Last year at this time, I started a daily gratitude post on my social media that I coined graticember. I shared a photo each day that represented the thing I was most grateful for that day. It was a way to get me out of my holiday funk and focus on what truly mattered. You can read all about it here.
This year, with a milestone birthday coming up on Christmas Eve (my 40th) and a Christmas season I have been dreading since March, I thought I would change it up a wee bit.
So, here goes… Here is an incomprehensive list of 40 things that I’m grateful for right now (in no particular order).
Now, excuse me while I pull out my best “my mouth’s bleeding Bert” Jimmy Stewart impression, zip up to the North Pole with Gideon, and proceed to have the “hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny fucking Kaye.”
Thanks for reading this far and Merry Christmas. 🖤
I don’t know how well you can see it, but I bought this “not sorry” necklace at a Rachel Hollis conference in Toronto before the world shut down and my world was shattered by the loss of my mum.
Since then, I’ve taken to crying in public places and answering honestly when people ask me how I am.
“I’m just okay”
“I’m having a rough week”
And guess what? I’m not sorry about it.
You may still catch me apologizing for welling up because I’ve had a lifetime of chronic apologizing I’m trying to shake myself of... But I’m not sorry.
And that’s okay.
I have good days.
And that’s okay.
I have days when I just can’t cope,
and that’s okay too.
I’m thankful? Sure...
There are things I’m thankful for. My family, my close friends, my own health, my proximity to Victoria Park, my orchid that keeps on blooming...
I’m thankful for the memories of this time last year celebrating Thanksgiving at mum’s place on the lake. Despite all of us feeling in our guts that it was likely the last one, we smiled and laughed and took photos that I’ll hold dear for the rest of my life.
But there’s just one thing clouding my gratitude, you guys.
And, on a weekend where our country is gathering for the purpose of giving thanks, I’m not sorry for not joining in.
I’m gonna let myself feel the sadness.
And that’s okay.
I moderated a grief and mental health panel for CMHA mental illness awareness week this week and one of the panelists, Serena Lewis, said “grief is love.”
Well, ain’t that the truth. 🖤
When I say that my grief is waist deep, don’t feel bad.
It means that I’m no longer drowning.
When I think I might write about something else,
My mind keeps circling back.
And that’s okay.
Writing is my therapy.
It allows me to focus.
To steady my grip.
Writing allows me to give a quiet voice to the thoughts that make me feel stuck.
It helps me to feel like I’m not on my own.
Not defeated and sad.
Even if just for a moment.
The focus moves from my heart to my head to the words that flow
And I become lost in a different way.
Lost, but fuelled by connection.
Lost, but leading to somewhere.
Lost, but filling in the blanks.
Grief is a beast.
And writing holds a mirror to that beast.
To the relative unknown.
I may not always recognize the beast that I see.
It may change its appearance from one day to the next.
But, by closing in and dissecting how it looks – through words and ellipses, different angles and lights – I can at least try to understand it just a wee bit more than I did the day before...
So I keep wading through it.
Through the wind and the waves and the worry.
Through the wreckage and the rise and fall.
And I let myself feel it.
I tip my head up.
I turn my back to the wind.
I ride the waves.
And I write.
I recently realized that I’ve lived most of my life playing it safe.
I regret so many decisions I've made, mostly because they were made out of fear or based on assumption. I’ve felt, more times than I would like to admit, like the kid left to sit at a safe distance while the other kids played on the monkey bars. And it took me a long time to realize that it’s not because the other kids didn’t want to play with me. It’s because I convinced myself that I wasn’t cool enough to join in.
What would happen if I approached them and they told me to go away?
What if I didn’t have anything important enough to say?
What if I fall?
What if I voice my opinion/ my fear/ my feelings and they all laugh at me?
What if they like me and then they find out “who I really am”?
A loser. Left out. Useless.
These are just a few of the charming things I’ve told myself over the years. And not just on the playground, either… Recently. What was planted in elementary school has grown with me into my late thirties. And, aside from being shameful and sad, it’s honestly developed into a comfort zone, of sorts. I am comfortable when I feel like someone is leaving me out or I don’t quite measure up (whether real or imagined) because that is what I’ve convinced myself that “I know”... “It’s safe here.”
No matter how many people told me I was wrong – that I was lying to myself about my inadequacies – I simply didn’t believe them. I refused to believe that what my thoughts were telling me was wrong.
Nobody has tried to set me straight more than my mother. My mum told me over and over again how much she wished I could see myself through her eyes (and that I’m not a loser, or useless or the worst person to ever darken the doorstep of the planet, depending on the mood I was in). And, as I said one final good-bye to my mum two months ago – and in the weeks of grief, isolation and self-reflection since – I think I finally do.
I finally “get” what she’d been telling me all those years. All those times when I was sitting off in the corner because I didn’t quite “fit in” with the rest of my family. Or I didn’t want to go to school because I was “sick”. Or I should do this other play because my performance in the last one really was good. I finally realized – as I felt it wash over me in her hospital room that night – that I “have what it takes” and I am enough just by being me.
I’ve said the words, I’ve stuck the quote on my wall and dropped it into a powerpoint presentation or two, but it finally hit me in this moment and beyond. “I am enough.”
I’m sad that it took her leaving us for me to realize what she’d been trying to teach me all along… I don’t have to always be “on” to be enough. I don’t have to be “the best” before I even try. I can get through the rest of my life by being kind, authentic and brave – just like she was – and I’ll be just fine.
After mum died, my friend Erin told me that I have to make sure that I treat myself the way that my mum would treat me – with love and kindness and patience. And that is just what I plan on doing.
I know it will take time... I know that I will stumble more than once. And I know that it will take work to see myself through my mother’s eyes and to break free from all of my misguided thoughts about myself and how I show up in the world. But I can honestly feel that this process has already started for me... It started that night.
And I plan on keeping the momentum going (if for no other reason than “mum told me to”;)
It comes down to this, cliché as it may be – life is too short. And I’m tired of playing small.
I’m tired of not showing up because of some made-up story in my mind.
I’m tired of being “okay” with being the victim.
I’m going to dig deep – Because there’s no other way to do it right.
I’m going to write – Because I’m a writer and I deserve to do what I love.
I’m going to say what I want, how I feel and what I think is right – Because it doesn’t matter if people laugh at me or judge me.
When we get to the other side of this pandemic – whenever that is and whatever we look like when we get there – I am going to remember how this felt. I’m going to remember to show courage in the face of fear. To not let what others may think of me hold me back. To not always take the safe route...
And I am going to own who I am.
Because my mother was a fucking warrior.
And I am my mother’s daughter. 🖤
I don’t even recognize
The world anymore.
The darkness is heavy;
The days feel like night.
I stare, blind, at a future
That doesn’t fit right.
Puzzle pieces out of place.
Worry lines that cloud my face.
Lifting my hands.
Unable to touch
What I can’t understand.
I’m losing sleep.
My pulse is racing.
The lack of calm
Hits my heart like a bomb.
In need of connection.
No sense of direction.
Peeking through the cracks.
The light –
There’s no turning back.
We’re in this together;
Resilient and one.
We will overcome. 🖤
Yup. You read that right. I am openly admitting that I am an imposter.
Or, at least, I often find myself feeling that way.
And, though I know I am not alone in experiencing imposter syndrome or feelings of inadequacy, I know I have to find a way to get to the other side of it.
Allow me to paint you a picture...
As a project and event manager, I (not surprisingly;) take on a lot of projects and events. And, I kid you not, in the course of each and every one, I have a moment (or moments, who am I kidding) where I fear that the people I’m working with are going to “find out” that I’m not who I claim to be.
Yes, I have years of experience creating, managing and executing organized, successful events. I am comfortable asking questions, I am capable of owning my mistakes and learning new methods as I go, I can troubleshoot through challenges and take things in stride… In some cases, I thrive on this stuff, yet I still find a way to convince myself that I won’t be able to successfully execute *this* event. Or take on *that* project.
I self-sabotage. “That was a fluke that I pulled that event off” or “that project was only a success because of the other people I worked with.” These are things I tell myself and legitimately believe when I approach something new. I set myself up for failure and I even sometimes look for potential scenarios of how I’m likely going to fail before I even give myself a chance to succeed.
My brain works on overdrive (hence the name of my blog;) and I can find myself spending more time worrying my way through multiple theoretical situations where people are going to “figure me out” – than I spend actually starting the work that I love to do that will ultimately build my confidence and remind me that I am actually quite capable.
Aren’t I a delight?
So what do I do to get to the other side of this?
I’ve been doing this my whole life at various times – getting so far and then stepping away just before “people find out that I’m a fraud”, convincing myself not to speak up because “someone else will likely have a better idea anyway”, not even taking the perceived risk in the first place.
How do you break a habit that’s not only ingrained in you, but that you’ve only just (finally) recognized is a legit problem that you have to work through?
How do you break through fear and push yourself out of your comfort zone (besides saving screen captured inspirational quotes on your phone)?
Maybe simply admitting it (and openly sharing it in a blog post;) is just what I need to do to get to the other side. Or, at the very least, start to make my way there…
Maybe, in some twisted way, if it’s “out there” that I am struggling with self doubt and feeling like a fraud, I will be less likely to follow through on my self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. I’ll flip the switch and be more likely to own the skills and talents that I know I have and trust that the good things that people tell me about myself are true.
I’ll be more likely to show up.
2019 was the first year that I chose a word of the year. It was MOVE. [ Motion is lotion. Movement is medicine ]. And I kind of liked having something to refer back to when I felt like I needed to regroup.
This year, I’m technically choosing two words – SHOW UP.
Show up for things just outside my comfort zone.
Show up for the people I care about.
Show up for myself.
Let’s see how this goes… 🖤
I think it’s become almost cliché to say that Christmas can be a difficult time of year. (I should know. I say it all the time;).
That being said, it is.
The most wonderful time of the year is rarely that for so many people, myself included.
In preparation of facing this difficult time of year for me, I decided to force (for lack of a better word) myself to choose one thing every day that I will pause and show gratitude for throughout the month of December. (And because I’m a nerd who likes to combine words together, I’m calling it GRATI-CEMBER. For the record: I also considered DECEMB-ITUDE, but I liked the former better;).
For extra accountability, I have been sharing it on social media every day… Check it out HERE if you’re so inclined.
Spoiler alert: most days involve my family (including my dogs;) in one way or another. Oh! And there is one shout out to Dwight Shrute… because The Office is my ultimate comfort show when I simply need to watch something mindless (and hilarious).
Here’s what I know from taking on this little challenge so far:
I feel it is important for me to say that this is nothing new to me. I know that I need to take more time to be present and appreciate what is right in front of me, simple or otherwise. I know that it is so important to focus on the positive and not take anything for granted. But I also know that sometimes all of that is really effing hard to do…
So my GRATI-CEMBER challenge is just a nice little reminder to myself (and anyone else who is following along) to make a conscious effort to appreciate the little things.
Every. Single. Day. 🖤
Sometimes things present themselves right when you need them. Whether you know you need them or not.
Grief over the loss of a pet is a real thing – the loss of a friend, a family member and a constant companion like no other, all rolled into one. And, though I still think of Hank (and miss him) every. single. day, I feel like I’ve made it through the muckiest part (though I am not naive to the dreaded milestones coming up).
A couple of months after Hank died, I asked my friend Heather if Joey and I could hang out with her Boston terrier Annabelle while she was out for the night. I brought Annabelle home with me and Joey and I were quickly reminded how awesome and comforting it was to have the presence (and sounds!) of a Boston terrier in our house.
That was the first time that we thought it might even be possible to entertain the idea of having another dog some day.
Only a week or so after we hung out with Annabelle, we were presented with a surprise on our doorstep. Tracy, who was Hank’s breeder from nine years earlier, brought “Pickles” (Bert’s name at the time), a fourteen week old, adorable chocolate brindle Boston pup, to our door and there was absolutely no turning back.
Pickles (who happened to be Annabelle’s brother/ nephew in some sort of intricate dog-family tree) was a bit of an accident. And, before she figured out exactly what his future was, Tracy held on to Pickles for a bit while she was experiencing her own grief. When she heard of Hank’s passing, Tracy kept the idea of Joey and I adopting Pickles in her back pocket and waited until the timing seemed right for all of us.
When we took a “test drive” weekend with him the day after we met him, there was no denying that the timing was right for us. There was no way we would be giving “Bert Pickles” (his new name;) back.
He is every bit a puppy, and we were reminded of Hank’s puppy days very quickly. He has a puppy’s love, a puppy’s energy and a puppy’s desire to get into just about everything. He’s adorable, needy, hilarious and sweet. And, with no concept of personal space whatsoever, he snuggles like no other.
I believe that, in this case, the universe was looking out for me. During one of the hardest times of my life, this little bundle of happiness and silliness (and farts... lots and lots of farts) was waiting to bring the joy back into my life and I didn’t even know it.
Though I get frustrated by him regularly, and sometimes wonder what the heck we were thinking (particularly when I’m cleaning another pee accident off the floor), there is no way that I could imagine the last six months without him.
Bert has been a healer his whole life. And he works hard every day – without even realizing it. He makes me laugh when all I want to do is cry. He forces me to pause when I sometimes get lost in the cycle of my thoughts. And he brings me so much unconditional love.
Right when I need it. 🖤
(As seen at HubNow.ca)
I recently had the opportunity to speak about my experience and knowledge around mental health in the workplace as part of the local chamber of commerce’s Small Business Week. This is a topic that I am very passionate about and I quickly realized there was no way I was going to be able to fit everything I wanted to say into a forty-five minute window.
I was reminded by my friends at CMHA that the best way to connect with people on most topics is to share a personal story, rather than research and statistics. So that’s just what I did. I have experience, after all. It’s been nine years since I admitted that I suffer from depression and anxiety. It’s been about five and a half years since I started to be comfortable enough to share this with others outside of my family, close friends and therapist. I’ve been an employee, an employer and an entrepreneur.
Since I began openly sharing my personal experience with mental illness, I have felt at various times embraced, judged, supported, supportive, isolated, and bullied. Though progress has been made, the stigma around mental illness absolutely still exists, particularly in reference to the workplace.
As a manager, employer, or entrepreneur, it is so important to create and foster a culture of openness and inclusion and mental wellness. It is important to have a language around mental health and to have open conversations with employees. It is important to model these conversations by being open about your own vulnerabilities. And it is especially important, in the midst of all of this, to set healthy and professional boundaries. The goal should be to improve the dynamic in the workplace as a whole, not to counsel or try to improve the individual employees.
I think it is important to make the distinction that, when people are open about their mental illness with their employer, it is not because they are looking for special treatment. They are looking for equal treatment. That their mental illness is treated the same as their colleague with a physical illness, for example.
The worst thing you can do is to start treating us with kid gloves, assuming what we can and cannot handle in our workload because of what we may be struggling with mentally. In fact, the fear of just that is why so many people would choose to not openly discuss their mental illness. Will they overlook me for the promotion? Will they not include me in that new project? And, for me, will that potential client choose another person because of what they think I can’t handle based on what I’ve openly shared?
As the person who is struggling with mental illness and trying to navigate through work, life, and work-life integration, it is important to break down daily tasks and encounters into small, manageable pieces. This is a list that works for me when handling my mental health at work (and in life):
This is a list for myself as much as it is a list for anyone else. I am very much a work in progress when it comes to all of this. One of the things I have always struggled with in my own mental health journey is that, though I often know exactly what I need to do to get through, I rarely seem to be able to put it into practice. But if I am honest with myself and others, if I give myself the space I need when I need it, and I push myself when I know I need to, I feel safe to say that I am doing the best I can.
And, chances are, so are you. 🖤
I love music.
The thing I love the most about it is how it makes me feel. How it seems to be able to reach directly inside me and help me through some of my toughest times. Helping to bring me out of whatever mental slump I happen to be in.
Where music takes me always ends up being exactly where I want or need to be — right when I want or need to be there. I listen to sad music when I’m sad so I can more deeply feel the sadness that I need to feel in that moment. I listen to upbeat music when I clean my house because it helps to motivate me to get a task done that I would otherwise put off. I listen to music I can sing along to when I drive so it makes the trip go faster (and, of course, to stay awake).
I recently took a road trip with my mum to PEI and we were listening to our favourite Blue Rodeo album, ‘Five Days in July’.
[Note: the majority of the music I love today dates back directly to a time and space from my life that I connect with on an emotional level… Blue Rodeo, like many other bands/ musicians that I love, were introduced to me by my mum when I was growing up. And this album is engrained deep in my brain]
I am fairly certain that I know every word to every song on this album and, despite knowing all of the lyrics to the song ‘Til I Gain Control Again’, I have never taken the time to fully register what the words meant until mum and I were singing along on this most recent road trip.
Before I explain further, I need to give you the context of the trip. It was my first time visiting my favourite place to bring my dog Hank — my in-laws oceanfront cottage in Fernwood, PEI. Since Hank died, I’ve been absolutely dreading this “first”. I still feel a lot of anger around Hank dying so suddenly and so young, and the fact that he isn’t able to spend just one more summer running free on the beach (this beach in particular) is a big source of that anger.
We have our new little puppy, Bert, which made this trip a tiny bit more bearable (his first trip to PEI and the beach!), but not by a whole lot.
All of this to say: hearing the following lyrics clearly for the first time under these particular circumstances really resonated with me. The chorus so clearly articulated what I have wanted to say to everyone who has supported me — and continues to support me — through this ridiculously challenging time in my life…
“Out on the road that lies before me now
There are some turns where I will spin.
I only hope that you can hold me now.
Til I can gain control again.”
Just the right words. At just the right time. In just the right company.
And that is the power of music. Not only can it transport you to a particular time in your life, it can teach you a lesson right when you need it, it can help you put into words what you have been struggling to say, and it can help you to feel like you’re not alone. 🖤