Justification for ‘Good Person’ Status

Since I was a kid I really liked ginger ale, however, since I try to minimize my sugar intake and it is full of sugar, it’s not something I usually have in the house. But while at the grocery store last week I saw it on sale and spontaneously bought it (thanks to good product placement).  So when my teen saw it in the fridge she asked ‘what’s the special occasion?’ jokingly.  I immediately said it was on a special, even though I don’t think she expected an answer.  No big deal, right? But why did I have to explain why I bought such a simple thing? Would it have been somehow unacceptable had I bought it at full price? Certainly not to my daughter or anyone else I care about.

Unfortunately, no matter how many times I tell myself that I don’t care what other people think of me or my choices, I am apparently still stuck in this cycle of trying to predict people’s thoughts and planning an acceptable response.

I first had a clue this was an issue for me when our kids were little, about 15years ago when we decided to buy a minivan. We only had a small car and it could not fit a 3rd booster seats in the back seat, so I could never drive any of my kids’ friends anywhere (since they use booster seats till they’re almost in high school these days this was very frustrating).  That was my justification for the minivan. But when we finally found one that met our needs, it had leather seats.  Oh, and they were heated leather seats.  How could I justify this? Well, it was a used van with low mileage, in good shape, in our price range and there weren’t many around.  But leather?  And heated? That seemed like a luxury that was beyond me (at the time I was a stay-at-home mom married to a corporal in the army). My husband convinced me that it was a good van for us so we did end up buying it. But I couldn’t justify it no matter how I tried. So although I didn’t recognize the feeling at the time,  I never felt good about that vehicle and was relieved when we sold it several years later. Now that I look back, I can see that the feeling was shame.  I had unconsciously decided it was an unnecessary luxury and one I did not deserve. No one ever said this to me, or even implied it, but somehow I did not feel deserving of such a vehicle and therefore could not feel good about having it.

I don’t expect to understand or agree with other peoples life choices nor do I expect them to explain their choices to me.  I believe in a “live and let live” philosophy, and yet that’s not the end of the story. I still find myself trying to justify myself even when no one is expecting or asking me to. In fact, I wholeheartedly believe that most people really don’t care about what I’m doing or buying, they have their own lives to worry about after all. But knowing that is obviously not enough to end this pattern.

So why am I sharing this?  Simply because I can no longer deny it’s impact my overall mental health and I am quite sure I am not alone.  This pattern of thought implies that we do not feel worthy just for being ourselves. That we feel a need to justify why ‘we do what we do’ and that our personal feelings are not sufficient reasons. As if there is some imaginary board of examiners that will decide if our choices are acceptable (whatever that means to you) and if we get to keep our ‘good person’ status (or whatever your preferred status is).  I know this sounds ridiculous and intellectually I know it’s absurd, but unfortunately, that doesn’t make it less real.

Have you found yourself wondering what people might think when making a decision? Or justifying your choices even if they do not affect anyone else?

PS. I am not looking to get your support or seeking reminders that I am worthy.  This is just an old pattern I’m aware of and working towards changing.

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Photo by Aaditya Arora on Pexels.com

Are You The Person I’m Writing To?

It has been months since I shared anything new here and I finally figured out why. In the spring I received some supportive and thoughtful messages about how some of my posts had helped people feel less alone. It was validating and should have encouraged me to keep writing.  Instead,  my anxiety lied to me (which it likes to do) and my thoughts turned those comments into something they were never intended to be. I started to worry that what I was writing was not good enough, or was not well written, or might be misunderstood. I worried that I needed to make sure everything I shared was meaningful and worthwhile. That I had a responsibility to help people, and therefore if I didn’t help them, I could hurt them.  As time went on, it became even harder to think of sharing my thoughts. I figured I had nothing really valuable or worthwhile to say. That there were better blogs and better writers.

However,  something clicked in my mind when I was writing in my journal at 5am this morning (some mornings I can’t get up and other mornings I can’t stay in bed). I asked myself why I had started a blog and why I would want to continue writing it, or if in fact I did want to continue.  The answer was clear. I write for the person I was 5 years ago. The woman who felt alone and misunderstood. The woman who wanted to talk about what she considered to be a mess in her mind but didn’t want to be a burden to anyone.  The woman who feared that there was no way out, but at the same time knew she didn’t want to continue living this way. The woman who was ready to make changes if there was a possibility of improvement. The woman who wanted to be ok with not being like everyone else.  She didn’t want her mental health issues preventing her from living a good, if not a great life, even if she had no idea what to do next.  She was determined not to give up (even though it was very tempting at times).

The person I am writing to does not care about my grammar, or if I write about things that may be regarded as silly or strange to some people.  This blog is not for those people.  They also except that I am doing the best I can and that I am here to share my journey. I am not a teacher or leader or expert, rather just someone on a similar journey.

So if you think you are that person I am grateful you found your way here, and please stay tuned for more regular posts. If you know someone who might also appreciate reading my blog,  please share it with them. 2CynbRoPTACXp2%0Igftrw

 

Do What Makes You Happy

So simple and yet not so easy.

Why don’t we do more of what makes you happy and less of things that don’t?  Now I know what you’re thinking, someone has got to put food on the table and pay the bills, but I am proposing that one should not be exclusive of the other. In fact, I think they may actually be dependent on each other for a truly full life.

What if we were taught as children and young adults to explore the world around us with a sense of curiosity so that we can discover the things that bring us joy, or give us energy and feeds our soul? Why not encourage kids to be creative when thinking of their futures and not just what is likely to be a secure career choice?  I believe that one of the reasons that depression has been increasing at staggering rates is that we don’t know what makes us happy and we don’t make it a priority to find out.

I know when I was at the worst of my depression, I thought nothing I could do would make me happy.  Not to say I never had fun or had good days, but I didn’t feel like it was something within my control. However, now that I am past that phase, I think it is worthwhile to figure out what makes us feel good so we can do those things intentionally.  For example, if having a clean house feels good for you, make time to clean more, or recruit your family or hire someone to help.  If feeling strong and healthy is a good feeling for you, make time to eat well and exercise.   Sounds simple, but I know it is not always easy.

Most of us feel the need to be productive, useful, earning our way in the world. However, when we are coping with a mental health issue like depression, these goals can feel unattainable, or at least incredibly difficult. So we pour all our energy into survival and just trying to feel productive or useful again and that often means we have nothing left for all the things that make our lives enjoyable.  But when we don’t have time or energy to do anything that feels like an extra, trying to recover from a deep depression becomes even more difficult and hence the slippery slope to hopelessness begins.

When I hear myself making excuses not to do things that I know I would make me feel good because I’m too tired, or I too many other things to do, or it probably wouldn’t be that fun anyway… These excuses are a signal for me now, a warning sign that something needs to change so I don’t find myself slipping further down the slope.  Sometimes it is because I really am tired and I need to go to bed earlier. Other times it’s because I’ve let other peoples needs take priority over my own and I need to reorganize my time. Or maybe I need to see my doctor or therapist. The point is, by making time for things I enjoy,  I can actually prevent myself from sliding too far down and even get myself back on level ground.

This is not to say that even if you feel like you can’t see your way out that you never will. I remember feeling like everything was impossible and I had every excuse and valid reason why, but I also knew I didn’t want to settle for a life like that. So I kept looking for solutions and one of those was to make time for things that made me feel good. It was challenging at the beginning as I didn’t think anything would, so I took baby steps and I tried new things.

Now I make time to paint, to take horseback riding lessons, to travel, to eat dinner with my family and many other things that bring me joy and give me energy.  Ultimately I hope it will inspire my children to discover what makes them happy and to make sure they prioritize that because being productive is only a small part of living a full life.IMG_2845

 

Mental Health Week -Day 2

Selfies are hard for me. I usually feel terribly uncomfortable doing them, then even more uncomfortable sharing them. It is all the things that make me most anxious about social media summed up in a little picture.  I worry about people seeing me because I wonder what they are seeing and thinking (and yes, judging).

But it’s not only with pictures. When I walk by mirrors in public spaces I get a little lump in my throat if I see my reflection (which I try to avoid by hurrying by). Because I often don’t even recognize the person looking back.  I have a picture in my head of what I look like, and it is definitely not what I see in the reflection.

But as I am challenging the shame and secrecy around mental health, what we think of ourselves, our bodies and minds, I feel the need to explore these fears too.  So I am taking part in a 14-day Visibility Challenge with the Biz Studio and my goal is to get more comfortable with being seen and letting go of the fear of whatever people may be thinking of me.  Ideally, I hope to like what I see.

Because as I learn more about the power of social media and the positive connections that can be made online, I recognize the need for people to see me, just as I am, selfies included.  I would love to know how you feel about selfies. Do you take them? Share them? Do you like to see other peoples selfies?

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This is me in my sewing room, with some of my favorite things.

Mental Health Week -Day 1

I had big plans for promoting Mental Health Week, but then today happened. Nothing horrible happened, but I woke up with a terrible headache and a very heavy heart and I just couldn’t get my act together. So here it is, almost my bedtime, and I am frustrated with myself for not following through on my plans to help raise awareness for mental health.

However, it was suggested to me recently that I should be more compassionate towards myself.  What a simple concept; just be nice to yourself. But it really isn’t simple to do, at least not for me.  I find myself having a one-sided internal battle where I beat myself up and yet can’t defend myself.  So I will try to be gentler, try to be ok with the fact that not all days are ‘productive’ days in the ways I had envisioned.

So this is isn’t what I planned, or hoped to do. But it is all I can do today and I’m going to be happy with that.  #mentalhealthweek

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Mental Health; A Whole Body Experience

Just like depression is so much more than feeling sad, our mental health affects so much more than our mind. Sometimes I feel like it every movement requires superhuman strength; like I’m moving through pea soup and not just air.  Sometimes I am not able to coordinate my limbs and find myself tripping over nothing. Sometimes there is a disconnect between my brain and my mouth, so what I say is not always what I intended, or what I hear is not what has been said.  So although it all stems from my mind, my whole body is affected.

This morning, while at my weekly riding lesson this became very evident to me.  While I was riding, I could not stay in proper position, when I tried to fix one issue, another one would immediately appear.  In the past, I would probably have thought I’m just not a good rider and I’ll never get better.  But today, after leaving the barn, I could see the connection to my mood. The last few months have been really challenging for me. With my mom passing away in February, and my uncle in March, and today my daughter left for France.  Although I am excited for her to have this opportunity, it does bring up a lot of my own anxiety issues.  Being close to my kids has always been very grounding for me, and knowing they are growing up is something that I struggle with (even though I am so proud of them and their independence).  All of this combined has left me feeling drained this week.

So today, my horse probably felt that my mind was all over the place, as were my limbs, luckily he is always very patient with me, I just need to be more patient with myself. IMG_0860

Possibility Versus Probability

The default setting for the human brain is usually set to imagining the worst case scenario.  For people with anxiety, this can be debilitating.  Our brains play tricks on us by providing an overload of options of horrible things that could happen, and it is not a simple switch; ‘to worry’ or ‘not to worry’ (that is a whole other topic for another day).  There is a very real grey zone for people like me who are optimists at heart, but when our anxiety is acute, the optimism can eventually get over-ridden by the fear.

My therapist recently suggested I try looking at things differently. What if I examined the worry, aka the worst case scenario and questioned it not only for being possible, which is a common suggestion, but rather I should also ask, how probable is it?   When I only ask myself if it is possible, the answer is almost always yes. It is possible I will fall down the stairs and hurt myself, however, considering the hundreds of thousands of times I’ve gone downstairs,  it is not very probable.  So I can feel safe to keep using the stairs.  Similarly, it is possible to witness a terrorist attack in your hometown, however, it is still, thankfully, highly unlikely.

I find this is so much more helpful than trying to ignore the thought, which is like trying to hold a ball underwater; it’s bound to pop up at any moment. So perhaps next time your worrying about something, acknowledge the worst case scenario, then ask yourself if it is possible, and if the answer is yes, ask how probable is it.  You may find yourself feeling a little bit more optimistic once again.

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Pain & Suicide

Wanting pain to stop is not the same as wanting to die.  One may lead to the other, but if there are other options to stop the pain, I believe most people would choose them over dying.  Other than giving birth to my two 9lb+ babies and passing kidney stones, my head has caused me the most pain.

I get migraines, well, they are not the typical migraines, but they are very bad headaches that can last for days. They started when I was eleven, I was in grade 5 and I remember thinking there must be something dreadfully wrong with me. They can be so painful and exhausting, that when I have one I want to cut my head off. I used to say this and people would laugh, or pat me on the back and say something like ‘just take an aspirin and lay down for while’  or ‘take a bath’ or ‘have you tried_______ (trust me, I have tried everything)?’  So now I try not to talk about them. Actually, I try to avoid them if at all possible. And if I do say something, it is usually a few days into it, and I can’t hide it anymore.

I know a lot of people suffer from pain that is more debilitating than my headaches, and maybe I even have a low threshold for pain, but that doesn’t make them any more bearable for me.  Sometimes it feels like there is a vice around my head that is slowly being tightened. Other times the pain radiates from the base of my skull where I feel like someone just whacked me with a cast iron pan. Everything from my jaw and teeth to my throat and even to my stomach, begin to ache under the pressure, eventually leaving me nauseous and weak. And if one lasts long enough, it feels like my eyes are being forced out of their sockets under the pressure. When I lay in bed, I imagine how I could sever my head from my neck. Would I do it at the base of my skull or at the level of the shoulders?  What kind of force would be required?  I never want to actually do this,  but I never want a headache either.

As I have said before, pain is pain. Emotional or physical, they both hurt. They are both unmeasurable. They are exhausting and can be all consuming. What helps one person may not help the next.  What is tolerable to one is excruciating to the next.

So I imagine that when a person is in so much pain and they are not able to see an end to it,  dying begins to look like a solution.  I imagine this is the kind of pain that someone is in when they commit suicide. Pain that no one seems to understand.  No one knows how hard they tried to stop it, but nothing helped or it didn’t last.  There is no pill or therapy or magic potion that has sufficiently taken away their pain. So they don’t want to die, but they need the pain to stop.

I wonder if we change the conversation around suicide, by helping people

***If you or someone you know is in pain, please take it seriously.   There are crisis lines, therapists, doctors and support networks of all kinds, look for them, reach out.  If the first place you look doesn’t have what you need, try the next until you find what’s right for you. In my experience, when we are able to reach out, we are often pleasantly surprised at how quickly a situation can change.   

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What I need, I will learn today

*This is a guest post written by my longtime friend Kimberley Eland.

The truth about being truthful and the power to carry it out.

I love to write. Period. I love stationery and paper, pens and markers. I love the smell of bounded journals and books and the weight of them. I love the way letters, fonts and words fit together like pieces of a puzzle on a board. For a very long time, I’ve wanted to write. A poem, a song or just something of meaning, I’ve wanted to leave “a mark” as they say.

I also love photography and art. I love how the light can play tricks on the eye and I love how it changes over the course of an hour, a day, a season. I love that in the summer, the colour green abounds. In the winter, I love how the light can reflect off of the snow and create prisms of colour that sparkle like diamonds. I love how the sky can change from gray to purple to blue to white and back again in minutes. I especially love it when I catch the moment and can capture it in a photograph or a drawing. When I do this, I feel like I’ve caught a wrinkle in time! Sometimes, when I need inspiration, I can go back to that wrinkle, even if it doesn’t exist in real time and come back to the start. Begin again if you will. Once again, leaving a trace or a mark as if to appease my huge ego by fanciful ideas of greatness.

So why haven’t I done anything about this? Why haven’t I just sat down and considered doing something? I’ve taken notes, jotted a few lines here and there. I’ve even penned out a couple of rudimentary poems but never considered them “good” enough to share or to learn by heart. Why is that? Why do I procrastinate?

Fear made me frozen and I was knee deep in denial and blame.

On November 30th, 2017 I received a diagnosis: “You have a tumour in your right eye and it is cancerous”. All the time I thought I was doing everything right, what I ate, how I exercised, my sleep patterns were regular, I had a house, a family a good job, good friends…. all of this came to a halt in one afternoon at a hospital in Montreal. To clarify, these things didn’t actually stop existing, they simply stopped being “a part of my life as I knew it” and had to become “a part of my life with a life-threatening diagnosis”.

When I found out that there was something in my eye, doom and gloom moved in and created a frenzy inside. It sat with me, it sang me to sleep, it woke me in the middle of the night and it haunted my waking hours. I am ashamed to admit that I told myself that I “had it coming”. Why would a person do this to themselves? I figured that because I wasn’t satisfied with my life, thinking that I never had enough time to do the things I truly wanted to do, like write or paint or play music or take great pictures then I deserved the wake-up call that the Universe was offering me. Here’s the strange part, compassion came to visit and it was telling me I was sleeping through my life, just coasting at a speed that was fast enough to get from A to B but slow enough to not upset my apple cart. Looking back to the time before my diagnosis, I realize that I was headed for a crash, even though I was following traffic and obeying the rules, I did not realize that by making excuses and blaming others for my lack time was the equivalent of driving in the middle of the autoroute all the while going in the wrong direction. A crash was imminent, it seems obvious to me now, I wasn’t going to listen to any other way. My self-loathing and lack of self-compassion attracted an event that was the necessary evil to make me STOP and look at my life from an entirely new perspective.

I had to welcome the demon and acknowledge its presence before I could focus on my truth.

I have been fortunate enough to allow for my demons. I have been a self-loathing person faced with the reality that I too am worthy of love. This brought me to my knees. I was overwhelmed and caught off guard by the influx of love and support I was receiving. Someone said to me: “You have been there for your family, your husband, your children, your friends. You gave them your hand when they needed it, now it is your turn to accept the hand they offer you. You deserve it”. I had never really taken stock of it, yet it is now my understanding that without love, hope and faith are impossible dreams. I have it all it doesn’t have to be impossible. Why can’t I write? Why can’t I sing? Why can’t I take photos and enjoy the light? I can. I will. I am. The truth is that I was blaming my lack of motivation on fatigue and too much time spent at work. What I am now noticing is that I was miserable at work because I was telling myself that it is what I have to do in order to eventually have time to do all the other stuff. That is just a boatload of crazy. I do not need to work 40 hours in 4 days to have a day off just so that I can get the house cleaned up and the laundry caught up. I can figure this out. The truth is that I have to actually DO something about it for it to work. I know I have discipline, I just need to refocus and direct it in the other direction. I also have to embrace the reality of failure and that it doesn’t need to define me. Just like cancer, you can get a diagnosis and it is very real, but it doesn’t have to define you.

 

If I practice being more true and authentic, I can acknowledge that I needed to make a change and that I’ve been out of alignment for years. I’ve failed at jobs and tasks that I was asked to do. It doesn’t have to define me unless I allow it. I can let go and allow my prognosis to be different. Just. Like. Me. The demon inside my heart showed its ugly head, its shame, its truth and I captured it in a photograph, in a wrinkle. It’s not as malignant as I thought it was. It’s unique and kind of beautiful and it deserves recognition. I know in my heart that I will have to practice my truth every day. Authenticity cannot be mastered. There are no diplomas. I will never graduate. But I will live my life as it is meant to be. Not by telling myself to push through and bear it but rather to lean in and allow it to take me where I need to go. On many occasions I have asked the question: “ What should I do?” and the answer has come from many different teachers: “The answer is in you.” OK. I heard. Now, I’m listening. I’m afraid because I’m human. I’ve been numb because I’m human. I have not been practicing for long. I know that fear of failure and disappointment has kept me frozen for a long time. I want to live this life, my life within the collective universe. I am choosing to get off the autoroute that goes smooth and fast and take the back roads. It isn’t an easy route. But it can be simple. I just have to practice more at being OK with it. Another friend once sent me a photo with the caption: “Climbing mountains is hard work, but my legs are so very strong because of my willingness to ascent”, or at least that is the message that I understood in the caption. My legs are strong. My heart is full. There will be darkness but there will be light. Life it seems is a paradox and I’m willing to be one too. One day at a time.

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Photo by Kimberley Eland

 

 

The Weight of Depression

One of the main symptoms of my depression feeling stuck or weighted down.  Literally, like being stuck in the snow up to my eyes and although possible to move, it requires considerably more strength than someone who is free.  But since it is the air that is thick and heavy, and not snow, getting out of bed when the weight of the air holds you down is exhausting, or even impossible. And yet we’re expected to hop out of bed like someone who is weightless. I believe that it is one of the reasons depressed people often stay in bed, whether sleeping or not, it is not that we want to. We just don’t have the physical strength required to move.  One of the most frustrating aspects of this is that at end of the day when we feel like we’ve got nothing done, we have in fact we’ve exerted more energy than most people. Unfortunately, this is not reflected on our to-do list.

In the winter this feeling is often intensified as I feel stuck in my home because the energy required to bundle up, scrape off the car, or walk anywhere is so much more work when depression is already weighing me down.  Luckily, the weight is not too heavy these days, but sometimes it still comes over me like a heavy blanket dropped from the sky. I find it hard to see or move and I can feel disconnected from what is going on around me. Like the little Buddha in my garden waiting for the snow to melt, I wait for the blanket to be lifted so I can move freely again, and sometimes waiting it out is all that I can do.

Those of us who have survived depression or other mental health issues are literally stronger people as a result of having to exert the force required just to get up every day.

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