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 – 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.

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.

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!