Kindness Comes in Many Forms

Picture this: I’m in my car, sitting at a red light in the left turn lane. The advance green arrow appears and INSTANTLY the guy behind me lays on his horn.

(Note that I’m a ridiculously nervous driver – hands at the “ten and two” position, head up and at attention like a German soldier.)

So here we have it, folks, another angry pork chop guy. A guy so unhappy in his life that he feels the need to lash out and exert power in even the most benign circumstance.

As much as every cell in my body wanted to give him the finger and drive suuuuper sloooooowly, that would just escalate the situation. Instead, I made my turn, moved into the right lane, and as he passed I smiled and waved at him like I would an old friend. His angry expression became confused. “Do I know her? Why is she waving at me? Who did I just honk at?”.

Hopefully, my Random Act of Ridiculousness gave him enough pause that he continued his drive peacefully. I’ll always take perplexed over angry.

Now it’s time to concentrate on the kindness I’ve witnessed lately.

I have an entire blog post devoted to the friends and neighbours who have helped me through my adventures in disc herniation. The warmth and concern that surround me stop me in my tracks and I’m eternally grateful. More on this later.

The second act I witnessed came from my dad. He’s 83 and still working as an insurance broker. One of his clients went on a sabbatical overseas but forgot to pay her insurance premium before she left. When he received a note from the insurance company indicating that her house insurance was going to be cancelled, he took out his VISA, called them and paid her premium for her. $800 that he won’t see for a bit, but he truly doesn’t care: “she’s been a loyal client for some time” he said.

Take that, Geico Lizard.

The final act of kindness came about in 2006 – the year that Lee worked in Vancouver. He lived in the Vancouver Marriott hotel and was treated to both a delicious breakfast every morning and the sight of Jessica Alba working out in the hotel gym.

Although he wished he did
Picture not taken by Lee

Lee got into great shape that year.

Anyway, the hotel chef prepared a homemade granola that was stop-in-your-tracks delicious. Other than stalking watching a Hollywood star stretch and sweat every morning, it was the best part of his day. When Lee complimented the chef, he asked Lee if he’d like the recipe and wrote it out by hand. That stained, worn, well-loved piece of paper is in our recipe book and every time Lee sees it, he is reminded of Jessica Alba’s abs the chef’s kindness in sharing it with us.

Here is the recipe. Guaranteed it is the BEST granola you’ve ever had.

4 cups oats
1.5 cups rice krispies
1.5 cups brown sugar
250 g butter
50 g honey
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 cup almonds

In a pot mix together the brown sugar, melted butter and honey over low heat until sugar has dissolved. Fold mixture into the dry ingredients.

Mix well until the oats are well coated then pour onto baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Stir granola once during cooking process to ensure even cooking.

Let cool, keep stirring until fully cooked (if you prefer chunks, let cool without stirring and break pieces into container for storage)

Options; add dry cranberries or sun-dried cherries or raisins.

Three different forms of kindness: a passive, non-agressive act when confronted by misplaced rage, a huge favour for a loyal client, and a seemingly small act that is appreciated 11 years later.

Kindism will return August 4, 2017.

 

 

Helping the Anxious – A Five-Step Plan

Anxiety and panic disorders are a real bummer. Your stomach tightens to the point where you can’t take a deep breath, and there’s a low-level hum to your insides that distracts you from all the things you’re supposed to accomplish. You feel vaguely flu-ish almost every day. Sure, it sucks if you’re the person troubled with these ailments, but it is equally difficult to stand by and watch someone you love suffer. I’ve compiled a list to help the loved ones and caregivers of those who are travelling through the darkness of mental illness.

1) Help your friend find the right doctor.

The help I received ranged from the absurd to the sublime. I had entered into an easy, comfortable relationship with the therapist I had seen for years.  My decline into panic left him as perplexed as I was, and I found it difficult to find someone else to help me. One doctor told me “just be grateful you don’t have cancer”. Another doctor took out a blond-haired doll and said “pretend this is you as a child.  What would you like your young self to hear?” Both techniques have merit and may have been helpful for some, but these approaches were completely unsuitable for me.  The cancer comparison left me feeling guilty and I’m a brunette who gets freaked out by dolls, so neither approach worked. Yes, it was intimidating to start over with a new therapist.  I came up with all sorts of excuses: I don’t want to tell the whole story of my decline over and over. I don’t want to go too far from home. I’m comfortable with him and he helped me in the past.

Let me be clear: I don’t care how convoluted the story of your illness is – it will take no more than 20 minutes to recount it.  I don’t care how far from home the right doctor is, because they will treat you, find a solution and your appointments will become fewer and fewer as you get better and better.  Finally, just because a beloved physician has helped you in the past, they cannot be expected to treat every disorder.  If your mental health changes, find a specialist to treat that particular illness. This is where having an army of caregivers is helpful, as they can make the appointments and make sure you keep them.

2) Make them comfortable, but not too comfortable.  

At my worst, I was incapable of leaving the house to go grocery shopping. Getting downstairs to do the laundry was an insurmountable task. Helping your friend in the areas of household chores and maintenance would be welcomed. However, the most growth and healing I experienced was when I was left on my own. For instance, I became accustomed to having my husband drive me to the hospital for therapy three days a week. The day that he gently explained that he had an important meeting at work and he couldn’t take me was the day I got back behind the wheel of a car. It was dreadfully uncomfortable. My heart raced as I gripped the wheel and an invisible dark force wanted me to turn around, go home and back into the safety of my bed. But I didn’t give in to the darkness.  I knew the hospital was helping me and I simply had to get there.  The pride I felt when I made it there – and home – on my own gave me a tremendous amount of confidence. Slowly, I regained the ability to go out by myself.  If you stick to what’s easy and comfortable, you’ll never grow.  This applies to fitness, to education, and, yes, to the recovery from mental illness.

3) Text and email are better than phone calls.

I can’t tell you the number of times I hit the “decline” button on my phone when it rang. This is an example of the polarity of mental illness: I wanted to be left alone, but I didn’t want to feel alone. Friends: don’t take this personally. While I wasn’t up for a conversation, I loved hearing the text message ding, I loved reading that you were thinking of me and I wanted to hear all the things happening in your life.

4) Suggest low-interaction activities.

The thought of sitting and conversing over coffee exhausted me. Any face-to-face time made me feel like I had to seem ok, even though I wasn’t. I felt pressure to talk and smile even though my insides were shaking and my head was heavy with worry. A movie, on the other hand, is the perfect excuse to get out of the house and involves little or no mental exertion. Being in a dark theatre, next to someone who cares for me, swept away in a story for 90 minutes was just the break my overwrought brain needed.

5) Re-label.

I firmly believe that children live up to the labels we use to describe them and adults are no different. It was easy and comfortable to live up to the description on my medical chart: “suffers from severe panic and generalized anxiety disorder”. As accurate as the word “suffers” is, that’s not how I wanted to be defined. Time for a re-label. While I’d love to see a description of me such as “hard-ass motherfucker, physically and emotionally robust”, I’ll settle for something along the lines of “tires easily but is responsible, dependable and kind”. Pick a few words that describe your friend and remind them that THAT’S who they are. They will live up to your label.

Battling any illness is exhausting and caring for those who are suffering can take a real toll on the caregiver.  Don’t take anything personally be as good to yourself as you are to the person you love.

Quick Hits of Kindness – Say It Now

I am always trying to think up the next “million dollar idea”.

For instance, I want my car to come equipped with different horns for different situations (someone has done it, I see, but I swear I had that idea ten years ago), a diaper genie for kitchen food waste, and a website where you can download forms to help you tell people how you feel about them while they are still alive. The last one was going to be called SayItNow.com but when I pitched it to those closest to me, I got some lukewarm feedback. And some crinkled brows. Plus, my mother said “that is horribly depressing”. Figures that the one thing I could do without the aid of an engineer got a big thumbs down.

However, this is what sparked the idea: I work part time in a beautiful funeral home. It has the feel of a fine hotel – wide staircases, an enormous, glittering chandelier, and furniture clad in the softest fabrics. The building is kept immaculately clean, soft music dances gently through the speakers and it always smells like vanilla shortbread cookies. Lots of people say they couldn’t do my job, but my office is quiet and civilized and filled with a supportive staff who treat each other like family.

Anyway.

It also has a state-of-the-art sound system, and, quite often, I can listen to the eulogies given during funerals over the speakers scattered about the funeral home. While every funeral and every family is different, there are a few similarities:

Tears

Flowers. So many flowers.

Eulogies from loved ones reminiscing about the good times and speaking well of the deceased.

It leaves me wondering if anyone said such wonderful things to them while they were alive.

I try very hard to remember the fleeting nature of life and if I were rich, I’d like to rent a plane to sky write: DON’T WAIT – TELL THOSE YOU LOVE HOW YOU FEEL RIGHT NOW. Grief is painful and leaving things unsaid and undone intensifies this pain. Now, there have been volumes written on grief but the most meaningful words I’ve read were written by Jamie Anderson:

“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go”.

If grief is painful, guilt magnifies this pain. The guilt sneaks up on you and weighs you down with thoughts of “if only…”. So I think everyone should take the time now, while your loved ones are still alive to express how you feel about them.

A genuinely kind note written from the heart is never a bad idea and is always welcome. For instance, I work with a man who is very quiet. Pleasant always, but not overly emotional.  Yet, every single Christmas he gives out Christmas cards with the most beautiful sentiments handwritten on the inside. I keep every single Christmas card I’ve ever received but I keep his in my desk to read throughout the year. They always make me smile. 

So write the letters, send the notes saying “thinking of you”, email the friends who mean the most to you. Buy the cheesy cards, send flowers, tell your family you know they did their best. Say thank you with a card. Make someone you love laugh. Take a shitload of pictures. Host a crappy dinner party. Get over the awkwardness of self-expression. Just get over it.

Or, if you can’t, order a card from these people. They are hilariously vulgar.

Who would you like to hear from? To whom do you owe a thank you? How do you want to be remembered?  Celebrate the people you love and those who love you.  Say it now.

Quick Hits of Kindness – Gentle Reminders

I subscribed to Martha Stewart Living magazine for many years. My favourite part of every issue was where she would share her calendar of “gentle reminders” – things like, “peaches should be ripe and ready for canning this week” (ha) and “launder all draperies in the house and clean the window sills to a sparkling shine”. I found it entertaining and inspiring and it gave me something to aspire to.

This week I’m sharing some gentle reminders of my own. They are quotes I read before I go to sleep and immediately upon waking. The more I internalize this way of thinking, the more it affects my life in a positive way. These are my favourites:

Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.” – Kurt Vonnegut

“People tend to dwell more on negative things than on good things. So the mind then becomes obsessed with negative things, with judgments, guilt and anxiety produced by thoughts about the future and so on.” – Eckhart Tolle

 Doing something that is productive is a great way to alleviate emotional stress. Get your mind doing something that is productive.” – Ziggy Marley
When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.” – Winston Churchill
Respond; don’t react. Listen; don’t talk. Think; don’t assume.” ~Raji Lukkoor
“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).” ~James Baraz
I also have a sign by the front door that reads “Today I choose Joy”. I love that sign. I love it even more now that my friend Dave looked at it and asked “who’s Joy?”.
Gentle reminders to re-read and repeat as often as you can. So much easier than canning and cleaning!

Not-So Quick Hits of Kindness – The 3 Versus 10 Way of Reprogramming Your Brain

I totally understand why there is such a large “self-help” section in bookstores and libraries. We are programmed to seek answers and solve problems – especially relating to ourselves and those we love.

We are also programmed to anticipate and avoid danger. Now, most of us have food and shelter taken care of, and avoiding predators is relatively easy nowadays (at least the furry kind – the ones in the suits are a bit more difficult!), but part of our brain hasn’t quite caught up to evolutionary advancements and, as a result, we tend to focus on the negative in our lives.

Once I realized that the factory setting in my brain was overly sensitive, I had to learn ways to cope. I awaken every morning with my brain screaming  “danger danger danger” and just last year the wiring in my brain fizzled out from over-use.

I’ve described my decent into madness here and here.

I guess “decent into madness” is an offensive way of putting it. Oh, and I’ve learned that “nervous breakdown” is also a passe term.  In fact, when you’re treated at The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, you are referred to as a “Client” not a “Patient”. I’m no stranger to offending people, so I still refer to myself as a patient (I’m under a doctor’s care, for goodness sake, not shopping for car insurance).

Anyway.

The single most effective treatment I learned in therapy was writing down the top THREE worries that are foremost in my mind, and following that up with TEN things are going right in my life.  Acknowledging your concerns in this way is, for some reason, very cathartic. Then the true magic happens when you start listing the things in your life that you’re grateful for. It turns out that, more often than not, I have to stop myself at ten because I could go on and on.

I was given a hospital workbook for this purpose, but by all means, treat yourself to a beautiful journal. Or open a Google Doc. Either way, keep them in a format you can refer back to. I am amazed at how many things on my worry list never happened, and I love looking back and seeing the happy things I wrote down more than a year ago.

I’ve mentioned before that it is impossible to be kind to others if we are not first kind to ourselves.  Try this exercise over the next week or so and I promise that it will fill your heart with joy and tame your screaming brain into silence.

Have a safe and happy weekend, everyone!

Quick Hits of Kindness – Hospital Edition

I had the (opportunity? misfortune?) of being both a visitor and a patient in a hospital this week.

Our son’s Godfather had back surgery.  This man moved heaven and earth when my husband was ill a few years ago.  He called in favours to get Lee looked after and for that I am eternally grateful. It was an honour to be included with his family at his side during his surgery.

A few days later, I started feeling…unwell.  It started with waking up with a sore neck of the “ow ow ow neck, shoulders, don’t touch me” variety.  Massage, advil, stretching and the like didn’t do a thing to help.  Huh.  Weird.

Then, a few nights later, the spasms hit.  Spasms that made birthing contractions feel like a twinge.  Spasms that made the pain of kidney stones AND gallstones feel like a bit of indigestion. Spasms that made me cry and sob and scared the living shit out of the dog.  So, off we went to the ER, and an MRI confirmed two herniated discs in my neck.  Now, I’m drugged to the gills which stops the spasms but I’m still worried because I haven’t regained feeling in my right thumb.

So, lots of time in hospitals and lots of time to observe and comtemplate the power of kindness in a hospital setting.

If you’re visiting a person in hospital, here are a few things that I found made the biggest impact: Tic Tacs, lip balm, hand cream, pens, pencils, note paper, puzzle books, magazines (especially Reader’s Digest), fresh fruit, hand sanitizer, baby wipes, a box of soft kleenexes and an extra long cellphone charger (we found a ten-foot cord and it was perfect to go over the hospital bed and around the IV poles).  We excused ourselves whenever the nurses and doctors came in to do their rounds, and offered to bring them back a coffee or tea when we went downstairs.  Surprisingly, I didn’t hear many people around us say “please” and “thank you” when speaking to hospital staff.  Common courtesy made a huge impact on our friend’s care.  Some of his visitors stayed too long and it exhausted him.  Keep the visits short and sweet, and if you’re part of the family, bring a book to read so the patient doesn’t feel like they have to keep you entertained.

When it was my turn as a patient, I was amazed at the yelling and insults that got hurled at the nurses.  One patient told our nurse she was useless – let me assure you, she wasn’t.  She was bright and kind and doing her best in a packed ER.  I know pain can change us.  I was in agony and felt ignored a few times and if I wasn’t mindful, I would have yelled and sworn too.  I found myself telling the nurses “I’m sorry for the crying, I’m scared and in terrible pain, but I know how busy you are and I know you’re doing your best”.  Sadly, it seemed like those were the first decent things said to them all night.

I’m also very fortunate that my husband is the most gentle, good-natured guy there is and his calm and sweet demeanor won the nurses’ hearts and, in turn, got me some fantastic care and unbelieveable painkilllers.

Finally, I harnessed the power of the written word.  I emailed the hospital with the names of the nurses and technicians who made my stay so much more bearable.  A good word to the boss means a lot more than a Timmy’s gift card, I think.

Have a wonderful and safe long-weekend, everyone!

Quick Hits of Kindness – Mental Health Week Edition

I spent some time at CAMH’s Queen Street location this week – this time as a guest, not as a patient (or “client” as we are referred to). I’m in the process of giving back to this amazing hospital – the hospital that not only treated my panic disorder but gave me back joy and energy and hope.

This time last year my biggest problem was “how do I get out of bed”? This week my biggest problem was “what can I wear to this meeting with the CAMH Foundation?”.  See, I have two distinct wardrobes: black suits for my work at the funeral home and yoga pants for every other day – nothing in-beween and neither of which was particularly appropriate.  I scoured my closet and found a bunch of circa 2007 separates (my God, I was thin BC: Before Child). By the time I was finished trying stuff on, my closet looked like a Target change room after Black Friday. Surprisingly, not even a jaunty blouse can liven up a funeral suit, and even my dressiest sweat pants didn’t look right. None of my old dress pants fit particularly well, but, hey, it was going to be a quick meeting so how uncomfortable could it be? Answer: pretty darn uncomfortable. Twenty minutes into the ride downtown my intestines started protesting their constriction and my left leg started to go numb. Luckily I wore a floofy blouse so I undid the top button of my trousers without anyone noticing. Or maybe they did, but the staff at CAMH being the kind and supportive team they are, they said nothing. No weird stares either. They have a few ideas about how I can help them (yay!) so I guess I’ll eventually have to go shopping for clothes that fit (ugh).

It’s amazing to see how far this hospital has come over the past 150 years. Opening in 1850 as “The Provincial Lunatic Asylum” the name change says it all: The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health now has the look and feel of a “centre”, not an institution. They are at the forefront of research and are recognized on the international stage as experts in mental health. I am incredibly lucky to have been treated there. So, in the spirit of mental health week, here are some quick hits of kindness to encourage and support each other, as everyone is fighting a battle of some kind.

  1. Leave a like or comment on a friend’s social media post. People put themselves out there when they post things publicly. Write something nice as a reply. EDIT: whoops!  I didn’t mean my facebook posts! I see the WordPress stats and that’s good enough.  I meant post a response to people who write things like “I’ve got a case of the Mondays” or “here’s a family photo”.
  2. Cut someone some slack. This could be a spouse or a sibling or child. I sometimes get so caught up in parenting my son that I forget to just relax and have fun with him. Let go of striving for perfection and having things “just so”.
  3. Write your partner, your child or your friend a list of things you love about them. Acknowledge and thank the people in your life who help you and encourage those who need a boost.
  4. Three years ago my colleague and friend made me a mix tape (on a cd). To this day, it is my favourite thing to listen to in the car. She took the time to put it together and every time I listen to it, it makes me happy. Which reminds me, I should send her a text telling her this.
  5. Every night, for the next three nights, write down three things that you’re grateful for. This time last year I was barely functioning and on the verge of giving up. I had no energy, no enthusiasm and even taking a shower was an insurmountable task. Every night I am eternally grateful to CAMH for bringing me back to life.

http://www.camh.ca/en/hospital/Pages/home.aspx

 

Quick Hits – Getting My $^!# Together

It’s impossible to be kind to others if our own little worlds are in chaos.  This weekend, choose a cluttered, disorganized area of your home to attack and see if it puts you in a better, more loving frame of mind.  For instance:

  1. Clean out a bathroom cupboard
  2. Clean out  a bedside table
  3. Sweep the front area of your home and buy a pot of pansies
  4. While you’re at the garden centre, buy a dozen tulips and display them in a high-traffic area of your home (I love tulips – they are the only flower seldom seen in funeral arrangements, so I don’t associate them with sadness).
  5. Compile a list of all your assets – RRSPs, GICs, Savings, Chequing, Tax-Free Savings Accounts, etc. – to get a look at what you’ve managed to accrue over the years.  ScotiaBank is right – you ARE richer than you think.

I’m finding that I have full-on physical reactions to mess and clutter:  my head spins and I completely shut down in the face of it all. I simply can’t deal with it. I don’t know how or where to get started, so things in those problem areas (laundry room, garage) never improve. The anxiety worsens because the environment I live in deteriorates. It’s easier to just keep the door closed.

Avoidance is a terrible way to live – the THINGS in our life shouldn’t control us, of course, we should control them. Plus, I find it impossible to relax with a book or tv show when my surroundings are messy. Reducing the clutter and getting organized is the first step in making our homes true havens – a place that gives us peace and joy.

Getting started is the most difficult part, so I learned a few tricks from my care team at the hospital (who laugh at me as I straighten the books and magazines in their waiting room):

~ Choose ONE area.

~ Crank your favourite music.

~ Start making piles – keep, toss, donate, clean.  I won’t bore you with platitudes like “keep only what brings you joy” or “toss it if you haven’t worn it in a year”. They are too general.  Trust yourself, you know what you should be keeping and what can be given away or tossed.  Once the heart-fluttering indecision of “do I keep it or toss it?” is addressed, you’ll get addicted to the feeling of empty countertops and organized closets and drawers.

~ Grab two bags and bag up the toss and donate piles.  Take them immediately to the car.

~ Start with wiping down the areas to reshelve the “keep” items.

~ Divide the “keep” items into categories and store them together (I’m not a big fan of the dollar store, but there is nowhere better to purchase baskets in various sizes to make this part easier).

(I lied, IKEA is better.  But there is no way I’m going there on a weekend.  We’re trying to simpiify to reduce anxiety and panic, right?)

~ Clean or wipe down the items that are a bit grubby and add those into the baskets.

~ Vacuum or wipe the floor.  There will be specks of dirt everywhere.

Kindness to ourselves and our living spaces is just as important as kindness to others.  Notice the physical reaction you have when your space is clean, minimized and completely organized.  I swear it’s easier to breathe once it’s done.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

 

Quick Hits of Kindness, Part Nine

I was on the receiving end of some kindness this week.

A beloved neighbour knew I was having a bit of a rough week and put a bunch of magazines, my favourite candy and a handwritten poem in a bag and left it on my porch.  It lifted my spirits immensely.

The woman I see for waxing lost her father to a massive heart attack last year. To honour his memory, and the efforts of those who helped her family, she gave a 25 dollar credit to all police officers, ambulance attendants, nurses, funeral home employees, ministers and grief counsellors.  What a lovely surprise when I went in for my appointment. Especially because I know the funeral home she used was not very kind to her family. Still, she saw beyond her hurt and recognized that there are good and bad in every profession.  It takes a big person to see the big picture and not paint everyone with the same brush.

In honour of springtime, I bought some bottles of bubbles.  I created a label that says “Happy spring!  These bubbles are for you to enjoy” and left a few bottles scattered around our local playground (one day I’ll be adept enough to create things on the computer and post a download to make it easy for you. For now I just used paper, markers and tape).  I’d love to see the result of little ones finding them and enjoying them but I’ve been told that hanging around a playground with binoculars is ill-advised.

I also stumbled upon this idea which I thought was fantastic.  It spreads kindness AND is a great craft.  Going on a hike and placing them here and there for people to discover is fun too.

http://thekindnessrocksproject.com/

Have a fun and happy weekend, everyone!

When Was The Last Time You Told Anyone To Eff Right Off?

I would have found a less-vulgar title, but those were the words that a crisis counsellor used that completely changed the way I look at the world.

Let’s back up…

See this girl?  That’s me.  Age 4.  I was the kid that never stood up for herself on the playground, and that’s how I got the black eye.  From even the tenderest age I felt that it was more important to be liked than to be respected.  Having a friend was the most important thing in the world to me, and I would do anything to be included.  

The black eye was only the beginning. Fast forward ten years: push my essay aside to review someone else’s?  Ok!  Fast forward 20 years: sit around waiting for 40 minutes for a lunch date?  No problem!  As long as they show up, I’m good!  Stay quiet when an employee under my supervision does something a tad unethical?  Mums the word as long as I have someone to hang with on the weekend!  Later on I was told I wasn’t good enough to date someone and I spent five fruitless years trying to prove I was and trying to MAKE those people like me.

Pathetic.  

It took me a long time to realize that the only people who want a sycophant for a friend are narcissists.  They are happy to take all you have to give and return nothing in kind.  I also learned that nearly 40 years of being weak and trying to fit into everyone else’s world lands you in a mental hospital.  The anxiety I felt in every situation and having zero confidence in my abilities left me with the panic attacks I fight to this day.

Part of my treatment at CAMH (the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) was cognitive behavioural therapy. As I sat with the therapist, my hands trembling and full of wet kleenexes, I saw her rolling her eyes. ROLLING HER EYES. That’s odd, I thought. The crisis management team was supposed to pat my hand and tell me I’d be okay.  

She heard me out and sat back in her chair, head cocked to one side and held her pen like a cigarette.  “When was the last time you told anyone to fuck right off?” she asked.

The tears turned to all-out laughter, but she wasn’t joking.  

She said that I had grown accustomed to being a victim.  The sensitive nature I was born with worked to my advantage in funeral service, but the vaguest slight or confrontation in any form made me crumble to pieces.  I was too preoccupied with making everyone else happy, not ruffling feathers, never speaking up.  In every case where I was the victim, the kindest response to myself would have been to look the person straight in the eye and tell them…well, you get the idea.  

It’s a hard-edged approach, one that took me months to adopt.  I think learning to write with my non-dominant hand would have been easier to accomplish, as my default mode is “People Pleaser” and “Please Like Me I’ll Do Anything”. However, I’m a pretty big rule-follower and doctor’s orders being what they are, I took a step back. I had new rules to follow for the every-day:  no more chasing after people trying to make them like me;  no more brooding over people’s actions or inaction; no more being affected by bad moods, or thoughtless people.  It’s really not realistic for me to go around telling people to eff off, so I’ve cultivated some confidence and have totally disengaged with thoughtless, unkind people.  My circle of friends is small – TINY, in fact – but they are the best kind of people.  They are inclusive, funny, and, above all, kind. It’s easy to be with them, and I leave their company feeling both relaxed and energized.  All the energy I was devoting to agonizing and hoping and wondering about people, I now spend performing random acts of kindness and writing about ways to lead a kind and gentle life.  The black curtain that shrouded my mind has been opened and I’m enjoying a new-found clarity.

I am ashamed at the years I wasted and, God, how I wish life came with a reset button.  Perhaps the closest thing we have to re-doing our lives is having children, and teaching these children the things that escaped us.  As “fuck off” is a bit strong for the under-18s, I have another suggestion.  Tell them to look the offender in the eye, smile, and say “I don’t think so”, “no”, or “ugh, whatever”.  Tell them they are worthy of a happy life and that happiness will escape them if they rely on others for their sense of self worth.  Make good choices, be kind, and, yes, occasionally tell someone to f$%$ right off.