, I’m discovering, sometimes its blinds me–sometimes I get so focused on my gut, that I lose sight of what’s going on around me in the present. I identify as an MBTI INFJ, and if you know anything about INFJs, it’s that we like to run to the internet and lament about how misunderstood we feel in life. Seriously. Go look up INFJ on Google, and you will find dozens upon dozens of websites and forums and YouTube videos devoted to INFJ self help. INFJs are frequently cited as the 1% in MBTI literature–the least common of the 16 personalities, the weirdly mystical, highly intuitive of the 16 personalities, and thus, the most misunderstood. A once-frequent visitor of those sites myself, who hugely identified with the INFJ stereotype of being misunderstood, I grew tired of the pity party a few years ago. “This is stupid” I thought. “I’m not going to waste my time pitying myself. I’m going to find myself instead” (Cue this song). I had already developed an excessive amount of trust and pride in my intuition, and I decided to further develop my trust and pride in it, because I saw it as an integral part of myself. In finding myself, I believed I had to follow my intuition. And I relied on it to make me happy when nothing else was. And I relied on it. And I relied on it. And instead of acknowledging my loneliness and unhappiness, instead of taking measurable steps in the present to offset that loneliness and unhappiness, I tried to micromanage my intuition. And I’ve been trying to micromanage it for years. And here’s the thing: it doesn’t work.

Now, this may seem to be getting a bit off topic–what the hell do my personal struggles have to do with a global pandemic? Well, apparently it takes a global pandemic for me to lose my shit just enough to recognize that I have some inner healing of my own to do.

See, COVID-19 wasn’t part of my intuition. I didn’t see this coming. And accepting COVID-19 as a reality has helped me to see that for the longest time, I haven’t been trusting my intuition at all. I still do believe that the best way to stay true to myself is by following my gut–I feel most at peace and at home when I live my life through my gut feelings. Yet, these past few years, though I’ve felt my intuition and I’ve believed in it, I’ve been too afraid to actually trust it; instead of trusting it, I tried to use my intuition to control my world. And, recently, that left me in tears, curled up in a fetal position on my bedroom floor, overwhelmed at my current reality and angry at myself for being so stupid. It left me sobbing to a friend over the phone a few weeks back, wondering what the hell I’ve been doing with my life for the past few years.

COVID-19 has been a much needed reminder that my intuition is finite. It cannot foresee a global pandemic, particularly if I’m too busy trying to control my life to see all the signs leading up to that global pandemic. It’s been humbling for me: My intuition may often be razor sharp, but it isn’t the end all be all of my world, particularly my current reality. I don’t know everything. I can’t control everything. Real vulnerability comes from loosening ones reins on the world. It comes from trusting, not controlling. In the words of Susan David, “Courage is fear walking“. Real courage is choosing to be vulnerable, even when it hurts. It’s laying in that fetal position and sobbing not because it feels good–but because feeling those feelings is the only way to truly move forward.

And you know what: that’s incredibly scary, but also strangely freeing. Letting go of my control has been terrifying for me. Yet, I also feel like a huge weight has been pulled off my chest. Like wow, why have I been trying so hard? It feels so good to shed all the expectations control brings and give the future freedom to unfold on its own.

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So, what does all of this have to do with putting a bra on?

The past few weeks have been weird. They’ve been freeing–not having to get up and go to work every morning is actually kind of nice. I have way more time on my hands. As an introvert, I feel a bit like I’ve hit the jack pot in not feeling the usual pressure of our largely extroverted society to go out and be social–both from others and from myself, as this has helped me realize how I put a huge amount of pressure on myself to go out and engage with the world. I think this is teaching me to be kinder to myself in that regard–there’s nothing wrong with staying home when I just want to stay home. In a strange way, I also feel more connected now than I did before COVID, since all my friends and family are so readily available to Zoom or Skype. It’s easier to find time to connect with people when everyone is suddenly left with an excess amount of free time at home. And even though I’d prefer in person connection to virtual connection, I’ll happily take what I get.

Yet it’s also been challenging–there have been tears, there have been prolonged moments where I’ve felt depressed and anxious. What do I do with my life now that I have all this free time? How do I make sure I stay connected when it’s so easy to slip into a depressed funk given the state of our world? How do I make the most of the free time I have while trying to process all my feelings and accept the fact that I have to make a new normal out of this pandemic that will in all likely hood be around for a while? How long will we have to practice social distancing? The Mayor of DC announced Stay at Home orders on March 30–how long will those be in place? Will COVID get as bad in DC as it is in New York?

There are so many things we as a society have had to figure out in the last few weeks. There are so many unasked questions. What is one to do?

Meditation. Yoga. Reaching out to loved ones. Listening to music. Reading. Writing. Having meaningful moments of connection. Feeling my feelings. Accepting my feelings. Practicing self-compassion. Dancing. Reading the news enough to stay informed, but staying away from it otherwise. These have all been incredibly useful ways for me to keep my mental health up. We all have our ways to decompress and keep our mental health in check, and I think its important we find what works for us.

Yet, I’ve still struggled with feeling productive these past few weeks. Grad school work has been so hard to complete. Keeping up with work has felt like a burden, even though I don’t even have a whole lot on my plate as an assistant teacher. I was scrolling through blog posts the other day when I came across an amazing tip: “Get Dressed” (Thank you, thank you Quelcy for this!). At first, I brushed this tip aside: my sports bra and yoga pants are so comfortable. Why would I wear anything else in quarantine? Until I thought about it more. Eventually, the idea of getting dressed started to make sense.

There is so much outside of my control right now, and control is something I like. I thrive on it. Sometimes a little bit too much. That said, I think control can be healthy in appropriate amounts. When I’m at my worst, my penchant for control leads me to micromanage my life and the lives of others. At my best, though, my penchant for control helps me get shit done. And you know, that’s something I’m proud of…that I can put my mind to something and accomplish a task. I wouldn’t be where I am today–living in the city I love, pursing a career I’m passionate about–if I wasn’t one to jump in and take the reins. Someone’s gotta control my life. It might as well be me.

Getting dressed, then, is one way I can take control of my life right now. Getting dressed into the clothes I’d usually wear to go to work. For the past few days, I’ve finished my morning online teaching (in my yoga pants and baggy VIPKID shirt, per usual) and put on a bra and jeans. Sure, they’re not as comfortable as my yoga pants and sports bra, but comfort isn’t the point of it. Getting dressed helps me feel prepared for the day. Since I started putting on a jeans and a bra, I feel more ready for the day. I feel more willing to accomplish things. I feel a little bit more control of my world right now, even if it’s just a little bit, but it’s a healthy little bit and that’s better than trying to micromanage something or someone.

I still feel a lot of fear about the future. What’s to come with COVID-19? I still feel the anxiety of growth and change–both in myself and for the world, as this pandemic will surely pave the way for changes on a global level. I still feel a little bit of guilt that I’m still gainfully employed in a career that will not damage my health, while there are others who have lost their jobs, and still others–the healthcare workers on the frontlines–who sacrifice their health by going to work everyday and caring for all those who are sick. Yet, I strongly believe that this pandemic, this time of social distancing and staying at home, can be a time of change, of growth, and of regrouping at a societal level if we allow it to be. I’m trying my best to view it as such in my day-to-day life. Some days are more successful than others in moving forward with this belief, but I’m trying none-the-less.

And, for the time being, I’m going to get up and put a bra on each morning. Not because bras are comfortable–any bra-wearing person out there will tell you that wire bras suck–but because doing so is part of my normal getting dressed ritual, because getting dressed helps me feel ready for the day and ready to get stuff done. The world we live in right now is nothing like the normal we took for granted a few weeks back–and two months back for those in many Asian countries–but if there’s anything we as individuals can do to make our lives feel a bit more manageable, to keep our mental health as balanced as possible during this global pandemic, we should be doing those things. I know I am.

Hello from the Grad School Side…

Ah, hello blogosphere! It’s been a while.

Since my last post six months ago, I’ve moved to a bigger room in my house, gotten a[nother]new housemate (the fourth in the course of the year…hoping the current peeps stick around for a bit ’cause house mate searching is stressful), said goodbye to my first fourth grade class as an assistant teacher, spent a lot of summer time at the pool, wrote 8,000+ words in what I hope will become a novel (and logged many hours at local coffee shops in the process), said hello to my second group of fourth graders as an assistant teacher, and started grad school. I also got to celebrate my grandparent’s 60th anniversary over Labor Day weekend in September in Iowa with my mom’s side of the family. It was incredibly special, and I feel very fortunate to have been able to travel across the country to spend time with my family during such a momentous occasion. It’s all been very good, and I’m very happy where I’m at right now, but it’s also been a challenge. Learning to balance working full time with school and school work has been a learning curve. 

I’m in a two year elementary education and licensure program, and this year is what I like to think of as my “chill” year.  I have six credits across two classes each semester. Each class Continue reading “Hello from the Grad School Side…”

A Few Quick Updates: Spring 2019

Well, howdy there, it’s been a while.

Since I posted my 2018 recap, a lot has happened. I traveled to Germany, France, and the Czech Republic over the Christmas holiday, a much needed two week break. It was the first time I’d taken more than a week off from VIPKid since I started working at VIPKid and oh lordy was it lovely. With VIPKid, it’s so easy to get into the mindset that I should always be working, because I can work anywhere as long as I have computer and internet. I’m so glad I chose to take time off…something I wish I would have done last month while on spring break. Unfortunately, the bug to keep working got me then. In Europe, I enjoyed spending a lot of time with my family, I got to see my German friend for an afternoon coffee break (she took a break from working on her master’s thesis, which was due days after we met, to see me), and I got to cross two new countries, France and the Czech Republic, off my list. I’m officially in love with Prague, which is on my list of places to return to to explore more. Continue reading “A Few Quick Updates: Spring 2019”

2018, In Review

At the beginning of the year, I christened 2018 The Adventurous Year. 

I didn’t exactly know what that meant at the time, but I knew it would be good.

There were a couple major wins in 2018, mainly moving out of  a challenging and uncomfortable living situation to a place I actually like love, and getting a full-time job in line with my career goals. I also went above and beyond my reading goals for this year. After multiple years in a row of lackluster reading, I vowed to read 30 books in 2018. When I realized that I would complete this goal by mid-summer, I increased my goal to 45 books.

While the trip my German friend and I were talking about going on to South Africa fell through early on in the year (when I woke up from my day dreaming slumber and actually looked at my bank account to realize how NOT FEASIBLE THAT WAS on a substitute teacher who isn’t called in everyday’s pay grade), I was able to plan a trip closer to home with her. I finally got to see New York City, a place I’d been wanting to go to for years, and I also got to show her around my adopted city.

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Liberty Island, Manhattan, May

My parents visited DC a couple of times this year and my brother was in town for multiple weeks near the beginning of the year for work–we were able to spend some time together, and he took me out to dinner for my birthday. Aside from my German friend spending a week with me in DC, I also got to host one of my closest high school Continue reading “2018, In Review”

Embracing Change, Savoring the Present

August has been a month of change.

We had a new housemate move in on August 1 (after an exhausting search), and I’ve been slowly adjusting to the new dynamic. While it’s nice to no longer be the house newbie (not that anybody in my house is paying attention), adjusting to change is always a slow process for me. I had just gotten used to our dynamic after my May 1st move in when one of my housemates announced he was moving for grad school. Ah, but we must go with the flow of things. We snagged a fellow Midwesterner to fill the room, and it’s been good thus far.

Professionally, I started a full-time job last week. It’s been a bit jarring, since I haven’t worked full time in over a year, but I’m excited…and I’m also grateful for the steady income that will soon be coming in. Subbing, while fruitful, was not always a financially dependable endeavor! I’ve joined the staff at a school I subbed at frequently last year. It’s been great, because I already feel comfortable at the school, I know a lot of the staff, and I know a lot of the students. Staff PD was last week, which meant a lot of sitting and listening to presenters and PAPERWORK. I’ll be the teacher’s assistant in fourth grade English Language Arts. So far, I really like my fourth grade team, and I think the lead ELA teacher and I will work well together. I’m so excited to learn and grow as an educator. I wanted to spend at least one year in a classroom (as opposed to moving around to multiple different classrooms as a sub) before heading to grad school, so I’m right where I want to be. School starts today, and I’ve been mentally preparing myself for the swarm of excited fourth graders that I’ll have to maneuver come 8:00 am.

August has been change, but it’s been good. I’m so grateful to be where I am right now. Life feels good. The last couple years have been incredibly challenging, and while I believe all those challenges were needed for my personal growth, I finally feel like I’m in a really good place. A place where I want to be, as opposed to a place where I’m Continue reading “Embracing Change, Savoring the Present”

On Cross-Cultural (and Continent) Friendships

I met my German friend in Spanish class when I was fourteen, the September of my freshman year of high school. After spending the first 9 years of my schooling at a small, private Catholic school where the majority of the 50 students in my eighth grade class had shared those 9 years with me, starting off at a large public high school was intimidating, especially for an introvert like me. The first semester of high school, I clung to a fellow introvert and friend from my parochial school–we were essentially attached at the hip. With the exception of my German friend, who was my first new high school friend, it wasn’t until second semester when I started to expand my horizons and develop more friendships.  My German friend and I got to know each other and spent a lot of time with each other in between classes. Unfortunately, her U.S. visa was only valid for three months rather than the typical year that high school exchange students spend abroad, and she was back to Germany in December.

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Feeling questionable about posting this photo on WordPress, as it was taken at the tail end of my awkward years, but here it is: A German and American in 2007

We managed to keep in touch in spite of what we both viewed as her premature departure from the U.S. This was before I had a Facebook (that came later on during my Freshman year, and we did connect there eventually), but we e-mailed each other and had each other’s street addresses. We both had (and still have) an affinity for letter writing, and we would send letters and postcards to each other. She sent me multiple postcards from her travels around Europe, and once a big box of German Chocolates. When I started college, I sent her a pair of mittens with my university’s logo emblazoned on them. We even had an opportunity to see each other, albeit briefly, when I toured Germany with my high school band in 2011. Continue reading “On Cross-Cultural (and Continent) Friendships”

Cultivating, Cultivating, Cultivating Positive Energy

Since moving at the beginning of May, I’ve felt my overall happiness level increase rapidly. It’s amazing what a space can do.

The month of April was stressful–after declining a housing offer that didn’t feel right on April 2, I spent the next few weeks touring houses and doing a lot of yoga to keep my anxiety at bay. I almost immediately knew my current house was the one when I toured it a week and a half before my lease ended. It took a few days to hear back from the roommates with verification that they had chosen me to join the house, and a few more days to get in contact with the Property Manager. My housing application for my new house was accepted a mere four days before my lease ended. I hired movers before my application was approved to ensure I’d be all ready to move on May 1, which was a bit anxiety inducing. Even though I was pretty sure my application would be accepted, there was still the small seed of doubt–what if my application falls through and I have an expired lease and these movers and no place to move to! Ah, but it all worked out.

No more dark basement! No more unhealthy resentment towards/avoidance of the person I live with!

Admittedly, I was nervous about talking about my reasons for moving during my housing search. True, it wasn’t all the roommate issue. I also really didn’t like the dark basement and craved a space with natural light. When you’re moving into a space with other people, those people can be pretty wary about hearing “roommate issues” as a reason for moving. Roommate issues in one space could easily transfer to roommate issues in another space. Still, I wanted to be honest during tours. Luckily, most people appreciated the honesty and understood that every situation is unique–different people get along differently.

My new house is just that–a whole house–with tons of natural light. I share the space with three others. The dynamic is very relaxed. We’re all friendly with each other, though we all have our own lives. This is exactly what I wanted–after the experience I had in my last space, the last thing I wanted was a pressure to socialize. Yet, I also didn’t want a situation where I felt I had to avoid my roommates. That gets uncomfortable and Continue reading “Cultivating, Cultivating, Cultivating Positive Energy”

24 Things I Learned at 24

Is it just me, or does 25 seem way older than 24?

Something about being a quarter century old seems a little insane (though I recognize the subjectivity of that statement).

As I move into my next year on Earth, I am, again, looking back at the lessons this past year brought. 24, overall, was a good year. It was a challenging year, and I learned a lot, but I’m better off for it all. I felt good about 24 at its outset, and that feeling delivered. I’m downright excited for 25. As I take these lessons from 24 into 25, I have confidence that my time as a quarter centurion will be memorable:

1. Life is too short to spend in toxic situations with people who don’t lift you up.

2. Mindsets don’t change overnight…it takes time and energy and practice.

3. Inner change starts with personal awareness.

4. Not everybody has a growth mindset, and that’s not something you can force on someone.

5. Saying negative things about someone for no better reason than that you don’t like the way they are as a person doesn’t accomplish much of anything. It may feel good in the moment, but moments are fleeting. Your unkind words say more about you.

6. Focusing less on other people’s (often perceived and sometimes totally inaccurate) problems and focusing more on what I can do to lift myself up is all around for the best. Continue reading “24 Things I Learned at 24”

The Art of Messy Living Situations

I have a confession to make:

I am wholly uncomfortable in my current living situation. Luckily, my lease is up at the end of April. That still leaves me with a good three months to bask in discomfort, though.

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A few months ago, I briefly mentioned in a post that I wasn’t friends with my roommate, that we didn’t have a whole lot in common.

This wasn’t untruthful. My roommate and I aren’t friends. In the nine months that we’ve shared a space, I’ve found we have little in common. Yet, I didn’t divulge the whole truth…

At the time, I had a lot of pent-up anger towards my roommate. Until very recently, I had a lot of pent-up anger towards my roommate. I had pent up anger, because shortly after I moved in, she began exhibiting some behaviors that made me uncomfortable–they fed into my personal space and left me feeling emotionally drained. I felt further anger because, at the time, I didn’t have the tools to create a healthy boundary from those behaviors…in effect, I was angry at myself for not knowing how to fix my reaction. I also felt anger, because I felt bad about feeling anger. I felt bad for feeling anger at the flawed person I saw inside of her, and I felt bad because I didn’t react more maturely to things she did (and didn’t do) that upset me. Instead of feeling my feelings to move on, I shamed myself into believing the problem was me. And guess what…feelings fester when you don’t let them out. So that anger magnified.

The problem, of course, isn’t me. The problem isn’t her (though there’s a part of me that, admittedly, would still like to blame her). The problem is just that–the problem: two flawed individuals (aren’t we all?) who found themselves living together, who had trouble clicking, who find it difficult to communicate with each other for a variety of reasons, and who, in the nature of flawed humans, don’t always make the most mature and graceful decisions in dealing with each other.

I didn’t tell the whole truth in that post, because that wasn’t the point of the post. I also didn’t want to risk unnecessary name calling and wholly biased assumptions about a Continue reading “The Art of Messy Living Situations”

The Good Year Revisited

What can we make of a year? Of one more Earthen journey around the sun? I suppose it depends–like most things in life, a year is what we make of it. What happens isn’t always up to us, but how we react can define the outcome.

Early on in 2017, I found myself in a few situations that forced me to reevaluate how I perceive myself. When I looked closer, I didn’t like a lot of what I saw. I realized that I was putting my attention in the wrong places, and that was keeping me from focusing completely on myself and my future. In turn, I  was unnecessarily anxious and completely out of wack when it came to evaluating my wants and needs in a healthy, productive way.

How did I react?

I stopped drinking coffee cold turkey when I realized that I was drinking 3-4 cups a day and accomplishing nothing because of caffeine-fuled anxiety; I quit my temp job, which left me feeling lifeless and uninspired, and started teaching ESL online; and, I decided that 2017 was going to be “The Good Year.”

Good hasn’t always been easy. It was a lot of hard days, and it was a lot of confusion. Good has meant a lot of growth, though. It meant slow change as I started to experience more good days than hard days on a day-to-day basis.

A lot did happen this year. I did take a much-needed trip to Germany with my family in the summer, where I got to see an old friend who studied at my high school on an exchange program in 2007. I also had quite a few visitors this year–one of my best college friends came to celebrate my birthday with me in early March, and my mom and Grandma came to visit in late March. My grandma had never been to DC before, and I was so happy to show her around my adopted city. My Kindergarten bestie and oldest friend came for a long weekend in October and all three of my immediate family members came to celebrate Thanksgiving with  me in my DC apartment–the first Thanksgiving we had together since 2014. I  quit two jobs (my temp position in January and my coffee shop position in August) and started three more (VIPKID in February, substitute teaching in September, and a really low time commitment tutoring opportunity in the summer). I am now officially an independent contractor in all three of my jobs, so I’ve learned the joys of removing tax money from paychecks on my own, as well as the frustration of not always getting work. I also moved from my first DC apartment to my current place.

Continue reading “The Good Year Revisited”