The Gift of Less Stuff

When I was first on sick leave from work I had a lot of time to look around my house. After living here 10 yrs (longest I’ve lived anywhere since I was 16), 2 kids and 2 dogs. We have accumulated a lot of stuff. I’m a crafter, a bargain shopper, a ‘recycler’ of second-hand items, and I hate to throw things out as I may someday need them.

I was never a hoarder or even recreational shopper, but I still had too much stuff.  So I started to organize my house.  But somehow I realized that this ‘stuff’, even when organized, was not helping me feel very good, in fact it was often bringing up a lot of negative feelings. So I started to give things away to people I knew who could use them. I got excited the more I gave. I was motivated by the feeling of giving something to someone who needed it when I was not using it anyway.  This was a pivotal moment in my healing.  I was reminded that I could actually feel something other than sadness and exhaustion and that it was something I could do for myself.

I discovered the amazing feeling of a bare countertop, an empty box, and the joy of treasures found that had been buried away. I had no idea how far it would go, but I knew I needed to keep going. It was an emotional rollercoaster of shame and pride and hope.

I felt ashamed to realize I had tried to buy happiness; the makeup I  never wore, the business clothes that I had hoped would make me feel like I fit in, or the books I felt I should read.  There was also shame from holding onto things that no longer served me; those jeans that only made me feel guilty as I could no longer wear them, the fabric I had bought with intentions of sewing myself a dress but no longer liked.  The money ‘wasted’ on things I hardly ever used.  But when I could move beyond the negativity and forgive myself, I found pride in knowing I could now do things differently.

I made guidelines around what I would keep, things I loved, things that were useful, things I just wasn’t ready to let go of.  I felt lighter with every item that left the house.  But I also allowed myself to spend money on things I would have denied myself before. I took a weaving class and bought a loom.  We bought a beautiful bedroom set to replace the hand me downs that I never liked.   The handmade pottery mug that makes my coffee taste better. We went on a family cruise with my mom and stepfather (which turned out to be only months before my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer).  All of these things still bring me joy when I think about them.

This has been a journey for almost 5 years now and I expect it to continue indefinetly.  It is a lifelong process of deciding where I want to put my energy, my time, my money and what I choose to surround myself with.  But these are choices we all make every day, but so often we let the choices be made for us, without being conscious of them.  However, I now know that by being aware of these choices, taking ownership of them,  taking risks to do things differently than what is sometimes expected of us, is well worth the investment.

Do you feel supported by the things in your life or held back under their weight?  Feel free to share in the comments below or on my facebook page. 

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It’s More Difficult Not to Talk About It

Whether you are living with a mental health condition, recovering from a traumatic event or significant loss, or simply living through a painful period in your life, friends and family may not know what to say and therefore try to keep conversations away from whatever may be causing the emotional pain.  They may believe that by talking about it, they could be making you feel worse.  They may feel that by keeping the conversation ‘light’ they are helping to make you feel better.  But in my experience, this is not the case.

When asked “Isn’t it difficult to talk about when your husband was nearly killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan?” Well, it’s not fun to talk about it, but talking about it is nothing compared to living it and living with the consequences of that day.   In fact, even talking about it now, years later, provides me with some relief. For so many years I felt like I should have ‘gotten over it’ by now or that I was making it a ‘bigger deal’ than it needed to be so I tried to keep it to myself.  However, I think had we felt more comfortable to talk about it (not just with a therapist) it would have helped us heal.

So if you are ever worried about bringing up the difficult situation that a friend is going through, while it will be difficult to talk about it, talking about it is likely nothing compared to living it and not being able to talk about it. Or if you are the one that needs to talk, sometimes we need to initiate the conversation with people we trust and let them know they just need to listen. 

Honesty & Acknowledgment​ On Remembrance Day

Today is November 11.  I should be going to the Cenotaph like I always have done in the past. But this year I can’t do it.   I’m too tired, too sad, too anxious.  But I am also too angry. I am angry because I feel let down by those who were supposed to support us. On days like today, we will get a handshake and a ‘thank you’.  But for the other 364 days of the year, families of injured soldiers often feel forgotten.  We get nothing for caring for the injured soldiers that survived, which often means keeping them alive.  We get nothing for giving up our careers, nothing for putting up with the shit that the military puts our spouses through, and we then get to pick up the pieces. Nothing for standing behind the person in uniform, propping them up, keeping them from collapsing in exhaustion from the harassment and the ostracisation by those that claim to be their ‘military family’.

I don’t want a medal or an award. I want honesty about what is really going on. What services are really available. What long-term therapeutic supports really do exist and are readily available (ie. not peer support or crisis management, but real, effective long-term treatment for long-term chronic issues). Honesty about what hoops we will have to jump through to access these services.  Honesty about the time it will take to get what is owed to us, and how many times our paperwork may get lost and have to be redone.  Honesty about the dozens and dozens of forms that we will need to complete and send to various offices, in various provinces, and we may never hear back from. Honesty about the number of individuals who will be looking at our paperwork, reading our story and talking about what we do and don’t deserve without ever having met us.

I want it acknowledged that many of our veterans who fought for our freedom came home to fight for their lives.   I want it acknowledged that as sick as it may sound even to those who work there, there is some truth to the unspoken motto “Delay, Deny, Die” at Veteran’s Affairs (which I believe was coined by Jenny Migneault, a tireless advocate for families of injured vets).

I want it to be acknowledged that without our military families, there would be more suicides, more addicts, more homeless vets.

I want it to be acknowledged that because of the trauma that our soldiers have lived through, their families have suffered.  Families have experienced vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue and many have also lived through violence and abuse as a result of the members’ emotional state.  Parents, spouses, and children have experienced anxiety and depression to the point they too needed medical intervention.

I want it acknowledged that the system is broken.

However, I would like to acknowledge the fact that we have met many caring individuals who work within these systems who are legitimately trying to help vets and their families.  But the structure and culture they are forced to work in, does not often allow them to do what they know needs to be done.  I believe this is a failure of leadership, on many levels, and I believe only leadership will be able to make the necessary changes so that these individuals, and more like them, can do the job that they want to do.

So today, on 11th, at 11am. I am acknowledging all of the soldiers, vets, spouses, parents, friends, and children affected by war at home or abroad.

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My Inner Voices

Yes, that’s plural. I can have more than one voice and it can be tricky to know which one is trying to help guide me to reach my full potential and which one is anxiety masquerading pretending to be my inner voice.

Has this ever happened to you?

I Am War; A New Documentary

On Friday, November 10th, the Canadian History Channel will be airing I Am War  which is a new documentary of personal stories from Canadian soldiers perspective. Dan and I were both interviewed , along with many others, this past summer and although I have not yet seen the film, I am confident that it will be worth watching.

The director, Wayne Abbott, and his team came to our home for 2 days of rather intense filming as he asked many of the hard questions.  I actually left the room when my husband was being interviewed as I found it difficult to listen to him recount the events that led to his PTSD.  However, I believe it is important for these stories to be told and heard by Canadians. It may not be a fun topic, but if we are going to send people into war zones, we need to be aware of the consequences.

I often find myself getting quite frustrated this time of year with all the poppies being worn and special ceremonies planned.  I know people want to show their support and this is very important, but I believe that more can be done. Films like this increase understanding of our current day vets are experiencing. Because, regardless of how we look at it there is a long term, permanent impact of war on Canadian soldiers, their families and their communities.

I would love to hear your thoughts after watching the documentary.

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The Power & Simplicity of Feeling Grateful

If you had told me a few years ago that feeling grateful could take away my anxiety I would have laughed and thought you obviously had no idea what anxiety was.  It does not feel like a choice once I’m are in the midst of it. But I now believe that I occasionally get a tiny window of opportunity where I can choose to think differently, to focus on something positive, feel grateful, and sometimes avoid the anxiety altogether.