I’m Sorry, You’re Not On The List

In highly sensitive people, our greatest strength is our greatest weakness: along with our endless empathy and kindness to others we tend to feel everything very intensely. Too intensely.

For years, I was labelled too sensitive, and was told that I needed thicker skin. I would feel physically ill if I was around too many people for too long, but would be crushed if I wasn’t invited to a party. I was at the mercy of everyone else’s attitude and behaviour, and someone else’s bad mood would eclipse my happy one in a matter of minutes. Moreover, everyone’s opinion held equal weight in my mind; an offhanded hurtful remark from a casual acquaintance hurt just as much as criticism from a close friend.

As any Fire Marshall can tell you, occupancy limits are there for a reason, and this applies to our brains as well. We simply cannot allow every person and their opinions in our minds. For highly-sensitive people who struggle with anxiety and depression, negative people and thoughts overwhelm the love and encouragement of others. Our brains become so full of insults and judgements that there is simply no room for anything else. The negative comments and behaviours of people I encountered were overwhelming, and without anything to control them, my mind began to burst at the seams.

“Just forget about them” my therapist would advise. Easy to say, not easy to do.

Then I imagined my over-wrought mind like a nightclub. Every nightclub needs a bouncer to keep the numbers in line and the troublemakers out. And every bouncer needs a guest list.

If you’re on The List, you get in. If you’re not, well, I’m sorry, but you’ll have to wait in line or find somewhere else to go.

Everyone’s list is different. Mine has fifteen people on it. If those people are upset or critical, then I’ll pay attention to what they are saying. If they’re not on The List, well, their opinion doesn’t count for very much at all.

By curating our own lists and being our own bouncer – letting only a select few people and thoughts in – a tremendous sense of confidence is born. Now, in any situation that has a person threaten to upset my balance, I pause and check to see if they are on The List.

Avoiding difficult people is impossible, and that is the beauty of The List. We acknowledge they are there, but every interaction is tolerable because, regardless of how they behave, The List reminds us that they don’t have the power to upset us anymore.

The co-worker who is generally unpleasant and difficult to be around? I’m sorry, you’re not on The List. Family members who make callous comments and harsh judgements? I’m sorry, you’re not on The List.

Even the seemingly insignificant encounters that can threaten the peace in our lives: drivers who cut you off, parking spot stealers, judgy PTA members, nasty neighbours…I’m sorry, none of you are on The List.

A large part of mental health management is learning to control your thoughts before they control you. Difficult people become easier to deal with when you assume the power position. So become the bouncer of your brain. Be powerful, yet quiet, and check The List. If their name isn’t on it, they don’t get inside.

So stay sensitive – it’s truly a gift – but react to every situation from a place of peace and reason, not from a place of hurt.

 

A Clear and Happy 2018

Is March 4th too late to wish everyone a Happy New Year?

I began this post in December.

Then came the Christmas rush.

Christmas is my absolute favourite time of the year, but I over-schedule December to the point that I am left deflated in January. I blinked, and, suddenly, it’s March.

Although I signed all our Christmas cards “love and best wishes for 2018”, I thought I’d take an opportunity to be more specific. These are the things I wish for each and every one of you over the next ten months:

Passion. Find something you love and tunnel energy, thought and work into it. Become so enthralled with a new hobby, activity or job that it makes waking up a little less painful. It’s also something fun to share with others when they ask “So what have you been up to?”.  I have answered this question with “not much, you?” for far too long. My wish is for you to find tremendous joy in something this year.

Love. Surround yourself with people who love you in all your quirky glory. Take a break from trying to please everyone, and stop chasing people. Forget the slights and destructive criticism from 2017; it’s toxic and irrelevant at this point. My wish for you is to immerse yourself in the company of people who love you. Those who don’t? Wish them well and send them on their way. They don’t matter this year.

Quiet. Not from external noise, though, from internal noise (I mean, I can’t unload the dishwasher without The Smiths blaring and folding laundry without Netflix on would be torture). The internal noise I speak of is the kind that kicks in as you lay down to sleep or the kind that follows you back from the bathroom in the middle of the night. It’s the “what ifs”, “if only’s” and “I should haves” that steal peaceful, restorative sleep.  F@$& that. My wish for you is the quiet, cozy peace that resembles sitting by a fire on a rainy afternoon.

We are, ourselves, our first, best and most reliable source of happiness. Barring medical conditions that make it impossible (and I have resources to share with you should you need them), happiness is a decision that I pledge to make every day this year.

Well, at least 20 out of every 28 days (let’s be realistic here).

Happy New Year everyone.

 

My To-Do List

I’ve never been one for new year’s resolutions. January is my decompression month because even happy events like Christmas, our wedding anniversary, and prep for Cooper’s birthday take up a lot of head space!

To-do lists, on the other hand, now that’s my jam! Never underestimate the power of checking a box! So, instead of winging it and sprinkling acts of kindness around when situations present themselves, I’ve decided to make a six-month schedule of things to be done.

January – Book Annual Physical, Dental and Optical Check-Ups. Lee’s illness requires a standing three-month appointment at the hospital, but our son and I venture into Toronto once a year for our check-ups. I love seeing the height and weight increases (IN OUR SON – far less thrilling to see my weight increase). Plus, this January will mark one-year from getting abnormal results. I shudder when I think of what could have happened had I put this appointment off. I call the Scott Mission ahead of our trip to see what they are running short of, and drop stuff off on our way home.

February – Teacher Pick-Me-Ups.  The doldrums of winter will have set in, accompanied by many a runny nose! I’ve started a list of items I’m going to put in a care package for our son’s teacher. Let me know if I’ve forgotten anything: Large box of Kleenex, purse size hand sanitizer, lip balm, travel size Advil (for indoor recess days when it’s too cold for the children to play outside), gum and lozenges (talking all day must make for a dry throat), a couple of new dry-erase markers, and a five-dollar Tim’s card.

March – Closet Clean-Out Time! Is there anything more pleasing to the eye than a freshly organized closet? Clutter makes me crazy, and since Lee embraced a minimalist lifestyle this year, this is something we can do together. Our laundry room is also out-of-control cluttered, so it will need a good clearing-out and vacuum.

April – Animal Shelter Check-In. All the old sheets and blankets that are taking up space in our laundry room will be welcomed at our local animal shelter. I call in advance to make sure they need them, and offer to pick up anything else they are running short of. I try to limit my visit to under five minutes, otherwise I may end up with a car full of animals.

May – A Walk in the Woods. No, not M. Night Shayamalan’s new movie, just a walk along the local trails with a garbage bag. I wear disposable gloves for this little adventure because there is so much mud on everything.

June – Blood Donation. Canadian Blood Services is desperate for blood donations, and they like to have a full supply going into the summer months.

Don’t forget to take care of yourselves during these upcoming cold winter months. Wishing all of you a happy, fun and safe holiday season.

All my love,

Angie

 

Is Santa Real?

“Mom, is Santa real?”
The question I’ve been dreading for ten years came out of my son’s mouth, just 33 days before Christmas. He’s in grade four, and this seems to be a popular topic of discussion amongst his classmates these days. Here’s what worked for me, spread out over a few conversations:
I told him “it’s normal and natural to stop believing in Santa at your age. It’s a phase everyone goes through at some point. You can choose to keep believing, or you can choose to stop believing. Either way, you’ll still get presents. At some point in the future, though, Santa will be a part of your life again. Maybe it will be when you’re a bit older and feel the magic in the air at Christmas, or maybe it will be when you have kids of your own. The most important things are:

1) to keep the magic alive for those who still believe in Santa. It doesn’t make them babyish or stupid.

2) it’s not your job to convince people that Santa is or isn’t real. It’s a personal thing, this belief in Santa, and every family has different beliefs.

Don’t waste time trying to convince other people that you’re right and they’re wrong – there’s no point getting into fights or losing friends over this. So if someone asks if you believe in Santa, just tell the truth: ‘I’m not sure yet’ “.

Make, Read, Listen, Squish

I have stumbled upon a few interesting and inspiring things and I’m eager to share them with you.

Kindness Rocks has emerged with full force in our little town of Bolton. It’s a super easy and fun family craft activity – we started by researching different designs and sayings to put on the rocks, created them, then hid them around the neighbourhood (and found a bunch that others have created). There’s even a Facebook page devoted to the craft – a “show and tell” of sorts.

I read Tina Fey’s Bossypants cover to cover in record time. As the first female head writer at Saturday Night Live, she is unapologetically tough and I love her ability to laugh at herself. It’s a quick read and totally inspiring. Here is an excerpt, where she describes an interaction between Jimmy Fallon and Amy Poehler:

“Amy Poehler was new to SNL and we were all crowded into the seventeenth-floor writers’ room, waiting for the Wednesday night read-through to start. […] Amy was in the middle of some such nonsense with Seth Meyers across the table, and she did something vulgar as a joke. I can’t remember what it was exactly, except it was dirty and loud and “unladylike”,
Jimmy Fallon […] turned to her and in a faux-squeamish voice said, “Stop that! It’s not cute! I don’t like it.”
Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him. “I don’t fucking care if you like it.” Jimmy was visibly startled. Amy went right back to enjoying her ridiculous bit.
With that exchange, a cosmic shift took place. Amy made it clear that she wasn’t there to be cute. She wasn’t there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys’ scenes. She was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not fucking care if you like it.”

That quote led me to Amy Poehler’s book, Yes Please. Another hilarious take on being a devoted mother who also loves her career. I felt a lot less guilty about many of things after reading it.

I have a lot of trouble turning my brain off at night. Where some people find respite in the dark and quiet of night, my brain lights up like a firecracker and one thought leads to another, and another, and another ad nauseum. I’ve turned to podcasts to help me to sleep with amazing success. My favourite is Happier by Gretchen Rubin. Interesting enough to distract my hamster wheel brain while putting happy thoughts in my mind to lull me off to sleep.

September is a month of fresh starts and what better way to begin a new school year than with a clean bill of health? I schedule a mammogram every September. Please, ladies, call your doctor and book one if you haven’t already. A routine mammogram uncovered early onset breast cancer in my mother nearly twenty years ago and it saved her life. The procedure is quick and the discomfort is minimal (I have the pain threshold of an overtired, hungry three-year-old, so trust me on this – it’s really not bad).

Make, read, listen, squish. Wishing you a sunny September full of fun and love.

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 – 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!

Quick Hits of Kindness – Nice Photos and Angry People

Good morning and happy Friday everyone!  My sister sent me this collection of photos and it made my heart happy (I hope the Kindle came with a charger and I’m always leery of people who accept payment in “hugs” but the images are a nice change from what we’ve seen in the news this week).

I felt a weird energy in the air this week – maybe because of the number of angry people I encountered over the past few days. Picture this: I’m at the check-out line with my weekend groceries and one of my items didn’t scan, so the cashier called for a price check. The man behind me sighed loudly and banged his pork chops down. Normally, I’d say “take it easy”.

I didn’t.

I turned and smiled at him. He glared at me and shook his head in disgust.

I packed up my things as we waited for the price check and once it came I paid for everything, wishing the cashier a lovely weekend. Grumpypants behind me said “you should really pay attention to the prices when you shop”.

Oh?   Looking for a fight are we?

I had a choice in that moment.  Every cell in my body wanted to lash out and return his anger with a self-rightious “fuuuuuuuuck you!”.

The outcome of that would be a surge of adrenaline throughout my body. The argument would have escalated (because I don’t back down easily) and I would have been angry on the ride home – which would have affected my driving. I’d be annoyed at his unprovoked hostility toward me and I’d be all wound-up when our son got home. I’d recount the story to Lee, which would fuel my indignance. It would have coloured my entire day. This is not the ripple effect I want in my life.

So in that moment, I fought the anger. Turned and looked him straight in the eye and said “I wish you peace and love today and every day”.

He didn’t know how to respond.

I left him gobsmacked. In a non-hostile way.

I went merrily on my way – no adrenaline, – no bad feelings at all – in fact. Just a sense of peace.  Wishing all of you a peaceful weekend full of good thoughts and feelings. Quick hits of kindness don’t always come easily on days like these, but they are worth fighting for.

Here are the photos my sister sent me:

The man who gave the shoes off his feet to this homeless girl.
Good deeds
This motorcyclist who stopped
to help an old woman pass safely.
Good deeds
This barber, who offers haircuts for the price of a single hug.
Good deeds
Consolation knows no color
Good deeds
The police officer who handcuffed himself to a woman
to make sure she knew she’d have to take him with her.
Good deeds
The many people who helped make this boy’s dream come true.
Good deeds
This dog owner who mourned by giving.
Good deeds
This store employee who gives extra service.
Good deeds
The person who decided to put new tires on a stranger’s car
just because he needed it.
Good deeds
 The crowd who decided a fan should be able to watch the show,
no matter what.
Good deeds
This dry cleaning place that helps the unemployed for free.
Good deeds
These kids helping an injured member of their rival team to score.
Good deeds
The man who played for fun and gave his winnings away.
Good deeds
This man who missed his train
helping this older lady with her bags.
Good deeds
This man who gave something to a homeless man no one gives –
something to occupy his mind.
Good deeds
And Dan, a man who, twice a week, buys coffee for every patient,
nurse and doctor at local cancer centers.
Good deeds
The people at the animal hospital,
knowing how hard it is to say goodbye.
Good deeds
This man who gave his umbrella away
so this cat could have a dry night.
Good deeds
The
paramedics.
 
Good deeds

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!