Weekend Reading, 10.9.16
October 9, 2016

weekend_reading

“When you don’t know what to do or how to move forward, stand still.”

This is a piece of advice that my mother gave me during my post-bacc years. That time in my life was marked by a lot of indecision and agonized choices–most often, the choice of whether or not to keep going with my program for another semester or not. I’d receive yet another poor score or a discouraging comment or simply be hit with a spell of burnout, and I’d doubt what I was doing and why. Why had I quit a job I liked for an academic track that I hated? Why had I moved cities? Was was I laboring so hard at something I seemed to be so bad at?

I’d be hit with these questions, call my mom, and we’d talk about it. She couldn’t tell me whether or not to quit, of course. But she could encourage me to slow down, to resist the urge to panic, to stop piling unnecessary anxiety and urgency on top of a serious decision. In telling me to stand still, she was doing her best to issue the gentle reminder that I didn’t always have to come to a determination while I was at the height of unhappiness and confusion. It was the same advice that another friend had given me, in different terms: “never decide whether or not to quit a marathon while you’re running uphill or downhill. You decide if you want to keep going when you’re running flat.”

It’s funny to reminisce on these times now, because when I look back on my post-bacc experience I can see clearly that I was handed many good indications that going to medical school would not have made me happy. I think I’d have appreciated the work of being a doctor, but I don’t think I’m cut out for the education, training, and lifestyle. I can’t help but feel that I was spared something massive when I got rejected, even if it felt shattering at the time. So the question becomes, why didn’t I stop sooner?

The only answer I have is that I couldn’t have come to this conclusion without allowing myself to experience the process in its entirety: the hopeful beginning, the humbling disillusionment, the rebuff. I know it’s a cliche, but there’s a lot to be said for not wondering “what if?”

I also like to think, or hope, that my post-bacc was a learning experience, even if it didn’t take me where I thought I wanted to go. I think it taught me to be more resilient, or at least aspire to resilience; I think it taught me that no goal is worth the price of my own happiness. And, to circle back to my mom’s advice, I think it taught me how to stand still in a moment of self-doubt, overwhelm, or indecision.

It’s not a lesson that has come easily to me, because standing still in the midst of turmoil and allowing clarity to surface demands patience, and patience is not exactly my personal forte. Left to my own devices, I’d often choose forced decisiveness over an uncertain pause. Still, I suppose that half the battle of learning a new skill is to be handed good tools and guidance. My mom’s advice hasn’t left me; I return to it again and again when I’m not sure what to do or how to move forward.

This week, feeling a little stuck and more than a little overwhelmed, I experimented with pausing and slowing down rather than coming to hasty conclusions. It was not an easy experience, but it was certainly interesting. And it reinforced another lesson I’ve been learning lately, which is that turmoil, indecision, and uncertainty are not fixed in stone. When I’m feeling something strongly I tend to assume that I’ll feel that way forever. All I want is to chart a course of action that will allow me to leave the feeling behind. The problem with operating this way is that it never gives me the benefit of watching my own perspective shift, and consequently recognizing that resolution and calm can emerge from the process of waiting.

To what extent this sort of patience will ever feel like second nature I’m not sure, but I guess it doesn’t have to. It can be a practice, like so much else. The practice is teaching me that uncertainty is not just a meaningless haze; it can serve a purpose, so long as I can learn to accommodate it.

I’m sharing an article on anxiety today that evokes some of these same themes; it certainly made me think about the dangers of working to shut down or appease emotions before we’ve had time to process them. And on the topic of pauses and patience, I’m linking to an inspiring article about the benefits of welcoming meditation into schools. All that, along with some really wonderful fall recipes.

Recipes

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I’d really never think to put figs into a pasta dish, but Lindsay’s creamy garlicky pasta with charred broccoli and figs has me more than convinced. I love how simple this dish is, and I love that the sauce is legume-based!

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I admit to never having been much of a nougat person, but put “sweet potato caramel” in the title of just about anything, and I’m on board. Anya’s vegan sweet potato caramel nougat looks like a delicious treat for snacking.

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Making a vegan Po’Boy might sound like an impossible proposition, but this recipe proves once again the amazing versatility of cauliflower. I can’t wait to share this one with my New Orleans-dwelling bestie!

lentil-fennel-beetroot-and-blood-orange-salad-1-7

I know that summer is generally thought of as prime salad season, but I always get equally excited about colorful fall salads. I’m loving this vibrant mixture of roasted beet, lentils, fennel, and citrus from Jennifer of Delicious Everyday.

roasted-broccoli-rabe-and-butternut-squash-almond-butter-pasta-6

It’s really hard to say what I love best about Gina’s creamy almond butter fall pasta: the tender roasted squash, the creamy almond butter sauce, the bitter broccoli rabe (one of my super favorite greens, even though I don’t use it nearly enough), or the crumbly, crunchy cracker topping. So much texture in one dish!

Reads

1. As I mentioned, this article details what happened when one elementary school started sending students who had misbehaved to a brightly decorated meditation room instead of to the principal’s office, or to detention. The practice has cultivated patience, engagement, and even excitement about social service projects and outdoor activities. Really uplifting–and evidence that the benefits of meditation extend to any age group.

2. There are so many incredible vegan food brands and companies these days that it’s hard to keep track of them all; each week, it seems as though I hear about an innovative, new plant-based product. Still, I always like to pause and give thanks for all of the brands that have been pioneering and supplying vegan products for years, and Follow Your Heart is at the very top of this list. It was the first vegan cheese I ever bought, and Veganaise was my first vegan mayo.

This week, Andy Bellatti shares a short history of how this brand–led by a few committed individuals–helped pave the way for all of the exciting developments we’re seeing in the vegan food market.

3. I loved this interview with Meredith Osborn, a medical illustrator who specializes in molecular biology. I knew very little about medical illustration before I read it, but it seems to be a fascinating field, perched right at the intersection of art and science. Osborn makes the point that, because there’s so much we still don’t know in the sciences, illustrators must often use their imaginations to map out unexplored territory. In other words, they’re often called upon to be pioneers.

Osborn also has some interesting things to say about our reverence of science and why it may be problematic:

For better or worse, I think science is put up on a pedestal in our zeitgeist in general. If you say that you’re doing something scientifically—whether you are or not and whether doing it scientifically is the best way or not—that word just carries weight. Sometimes that’s very well earned. Science as a collective endeavor to pursue knowledge and go through the scientific method to answer questions and discover new things—that deserves a lot of respect. However, there are limits to science, so making science the “king of all truth” is a little bit erroneous. That’s a fallacy of our culture but it’s the way it is right now.

This certainly resonates with me. It’s not that science isn’t worthy of respect or awe–I think it is–but rather that we tend to take scientific findings at face value, forgetting that the field is always unfolding and shifting to accommodate new discoveries. Anyone who studies the sciences is, I think, trying to pursue understanding of how our world works, and perhaps to unearth new truths, but part of what makes the field so interesting is that it’s full of mystery.

4. There are lots of great resources out there for helping new and longtime plant-based eaters to eat well and pleasurably on a budget. But this article, written by vegan lifestyle coach Vicki Brett-Gach, is truly one of the most comprehensive and practical guides I’ve seen. Even if you know your way around your own grocery budget, it’s worth reading to pick up some new tips — I definitely felt inspired by it.

5. One of my readers shared this article about high-functioning anxiety with me in last week’s weekend reading post; she said it reminded her of some of my recent musings on my own anxiety. I’m so grateful that she thought to share. Yes, I saw a lot of myself in what the author described, but more importantly, the article is so honest and so real, and I think it’s worth sharing for that reason.

In trying to capture what her anxiety feels like, Sarah Schuster writes,

It’s waking up in the middle of the night sobbing because the worst-case-scenario that just went through your head at high speed seems so real, so vivid, that even when it’s proven to be untrue, it takes hours for your heart to slow down, to feel calm again.
Because how “OK” are you when a day without a plan is enough to make you crumble? When empty spaces make you spiral at the very anticipation of being alone with your thoughts? When you need to make a list to get through a Sunday: watch a show, clean your kitchen, exercise, answer five emails, read 10 pages, watch a show… ?
It’s feeling unqualified to write this piece because I’m getting by. It’s when you’re social enough to get invited to things, but so often find yourself standing in a room where it feels like no one knows you. It’s being good at conversation and bad at making close friends because you only show up when you feel “well” enough. Only text back when you feel ready. Because you’re afraid they’d hate you if they really knew you. That the energy would overwhelm them, and you’d lose them.

That last graf in particular resonates poignantly right now.

Recently I was asked to describe my own anxiety, and I described it as a fog or a mist–something that clouds my vision and gets into my lungs when I try to breathe. The thing I dislike most about being anxious is that, when I feel it, I can’t feel much of anything else. And so, in the interest of getting my life back, all I can think about is shutting the anxiety down.

The problem with this is that it creates a cycle in which fear of anxiety and quelling anxiety become your primary motivators. And the things we need to do in order to keep anxiety at bay are often not the same things that enable us to be creative, brave, or open-hearted. When I live with the primary intention of being not-anxious, I can’t help but also become meek, defensive, and uncommunicative. Perhaps I manage to stave off a bout of anxiety, but I lose a part of myself in the process. I think I’m writing about anxiety so often these days because I’m trying to fight against that mode–to stay open and truthful, even though my instinct is to retreat.

Speaking of courage, Schuster’s piece has a courageous ending. Living with anxiety, she concludes, means

. . . learning how to say, “I need help.” Trying to take care of yourself without the guilt. It means every once in a while, confiding in a friend. It means sometimes showing up even when you’re scared.
It’s when answering a text impulsively and thoughtlessly is an act of bravery.
It’s fighting against your own need to constantly prove your right to exist in this world.
It’s learning how to validate your own feelings . . . It’s finding your own humanity in the anxiety, in your weaknesses. It’s trying to let the energy inspire you, instead of bring you down. It’s forgiving yourself when it wins . . . A first good step is staring at it straight on and calling it by its name.

I agree. Thanks to my reader who thought to bookmark the article for me. There’s always comfort in an honest dialog.

Alright, friends. I hope you’re having a nice Sunday — it’s cold and dreary here in New York, which I’m taking as an excuse to defrost leftover soup and bake something sweet. I’ll see you soon.

xo

 

 

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    7 Comments
  1. Dear Gena, like Emily, I, too, am really enjoying the reflective frames you’ve been writing for your weekend reading picks. They have become my favorite part of this series, which I have always liked a whole lot anyway. I’m rather engaged welcoming a new Silken Windhound into our family, but something told me to read this one tonight before turning in. It was SO resonant. When I was in my 30’s and splitting up with my son’s father, we used to have a kind of private joke about what each of us needed to do separately. His motto needed to be “don’t just stand there, DO something,” but my motto needed to be “don’t just do something, STAND there.” While it made me laugh I knew it was also profoundly true, and I still remind myself of it sometimes. So I loved how you started out with what your mother used to advise you and how it’s still helping you now. Thanks, as always, for all the great food and articles, too. I hope to have a bit more time to “digest” more of it later. xoxo

  2. What a jam packed and amazing piece this is Gena! Your words on anxiety and standing still and your mama spoke to me so well. That is advice you just can’t put a price on, and is oh so true. I’m happy to hear it is still ringing in your ears today and helping you this week – moms are the best for giving us those little pieces of advice that stick with us through it all. And goodness if I advent began drooling over your recipe picks for this week too! Happy Monday lady, I hope it is treating you so well <3.

  3. Thank you so much Gena for being so brave and honest with your readers to write about your struggles with anxiety. I have been struggling with PTSD and panic disorder for a while, and can relate to much of what you’ve described. I feel like our personalities are so similar, with our perfectionism and constant need to prove ourselves to others. The blogs you have posted on this subject and articles you have linked to have been informative and helpful, because it is so easy to feel alone in a struggle with anxiety or panic. I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate your candidness and honesty about your life….as well as all of the delicious recipes!

  4. In the spirit of continuing the conversation about anxiety, and in this case “success,” this article gave me boatloads of hope: http://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewcave/2014/11/05/the-f-word-for-business-leaders-and-how-to-use-it-to-your-advantage

    This quote in felt particularly relevant:

    First you have one crash, then another crash,” she says. “Then you go through the processing element because as you’re living it, it’s a day-to-day survival fight. “You keep going and then once you have survived, that’s when the learning takes over. “You have to rebuild your life in a more steady growth state and that’s where you have to reprocess a whole lot of stuff to be normal again.”

    xo

  5. I’ve been really enjoying your reflections with your weekend reading posts recently — thank you for sharing as always, Gena! Hope you’re having a lovely weekend.

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