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).


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 – Mother’s Day Edition

Welcome to a guest post, written by Angie’s husband, Lee.  I will do my best to match the style and awesomeness that she has set out, but there are no guarantees.

I asked if I could do this post since she has a muscle spasm in her shoulders and is having a hard time doing virtually anything today, and also because Mother’s Day is coming up in North America and by doing this it’s a bit of kindness to her as a great mom.

  1. A great 5 minute way to show your mom, your child’s mom, or simply anyone how much they mean to you is a hand-written note of appreciation. It doesn’t have to be Shakespearean prose or the next great novel, just not a greeting card with your name signed in it. For the digital age, a personal note to them with some detail is also appreciated. I left my job of 4 years this week and it’s amazing how nice a personal email telling you how much you will be missed and that you have had an impact on someone’s life can make you feel. The same goes for the special person in your life. “Thank you for all you do for me, all you have done for me and for being there for me when I need you.”, while it may sound greeting-cardish, as long as it is personal and has meaning between you is all that is needed.
  2. I think getting your child to fill out a “What I know about my Mom” survey is great, however I like to go a bit more personal with a video. As the spouse, or really if they are older than 8 nowadays they know how to record themselves, get them to sit still for 5 minutes and you ask them the questions and let their answers flow. It is really fun to look back on and see just how little they know about you!  A good one, and quick can be found here.
  3. Skip the flowers. Really. “Here is what I think about you, I found something beautiful and killed it for you. Actually, I didn’t even go to that bother. I had someone else kill the beautiful things and I just bought them.” Go for something useful and beautiful like a living plant or maybe some herbs. How about an experience, particularly something you can do together? Winemaking, art class, a nature hike, going out someplace where you can spend time talking and doing something.

Now if you will excuse me, I have to wake my son up to record his answers and then find some blank paper that isn’t the back of a bill and a working pen so I can write my wife and mom notes. Also I have to Google the difference between dandelions that you get in a salad versus the million I have in my backyard, because I think a pot of those could technically count as a ‘living plant’ or ‘herbs’ and I could knock two to-do items off my list.

Angie’s Quick Hit’s of Kindness will return next week with a quality post from someone who is actually published and not from her husband. No, do not try to eat the dandelions from your lawn or put them in a pot to give as a gift. That is an awful idea.

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.


Quick Hits of Kindness – Part Five

They say it’s going to be a cold and rainy weekend – let’s warm it up with some love:

  1. Set your cellphone’s alarm for four different times over the next two days.  When the alarm goes off, give your spouse or child a hug and tell them you love and appreciate them.  Warning: this may provoke questions like “are you dying?” and/or “WHAT did you DO?”.
  2. Receive outstanding customer service at a restaurant or store?  Tell the manager on duty.
  3. If you find yourself with old towels or blankets laying about, donate them to your local animal shelter.
  4. Do you have a LinkedIn account?  I don’t.  But Lee does, and he wrote a recommendation for one of his connections.  Or maybe it was for a co-worker.   At any rate, the person was really grateful.

Have a safe and cozy weekend everyone!

Quick Hits of Kindness – March Break Edition

Whew!  Anyone else a bit tired after a busy March Break?  Let’s keep it super easy this week:

  1. Find a small, locally owned store and go in.  I found the most beautiful little shop in town here.  Her candles smell incredible, and don’t have any (insert harmful chemical names here).  HomeSense has taken enough of my money – time to support a local business (FYI – it’s here in Bolton, called East of Fifty).
  2. I have completely fallen in love with my local library.  It has x-box games and all the new Oscar winning movies.  There is one particular librarian who is always friendly and has amazing suggestions for new books.  I’m going to bring her a box of Timbits today with a thank you note.
  3. Spend ten minutes alone with each of your children this weekend, asking them what they liked about their march break.  If you have more than one child, also ask them to name one thing they like about their sibling.
  4. Has anyone else enjoyed their commute a bit more this week?  Quieter roads were such a treat.  Monday morning gridlock will be upon us again in a couple of days, so consider filling up your spouse’s car with gas on Sunday night (and do a quick car tidy-up while you’re there).

Have a sun-filled, happy, gentle weekend everyone!