I’m Giving My Brain Two Days Off

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.

As Seen On The Mighty

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. 

Quick Hits of Kindness – Part Five

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

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

Have a safe and cozy weekend everyone!

Quick Hits of Kindness – March Break Edition

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

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

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

To Tell or Not To Tell

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.  

Doing good and speaking well of it.  

 

 

Quick Hits of Kindness – Part Three

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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!).
  4. 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.

I Tried Hosting a Crappy Dinner Party

Make the place smell nice

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”

Here’s the link.  It’s brilliant.

So I decided not to stress.

I didn’t stress out about this:

We dumped the X-mas tree out there
Mess Mess Everywhere

Or the piles of paper here and there:

What is a 4 letter word for contsant mess? Kids!!!
oooh! A crossword

But I did use this:

Make the place smell nice

Lit a bunch of these:

and my night
You, you light up my life

and spent seven dollars on these beauties.

No, it's organ!
Tulips on your piano

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.

Quick Hits of Kindness Part Two

A few little things that will brighten your weekend:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. While you’re grocery shopping this week, pick up a banana loaf or a package of cookies for one of your neighbours.

Wishing you a happy and gentle weekend everyone!

Quick Hits of Kindness

Let’s start the weekend with a few cheap and easy ways to be kind:

  1. Look through your phone and send a friend a copy of a photograph that includes them
  2. Search google images for “Friendship” – some are really funny.  Choose one and text it to a friend or family member
  3. Call or email an elderly relative or friend to tell them you’re thinking of them
  4. You can’t fill someone else’s bucket if yours is empty.  Get outside for a 15 minute walk.  Alone.  With great music blasting from your headphones (or earbuds?  I’m not up-to-date enough to know which is correct)
  5. Leave a note in your spouse or child’s sock drawer telling them how much you love them

My Son is Genetically Predisposed to Anxiety – This is What I Want Him to Know

Our son inherited my upturned nose, light skin and fine brown hair.  At nine years of age, he’s a happy-go-lucky child – always telling jokes and laughing, loves riding his bike and playing with his friends.  We’re in the golden-age of childhood right now, well beyond diapers and colic and well before the angst of adolescence.

As the teenage years approach, however, my biggest concern is his mental health.  The panic disorder which derailed my life for a year most likely began in high school.  Disorders of that nature were not recognized and, thus, went untreated.

Should his sunny outlook start deteriorating, I want him to know that he can talk to us.  There is far less stigma attached to mental health treatment and – trust me – we know how to navigate the system to get help, and quickly.  There is no need to be in physical or emotional pain.

I want him to know that his brain is like a muscle – the more he exercises it, the stronger it becomes.  Practicing these exercises at every opportunity will increase his emotional resilience:

  • Eliminate all expectations.  Go in to every situation and every relationship expecting nothing.  Bring all you can – your best work, your most loving self – but stop all thoughts pertaining to outcome.
  • Do not anticipate or catastrophize.  It’s so easy to jump to the worst case scenario, or get caught up in “what if” thinking.  Bring yourself to the present moment by repeating “I am here, now” in your head.
  • Disengage with negative people.  You cannot avoid these energy vampires – some are at work, some are in our families, some are in line in the grocery store.  Interacting is much easier if, when you first see them, say (in your head) “disengage”.  This sounds very Star-Trek-y, which will hopefully make you laugh, but it also has the benefit of erecting an invisible barrier.  No matter what they say or do, they will have no power over you.  Disengage.
  • Stop taking anything personally and check to see if you are basing your actions on feelings or facts.  Gathering all the facts in the hardships you face is the starting point for putting together a plan of action.  Be aware that your feelings can cloud the facts.
  • Occasionally you will make bad choices.  Accept responsibility for your actions and do what you can to make amends.  Don’t blame, don’t be a victim, and when you’ve done all you can to right the wrong, move on.
  • Biological factors have a huge impact on how we see ourselves and the world.  Before getting upset, ask yourself: have I eaten regularly today?   Did I get a good night’s rest?  Am I coming down with a bug?
  • Watch your friends for signs of distress.  Be there for them with gentleness and humour.  Give them help and hope.

Finally, remember that being kind to yourself is as important as being kind to those around you.  You cannot give of yourself if your emotional tank is empty.  Engage with nature, friends, family.  Do what brings you joy, and you will be better equipped to spread kindness and love wherever you go.

 

She Doesn’t Take Her Charmed Life For Granted

Written by Cathy Gatlin

My husband, Ming, says I lead a charmed life.  Others call it white privilege.  Or as Ming  (who likes to quote from the movie “Unforgiven”): “deserve has nothing to do with it” (Clint Eastwood says this when he shoots the bad guy who says “I don’t deserve to die”).

Growing up in a working class neighborhood in East York in the 70s and 80s we did not use words like white privilege.  Or tell people that my parents mortgage was paid off very soon after they moved in. Because telling people you are privileged is not nice or caring.  We keep that to ourselves.

I grew up with everything, an incredible loving set of parents and everything you could ever need.  Parents who gave me confidence, maybe even cockiness. I believed I could do anything. I strived and strive to as be as good and loving and as patient as my parents were to me.

I was an immature person, well I still am.  I still think farts are funny, and if someone tells me to stop swearing I swear more.  But I also grew up very sheltered.  I thought everyone was doing OK, and even those who were not, well it would work out for them, somehow.  Somehow I believed it would all work out, craziness who thinks that?

Then I went to Queens where that belief only continued, I took Sociology where I studied the theory of poverty and of racism, but I never lived it.  And I will never live it.

I then became an insurance underwriter and was fired after two years (I really really sucked at it) and moved to Ireland.

This was my first taste of being an outsider.  Being someone who did not fit in (I know you can be white and not fit in with other whites, who knew?).  I had never lived somewhere where almost everyone has a shared history and shared sorrows.  I loved the political incorrectness of Ireland (well in 1999) and the ferocious sense of dark humour there.  I loved that I was the naïve Yank who just did not get it.  What I did not love was only getting the crappy bar back jobs, because the good jobs went to the Irish.

I then spent a year travelling the world.  I cried the first two days I was in India.  I met a woman from Kenya who took me under her wing, and said things like “Bombay is poor for me, I can’t imagine what this is like for a white girl from Canada!”.  (When Mumbai was called Bombay).

I almost experienced India in a dream, like it was not me there, but “hippy open Cathy” who can somehow process and  mentally manage the intense poverty that was India. This was also where I met my Chinese immigrant husband (born in North Bay) and fell in love with him 4 years later (I budded in front of him at the New Delhi train station in 2000).

But the impact of white privilege still had not really hit me at this point of my life.  Why?  Well, that was India, not Canada, that’s different right? How can I make an impact on 1 billion people?  I had people follow me in India and touch me (in the south in really rural areas where, in some cases, they had never seen a white person).

I then moved home and lived comfortably at Yonge and Eglinton and then Ossington and Harbord.

But then Parkdale happened to me.  My husband refused to live east of Broadview, west of High Park, or north of Bloor.  This was when a house in Parkdale was 400-500 k.  So we moved here.  I cried a lot.  Besides having post partum depression, I could not handle the division of class here.  I felt I was back in India again.

Why I am living here, and someone who just immigrated here and working 4 times as hard has a fifth of what I have financially?  Why are we so racist against the Roma? Why are there homeless people?  Why can some people not afford winter jackets?

Suddenly I was pushed out of my white bubble.  I was forced out.  Parkdale does not hide from you.   There is a user coming off their high at Dun and King and I have to call 911 and explain to my 3 year old what is happening.  I need to give food to homeless people because I have started actually talking, yes actually talking to homeless people, and heard their stories.  They are not good stories.   I have spent 4 years with Carl (not his name) who is now in foster care because his mother uses.  We used to throw his birthday parties and have sleep overs because his mom forgot to pick him up she was so high. Carl made a massive impact on my life and how I saw my community.

Carl.  It breaks my heart to write his fake name down. He asked me to be his friend when he was 5, he had just moved schools, to my sons school.

He came over once a week, sometimes more. I brought him camping: he hated it and just wanted to be home. I love Carl and I am not allowed to see him (Foster Mom said no) but Carl taught me a lot. About love, about drug usage and how it affects a family, about the real issues of accountability in Child Services, to name a very few. About how every Mom loves their kid, well 99 percent of them, and how we all struggle.

It also taught me there are no bad kids; just bad situations. And Carl’s mom really loves him, she just could not parent while using drugs. And it broke my heart, and I waited 2 years to call child services (I should not have waited that long).

Carl convinced me his best situation was to be with his mom and baby sister. I still don’t know how I feel about Carl being in the system. Regardless, Carl changed me in a very big way.

I started to see life differently and where I fit in the world. I don’t need to buy more things. I don’t give a shit what my house looks like, (well my friend April designed parts of it and I love those parts)  Instead, I want to give back.

I was happy in my bubble.  I think my kids are still in the bubble (well I know they are), we try to get them out to understand the world so they can somehow begin to realize their privilege. But it’s hard.

So after Carl left Parkdale I thought about how I could help my community.

I started a Multisport after school program, 3 days a week in conjunction with the community center (and another parent), 3 days a week in our school.

I also started a coat drive in our school and am working on another clothes drive for Roncesvalles United church’s “community warmth” program.  Also, I am about to join the “More than Child’s Play” board of parents to help implement a seniors and kids program in our community. Once I started working on these programs I felt like this hole in my life was finally filled.  Which had not been filled by marriage, children of my own, or a career I really like. I finally felt like I was truly part of my community and finally helping in a meaningful way.

Thank you Parkdale, for opening me to what is really out there. For making me realize I am a white, privileged woman who does not deserve this hand I was given. I was dealt a full house of love and money and I better put it to good use.   Thank you Parkdale for ensuring I do something more.  I love you Parkdale.  I could never leave because I got more work to do.

If you want help with Parkdale there are two places doing amazing work, remember money is as important and is some cases more important than your time, so giving is key to helping for social change!

http://www.pchc.on.ca/  (Parkdale community health centre, check out the amazing programs they run)

http://pcfb.ca/home/index.php (Parkdale food bank, needs food right now!)