To the Gates!

 

gates

Not long ago my husband and I were having a [discussion/argument, tomayto/tomahto]. He said to me, you may take up a small physical space [all 5’0 of me], but you take up a lot of energetic space. You’re big, bigger than you realize. When he said this, I had taken up the majority of the room with my “space.”

I realized in that moment the truth in what he was saying.

I have always been shy and reserved to the outside world, because I am, as I will often and readily admit, a bona fide introvert. I don’t have the ability to voice in person what I can easily voice in the written word because I require the extra time, the extra space that verbal conversations don’t allow for. By the time I finish processing the exact correct response I wish for, the moment is long gone. Put me on the spot and I freeze, able only to communicate some nonsensical gibberish that can label the moment nothing but awkward.

I have had a difficult time in my life reckoning these two opposing sides of myself, the bigger than big, with the socially small. My need to identify has always left me in conflict with myself.

I recall quite clearly that as a young child I was extremely self-assured. I was born with purpose, I had a strong mind and I knew it. Everyone knew it. You could feel it, practically see it. It was all the difference between how I was treated compared to my much better-behaved older sister. I was born owning the space I occupied.

But over time that feeling disappeared. As I naturally became more socially aware, grew to learn of the world’s expectations of me, grew to understand politics in its various forms, and as the introvert in me solidified into the core of my being, that large space I occupied felt, to me, to be very, very small. Tiny even. I didn’t understand or even recognize its existence. I denied it entirely.

This went on through my teens, through my twenties. On the outside the quiet one, the wallflower, the cute one, the shy one. On the inside full of spunk, angst, confusion, and fight. Conflicted. There were moments when my inner strength barreled through and in those moments I felt undeniably free, viscerally elevated. And yet I never recognized that this could be a permanent state, always reverting back to my small, introverted self.

In my thirties this inner conflict crumbled. Between the cloudy fatigue of motherhood and the onset of some health complications, I didn’t always recognize myself. I was searching. I often turned to writing as my own personal therapy, looking for clues in my own written word, processing information every time I sat at my computer.

You see I knew one thing for certain, that same thing I knew right from the time I was born. I am on this earth for a reason, just like all of us. I know I am meant to be here, I just don’t always understand the why. I could not see through the mental, emotional and energetic haze, to whatever is meant to be on the other side. Big personality me and small introvert me did not understand how to coexist, and did not understand this as their life’s mission. They only understood that something had to give.

But, somewhere inside of me, resting in the shadow of ego, I was afraid of what would happen, could happen, if it did.

Tangent story: Not too many years ago I began working for a company that really felt in line with my core values. I was excited beyond measure for this opportunity. I knew it was where I was meant to be at that time in my life, I just knew I needed to work there and I was so grateful that everything had aligned as it did. For the first time in many years, I loved going to work.

But.

There was a very large but that grew to exist. It turned out that although the company seemed to be aligned with my values, my boss most certainly was not. He was what I could only comfortably refer to as “a bad man.”

While I don’t want to allow him too much space in my story, in the vein of everything happens for a reason, I have to acknowledge that my time working with him was a climactic chapter at the end of my thirties, and because of it I am able to close this decade with purpose if not grace.

To put it quite simply, he was that annoying type of conservative who, after the election of Trump, thought it was safe to uncloset himself as the racist, sexist, homophobic person he was. He felt he could spew his opinions freely without reprimand, and so did. He was incredibly arrogant.

Working in that environment triggered a very deep and burning anger inside me. I was compelled to speak out every time he opened his mouth. I can’t count the number of times I kicked him out of my office. I could easily tell him to his face what I thought of him, going against introvert me and taking up that extra-large space surrounding petite me. I called it like I saw it and then some.

Despite my anger I made efforts to be mature. I offered insights, requested reason, and was completely honest in my bluntness, but none of it mattered. I saw in him something that he did not see in himself: that he was weak, that he needed this carefully constructed persona in order to feel important, that his ego was so fragile that even a hint of negativity towards him would cause him to fall to pieces, and so he could only strengthen the conceits and deceits with which he surrounded himself to prevent this from happening. I was the one person that threatened this construct.

I almost felt sorry for him, really. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t bring myself to hate him because I could see the truth of what he really was, a truly lost human, and one who will likely never find his way home.

Yet still, I burned. I burned on behalf of those he spoke out against. Most especially, I burned on behalf of all women, any woman who ever had to deal with this level of [stupid]. I burned because it was the first time in my life I ever experienced sexism against the smart, strong and wholly capable person I know myself to be, and I burned because I couldn’t passively allow such sexism to still exist in the world where my smart, strong and wholly capable daughter will grow to occupy. I felt called to resist.

The aftermath of this story, after the dust settled and the deep burning had subsided to slow and steady embers, what was left behind was the strongest, most conviction-filled version of me my life had known thus far.

Tangents converge: This week in Quebec, with the passing of Bill 21 and all the legalized racism that goes with it, I found myself boiling with anger, the same kind of dark anger I felt working under [old stupid boss], and I wanted to react. But I’m almost-40 now, I’ve experienced a few things, I learned from my experiences. I’ve taken the time to listen.

In the same week Oprah came to town and spoke about being a light during times of darkness. My husband reminded me of the Obama’s expression, When they go low, we go high. And reading some words from the Dalai Lama reminded me that anger is futile, and that only clear and conscious communication in the name of love and peace can make any real difference.

So in the face of small-minded racism, and in the spirit of knowing my own strength, I’ve taken a stance of peaceful activism. I could just ignore it. I mean, we can’t change the law, now can we? But I would rather have been the kind of person that hid Jews during the Nazi regime rather than held the letter of the law. I would rather have been the kind of person working the underground railroad. Of all the instances of racism against a people throughout the past century, even just in Canada [the aboriginals, the Japanese…], I cannot just sit down and drink my coffee and live my life saying nothing, with another people being targeted in such an unconstitutional way. Anger may be futile, but I do still hold a burning drive deep in my belly that refuses to allow me to remain silent.

The suffragettes had a slogan, The young are at the gates. It was an expression representing activism and change derived from this quote from Lavinia Dock: “The old stiff minds must give way. The old selfish minds must go. Obstructive reactionaries must move on. The young are at the gates!”  I refer to this slogan often, within myself, as a reminder that I too can make a difference. That I will show up to the gates, and I will do my part to have them be opened to one and all. As a woman, especially, this is important to me. With Bill 21 targeting women, especially, this is important to me.

And as a woman, especially, I can’t help but think about my strength, and the strength of all the women I know. I can’t help but think that “it is the neck that moves the head.”* I can’t help but think, “Men, They thought they ruled the world but couldn’t so much as take a step without, that very night, seeking the opinions of their partners, lovers, girlfriends, mothers.”** I can’t help but remember that in times of darkness I have already been a light for myself, and that I have a responsibility to be a light for others. I can’t help but recall, “I’ve always heard that women are more courageous and intelligent that men…”** I can’t help but look way down the line of our ancestry, before these past 2000 plus years, to societies past, and understand how women once led with grace and balance, and how it was widely recognized that the masculine, without the feminine, did not a balanced society make.

And I can’t help but know that women learn from their experiences, as I am professing to doing now. Women grow, mature, and bring that maturity to the table. Women have sense, and in this current society where sense there is none, sense is what is needed.

I guess what I am getting at, in a very long-winded sort of way, is that women have the power to set things straight in this world. We have the strength and we have the staying power to get the job done. We are fierce, brave, smart, determined, reasonable and strong. We burn, but as beacons of light that are never extinguished. Women are capable instigators of change. I am an instigator of change.

When a pendulum is too far in one direction for too long, it sometimes takes a great big push before it can find equilibrium. As a woman I feel the need to push, because it’s 2019***, because my daughter already thinks being mayor is a woman’s job [Mom, are men allowed to be mayor too?], and because she feels being a doctor is a woman’s job [Mom, are there places in the world where men can be doctors too?], I sense the pendulum moving. But it needs the young at the gates, it needs the great big push, it needs to hear the feminine in all of us give a great big roar.

Because listen, equilibrium is all we are truly seeing at the end of the day. The rest of us, outside of our current governments and small-c conservatives [and those some may refer to as “the man”], we all just want to live our lives peacefully, from the comfort of our homes, wherever we choose for those homes to be. I don’t care about Bill 21 or Bill 101 or English or French or Cantonese or white or brown or red or green or male or female or religious or not religious. I care about human. We are each of us a citizen of this earth, born unto whatever deity we choose to believe in. We are each here for a reason. But that reason, at no point, involves infringing on the peaceful rights of another. And you can take that to the gates.

 

*My Big Fat Greek Wedding

**Paulo Coelho, Hippie

***Throwback to Justin Trudeau’s “Because it’s 2015.”

YOLO

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There are times in your life when you are given something, a message to heed or advice to hear, or a sign of sorts, and you’re meant to pay attention. And when you ignore it, as undoubtedly we all do, the messages tend to get louder.

I remember when I was a pre-teen, I received the book The Blue Castle as a gift. I read it repeatedly, and in the 30 or so years since, have thought about it often. As much as I adore Anne of Green Gables it has always been, for me, the L.M. Montgomery story which most touched my heart.

It’s the story of Valancy, an old maid by 1920s standards, living with her dreary family, destined for a dreary life, until the day she is issued a terminal diagnosis. This sudden news was her get out of jail card. It liberated her from having to worry about what people thought, what her family would say about this or that, and of all things, her propriety. She began acting on whim and literally changed her life, one spontaneous decision at a time. She got married, moved to a cabin in the woods and found love, in that order. And she became herself, her true self, the self that had previously been hidden away unseen. She learned happy.

As an angsty pre-teen, one who hated being kept on a leash, this story offered me a path, an escape into beauty, a way of living. I understood it’s truth and appreciated it.

But that doesn’t mean I was ready to hear and heed. It was way too easy to stew in feelings, brooding against the oppression I felt having protective parents. I honestly felt like my life couldn’t start yet, not until I moved away from home.

So I moved away for university, but my life couldn’t start yet until school was done.

And then…

And then…

Bills, mortgage, kids, school, work, hating this work, needing new work, more bills, that reno to do, homework, this bathroom is disgusting, so much work to do, so many things to plan for, and anyway, what’s for dinner?

There is always something going on ahead of me, just out of reach, that I need to take care of and plan for. Something that stops me from committing fully to living.

It’s that quote you hear about being on a train and waiting to arrive at your destination for the journey to begin. The destination is death. The journey is the train ride. We never get that. I didn’t. On a cerebral level maybe, but I never let it sink in.

There have been times in my life when it should have. I had a depression at 25 that I bounced back from, but rather than grabbing life by the horns I kind of sat back with the attitude that I got myself out of the hole, life needed to do the rest. Didn’t happen. There was that near car accident. And that other actual accident. There was that time I was standing at the edge of a cliff in Newfoundland and the ocean jumped up and threw a wave over my head, knocking me off balance. There are my thyroid flares, which are a constant reminder that I’m holding on to too much shit. My miscarriages. That time in my 20s when I had severe leg pains, and the doctor tested me for cancer, that was scary. And there’s that time a few months ago, when an unknown mass was found in my uterus. There was that “c” word again.

When you don’t listen to life knocking on your door, it will just knock harder the next time.

In life I have learned the value of humility, the deception of ego, the impact of karma. I don’t like to harp too much on anything concrete—I don’t like to say that I know anything for sure. But I do actually know one thing for sure, and it’s that I am responsible for this life of mine. Just me. Not the kid who teased me on the bus when I was a kid, not my mom for not letting me go to that party, not the boss who micromanaged me to insanity, not my kid for throwing that epic tantrum in public. Just. Me. This life is mine to live, or mine to waste. That choice it mine. That’s what free will means, I have the freedom and responsibility to make that choice.

And it is a choice. There is a light switch inside all of us that gets flicked, or not flicked, with every decision we make. Flicking the switch is not always easy, it’s actually often quite hard. There can be anxiety in your chest, your breath caught in your throat. It can require bravery and conviction. It requires a fair amount of surrender—also known as not giving a shit about the outcome. There are tools out there to help us.  Aisles of self-help books, yoga classes, vitamins, psychologists, and crystals. Mediation, exercise, diets and adult colouring books. But these are just tools, they can do no more than assist.

If you want to remove a screw from a wall you use a screwdriver. If you don’t have a screwdriver, you’re going to try a knife, a coin, your fingernails, a credit card, or even get in the car and go to the store to buy a screwdriver. But one way or another, you’re getting that baby out. You have conviction. You’re taking action. This is not a passive activity. That screw comes out not because of the tools used, but because of your conviction.

And it’s the same with life.

I know this. I have always known this.

The past few months have awakened this awareness within me. That switch has a glowing neon arrow pointed right at it. It beckons me. It says, you can keep giving a shit about meaningless shit, or you can come this way and focus on what’s actually real. What’s your choice? Are you brave enough to flick? Or are you too busy cleaning the bathroom?

Make. Your. Choice.

But, it reminds me, the next time I’ll just have to knock even louder.

 

In my life I have constantly sought moments of freedom via experiences I have chosen. Whether it be ziplining or skydiving or scuba diving, or simply long hikes or sojourns by the sea, these experiences have offered me temporary relief from caring about inconsequentials. They also have been tools, providing me nothing more than a few minutes of insight. It’s enough to know that more is possible, not enough to push me over the edge. Only I can do that.

Make. Your. Choice.

 

People use YOLO as an excuse to allow them to do stupid things. Selfish things even. Mid-life crises because YOLO. No. You only live once means be smart. Use your heart. Don’t take love for granted. Be a kind person. It means, you will die, so how do you want to live?

Make. Your. Choice.

 

It’s all the idioms and axioms and euphemisms you’ve ever heard of in your life. It’s the barrage of quotations and the advice you give to others that you never give to yourself. It’s much ado about nothing.

Flick the switch. Or not. It’s actually quite simple.

Live life, or not. Totally your call.

My call.

Am I brave enough?

Are you?

 

As for Valancy in The Blue Castle, it turns out she wasn’t dying after all. But man, did she live.

 

-mtg

On the Importance of Being Silent

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I’ve had visions these past few years, yearnings more like it, of leaving my life behind, moving to some deserted island, living off the land. I’d take my husband and kids with me for sure, but that’s about it. The older I get, the more I realize how irrelevant stuff is, how irrelevant most of my jobs have been to the grand scheme of my life, and how much I could be better served by a life of quiet solitude. Often, I just want to escape.

I imagine that it is a special kind of person who can succeed in doing so.

I’ve heard about people who were on their way home from dinner out one night, got the idea in their mind to go to Mexico, and rather than continue home aimed their car toward the border. I’ve always admired that. I’ve felt that it requires a certain amount of courage to do so. Courage I’m not certain I possess.

Once, on vacation in Puerto Plata, I met a man who taught scuba lessons to tourists at the resort. He was originally from Australia. He went to the Dominican Republic on vacation, as I had, fell in love with the Spanish culture and the rural life, and decided to stay. He wasn’t a local, but he became one over time. I admired his spirit, his decision to do something drastic with his life, and his follow through.

Courage. Follow through. And the simplicity of it all.

In my twenties I took myself on a graduation trip out west. I flew to Calgary, rented a car and drove as far as Tofino and back. I did a lot on that trip—I hiked the Rockies, I ziplined Whistler mountain, I slept on the beach under sunsets, I skydived over a Washington panorama, I partook in High Tea… But most of that trip had been planned in advance, and with a fair amount of apprehension at that. Not much had been left to spontaneity.

A few years later, at a turning point in my life, I made the decision to pack up and leave home for good. I moved to Montreal. I barely knew anyone there, not even the predominant language. I had to learn the language, learn the city, learn the culture. I needed to find work and needed to make friends. Everything was new.

You could say with either of these experiences that I was being adventurous, whimsical. And I was in many ways. Yet, still, I lacked follow through. Still, I lacked courage too.

Because with each of these experiences I also became lonely, disengaged in an undesirable way. I came to yearn for the company of loved ones, rather than allowing myself to succumb to the loneliness and grow from it. I didn’t allow myself to go to the other side, so deep inside myself that the company of others could become unnecessary. No, I wanted love, attention. I wanted to feel the presence of people.

As an introvert this is actually a tricky thing. I am not a people person, in my life there is such a thing as people overload. In a crowd I look for the exit, at a party I will search for escape. Yet, in the times in my life when I had most opportunity to introvert myself, it’s people I sought. I almost feel ashamed to admit it.

Recently, I read the book The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel, the story of Christopher Knight, a man who lived alone in the woods for 27 years. Restless in his twenties, he left his job, his apartment, and just got in his car and drove. He drove and drove, down the eastern US coast, and then back up, until one day driving into the woods as far as he could possibly go, at which point he got out and walked. Eventually he found a “suitable” space to settle down, and that’s where he remained until being discovered some 27 years later. In all that time the only word uttered to another human soul was, Hi.

I think about that compared to my own experiences. I am an introvert, yet I am also an open book. I share. I have a compulsion to share. What would I do without the ability to share? Would I turn insane?

There’s a quote from the book that reads:

Isolation is the raw material of greatness; being alone is hazardous to our health. Few other conditions produce such diametrically opposing reactions, though of course genius and craziness often share a fence line. Sometimes even voluntary solitude can send a person over to the wrong side of the fence.

Thinking back to my trip out west, I moved to the wrong side of the fence.

It began with a sense of adventure. I felt free, liberated. I also felt apprehension at the unfamiliar surroundings. Each day spent in a city felt strange, I only felt at home in nature. I kept leaving Calgary for Banff, preferring the rugged outdoors to navigating a new city. By hiking amongst the rocks, lakes and trees I felt peaceful and free. In those moments I neither needed nor wanted for anyone.

But that trip was spent moving from place to place. I stayed in hostels, witnessed other travelers who were moving in groups of two or three. They had people to eat with, cook with, walk with. Everywhere I went, I was alone. Restaurants, alone. Movies, alone. Every walk, every car ride, every new sighting or adventure was passed alone. For friendship I had my books and journal, they kept me company, spoke to me, gave me space to share and communicate. But it was all in my head, I was constantly in my head.

By the time I reached Whistler I began to feel the first pangs of loneliness. I realized that I was beginning to separate myself from fellow travellers on purpose, was avoiding even the chance at conversation. On my zipline trek our guide took an interest in me, he seemed to admire the adventure in me, my willingness to just let go of my harness, and let go of myself. He invited me to join him and his group of friends at a bar that evening. I was content for having gained that interest by doing nothing more than just being myself. Yet I stayed away. There was no chance in hell I was going to a bar that night, to socialize with a bunch of strangers, to put myself in a position of having to extrovert myself, perhaps even to entertain romantic advances. No. But I was so lonely. Two weeks of communicating only with myself and I had gone from intentional time alone to apathetic seclusion. I hit a wall. I see now that I could have embraced that wall and become stronger for it. Then, all I felt was the wall. Insecurities set in. What the hell was I doing?

I continued on. The ferry to Victoria. The walk along Emily Carr’s old jaunts. Whale watching in the fog. All lovely, all peaceful, all alone. I was invited to dine with some ladies who felt bad for me eating solo- I declined. I continued on to Tofino, fell in love with the beaches, the water, the soft hues and the rugged land. I never wanted to leave. I did. I went to Nanaimo, slept above a bar that had music blaring into the night. It was the most noise I’d heard in almost three weeks. The voices of bar goers hitting the streets after closing time induced fear. I longed for Tofino. I even longed for home although I didn’t care to admit it. I wish I had returned to Tofino.

I continued home, sick, relieved, proud, disappointed. I sensed intrinsically that I had missed out on an opportunity to learn something about myself, something meaningful to my future life.

I missed out again that first year after my move. I spent a lot of time alone that year—a lot. Whether out in coffee shops, bookstores, restaurants, or simply wandering the streets, I had ample time for reflection. I would meet people through my various jobs but as each job was worse than the previous, I never stayed long enough to develop any meaningful relationships with anyone. That first Montreal winter, spent mostly alone in my apartment with only my dog for company, that may have been one of the lowest points of my life. Pure, utter solitude. Loneliness. Rather than embrace it I wept. I yearned for friendship, romance, companionship. I found solace in words, in writing. I took to the internet for support and interaction. Nothing filled the void. I lacked the courage to fill my own void.

That was me in my twenties. Looking back, now approaching the cusp of 40, I see that I missed out on an invaluable lesson. One that Christopher Knight may have understood, one that Emily Carr may have understood, and any other who has chosen apartness, seclusion, change, at least once in their lifetime. In my thirties, I now understand.

Although people are social creatures, it is not by being in the company of others that we can find our true selves. Whether you are an extrovert who feeds off the energy of others, or an introvert who prefers introspective silence, we all have an ultimate goal of learning who we are, and being the best of ourselves that we can be. And no matter who you are, if this isn’t achieved, discontentment is the result. And no matter who you are, silence is the key.

This is the secret that one can learn from alone time: Silence is truly golden. Simplicity is everything. Less is where to find more. Lightness follows purging. Freedom can be found in solitude. As such, it is not loneliness that transpires from seclusion or escape, but quite the opposite… if you allow it.

What I mean is, in those times in my life where I had the opportunity to seclude myself, I also had the opportunity to become more of myself—to dive deeper, to become stronger, to become more confidently me. Ultimately, in my twenties, I wasn’t courageous enough to go that far. Thus I sought asylum in the company of others. That loneliness I felt was created from my weaknesses and insecurities. I caused it to exist.

And here is another thing: Introvert or extrovert, it is all the same. I have recognized in my adult life that doors do not open easily for me as they may for others. Connections are not easily made. I sense this is an introvert vs extrovert thing, I know that I must be willing to put myself out there socially in order to earn certain advantages. “It’s who you know,” as they say. But I also recognize that these connections are finite, as all life is finite, and that there is something larger at play—and that is the importance of not only knowing, but being yourself.

I recognize now that even if I don’t ever get the job I always wanted, I will have lived. And even if I never win the lottery, I will have lived. And even if I never write that book, and even if I never sell a painting, and even if that particular dream never is achieved, I will have lived. And lived well.

And I will have loved. And I will have felt a child’s arms around my neck, been called for in the middle of the night, watched a family of seals at play in the ocean, felt the security of a roof over my head each night. I will have felt the sun on my face, I will have tasted peas and tomatoes right off the vine.  I will have been called mom, wife, daughter, sister. I will have listened to the ocean, watched sunrises and sunsets, spent hours in the garden. I will have felt the satisfaction of a good day’s work.

The sum of these experiences equals a life lived. When you cut out the noise, calls to measure your success, comparisons on who has what and who has bigger, there is silence. When you cut out political ranting, news-worthy stories, fear-mongering, talk of borders, talk of religion, there is silence. When you stop wondering what you want to be when you grow up, and simply be, there is silence. When you stop wondering what to do, and simply do, there is silence. When you stop looking for love, and simply love, there is silence.

I have a memory of my mom from when I was a child. It stands out for me as different from most of my other memories growing up. It’s a rare glimpse into a person I never knew my mom to be, a side of her I never saw. She was washing the floor—that was normal enough—but she was in a zone. She had a mood about her, a palpable aura. My mom is very much an extrovert, she is generally someone who loves the spotlight, talks more than listens, and although she has big feelings, she is not someone I consider to be introspective. But in that moment she was in a deeply quiet place. The song The Rose by Bette Midler was playing on cassette, my mom was singing along.  She was having a moment.

The Rose is not just a love song, but a song about love. It’s beautiful, really. It touches the heart in both sad and eager ways. If you love, it can bring you to love harder. If you’re lonely, it can cause you to yearn. Watching my mother, the extroverted social butterfly of the family, it’s her loneliness that I felt.

Knowing this, and feeling this, I know that loneliness strikes us all—all who do not wait for the silence, all who seek to fill the void. It’s when we succumb to the noise, whether external or internal, that we cause ourselves to suffer. And when we let go, it’s then that we are free.

It’s the eccentrics of this world, the hermits, the courageous and the adventurous, who find their way to this lesson. It’s the ones who learn to appreciate the silence who know that it isn’t about the job, the size of the house, the number of friends or how many likes your get on social media. These are the ones who brave seclusion long enough to know that there is no such thing as being alone.

You don’t need to isolate yourself in a forest for 27 years. You don’t need to drive to Mexico. You don’t need to go further than your own backyard, as long as you can drown out the noise. You don’t need to separate yourself from people, you don’t need to deny yourself anything, you don’t need to avoid anything. You don’t need to leave it all behind. Some do, and I admire them, my spirit is moved by that persuasion. But that doesn’t work for everyone, and that’s ok.

But silence does. Simplicity can. Loneliness is but a state of mind. Freedom belongs to us all. All who are courageous enough to seek, a little further, a little deeper into themselves.

I still have yearnings to leave it all behind. I am greatly intrigued by a dream that exists in a small, private space in my heart. Someday, perhaps, I will turn the car in the direction of that dream. For now, I know I have the courage to go deeper, the presence to be more, the strength just to be. Silent.

Six Truths Bad Moms Has Opened the Can On

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Recently my Facebook feed has been filled with moms excitedly flocking to their nearest movie theatre, taking giddy selfies and eagerly waiting for the lights to dim. Why? Why are moms so excited to kiss their kids good night and scurry for the door? It’s because, for a few brief and glorious hours, one film is giving moms permission to be bad and, it seems it feels pretty good.

Bad Moms. This movie that is slapstick comedy at it’s most crass, containing more swearing than a boatload of sailors could compete with, is also hilariously liberating and undeniably spot-on. Seriously, I can’t remember the last time I laughed this hard.

But cut through the ridiculousness and hilarity and you get to the real truth of the matter– this movie speaks to the very core of today’s moms. It literally pulls back the blinds and opens the can on some very real truths that today’s moms are presented with. I’m not generally one for writing list-based articles, but this is a list that writes itself.

So here we are, Six Truths Bad Moms Has Opened the Can On:

1)Today’s kids are overscheduled.

When I was a kid my parents never put me in camps or anything extracurricular, it wasn’t in the budget. But what I did get was freedom to roam the backyard, freedom to spend entire days reading, and freedom to construct any project my imagination brought forth. This experience made me the writer and crafter I am today. My husband grew up in a small coastal village with only one channel on the television. Although he did have some extracurricular pursuits, much of his childhood was spent finding ways to fill the hours by his own devices. If he was bored, he alone needed to find ways to change that. If he took to the outdoors, if he took to his books, it was because he had time, freedom, and boredom driving him.

Time, freedom and boredom, three things significantly lacking in the lives of today’s kids. Some parents, I believe, feel they are doing their kids a disservice by not signing up for every different sort of activity. Some parents are so overscheduled themselves that it is easier on them to keep their kids busy. But is it? My family does not respond well to the constant rush of work, activities, meal-planning, and home management. When we feel rushed we are stressed and tired. When my husband and I are stressed and tired, so are our kids. Because it’s not just us rushing around, it’s them too. When sometimes, all they really want to be doing, rather than soccer practice or learning tennis or piano lessons, is playing in our own backyard.

2) Let kids be kids.

My sister is a primary school teacher, and after too many years spent watching kids get pushed beyond their readiness, she herself adopted the attitude of letting kids be kids. I learned it from her, and I’m totally OK with it. It’s why I don’t agree with hours of homework, in pushing young kids to sit for long spells and concentrate after already sitting for long spells in the classroom. Kids need play, they need time to figure life out on their own, they need to make messes. They also need time to unwind, to allow the day’s stresses to leave their bodies. They don’t need expectations on their accomplishments or to be held to competitive standards. This doesn’t mean allowing our kids to be lazy, but it does mean recognizing that each kid is different, and adjusting how much pressure we as parents must apply. And, it also means saving time for fun!

3) Doing too much for our kids raises the bar on their sense of entitlement.

I’ve had this conversation more times than I can count. I’ll be with another mom and we’ll be talking about our kids, and it often comes back to how entitled today’s kids seem to feel. The conversation usually ends with one of us saying something like, “I would never have spoken like that to my parents when I was a kid!”

A part of the problem is that, in our striving for perfection, we moms have become enablers. I notice it even with my own young kids– as I naturally catered to their every need as babies and toddlers, the expectation was already set that I would continue to meet their every whim without any return effort. I am constantly met with surprise and resistance as they are gradually being made to do things on their own that would previously have been done for them.

Another part of the problem is that it is often simply easier for us moms to do things ourselves rather than wait for our kids to do them. Let’s face it, we’re busy as all heck. There are so many demands on our time, so much that needs to get done in a day. It’s so much easier to just do it and get it over with… except of course, for the expectation it builds in our kids that mom will indeed take care of everything. We end up inadvertently teaching our kids entitlement when they should be learning accountability.

It would be wise to remember that what’s easiest in the short term only screws us in the long run. And also, entitled kids grow into entitled adults, and nobody wants that.

4) Judgment between moms sucks.

Village. That is all.

5) Who said fun was supposed to end with motherhood?

One thing I’ve noticed, in the attempts at perfection and the judgment and the stress and the actually-I’m-flailing-on-the-inside-ness, is that we take mothering so seriously these days. Everything. Is. So. Serious. All. The. Time. And along with taking motherhood seriously, we ourselves have become serious. So serious. Uptight. High strung. Overall, less fun.

We have a thousand items on our check lists, we have a gazillion things to get done in every day, and we worry a lot about not getting it right 100% of the time. It’s exhausting and it wears us down, and we forget all too easily that we also have lives of our own that need living.

We don’t need to throw a booming drunken house party a la Mila Kunis (I’ve sadly never danced on a table in my entire life), but we can still have fun, laugh, and enjoy a life outside of our kids. And we don’t need to take our jobs as moms quite so seriously either. It’s OK to let go.

Seriously. It’s OK.

6) We all have a secret in the closet just itching to get out.

Perfection doesn’t exist. Although we still kill ourselves trying we all undoubtedly fail every now and then. And we all have something we are ashamed to admit.

Mine? I’m a yeller.

My mom was a yeller. I never knew that I would be one too, there wasn’t much indication pre-motherhood. But somewhere along the way– sometime past 8pm when I was exhausted and my kids were refusing to stay in their rooms and I was on my 100th trip up the stairs — the yeller came out. Once out, she was hard to put back in. I try hard. I shove her back into the closet, I push on the door with all my might, usually with little bits still poking out. Yet, every once in a while she returns, often lurking in the darkness late at night.

Here’s the thing, I’m not perfect. But that’s the point, none of us are. Being imperfect doesn’t make us bad moms, it makes us human. Yet even if it did make us bad moms by today’s very high standards, how liberating it would be…. if we could only allow ourselves the freedom to let go and be “bad.”

Which perhaps is a seventh final truth to add to the list: Sometimes being bad is actually very, very good.

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Free to Be Me: All Anyone Really Wants

Be free

I’ve written a few posts on judgment lately, and it continues to be a subject at the forefront of my cerebrum. And on the subject of judgment I had a bit of an a-ha moment this morning, so I thought I would take the time to share.

I am a Christian-raised, practicing non-Christian, who loves the Bible. What I love about the Bible are the stories it tells, which in my own personal view are but beautiful metaphors on how we can each live better and more loving lives. One such metaphor is this one, which always stuck to the inside of my mind since I was a wee one attending Catholic school: “…First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Ouch. Talk about telling it straight. But how accurate is this statement? How totally on point? Most often we who dish have no business doing so in the first place.

My a-ha moment came because I was reading a blog post in which the author was quite tired of having to defend his religious faith. This struck me as interesting because of my own personal experiences, where I’ve grown tired of having to defend my faith outside of religion. And it struck me that with everything that is going on in the world today, everyone, everywhere is tired.

The way I see it, judgment acts as a swinging pendulum. On one side someone judges, on the other side the person judged incites reverse judgment as a defense. The cycle is a self-perpetuating-yet-mutually-destructive machine.

Let’s look at an example:

My son loves peanut butter, obsessively. My daughter despises peanut butter and won’t touch it with a ten foot spoon. Each breakfast my daughter judges my son’s peanut butter toast and refuses to sit near him so as not even to smell the peanut butter. This makes my son feel alienated, hurts his feelings, and makes him defensive of his right to consume peanut butter. In defense, my son lashes out at my daughter. Sometimes his hurt resembles reverse judgment of whatever toast topping my daughter happens to be enjoying. Sometimes it comes out in physical pushing or hitting (he’s three, by the way). Sometimes it resembles bursts of whines and tears. All are ways in which my son expresses his hurt, yet one of these methods is a reverse-judgment, one is violent, and only one is a clear expression of hurt. And yet, all clearly represent my son’s desire to simply eat his peanut butter toast in peace.

So, like with me and religion, in my desire to believe what I want to believe, I have at times in my life lashed out at organized religion, at times felt anger, at times felt alone and vastly misunderstood. The truth is that I don’t need to be understood, I don’t need anyone in my life to believe the same as I do, I don’t even need to discuss my faith with my loved ones, but I do need to feel like I’m allowed to be myself– totally, naturally completely myself.

Which is all anyone ever wants, the right to be freely themselves.

But it is in defense of my desire to be free to be myself that I lash out, often in unjust and unfair ways.

This, however, leads to the question, where do you draw the line? At an amusement park this week, two men seen hugging were told not to hug. The Black Lives Matter movement has been followed by voices shouting that all lives matter. In the US, much of the population continues to fight for their right to bear arms. In all situations, judgment has been at play, but cannot both sides lay claim to being judged? Cannot both sides express their desire to freely act on their beliefs?

Back in the day, I worked one-on-one with kids in a counselling role. As a part of my training I learned that under the word of the law, I was not allowed to disclose anything that was spoken about within the walls of the therapy room. Unless. Unless the child claimed that they intended on doing harm to themselves. Unless the child claimed that they intended on doing harm to another. Unless the child disclosed that harm was being done to them. Physical or emotional harm, this was the deciding factor.

Two men hugging does not do harm. The one who judged them did.
Black Lives Matter does not do harm. Those who judge the movement do.
Guns and gun rights do cause harm. Pointe finale.

With my son’s adoration of peanut butter I ask my daughter frequently to consider these questions: Does he have the right to enjoy his peanut butter? Is he hurting you by eating peanut butter (in our allergy-free home)? When the answer undoubtedly points to him causing no harm by enjoying the food he most naturally prefers to enjoy, the answer is simply to leave him be.

Leave it be.

Live and let live.

Mind your own business.

Keep calm and carry on.

Look to the log in your own eye.

All ways of saying, let your judgments lie, allow your brothers and sisters the freedom to be the people they naturally are.

But the onus also rests on us to not partake in the swinging of the pendulum, to not join in by reverse-judging out of self-defense, to not feed the monster. In A Course in Miracles it states, “Judgment, like any other defense, can be used to attack or protect, to hurt or to heal.” Meaning, there’s a way use judgment to your benefit, to use your best judgment to help you make the best decisions. We can all decide what to listen to and what to ignore, who to spend time with and who to leave alone, what fights to take on and what are not worth expending our energy on. Acting out in defense is a choice. Sometimes that choice is a worthy one, but sometimes, sometimes, we are only acting out because our feelings are hurt, and because all we really want is the freedom to be ourselves.

An Introvert’s Guide to Small Talk

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A year ago I accompanied my husband to his 25th high school reunion. I knew very few people, and I felt semi-miserable. I was really uncomfortable as an outsider in the room. I was really uncomfortable playing at being social. I wished, over and over again, that we had brought our kids along so I could hide behind them. My happiest point of the night was when I escaped to the outdoors, sitting at a picnic table and watching the sun go down through the trees.

Moral of the story, I am a bona fide introvert.

I recently had the privilege of accompanying my husband on a yearly organized vacation for a few hand-picked high-performers within the company for which he works. It’s the ultimate prize for hard work and dedication. It is also a prize for the partners of these select employees, for putting up with the time away from home our spouses put in. Which is, let me tell you, a lot.

It was in many respects a true vacation, during which we were truly spoiled, and in other respects, it was an opportunity for company politicking and a way to get to know colleagues on personal rather than purely professional levels.  Needless to say, there was a lot of small talk happening.

For the employees, small talk revolved around tech-based jargon, acronyms no outsider could possibly understand. They had it easy, they had an immediate common ground by which to break the ice. For the partners, small talk was just small talk. Something I really suck at.

An extrovert can walk up to a complete stranger, introduce themselves and start a conversation without batting an eye. An introvert would rather eat dirt than have to make small talk. 

So here’s the thing, I’m an introvert, and I freaking hate small talk. I am much happier not talking at all than talking about nothing of value. Which is weird sometimes, and can make things kind of awkward for others. As an introvert I am totally and completely comfortable with silence. I love it, I thrive in it. However, when you put comfortably-silent me next to a colleague or acquaintance—namely, someone who doesn’t know me well enough to be comfortable with the silence—yeah, it can be a little awkward. For them. 

began to wonder, in the first few days of our trip, if I should be putting out more effort to mingle and dazzle, if I was doing enough to represent my husband in the company of his peers. My sole intention for the trip as a whole had been to fully and completely relax, I wasn’t prepared for suddenly feeling like I needed to work (or, at least, work the room). 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately on how I fully intend on being a wild ‘n crazy old lady someday.  You know, the kind of old lady that you see riding roller coasters in her 80s, that speaks her mind without giving a crap, and who goes on weekend romps to the casino with her fellow wild gal pals. I fully intend on being the type of old lady for whom proprieties be damned.

In my mind, however, being this type of crazy old broad also means being loud and flamboyant, an extrovert to the nth degree. I felt as though I would need to extrovert myself were I to fulfill my aging desire. I was pondering the conundrum on our vacation when all factors collided and everything suddenly made sense.

Being a crazy old broad really just means doing whatever one feels like doing. It is living life as the most free and unfettered self one can be. It is the ultimate, I-know-who-I-am-and-your-opinion-doesn’t-matter. There is nothing in the rule books that says being extroverted is a part of the deal. Don’t-give-a-shit-ness has nothing to do with extroversion, and everything to do with having the confidence to simply be yourself. Me, simply being myself, is someone who doesn’t like small chit chat and would be a thousand times happier sitting alone with a book than trying to impress people through unnatural conversation. 

It didn’t matter that we were on this vacation with several of my husband’s colleagues of various ranks. For one, it’s my husband that needs to worry about impressing them, and given that we were on that vacation, I assume that deed had already been done. Also, these guys were all on vacation too, and probably also just wanting to relax. And also, there’s nothing more impressive than a person who’s just being who they naturally are. 

My personal solution to small talk was to simply not partake. If I had something I wanted to share, I shared. If I didn’t, I was silent. Joyously silent. As quiet inside as I was out. And enjoying our trip so much more because of it.

In this world there are the introverts and the extroverts. Both are necessary. But being either is only relevant when you are being your most natural, your most free, your most true self. You can be a Chatty McChatster or quiet as a monk in meditation, but whoever you are, be confident about it. 

I’ve figured out that I can be the most wild and crazy introverted broad around. And I like it. I like it a lot.

Baa Baa Goes the Black Sheep

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Growing up I was the black sheep of the family. At times this made me feel special, indignant, feisty—ready to fight the good fight. At times it made me feel different, separate, like a sore thumb rather than one amongst the clan. Much of my life has been driven by this push and pull—wanting to live full throttle by my black sheep ways, and wanting to feel a part of the family flock. Teenagehood was especially defined by my fight to express the person I naturally am (colourful/wild/free) against the backdrop of reasonable, nose-to-the-ground practicality. I won that fight eventually, my family learned to let Maria be Maria, to not ask questions, and to keep their opinions out of ear shot. I was okay with making mistakes if those mistakes were all my own. I only wanted the freedom to make whatever decision felt right, to experience circumstance and consequence, and to know it was I alone who got me to that place.

Somewhere in my twenties I lost colourful/wild/free me. It may have been amidst some personal dramas that left me emotionally dry. It may have been after meeting my husband—also colourful/wild/free, and me feeling the need for one of us to be reigned in. It may have been not knowing how to be colourful/wild/free around my salt-of-the-earth in-laws (for being a black sheep around your own flesh and blood is not the same as being a black sheep around your spouse’s). It may just have been the realities of adult life, the spiritual toll of being out of my home 50 hours per week, working to afford that home… I don’t know. But lost it I did, and life for a while was lived in a stress-induced state. When you are not living as your natural self, you are stressed. Your body responds physically to what is not right within you.

stressed

I’m currently reading How to be Alive: A Guide to the Kind of Happiness that Helps the World, by Colin Beavan. It’s interesting…to a black sheep like me. Someone who, by Beavan’s definition, is a bit of a lifequester.

How to be Alive is a book about living authentically rather than following a protocol on how we think we should be living. Specifically, its premise is that if you live your life by doing the things you deeply enjoy, that you will naturally share what you love with the world around you, which will naturally enhance your community and society, and thereby naturally bring meaning back into your own life. So, basically, you get what you give. Choose to give value, and receive value in return.

Value is a concept I’ve been working with a lot lately. As is authenticity. I find people shy away from the word authentic because it’s come to be related to new agey hippie talk, but that’s stupid. All authentic really means is truth. Being true means exhibiting your values; living by your values. That’s all. If you shy way from that, you shy away from life. As I was, as I in some ways still do.

The road back to black sheep me has been a slow one, which is something I’ve come to accept— change takes time. I’ve found it necessary to take baby steps, and I’ve decided that baby steps, as long as they are in the right direction, are more than okay.

These baby steps have unfolded themselves in many different ways: They’ve brought me closer to my creative self, they’ve changed the way I write, they’ve provided me with a sense of purpose, they’ve gotten my head out of my butt, they’ve had me stop looking only at my own life but also at life all around. Because of these baby steps I’ve come to understand that one person’s decisions can indeed affect the world. They’ve had me doing things teenage me would never have questioned, like buying only fair trade coffee, thinking about how the animals who provide my family’s milk and eggs are treated, and upping my caution around owning too much stuff.

Mostly, they’re changing the way I parent.

I don’t want my kids to follow the grain, I want them to go against it. I mean, if it’s in their nature to. I care to teach them about being good people, about being grateful for their lot in life, about being kind to others, about caring for their community, and about following their hearts. I care to protect their inner freedom.

I used to care about what other people thought about my kids and my parenting, I’m letting go of that. I’ve realized that I can’t both nurture their inner spirit and care about what other people think. I also had allowed fear and paranoia, something I was most shocked to realize I’d inherited from my mother, to interfere with my parenting choices. It dawned on me that it isn’t fair to allow my unfounded fears to exist as a shadow over my children. This is the stuff that helicopter parents are made of, this is the stuff that inhibits rather than promotes a child’s ability to learn freely.

In How to be Alive Beavan states that “if you pursue Truth for yourself, you cannot help but pursue Truth for everyone.” I think, if all I do as a parent is encourage whatever idiosyncrasies my kids exhibit that make them uniquely themselves, and as long as I encourage loving kindness to others, that it will be a job well done.

What made me a black sheep growing up was believing that there is magic to life, being loud, being creative, wanting to experience everything, wanting to see the world, being fearless, believing I could make a difference, not being afraid to die, believing I was worthy of everything, being afraid to miss out on living.

There is nothing on this list that doesn’t still ring true, which makes me still a black sheep I suppose. Or maybe that just makes me alive, a lifequester, interested in getting the most out of this lifetime.

All I know is that at my worst, I didn’t own up to any of the above, and at my best, I am the above. When I am being that authentic me, I feel valuable and I want to share it. I want to give, I want to help, I want to do. If that makes me a black sheep, baa baa.

But what if we were all black sheep? What if we each did things we love, purely because we love them and without worry or excuse? What if we all went against the grain, and formed a new grain, a grain that spirals out in 360 different directions? How much better could we be, how much ground could we cover, were we all black sheep? What if it really does only take one person to change the world? What if we were each that person?

I’m not saying quit your job, sell your home, move to another continent (although I’m not not saying that either). I’m talking about baby steps. In my life, I have kids that just keep wanting to be fed, and the bank keeps asking for mortgage payments, and I’m not really willing to trade in my kids, and well, I’ve always been a homebody at heart, so, well, I kinda hafta work. All that means is I pay extra attention to how I use the rest of my time. We don’t have to make grand sweeping gestures, we don’t have to give up everything we own, we don’t have to do anything at all, except, of course, participate in a life filled with all you value. And in doing so, change the world.

Scriptures say it takes only the faith of a mustard seed to move mountains.

Baa baa, I say. Baa baa.

 

-mtg

Life as an Introvert

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I am a loner. Meaning, I like to be alone. And it’s not just that I like being alone, I need to be alone for set amount of time each day. In fact, I’ve even been told that I, in particular, require more alone time than the average person. Alone suits me well.

This is not to say that I only ever want to be alone. I am married and enjoy spending time with my husband (thank goodness!). I am a mother and love time spent with my kids. I have a job that requires me to be a front man– in fact, all the jobs I’ve ever worked in my life have all required me to be openly service-oriented– and so I spend my days in communication with others. I enjoy talking. I enjoy the company of others. I enjoy the presence of family. Just, not all the time.

At the end of each day once the kids are in bed I require a solid hour to myself where I don’t want anyone touching me or speaking with me. I use this time to unwind from the sensory overload of the day. If my husband tries to speak to me during this time I am likely not to answer…. not… until… I’m ready. At work sometimes, if there are too many people around and very little opportunity to be alone, my brain will bug out temporarily. This will have me drift off to an imaginary land, even while surrounded by others. Escaping by myself in spirit is better than not escaping at all.

Being an introvert has nothing to do with shyness. I am not shy. I wasn’t born shy (I was born to raise hell truth be told). I did spend much of my childhood as a shy wallflower, preferring the outskirts to any real spotlight, but I can’t say that I’m shy anymore. I just sometimes choose to be alone. I just sometimes choose not to talk. I just often prefer the comforts of home to parties with strangers. I just often prefer my own company.

When I don’t get the alone time I need I become closed and cold. I turn into a grump, a real grouch that nobody really wants to be around (which is the desired outcome, although repelling people is not necessarily the desired means). When I don’t get enough alone time my brain begins to buzz, my body hums in an uncomfortable way– not so much hum, more like an incessant drone– and the buzzing and humming only gets louder, more annoyingly irritating the longer I go without rectifying the situation. I fall into a slump. I become overly fatigued in a my-brain-feels-dead kind of way. I act as a coffee-addict who hasn’t had her first cup yet, even if I have. Even if I’ve had many.

When I do get my precious alone time, I rejuvenate. It’s like each cell of my being was dehydrated and the time alone slowly replenishes the cells until I am back to my natural form. Like a withered plant sprung to life. Or those Dollar Store putty figures that quadruple in size when left in water. I have a sense of humour after time spent alone, even if I am only telling jokes to myself. I feel as though I have pep in my step, sparkle in my eye and bounce in my pounce. I dance. I chase my kids and laugh. I seek conversations rather than run from them.

I often use the analogy of the filled cup and I know it is an analogy that is overused, yet it’s just so apt. Me without enough time to myself is an empty cup, just a shell with nothing in it. Me, filled with the goodness of alone time, is me filled with something yummy and tasty and warm to the belly. Alone time gives me tingles up my spine. It gives me the same kind of happy place feeling I get when my three year old is stroking my hair. Time alone is a hug I am giving myself.

For an extrovert, alone time is the analogy above in reverse. An extrovert feeds off the energy of others and uses that energy to fill their cup. To an extrovert, the empty cup is what happens after too many minutes alone. An extrovert needs people like I need the opposite of people. My mother is an extrovert, she will continue to seek my attention even when I am holding a book a mere inch from my face. My husband is an extrovert. He likes to talk, I like to not.

Growing up my need for alone time turned me into an angsty teenager until I got my driver’s license and use of the family car, and then escape became my sanctuary. Finding alone time in adult relationships was never a problem either, not before having kids. I would always find a way to steal away while still balancing my relationship and my work. I could escape on my own to a coffee shop or dinner out and there was nothing to it. I didn’t even recognize my need for alone time as something that required voicing or scheduling. I would just go on a feeling, like I felt like being alone so off I would go. It wasn’t anything I ever put my finger on, just something I did. After having kids, and especially after having two, things became a little tricky.

My kids (like all kids) were always on me. They always needed me. They fed off me, tugged at me, peed on me. I loved it, I loved all parts of raising young babies. I loved being their favourite person and the one they called to. I loved feeding them and rocking them to sleep. But it was also too much for my sanity. Like it never ended. Like there were just little people taking from me all day long and I never got to be alone. My firstborn was constantly at the breast, she would never give me a break. My second was constantly in my arms. I was never alone.

The old joke about how a mom never gets to pee alone is true, and true because all moms feel a need for just a few minutes of peace and privacy. For an introvert that need can lead to the uncomfortable buzzing and humming mentioned above. I survived by cocooning myself at the end of each night. As soon as my kids were in bed so was I, vegging on Netflix just to drown out the noise. This wasn’t replenishing alone time, this wasn’t a long walk in the woods or gardening in the sun, this was the basic minimum needed to maintain composure. Even then, I’d say that composure is relative.

My kids are three and four now and as they grow older and more autonomous, as I have learned that finding time alone as a mom, wife, and worker is necessary to my personal balance, as I learn new ways to replenish myself by being alone. It doesn’t always take much either. I like to get up an hour before everyone else which has become my favourite time of the day. I like to buy a cup of coffee. That cup of coffee and subsequent minutes it takes to consume while still hot brings me immeasurable joy. I like to go for walks. I like to sit on benches in parks and do nothing. I like to listen to water.

I like to create. I love to create. I love to create so much that I have made a pact with myself to create all the time. Sometimes that creating is just random words in my journal. Sometimes that creating is writing posts like this. Sometimes I paint, sometimes I DIY, sometimes I decorate. Whatever it is, as long as I am creating I am alone. And loving it. And filling my cup.

The most important tool I have as an introvert is my mind. In my mind I can escape into my imagination. I can dream. I love to live in my dreams. It presents some difficulty with reality sometimes, yet there it is. My mind is precious to my life as an introvert. In those times when I can’t be physically creating I can imagine creation, in those times when I can’t physically escape a crowd I can mentally go elsewhere. In those moments when my kids have been on me all day and I feel like I need a break, I can take 5 minutes and imagine myself… perhaps on a beach…. feet in the sand…. with nothing tugging at me but the call of the waves.

I am a loner. I am an introvert. This is a defining quality of me. I have learned once again to understand the feeling I get when I’m in need of me. I’ve learned that even motherhood can’t stop the need. And I’ve learned that I’m a better mother when my cup is full. When the back of my neck is tingling I speak in soft voices to my kiddies. When the buzzing in my head keeps buzzing I shout to tune it out.

My kids want me to find time for myself (although they don’t yet know it). My husband wants me to find time alone although he may not understand it. I choose to be alone. Oftentimes. Because I need it. I require it. Because this is the life of an introvert.

-mtg

Thyroid Disease: The Struggle is Real

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If you were to ask a group of people living with a thyroid disorder about their biggest frustration, I think their answer would unanimously be the feeling that no one is listening.

The exhaustion would be up there on the list, the “just not myself”-ness as well, but I don’t think anything compares with the knowledge that nobody gets it, and the feeling of being alone, even helpless, while your everyday life and well-being are at stake. Having a thyroid disorder can lead to a very solitary existence.

Back in my early twenties I took a workshop to learn more about children with autism. The instructors wanted us to feel what it was like to be in the mind and body of an autistic person and so did the following exercise. As we all stood in a completely blackened room, unable to see our own noses, they played the radio, ripped paper, feather-dusted our skin, spoke aloud, spritzed us with water, spritzed scents in the air and waved a hairdryer around. The intention was for us to experience a complete sensory overload—and it completely worked. I don’t know what it’s like to have autism, but in those few minutes my ability to understand autistic people expanded immensely. One could say I became empathetic in a way I hadn’t been before.

I wish I could create such a demonstration for the family and friends of those living with thyroid disease, as well as the doctors these patients turn to for help, that would accurately provide a first-hand experience of what it’s like to have your thyroid be out of sync. Obviously this would be unethical, but if I could create a demonstration for the purpose of this empathetic exchange, I would have to recreate the fatigue of prolonged insomnia and muscle weakness, a racing heart, a decrease in mind function, an inability to control hair loss and weight gain, an inability to control mood and emotions, an increase in anxiety or depression, sexual dysfunction, intolerances to either cold or heat, and the list goes on. At its essence, I would need to recreate a sense of being out of control of body and mind and self at all times, and tack on the sense of solitude one gets when being ignored. I don’t assume that many people would willingly sign up for such an exercise.

So how do we expand empathy and understanding when this is what is needed? Here are some ideas:

* Be curious about the symptoms, ask questions, try to understand what the person is feeling.

* Listen. Don’t ignore or turn away. Pay attention.

* Don’t assume or compare. One person’s tired is not the same as another person’s fatigue.

* Read books. There are several that offer eye-opening accounts on how the thyroid affects lives.

* Recognize, even if and when you can’t understand, that the person before you is feeling out of control, needs help, and ultimately just wants to feel themself.

The reason I focus so much on empathy is because of another common misconception (read, frustration) involving the thyroid: that a little daily pill fixes everything. The truth is, it doesn’t. We aren’t talking about a common cold, we’re talking about hormones. Hormones affect every aspect of our physical and emotional selves, and the thyroid produces the mother of all hormones. Treating thyroid replacement medication like it’s a multivitamin doesn’t really make much sense.

It takes from months to years to find the right medication and dosage. Even then this dosage can be temporary as women’s bodies age and change, as stress factors change, and as other hormonal developments such as those brought on by pregnancy and menopause compound with the already taxed thyroid. Our bodies are constantly in flux, and our ability to maintain a sweet spot in hormonal balance becomes more like a dance, a constant flow of actions and choices geared at optimizing health. The thing is, it’s better when you’re not dancing alone. What I’m saying is, there is no pat answer or pat dosage, no one-size-fits-all solution to feeling good. The sooner this is recognized, the sooner we can get down to the business of helping people to feel good.

In decades past, a woman living with an undiagnosed thyroid disorder would likely have been considered clinically depressed or bi-polar, even institutionalized as a result. We’ve come a long way since then but we have a long way to go still. If I were to turn this into a call to action, it would be a call to put away the blank stares. It would be a call to treat women’s hormones as a whole, since they affect the whole. It would be a call to listen rather than ignore. We have a duty to improve the lives of others. As a friend or partner this may mean showing patience and compassion. As a professional, this may mean doing more to ensure a patient feels “themself.” The minimum isn’t enough.

Lastly, if you are the one struggling with a thyroid disorder, remember that the onus is on you to secure the above. Demand empathy, demand listening, and demand good health. Help others to understand because without help they won’t. The worst decision a person can make for themselves is to use this illness as a crutch. Release the crutch, decide to be better. When no one else is listening, listen to yourself.

Yessing It Like Shonda Rhimes

yearofyes

I haven’t had cable television for over 10 years so Thursday nights have not meant to me what they do to some. I have one friend, for example, who has an entire ritual in place around her Thursdays in front of the tv. She looks forward to Thursdays in a way I didn’t understand. In fact, I only ever watched my first episode of Grey’s Anatomy once it came out on Netflix (at which point I watched all the episodes at once… until the episode where Derek was killed off, at which point I stopped watching altogether…. cause…. Derek!). But anyway, the point is that although I understood that a lot of people watched Grey’s I didn’t understand until that marathon how dramatically addictive Shonda Rhimes tv-watching can be. I’ve actually had to make it a point not to search for other Shonda Rhimes programming on Netflix because I know, if I find any, I will be sucked in as hard as the next guy.

So, when at my local library a few days ago, I noticed on display a cute little book with the words Year of YES written in large print, and under it, Shonda Rhimes, I became curious. It seemed to me that if she can write addictive television, that maybe there would be something to the book. Not knowing anything at all about Shonda before this book, this is what I have learned so far:

1- Grey’s Anatomy is the first program she ever worked on and ever created.

2- She was already a mother when she created Grey’s Anatomy.

3- She has had two more children since, both of which are younger than my two.

4- While creating storylines for Grey’s and having kids she also created and produced two other hit programs.

I have a hard enough time balancing things like feeding my kids and bathing them regularly, let alone keeping up with the demanding schedule of television production… BUT ANYWAY, again I digress.

So the reason I picked up Shonda’s book at all was not because of her name, because I didn’t notice that right away, but rather was because of it’s title. Year of YES. Year of YES. Year of YES. If it isn’t obvious, the book is about how Shonda decided that for one year she would only say yes to opportunities, however terrifying they seemed.

I don’t know about you but I am often reading blogs, books and articles of the inspirational variety, and more often than not I’ll read suggestions like, put post-it notes with the word Yes! on your bathroom mirror so you see it first thing every morning, or on your door so you see it before leaving the house, or plastered all over your house like wallpaper. While I generally think there’s something to it, I haven’t followed through. Not because I don’t think I should, mind you. Because honestly, I do. I am in serious need of a Yes-over and have been for many years– possibly my whole life.

I remember being in my early teens. A friend of the family, knowing that I am artistically creative, referred me to a company that was in need of some visual components to a presentation they were giving (this was pre the existence of Powerpoint). I spoke with someone in charge at the company, they sounded very professional to young me. It made me afraid to disappoint them by not providing a “good enough” finished product and so I said no.

No is what I said when I was in university, when I had a crush on a really great guy for months and months, and when he finally began showing interest in me I shut it down, fearing that I wasn’t going to be all that he envisioned me to be.

In my twenties I thought to start my own business selling self-designed note cards. I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit and wanted with all my heart to be my own creator, but I quickly lost faith in my product and my ability to sell my product. Rather than approach new prospects I would simply tell myself, No, not today. Not today became everyday.

Now, I haven’t said No to everything in my life. I’m a bit adventurous, so when it came to traveling across the country alone, moving to a new province alone, jumping out of a plane alone (and without informing anyone that I was going to do it), these for me were Yes opportunities. Going to bars and concerts alone, zip-lining between Whistler mountains, renting a summer house in some remote corner of Newfoundland, all Yes.

But anything that had people counting on me, anything that wasn’t something I could do alone, anything that would require me to be out in the public eye and on display, these were always a No. I know it’s funny coming from someone who blogs about my life and is fairly open and candid about my flaws, but for me, with the written word creating a degree of separation, it is waaaay not the same. And by that I mean way less terrifying. Because terrified is how I feel when I am asked to put myself front and centre, terrified is how I feel when my physical and vocal presence matters to the success of an outcome.

HENCE why Year of YES stood out as interesting. Because a year of YES is exactly what I need.

I haven’t finished the book yet so I don’t know how it all works out for Shonda, although if she wrote a book about it I can only assume it worked out pretty good, but I’m thinking that if I were to create a year of YES for myself, it would have to place me in uncomfortable situations, speaking in public, interviewing for jobs I’m afraid to get rather than safe jobs I know I can get, putting myself on the line creatively, making myself known rather than an unknown wallflower, being public rather than private. My year of YES would have to include everything I normally, reflexively say no to. This is terrifying. To some not as terrifying as giving a speech to 16,000 people as Shonda is currently doing in the chapter I’m on, but by my own measurement, equally terrifying.

So terrifying that I don’t know if I can do it. So terrifying that I don’t trust myself not to say no.

But then I think, if Shonda can do it, with her three kids and Thursday night tv, who am I to say that I can’t.

Here I go….
Yeee……..
Y…yyyyeeee……
Yyyes….
Yes. (cough spit choke)
Yes!

YES
-mtg