- 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”
Here’s the link. It’s brilliant.
So I decided not to stress.
I didn’t stress out about this:
Or the piles of paper here and there:
But I did use this:
Lit a bunch of these:
and spent seven dollars on these beauties.
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.
Wishing you a happy and gentle weekend everyone!
Let’s start the weekend with a few cheap and easy ways to be kind:
- Look through your phone and send a friend a copy of a photograph that includes them
- Search google images for “Friendship” – some are really funny. Choose one and text it to a friend or family member
- Call or email an elderly relative or friend to tell them you’re thinking of them
- 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)
- Leave a note in your spouse or child’s sock drawer telling them how much you love them
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.
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!)
I can’t remember the last time I saw a photo of myself without a cellphone in it. I feel naked without it nearby. I also can’t remember a time where I gave my full attention to someone without glancing over at my phone when it dinged. I’m a slave to this thing.
For some it’s not a phone that’s the distraction. Many of us live in a “what’s next” mindset. What are we doing today? Where are we going? Quick, let’s take pictures and post them and see how many people like this.
I like “likes”
I’m guilty of this. I am ADDICTED to likes.
As we focus inward on our lives, and how many people like and approve of what we’re doing, something crucial is getting lost.
I’m reading an awful lot about mindfulness these days. I’ve tried it. My anxious mind always circles around and around. Replacing the “M” with a “K” gave me far better results, though: KINDFULNESS
Instead of distracting myself with social media, I tried distracting myself with action. I looked at my text message and email inbox and scrolled down. Who haven’t I heard from in a while? Who amongst my friends and acquaintances has struggled a bit? I send one email or text a day, asking the person how they’re doing or wishing them a gentle and happy day.
This takes the focus off me, myself and I and puts it where it could actually be of some use: making someone’s day just a bit happier. Facebook and Instagram rarely show the reality of someone’s life; it’s the “Front Page” of the things they want you to see. There is all kinds of drama going on behind the scenes and a personal note may just make someone’s reality a little happier.
I have days where EVERYTHING pisses me off.
For a while I became accustomed to a real “vigilante” way of thinking. A belief that people need to do the right thing or they should be punished for it.
Someone cuts you off in traffic? Speed up and cut THEM off. Honk. Give ‘em the finger. Don’t let them get away with that behaviour. Teach them a LESSON.
Now, I fight the urge to fight because it makes me feel awful. My heart pounds, my blood boils, my vision narrows to where nothing else matters but TEACHING THAT PERSON A LESSON.
Odds are, I’ve taught them nothing. I’ve endangered myself for absolutely no reason.
Now, we DO need people who want to right the wrongs. These people are some of the most devoted friends we will ever have and will rush to your rescue when things go south.
But it’s how we fight that matters. Right the wrongs but don’t try to settle the score. For your OWN good and for the sake of your OWN health and peace. I often ask myself “do I want to be right or do I want an easy life?”.
Nevertheless, sometimes I’m an asshole and on those days, acts of kindness aren’t going to come from me.
On those days, letting shit go is the kindest thing to do.
On those crappy days, try the art of NON-ACTION.
Spouse grating on your last nerve? Go for a walk by yourself, suggest a game of cards or watch a 30 minute show together.
Children acting up? Acting out? Whining? Calling your name over and over and bless their hearts but JESUS WILL YOU GIVE ME FIVE MINUTES PEACE? Go to bathroom, open a window, give yourself a 5 minute time-out.
Line ups too long? Traffic a nightmare? Feel yourself spiraling into a negative thought cycle?
Try the 5-4-3-2-1 method of calming down.
Name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. The last two are tricky.
This distracts our hamster-wheel brains and puts the focus on something else. It halts the negative thought cycle.
It also works for panic attacks. More on that later.
Good shit I did this week: I didn’t lay on the horn when I got blocked in my parking spot
Four ER visits. Two by ambulance. All four times I was convinced I was having a heart attack.
The sensations came without warning: the heat that permeated my insides; intestinal spasms that paralyzed me; a racing, pounding heart; nausea; dizziness; crushing chest pain. Then, one by one, my senses would shut down. I couldn’t feel my fingers. Noises were muffled and obscured. My head spun and vision darkened. All of these culminated with the very real feeling that I was slipping away and was going to die.
After a slew of cardiac tests came up negative, one ER doctor asked “do you suffer from anxiety?” My answer? No! Of course not! My life has never been better!
The attacks started coming with more frequency and intensity. In the middle of the night. During playdates. While having supper.
I felt I was endangering my son’s life and the lives of others. I stopped going out. I stopped getting out of bed. I was terrified of being left alone.
When every medical test came up negative my husband recalled the question from the last ER visit:
“Do you suffer from anxiety?”
So, one day after dropping our son off at school, my husband bundled me up and brought me to the hospital that changed my life: CAMH. The diagnosis: Severe Panic Disorder caused by untreated Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
I was struck by two things upon being treated for this disorder: one, the staff – from receptionist to physician – are incredibly calm. Two, all staff members have a kindness that permeates everything they do. There are no jerks at this hospital.
My initial shame at being treated at a mental health facility has turned into gratitude and pride. If I had known even one person who turned to them for help, I would not have hidden this for so long. And, like most other things, there is always a positive: the kindness that was shown to me has inspired me to spread kindness everywhere I go. I found that the more I looked outward to see how I could help others the fewer the panic attacks. My little hamster-wheel brain can only handle one thought at a time, so if I concentrated on being kind in every situation, the less anxious I felt. It was a win-win situation.
Through medication, therapy and KINDFULNESS (my version of mindfulness), I am back to being an active and supportive mother, wife, daughter and friend. I get out of bed EVERY DAY, happy, ready to take on the world. Plus, I started this blog to inspire others.
These are dark times with ominous headlines over every news outlet. CAMH saved my life and now I can bring joy and hope and kindness to others.
And my mind won’t settle down to meditate.
What is left for the anxious and uninspired?
It’s easy to devolve into a negative thought cycle. So many thoughts racing to be foremost in our hamster-wheel brains.
Money (or lack thereof)
Children (and their never-ending needs)
Work (angry clients, demanding managers, commute times, toxic colleagues)
Family (aging parents, sick spouses, and long standing resentments between siblings and in-laws are just a few of the things I see while working at the funeral home)
Friends (the family of our choosing – when we can make time for them)
Cellphones that have become the 5th (6th?) appendage on our bodies: texts and emails that demand immediate responses.
There is never enough of the good in our lives and too much of the bad.
It’s taken ten years and two hospital stays for me to figure out the antidote.
A thoughtful gesture will put you in a better frame of mind than all the asanas and ohms in the universe.
Looking OUTWARD focuses our minds on what is surrounding us, instead of what is immediately in front of us.
Surrounding each of us is a community of need. A community of people caught up looking inward (and at their cellphones).
Who are they?
The neighbour who is looking after a sick parent and two young children
The single mother who has a cold
The nursing home resident who never gets a visitor
The receptionist at work who hasn’t had a bathroom break in three hours
The check-out clerk who has REALLY checked-out because every customer has had a complaint of some kind.
Can you cure the ills of the world?
But brightening someone’s day in even the smallest of ways has a boomerang effect. While it will make them smile, you will carry the high for days.
Good shit I did this week: Sent a handwritten thank you note to a person who gave our son a bike. I love getting cards in the mail. Hopefully they will too.