A woman releasing balloons into the air

At the end of 2019, I got sick, really sick. On my flight home on Christmas Day to see my dad, I remember my limbs suddenly feeling like icicles and my forehead as warm as an oven. My head was pounding, and I could feel sweat dripping down my forehead. In the meantime, I felt awful for the guy seated next to me, as I squirmed and fidgeted trying to find a position where I wouldn’t throw up.

Oh no! I’m getting sick.

Sick I was, yes indeed. I spent the next two weeks bed ridden, unable to spend time with family and friends that I had flown into see from sunny L.A. I spent nearly two weeks looking at the walls of my parents’ spare room. Two weeks with a cough that could be heard two doors down. Two weeks of watching Netflix. Two weeks of barely eating any food other than the thick paste my dad served me under the guise of the name soup. (I love my dad but being a caretaker is not in his nature.) Two weeks of not knowing whether it was night or day.

Two weeks.

When I finally began to recover (very slowly might I add) from this seasonal bug, I began to ask myself the question: “Why was I so stressed out?” You see, leading up to the holiday season of 2019, I was drained, not necessarily by the holidays themselves, but by the world I had created. I was tired, resentful toward people, weary, quick to snap, unforgiving and utterly and completely tapped out. How did I get here? And why was I here?

I was drained, not necessarily by the holidays, themselves but by the world I had created.

While the flu is highly contagious, my sickness had less to do with human contact and more to do with internal battles I was dealing with in my mind and in my heart. Like sinking in quicksand, my heart had become muddled with things that, in the big picture, are of little importance.

I was annoyed and frustrated with this person. I felt righteous indignation and unforgiveness toward that person. I was jealous of or disliked another person.

All the while, my calendar was full to the brim. There was never a day or night when I didn’t have something. Emails. Spreadsheets. Calendar invites. Lunch dates. Text chains. Notifications. Dinners. Birthday parties. My life had become consumed by things, and in that process, I lost myself.

My life had become consumed by things, and in that process, I lost myself.

When I woke up from my two-week stupor on the second week of January, I knew some things had to change. I shouldn’t have the desire to flip tables and curse people out at the mere sight of them. I needed to do the heart work of figuring out why I was on edge and why I was not feeling like myself anymore.

The truth is: I had lost my joy. A lot of the calendar engagements and to-do lists had started with good intentions. I want to celebrate this friend. I want to show up for their birthday. I want to volunteer on the weekends. I want to serve people. I want to be liked. I want to have community of my own.

Yet, in all those good intentions, I lost myself. I stopped being motivated by, “I want to,” and instead my life became more about “I have to.” The last few months, I have been working on intentionally cultivating joy. I am great with to-do lists, obligations and duties, but it’s the fun stuff in life that I often allow to slip.

I am great with to-do lists, obligations and duties, but it’s the fun stuff in life that I often allow to slip.

In 2020, I am focusing more on spending time with the people and on the things that bring me joy. I am actively choosing to say no to those that drain my soul. Sometimes, this means not going to every party or choosing to stay in and spend time with myself. Sometimes, it means getting out of the house and spending a night dancing with friends.

I am actively choosing joy, and in doing so, I am actively choosing myself. I like myself better these days because I have learned to guard my heart. In doing so, I have gained a peace of mind I have never known. I now trust my inner voice. I listen to my body. I know that when I make a decision for myself I don’t have to explain or defend it to anyone else.

I am actively choosing joy, and in doing so, I am actively choosing myself.

Joy looks like forgiving people who have hurt me and choosing to forgive them again and again in my heart. Joy means choosing not to focus on negative things, changing the channel in my mind and selecting my thoughts carefully. Joy means knowing its okay if everyone is not my cup of tea or if I’m not everyone’s favorite chai (because I am both sweet and spicy). Joy means holding friendships with open hands, not seeking to control them or the outcome.

Joy means getting outside in nature, even if its only a 30-minute walk just before sunset (my favorite!) Joy means doing more of the things that I love like traveling. Joy means loving my body and breaking a sweat in whatever way I enjoy most. Joy means rest. Joy means spending time with people who fill my cup.

As silly as it may seem, getting a bad case of the flu put my life in perspective. Life is short and uncertain. Our health is valuable.

I want to spend my days on this Earth inspiring hope in others, but I can do this best when my cup is full. I want to live a life with bright eyes, a full heart and sides that hurt from laughing so much. I want to live my life well, and it took getting the flu to flip my perspective on what truly matters.

Thanks flu bug. Please, don’t come again soon.

Image via Kathryna Hancock, Darling Issue No. 11

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