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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
If someone is all alone at e-break, tell them that they can play with you.
If someone is crying, say “are you ok?”.
If someone breaks your fidget cube say “that’s ok”.
Say good morning to your teacher even if you wanted to stay at home.
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”.
Labour laws are in place to protect the worker from abuse. They are meant to regulate the time a person can spend on-duty to ensure quality of life.
The anxious mind is not aware of, nor cares about, labour laws.
The anxious mind works overtime, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This leaves us, the owners of these over-enthusiastic minds, physically and emotionally spent. Every little bump in the road is equivalent of a defcon 1 crisis. As a result, our shoulders are slumped, our skin is sallow and the call of a warm bed in a dark room is too much to ignore. When my computer goes on the fritz, the first thing I do is to try turning it off and on. Reboot the sucker. Maybe the human brain works the same way.
The good folks at my hospital’s therapy clinic are teaching me how to maintain control over my thoughts. Racing, catastrophizing thoughts are the by-products of anxiety and is the direct cause of the unpleasant physical side effects of panic. So, in an effort to improve my quality of life, I’m forcing my brain to take two days off. From Friday night until Sunday night, I will not allow intrusive, catastrophizing thoughts to take over. For two days:
I promise to eliminate all expectations of others. It is fruitless to base my happiness on what I expect people to do or to say.
I promise to be thankful for the home I have instead of finding fault with its flaws.
I promise to not overthink every interaction I had with people this week. I will remind myself that I was always kind and considerate and that is good enough. What other people think of me is none of my business.
I promise, for two days, to accept that life is uncertain and stop mentally wringing my hands over everything out of my control.
I promise to busy my hands with a puzzle or a craft and busy my mind with music and books.
I promise to halt the negative thoughts that creep into my conscious. It may be useless to try to stop them, so I’ll just put them off until Monday.
I promise to remind myself that I deserve this break from constant worry and anguish, because all the worrying in the world will not change the outcome of anything.
Come Monday, I’ll see how I feel. Hopefully that little almond-shaped part of the brain (called the amygdala) which, in all of us with panic disorders, is way too active, will send out warning shots ONLY in the face of real danger. Being kind to ourselves in this way will make it infinitely easier to be kind to others.
My first employer in funeral service was a good-natured old man. He was sympathetic but did not suffer fools gladly. A thick mane of grey hair matched the cloud of smoke that surrounded him from his pack-a-day habit. He had a deep, bellowing voice that commanded a room and scared small children.
He had a saying:
“Do good and speak well of it”.
He did just that. He was the most thoughtful person my 22-year-old self had ever met and came up with the most incredible ideas to spread goodness.
Family exhausted after saying goodbye to someone they love? Buy them Swiss Chalet so they don`t have to cook.
Funeral at a Legion? First round of drinks on him, plus taxi chits so no-one drives under the influence.
And, speaking of DUIs, he went so far as to park a wrecked vehicle (totalled in a drunk driving accident) in front of our little funeral home. A sign hung above the car, and below our funeral home sign – “Closed for the holidays – we hope – please don`t drink and drive”. It got both positive and negative attention but it started a conversation. It made people think outside themselves and I bet it saved more than one life.
That is my hope for this little community of kindness. That something strikes a chord in you, a conversation gets started, and a ripple of kindness starts from you.
My motivation? I think it stems from the fact that I was so terribly sick last year. You know when you have the flu for a couple weeks, then, one day, you wake up and you feel better and tackle all the projects you have on your list, fit in a workout and make a meal from scratch? That`s how I feel right now. Totally energized and determined not to let one more day of my life go to waste.
Now, is one good-deed a day too much to put on ourselves?
Yes. Yes it is.
I aim for one a week. One act that I can be proud to share. Not to be begging for attention like a 6 year old jumping up and down saying “Look at me! Look at me!”, but simply to inspire others.
Now, as I said before, I’m not an incredibly nice person, I just don’t go out of my way to be an asshole.
I hold doors open, smile at strangers and am kind to restaurant servers wherever I go. I try to see where good is lacking and add some. I try to help people who are hurting as much as I was.
While sitting around the table, give each member of your family a blank piece of paper and ask them to write their name at the bottom of the page. Each person passes their paper to the person on their right. Instruct everyone to write down what they like, love and/or admire about the person named below. Once finished, fold the paper so the next person can’t see the comment. Keep passing the paper around until it returns to it’s owner.
Consider buying a box of tissues or a couple of erasable markers for your child’s teacher. I’m shocked at how many teachers use their own money for supplies. How weird would it be if I had to buy my own printer toner or embalming fluid?
Consider bringing a plastic bag on a neighbourhood or forest walk to collect the garbage no longer hidden by mounds of snow. (exercise caution, as always, my friends!).
When I was little, mail was delivered directly to the house so we knew who the letter carrier was. It gave my parents an opportunity to say thank you and to remember him at Christmas. Now that we have a community mail box, I have no idea who is delivering the mail each and every day. I taped a thank-you note to the back of the box (where they open it), hoping it will make their day a bit brighter. I think next time, I’ll include a five dollar Timmies gift card.
Once in a while Lee and I will sit down and do a relationship check-up. Just a couple of questions like “how are you doing?” and “anything you want to do differently?”. Kind of like Festivus but without the pole.
Lee brought up that he’d like to entertain more. Like, people in our house entertain. Sounded doable at the time. Yes, let’s entertain more. Great idea. I’ve always loved magazine spreads showing reclaimed wood tables dressed with linens and adorned with flowers and candles. Cheese trays displayed with grapes, artisnal crackers and those fancy curved cheese knives (I have one and use it for my scratch-off tickets).
Then reality hit. He invited a neighbourhood family over.
Immediately I started making to-do lists. Grocery lists. Lists of lists. As the day approached I became consumed with how my house looked:
the kitchen needs painting…too many toys on the main floor…god I hate these chairs…
And as I looked around, I felt nothing was good enough. How could we have people over with so many scruffy baseboards?
The benefit of being treated at a mental-health facility, though, is that they teach you to think differently. What if my house was just fine the way it is?What if I didn’t exhaust myself on the Saturday of the dinner party? Could the evening be less than perfect and still be fun?
Off to Google to search “don’t want to entertain too stressful” and like a beacon, the top link shone out “The Crappy Dinner Party”
The menu was also easy. Recipes that I tried out the week before: Crock pot pulled pork on fresh buns, coleslaw and potato salad. Chips as appetizers. Apple pie for dessert.
The only things that are non-negotiable in my world are 1) a clean kitchen (no one gets food poisoning in my house) and 2) clean bathrooms (otherwise, ew).
So I got up on the Saturday, read the newspaper, took the dog for a walk, cleaned the kitchen and bathrooms and then had a nap. I had to stop myself many, many times throughout the course of the day when I could feel the anxiety rising. I silently yelled STOP when my panicked mind wanted to take over and cancel the evening. I breathed deeply when my stomach started twisting at the thought of entertaining all night. I certainly DID NOT ask myself “what’s the worst that can happen?” because my mind is capable of catastrophizing even a casual dinner party. So I walked, I breathed and reminded myself that I was in control, not my thoughts.By the time the doorbell rang, I was relaxed and ready to go.The evening was a huge success, and I was able to keep my eyes open past 9 p.m.
I think a few things contributed to success of the evening: our guests were greeted warmly upon their arrival – I actually said “I’m so glad you’re here” because I was – I didn’t need 15 more minutes to make the beds; the food was good. Not great, but good; their drinks were refreshed promptly and there was lots to laugh about. A relaxed host makes for a relaxed guest.
Plus, when you face your fears and anxieties head on with a successful outcome, it gives you confidence. I discovered that perfection is often the enemy of excellence, and that I need to remind myself of that on a regular basis. I realized that kindness sometimes involves extending yourself outside your comfort zone. Our neighbours had a great time, and I didn’t have the usual fitful night of sleep following a dinner party – wondering if everything was okay. I didn’t have to worry. Our crappy dinner party was really, really okay and I’m okay with that.
A few little things that will brighten your weekend:
Grab your spouse or child’s towel while they are in the shower and throw it in the dryer for 5 minutes. There’s nothing that says “I love you” like a warm towel on a cold day.
Brighten your house with a bouquet of tulips. It was the best seven dollars I spent this week. I put them in the hallway and they made me happy every time I walked by them. A happy heart is a kind heart.
While you’re grocery shopping this week, pick up a banana loaf or a package of cookies for one of your neighbours.