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!

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.

Quick Hits of Kindness – Bathroom Reading Edition

Am I the only one who takes their phone into the bathroom?  I mean, I understand there has to be an “order of operations” to avoid cross-contamination, but I have to read *something* and I’ve let my magazine subscriptions lapse.

I find inspiration in the oddest places and hope these stories make you as hopeful as they made me.  Much better than reading the back of a shampoo bottle.

It’s a shame that such drastic measures have to be taken, but better safe than sorry.  I hope our son is as quick thinking as this guy was:

To the guy who helped my niece tonight! from TwoXChromosomes

How Arnold Schwarenegger responded to a hateful person:

Some guy acts like a dick about the special olympics post on Arnold Schwarzenegger's facebook page, gets shut down

This TED talk spoke to me.  It confirms my suspicion that we can only focus on one thing at a time.  If we can just focus on the few positive things in our lives, each day will be filled with hope and joy and promise.  TOTALLY not his point – he’s a pickpocket – but that’s what I took from it.

Take a few moments for yourselves this long weekend.  Cleaning, cooking, and large family gatherings can tire out even the kindest soul.  Focus on the love of the people who surround you.  Don’t take anything personally.  Do your best and laugh away the things that go wrong.

 

 

Quick Hits of Kindness After a Rough Week

Not every day is a halo-glowing, rainbows-out-my-ass day around here. Hormone related insomnia derails me every month and it makes me aware just how much my stability rests on a good night’s sleep.  I struggled with a short fuse, body aches and a general feeling of fuckitall-ness.  Weeks like this demand kindness to ourselves.  This is what helps me:

  1. Write down three things that are bothering you. I find once they are on paper, I can a) see how insignificant they are or b) start a plan of action to deal with them.  The mind should come with a warning like the ones on rearview mirrors: “Problems In Brain Seem Larger Than They Actually Are”.  Follow this up immediately with a list of three things that are going well, things you’re grateful for or things that went well this week.  This is a mindfullness exercise for people like me who can’t easily sit quietly with their thoughts.
  2. Go for a brisk walk.  I took my son and his friends on a “quick hike”.  This little stroll found us lost on a trail in the forest for over an hour.  We were so deep in the woods I couldn’t get cell service to GPS our location.  It was noon, so checking the sun’s position…oh who am I kidding? Please.  I only paid attention in Girl Guides when we were doing crafts.  We were lost.  I had three children and a dog with me.  We followed a trail and found our way out, after a steep hike up a hill and a five kilometer walk back home on the roads.  BUT! I felt amazing the next day. Stronger than I have in months.  There is power in sweat-inducing exercise.
  3. Forgive yourself.  We are our own worst critics.  “I should have…”, “Why didn’t I…”, “If only I…”. No one is perfect. Mistakes happen. Take a minute and tell yourself that it’s ok, you did your best with the knowledge you had at the time.

That’s it.  Three easy ones this week.  Have a safe and happy weekend everyone.

Kindness for Kids

Our nine year old inherited my toxic sensitivity.  It will be both his greatest strength and his greatest weakness.  Still, it amazes me how he can leave an old glass of milk fermenting in his room for days but the *second* our dog appears at the door he has to let her in so she won’t feel lonely.

In order to keep this post from devolving into a “kids, amirite?” rant, here are some things they can do to be kind, right from the horse’s mouth:

  1. If someone is all alone at e-break, tell them that they can play with you.
  2. If someone is crying, say “are you ok?”.
  3. If someone breaks your fidget cube say “that’s ok”.
  4. Say good morning to your teacher even if you wanted to stay at home.
  5. If someone is mean to you say “whatever” and walk away.

My suggestions of “what about cleaning your room”  and “wiping the sink down” were met with “nah”.

Have a safe and gentle weekend everyone!