anxiety

Hurdles

The last month has been an absolute whirlwind. More press articles than I could’ve ever imagined being featured in. (I was in my home town’s local newspaper once, as a five-year-old, for donating a giant chocolate Easter egg to the children’s hospital, and that probably would’ve done me for life.) Being interviewed on national radio and having my song played on it, too. Letters, words of encouragement, people spilling their secrets to me and finding inspiration in some lyrics I wrote. New friends. TV interviews. Coming top by popular vote in Manitoba. And everyone I know pulling together in a huge pile of love to help me get there. I made a quick little video to sum up the experience as semi-finals were drawing to a close in which you can see the highs, lows, cries, love, where the song began, and what it became – thanks to an incredible group of kind, generous, and impossibly talented friends/musicians who’ve helped this journey become something magical.

About twenty minutes ago, I found out I didn’t make the final cut.

It was one of those moments where you feel a little bit like a science beaker into which somebody’s just poured two dozen different chemicals, and had a naturally surprising reaction. Except instead of chemicals, they’re emotions, and they’re all tangled up together fighting for the chance to be the sole one that can describe what I’m feeling, and instead of an explosion, there’s an implosion, an internalizing of all the feelings I’ve felt during the course of this contest. And that’s what it is – a contest. A stop on my journey – not the destination. But I can’t help but feel above all, that I’ve let everybody down.

#Searchlight

I submitted this song to CBC’s national contest with no hopes or expectations of actually getting in. I’m new to making proper music, I’m new to being in the public eye, and I’m new to even seeing myself as a musician. I give all credit to anything on my tracks to the wonderful souls that see a seed of potential and help transform them into real things, and for that I am, and always will be, eternally grateful. I still have an EP coming out next month, I’m still writing, and I’m still hopefully releasing a full album in the new year.

But right now – especially after kind and unexpected blogs like this, or this morning’s Metro article telling the entire city that I’ve “fought” my anxiety to “achieve” my dream – old thought patterns are emerging again, telling me that I haven’t achieved anything. That I haven’t fought anything – the fact that I’m sitting here after seeing the news, questioning why I didn’t make it and inventing reasons that surely went through the judges’ heads in deciding (“We can’t put her through because she used to struggle with bad anxiety – she’s too much of a risk.”) – means, clearly, to my old self, I haven’t overcome anything. I don’t mean that. I know full well that the person I was a couple of years ago would never have had the guts to put such a personal creation out there into the world because I wouldn’t have had skin thick enough to handle the potential criticism.

Now I am able to see that I have achieved something. I allowed myself to be proud of doing something I’d always dreamed of. I set out with a goal of writing and recording some songs. I’m still doing that, with the added bonus of having had a month of exposure, of having reached people who’ve told me I’ve inspired them, and of having my first song not only on national radio but on iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify, just like a real artist! I’ve connected with other contenders in the competition, those of whom made it to the final 25 I wish nothing but the best for, and even to those who fell at the last hurdle – we all made it this far. We made something and put it out into the world that wasn’t there before, and people took notice. History is doused with dreamers and doers whose work never saw the light of day, who never stopped anyway. I never set out to be a star. I set out to tell stories through songs that might bring people together or make them think, and I have every intention of fulfilling that goal.

Triad video

This week, we began filming the second music video. The rest of this month will be filled with adding the finishing touches to the EP, and as of about a month from now, I’ll be able to share the rest of these songs with the world. And gosh darn it, I’m still going to go to my niece’s (well, almost-first cousin once removed, but who needs extra words when it’s me writing) Show and Tell at her school in a couple of weeks. “You’re a star in her eyes,” my cousin told me. “I’m going to face this fear because of you,” said others. And that’s more than I ever could have wished for.

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No words could ever describe the gratitude I feel for everyone who took the time to listen, to vote, to share their stories, to share mine, and to support me along this journey. I don’t take a second of it for granted, and I feel so incredibly lucky to be surrounded by such kind and generous souls. I’m free tonight, if anyone wants to grab a glass of wine, haha, but for the rest of the day, I’m going to remind myself of the message I tried to send to the world. This contest was temporary, and life goes on! And to the faint echoes of anxiety I’m feeling right now: When you speak, can you hear yourself? The hourglass is upside down. Will you remember any of this, when life is on its way out? I’ll remember the kindness, the journey, and the amazing people I’ve shared it with. Not falling at the last hurdle. Because the thing with a hurdle race is that you can pick yourself up, and just shoot for the next one.

Life Doesn’t Stop for Anybody

“Things change. And friends leave. Life doesn’t stop for anybody.” – The Perks of Being a Wallflower

It’s hard to believe three months have gone by. I sit here in the middle of an unusually temperate November, sun shining and snow still a daydream away, and reflect on the weeks that have been with a twang of disbelief. Three months ago, I was still working at a car dealership (and loving it; though as always seems to be the way, the jobs you adore most are the ones that make it the hardest to make ends meet), living alone in a house I was renting from my father. Well, I say alone; Rose makes for the best roommate in the world but has never done much in the way of paying her way.

house

panSince then, I have travelled Europe. The love of my life moved in with me, and I gained a cousin, too. I quit my job for a 32% increase in pay, a fancy title, a level up in responsibility, and a whole lot of Lessons In Developing A Thicker Skin. The weekend of the move-in, we also ended up buying another house. Though all incredibly exciting and terribly grown-up, all of this happened within about a month – the resulting excitement being rather diluted by stress and worry. Getting lost in foreign countries, changing friend circles, big new jobs and buying houses I’m told rank pretty highly on the stress scale, so the last couple of months have had their fair share of tears. But I have absolutely nothing to complain about.

I’ve seen lots of complaining lately. Friends, family, colleagues; I’ve been guilty of it myself. Starbucks Cupgate 2015? Makes me want to punch people in the face. I was listening to a news story on the way in to work this morning about a couple who’d planned to get married this Christmas and recently welcomed a baby into the world, after which the groom was diagnosed with a terminal illness. They are instead getting married today, and the city is helping in droves with things like donated photography, videography etc. It’s a true lesson in perspective: nothing, no matter how important it seems in the moment, is more important than loving each other. Our life is finite. Every second spent focusing on something that, let’s be honest, we won’t even remember at the end of our lives, is a waste of a gift. Perspective and gratitude should always be at the forefront, no matter how stressful things may seem in the moment.

This idea was once inspiration for a song I wrote a long time ago. I was working in a position I could only remain in for about six months – when you invest the largest chunk of your everyday life into an environment and a vision, you really have to be on the same wavelength as those surrounding you. Sometimes you enter into new ventures and find, for some reason or other, the way you are and the way things are are incompatible. Sometimes it’s physical – I could never show up at a building site and expect to have a successful career as a 110 lb construction worker. But sometimes it’s mental, and though I pride myself on endeavours of unity, sometimes you are simply outnumbered. You’re a thoroughly sensitive INFJ whose strengths are in words, feelings, ideas and relationships, in a fishbowl of Ts who have no patience for such things, because such things don’t fit the corporate mould. My chorus:

When you speak, can you hear yourself?
The hourglass is upside down.
Will you remember any of this,
When life is on its way out?

Funnily enough, that song was resurrected over the last month by a new friend of mine. During the summer, my band parted ways, and I was left with half a dozen handwritten songs and an enormous longing for people to work on them with. After putting out a plea to every musically-inclined soul I know on Facebook, I was met with interest! Guitarists, vocalists, digital artists, producers! People all genuinely willing to lend their time and talent to collaborating with me. In a burst of disbelief, excitement, and giddy enthusiasm, I somehow went from wishing for people to jam with to creating an entire EP – and this song, which initially didn’t even make the shortlist, became first in line for a complete makeover.

Over the past few weeks, my friend Dave has taken this from a tiny little acoustic ukulele track I threw up on the Internet moments after writing (and promptly forgot about) to… an epic, radio-worthy ballad I’ve fallen in love with. It has more layers than I could count… harmonies, instrumentation, swoops and whooshes and texture and big moments that brought me to tears the first time I heard it. I am so incredibly lucky to know such kind and talented people. Words cannot describe how it feels to look back and remember how terrified I used to be of even speaking in front of people, anxiety-ridden nights spent wishing I had the confidence to let the inside out without fear of judgment… and now feel ready to put my heart and soul out there for the world to see. I’ve been doing it for years behind a computer screen, but to be able to do this now… is everything I’ve ever dreamed of.

Still on topic (trust me), I picked up a book earlier this summer: The Art Of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help. I’ve not followed Amanda Palmer‘s career a whole lot, but I do know she’s married to one of my favourite authors of all time, and I do know that as soon as I saw the title, that book’s contents belonged in my head. I haven’t read it yet – but I think now is the perfect time. I’ve somehow found myself on the path that will lead me to one of the biggest dreams I’ve ever had for life, but in order to reach the destination, I do need help.

I was reluctant to start a fundraiser (stay with me!) because I hate asking people for money. I hate feeling like I’m begging (please never put me in your wedding party if you’re having a social), and I hate seeing all the people see your cause and choose not to help. I take things way too personally at the best of times, so this sounded like a recipe for disaster until I talked to a couple of wise musician friends of mine and learned a few things. Notably: “Crowd funding isn’t a begging platform (which is good because no one likes begging), it’s a sales platform. The people who succeed are those who already have an audience that would have bought the final product; it just moves the chronology of payment around. People contribute to a crowd funding campaign because they feel like they’re buying something they want to buy. And ultimately, they’ll receive something for their investment.”

Huh. It really is just a chronologically wibbly-wobbly way of exchanging funds for a product. Anyone who donates to this campaign will receive something in return, even if all they donate is the cost of a coffee. Music, handwritten notes, photoshoots, a free CD… all in addition to the knowledge that they helped make someone who was once scared of everything make their dream come true. Any and all funds raised will go to the cost of the production of this record. Two very talented producers have been kind enough to gift a month’s work (so far) to me for my first track, and have given me a good quote on the cost of producing the whole thing, but I can’t afford it. I also want to repay the kindness of those who’re collaborating with me – fellow musicians, singers, and artists (the artwork, done by my good friend Jen, is out of this world), in addition to the cost of physically making this a thing. A lot of people have seen the campaign, and a few amazingly kind souls have been generous enough to support, but there is a long way to go. I have another 57 days, and I know it’s going to go by in a flash.

If you have two minutes and can afford to help in any way, your support would mean more than you could ever know. Story, sample, and link to donate below. Thank you ❤

Let not your dreams go to waste… (battling some demons)

All my posts come from my blog over at http://proseandconstellations.com.

The year is drawing to a close and with it, a difficult chapter, and as the door to a new one opens I sit in the half-light of the in-between. It’s New Year’s Eve, and yes, traditionally this is a time for goals and reflection (and when have I not taken the opportunity to make a big list to dive into?), but I think I’ve been doing a lot of that over the past five months while I’ve been removed from my life. 2014 beckons with a warm glow, but recently I’ve felt plagued with the old flames of self-doubt I thought had been extinguished.

As I mentioned in my last post, breaking my arm led to a whole topsy-turvying of worlds, and the time has come to get back on board. I’m not fully healed by any means, but I am well enough to do most of the basics, and am hopefully on track for the anticipated full recovery by about August if I put in the work. The routine part of normal life is scheduled to commence on the 2nd, and I will once again join the ranks of the daily workers. I’m scared, because I’ve now been off for almost as long as I was at the job in the first place, and I was by no means an expert in my role when I had the accident. I’d given it my all, and brought in new things to the company (and will be returning with a completed project I hope my boss adores) that I think made a difference, but now I’m going back and I feel like the new girl all over again, except this time, there’s the expectation I should fall straight back into the groove of things. So much happened in the six months I was there, I can’t imagine how much more there is to learn almost another half-year later. I want to go back and show them how committed I am, how determined I am, how I’m worth holding onto… but my fear of not being well-versed or up-to-date enough coupled with pain and limited mobility frighten me.

I think I’ve allowed this fear to fester in other attempts to regain a sense of normality lately, too, and I don’t like it one bit. Throughout the injury I’ve been pretty down about not being able to do so many things that were either part of the things in life I loved most, or were about to become them. In recent weeks, I’ve gone back to music – I can hold an instrument now, and AC and I made a joint goal in November to get 50 live performances under our belts by this time next year. That’s at least one per week, and we’re relatively on track, but after most of them, I’ve found those long-buried voices resurfacing, telling me I’m not good enough. And firmly believing I’m not. I watched an old video I did in my apartment before we decided to start a band, and it made me incredibly sad, because though it was before I’d ventured onto any sort of stage, I sounded better, vocally and instrumentally, than I do now. I know, logically, that if you take five months off from any activity, you’re not going to be a pro when you first try again, but it frustrates me to no end knowing I’m filled with such determination and had the courage to go from throwing up after singing one song in front of someone to being asked to do several shows (and being thoroughly exhilarated by them) – to having a weaker voice, less of a range, and losing much of the progress I’d made in playing. I know I can’t help what happened, but in a linear fashion, logic says I should be better than this video by now. And I’m not. And it’s horribly discouraging. 

The same seems to be happening in another area I was really enjoying before the break. At the beginning of this year, I’d decided to give modelling another go, and over a few months discovered a passion for artistic, conceptual photographic storytelling – something I plan on exploring on the other side of the lens in the new year. I’d done a bit of it years ago, but being cursed with apparently not aging (please don’t tell me I’ll appreciate it when I’m 40; I’m sure I will, but for now it’s hard turning 29 and still looking 20 and trying to be taken seriously in the professional world), I decided to give it another go, and became really passionate about it. Anyone who knows me in person knows I feel HARD, for better or worse, and so when I’m excited about something, I can’t not let it shine. I had great compliments from photographers, took risks, and took pride in being a model who could be counted on to be there on time, prepared, make everyone laugh and take risks for a good picture (not always the best decision), and it was a passion that kept building.

Then it happened, and I watched the world continue on without me. In recent weeks, I had a couple of opportunities to get back on set. I was prepared for the fact that I wouldn’t have full mobility, but I wasn’t prepared for my mind acting like it did years ago. I found myself in a sort of physical and mental paralysis that forbade me from being what I was before, and I didn’t seem to be able to do anything about it. I was completely taken over by having watched the world continue to spin without me and pent-up feelings of being forgotten that I couldn’t shake the feeling of not being good enough. My mind kept telling me: you were great six months ago; you should be better now. Again, logically I know an extended break is going to set anyone back, but I couldn’t stop judging myself. And it made me a poor performer. My photos reflected someone whose fear was overtaking their passion. My own mind was sabotaging the very things I love to do as an artist. And I can’t not see the results of how I was compared to how I am now and not be saddened.

My last post, however, was all about choice. I’ve always believed that life truly is only 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it, but sometimes it’s a really tough battle, even when you’re given the tools with which to choose. It’d be easy to stop, now. But it would go against my entire nature to do so. I’m determined, and always have been, to be better each and every day than I was the day prior, whether as a person, a friend, a lover, a musician, a thinker, or a writer. I also realise the power of acceptance, and maybe I have to take this as a lesson in that. That maybe the reality is that something horrible happened and it did take me ten steps backward. But staying there isn’t the answer. Staying there isn’t me. I have to remind myself on days where the voices resurge that I, too, have a choice, and maybe I can’t help where I am right now. But I can choose how I deal with it. Stop judging myself, and realise that other people probably aren’t judging too harshly either. Start from where I am, keep marching forward, and if I make mistakes or don’t live up to my own expectations, then work harder. It’s what I have to do with my arm, so it’s the same attitude I should have with everything else I’m trying to rebuild. The hard part is that all those things are in their very nature, worthy of being judged. Modelling. Singing. Performing. Writing. All efforts to put something out into the world for anyone to see. But I think to keep going is to keep following dreams, and to be brave. And that’s something I’ve always tried to do.

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I came across a quote recently that I feel may be apt for this situation, and may lead me through the door into a new chapter and a new year safely:

“If you have built castles in the sky, let not your dreams go to waste; just build the foundations under them.”

– Henry David Thoreau

I am finding it tough. But I think if I learn to accept, stop judging, be brave, put in the work, and look at reality, life is going to not only return to normal, but become even more of what I’ve always wanted it to be. I’m determined to make 2014 the year I tried my absolute hardest to make my dreams come true, to fill every moment with love and gratitude, and to try to always make the right choice.

“We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well,” someone once said, “that Death will tremble to take us.”

Have a wonderful new year, and don’t forget that no matter where you are now, every passing moment is another chance to turn it all around.

“It won’t last, so be bold, choose your path, show soul, live fast and die old.”

Yep, one more Frank Turner lyric, and that’s officially cemented the fact that some of his words are going to be added to the sleeve next time around — not those specific ones, but If Ever I Stray had a great message, as did Glory Hallelujah and The Road, and I love his spirit of persisting through knockdowns and the eternal determination to get back up, moving forward, and kicking ass. (Anyone got the new recordFull of the heartache and the gut-wrenching honesty of a relationship breakdown, but portrayed with upbeat rock and roll, Donnie Darko and Rocky Horror references and a cheery piano that will drag you back onto your heels and up to face the world again. I love his ability to declaring that things royally suck in a way that’s ridiculously uplifting and kind of demands a punk rock dance party.)

I digress – today’s lyric kind of reflects a bit of a theme that’s arisen lately, and it called me back to a list I made almost a year ago of things I was going to do before 30.

“You shouldn’t wait for something terrible to happen before you decide to grab life by the throat and live it to pieces (thank you Frank) – but that being said, when something terrible does happen, you do kind of realise that life is short, and it’s probably better off not to spend it on crap you’ll either forget or regret when the end is drawing near. […] Two of the biggest things I’ve learned are that a) time is short, that every second should be spent wisely, and that trivial things should never be prioritised over what ultimately means most in life, and b) shit happens, but the only way it’s going to stop happening is if you decide to take action rather than whine about it.

Blogging about my goal list over the course of the last two years is hands down the reason I kept going. Once you put something out there for the world to see, you feel like you owe it to them to follow through on your promises. And you owe it to yourself to stay accountable, and not look like a lazy bastard. 

[…] So I’m going to make a 30 Before 30. When I made the last list, it wasn’t just a bucket list of stuff I thought might be kind of neat – it was a list of things I was terribly afraid of, but things I was desperate to be able to do (but that most people probably checked off by the time they reached puberty). I want to challenge myself, grow, learn new things, throw myself outside what’s comfortable and hope for the best. I want to learn to stop giving a crap about things and people that don’t factor into the big picture, and I want to focus only on the things that do. I want to learn to accept my weaknesses and faults, and actively try to change them. I want to learn what is most comfortable, and spend some time nurturing that as well as trying what’s not. I don’t want to get to the end without any scars. I want to get there knowing I did something, and I want to know more fully who exactly I am. I think once you’ve figured that out, it’s pretty much time to kick the bucket, but I think there’s enormous value in exploring yourself, learning to be comfortable with what’s there, and challenging yourself to be even more. I think it was good to have tried things I was afraid of, but I tend to give myself a hard time for not having done them perfectly – my goal wasn’t just to attempt them, but to do them fearlessly, and in that respect, it’s hard not to focus on shortcomings. But on the other hand, I think points are generally given for effort, so I think as long as I keep trying, maybe I’ll learn to give myself a bit of a break.  It doesn’t matter what direction you’re going or if you even know where you’re going, as long as you’re moving forward.  And move forward I shall.

[…] I have two years left of my twenties. I still have so much to learn, so much to improve, so much to tackle and so much to try. I have so many goals I want to throw out there into the universe and make sure I always keep working on. I have activities I want to experience, moments I want to share, places I want to see, and project I want to complete. And I want to spend every day focusing on all of them. Nobody, they say, gets remembered for the things they didn’t do. So here goes.”

Life has been such a whirlwind lately that I don’t think I’ve actually checked in with this list, but looking back on it now, I see the first thing on the list was to do with music.

“I want to lose the awkwardness, the terror at the thought of singing in front of a single person, learn to have some sort of presence, and actually not kind of suck at something I actually really enjoy.”

When I wrote that I think I had a handful of lame YouTube videos up, ones in which I’d tried to sing and play but definitely wasn’t doing it to the level I wanted to be. It was like my fear of being heard for what I really am was physically stifling my voice, and I sounded like a little mouse. I so wanted to not be that quiet, whispery singer who only does songs in her bedroom when nobody’s home. I so wanted to sing Big Songs and not be afraid to do it in my own home. I so wanted to prove I could do it, for myself, and eventually, for other people.

So it’s been 9 months. I’ve invested in a lot of music equipment (Psych 101 taught me that the brain will convince itself to make use of things if they’ve been a bit investment), and I can record with a mic and an amp now. I’m still recording off my phone, but that’s not a big issue. I took a series of piano lessons (which didn’t come back as naturally as I’d hoped), and I think I started getting braver in what I was singing and posting to the internet. And then something magical happened. First, I stopped cringing so much and started feeling a tiny bit proud of myself. Second, somebody in a real band told me they preferred my voice to their own singer’s. And thirdly, somehow I joined a band. (More likes = more accountability!)

City of Bridges

The first few jamming sessions were scary. Tonnes of fun, but scary. I think even proper singers will say it’s harder to sing in front of one or a small group of people than a big crowd, because all the attention is on you. But after a couple of practices, I’m actually starting to feel more comfortable – and slightly excited at the thought of performing. In two or three weeks. Yep, I figured if I was going to do this, I wasn’t going to wait another nine months sitting in my bedroom mustering up the courage to do it, so I’m making it as public as possible so I have to stay accountable. It’s just going to be an open mic, but I have a couple of weeks to get my arse in gear, stop fretting, overanalysing and psyching myself out, get excited, and sing like I’ve always wanted to. The topic of why, as an introvert, I want to do these things, is something I’m trying to answer in my head. I think it has something to do with avoiding regret, maybe something to do with proving myself (to whom, I’m not sure), something to do with always becoming more (or at least trying)… but I don’t have a good answer yet. Maybe I will when the idea of performing doesn’t make me want to throw up so much. 🙂

Right now, I’m sitting at about 15% excitement and 85% pure terror. It’ll be interesting to look back in a few months, or a year or two, and see if anything’s changed. Wish me luck?

The Anti-Romanticism of Pathology

I haven’t been writing here half as often as I used to. I’ve been spending most of my writing time on fiction for the last little while (enormous thanks to those darlings who took a peek at my recent short story!), and when I’m not doing that, I’m making various endeavors to learn to play musical instruments, getting more tattoos, and decorating for my cats (seriously, this is in a frame above their food dishes. It is important for me to chronicle this life of mine through writing, but lately I’ve found it slightly hypocritical to do so without actually spending it living. Still, I’ve been taking lots of pictures and recording lots of videos (which I’m sure will come back to haunt me in the not-too-distant future), and connecting regularly with some really awesome people.

But recent life hasn’t all been smooth. I’ve always maintained the importance of eternally moving forward, no matter in which direction, but for a little while over the few months leading up to Christmas, I felt myself being pulled toward a dangerous destination. A place where old, distorted ways of thinking wrapped their way around the progress and masqueraded as reality. And that called for action.

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From late 2011 until about spring 2012, I started to see a counsellor. I also started taking medication for my anxiety for the first time in my life. I went through a ten-week course with the Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba, I did my homework, and after a few months, my case was closed. But toward the end of 2012, I found myself immersed every day in what felt like a pool of toxins that began to insidiously creep in and distort my entire mentality. No longer was I spreading my wings on the vast ocean of possibility, but I was becoming caged, torn between my own vision of capabilities and the person I had to be in order to comply to that environment’s standard. I’ve always been motivated by achievement and surpassing others’ expectations, but when your wings are clipped and all you’re left with is a dream of what you could be doing, you begin to question the capabilities you had in the first place. Everyone around me told me what a huge, positive difference I’d made. But those with authority over me saw nothing but someone stepping beyond their role, taking on too many “extra-curriculars” – necessities, in my mind, for a successful operation – and pointing out all the places things could be done better. I was someone who didn’t fit the corporate mould.

“I’m too good for that, there’s a mind under this hat;” words to a favourite song come to mind. “I speak because I can to anyone I trust enough to listen; you speak because you can to anyone who’ll hear what you say.”

I mean no malice in writing these words, but I have to be true to the reason that led me down the path of old habits and distorted imaginings, things that led me toward the place I used to be. I started feeling that if all my achievements, hard work, creativity and dedication to bettering something meant nothing, then maybe the same held true for myself as a person. Maybe the same held true for my friendships and relationships; maybe I personally felt I was doing all the right things but maybe I had it all wrong. So I started looking for signs. And in doing so, I saw my insecurities manifest from thin wisps of possibility into a corporeal monster that tore away at everything I held dear. Something had to be done. Something had to be done now.

So I went to see a psychiatrist. Re-opened my case with my counsellor, who, after a session, recognised where I was and wanted someone who specialised in mental health to help me. I’d been on the medication for about a year, but I apparently should have been getting infinitely more benefit from it than I was.

The assessment consisted of a one-hour booking which turned into a near two-hour session with me, my counsellor, and a young psychiatrist. I think I threw him a little by being so on the ball with my own mentality, and after an extensive fleshing out of my childhood, my cross-continental uprooting, my traumatic experience of a “marriage”, my amazing but heartbreakingly ill partner and my increasingly toxic work environment, he decided I “didn’t fit any one mould.” I learned that within classifications of the various mental illnesses any one person could have, there were “cluster A, B and C trait” characteristics, each subsequent one being less common than the last, but still possibly present. I didn’t have a textbook anxiety disorder. I definitely didn’t have social anxiety, which explains why I felt so out of place in the ten-week program I attended a year ago. I didn’t have generalised anxiety either, but I did have B- and C-cluster traits of a “non specified anxiety disorder”. Additionally, I had the same for borderline personality disorder. He made it very clear I didn’t have BPD   – but my heightened concern about others’ perception of me being “good enough” and continual fear of abandonment fall into that realm.

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The fact that I didn’t fit neatly in one box didn’t surprise me. I never have in any area of my life, and only recently found peace with simultaneously being a fiercely passionate creative with a love for arts and language and an enormous sci-fi, psychology and science nerd with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. I never have been typical, and this plagued me for most of my life. But I think I’ve learned to embrace the uniqueness – and so the diagnosis, as it were, didn’t upset me. He recommended a change in medication, some mental exercises, and to check in with my doctor and counsellor regularly over the next couple of months.

“There is nothing less romantic, literary, or lyrical than the language of pathology, diagnosis, symptom checklists. As I read through these checklists over and over again I was struck by the harshness, the crudeness of the terminology. And once the evaluation process began, more and more distinctly unpoetic terms were added to the lists, as the problems quickly grew in scope and seriousness.”  — Priscilla Gilman

It’s hard to put this stuff out into the world, to admit that you’re flawed, but I want to remember the journey. I’m not scared of being judged for it because I know I’m really doing something about it. And I tell myself that makes me brave. On top of that, I am so much more than a diagnosis. I’m someone who takes action when things get sucky, I’m someone dedicated to bettering myself, I’m someone who makes goals and follows through on them, and I’m someone who feels the fear and goes ahead and tries anyway. I’m someone who sees beauty in the universe and feels so very deeply, and I’m someone who’ll be a brilliant friend if you’ll let me. I am so much more than a diagnosis, and this is merely a stop on the map that will lead me to where I believe I’m supposed to be. I know a lot of people are reluctant to turn to medication when it comes  to issues of mental health, usually due to the strange notion that becoming dependent on them is both terrifying and bad. Is it so terrifying when one has something as terrible as cancer and “depends” on medication for a better quality of life? Why the double standard when it comes to issues of the mind?

So it’s been a couple of weeks. The first night I began the new meds I was promptly knocked the hell out for a good fifteen hours, and struggled to stay awake past 8 PM for the next few nights. But that very first day, I was blown away by how quickly I felt so much better. It felt like I’d been living with my heart in a vice that had finally been released and allowed to breathe. I felt free, and it felt strange – it felt like the continual physical tension and weight of anxiety and worry I hadn’t even realised was there was gone. I was just about to go into a brand new job, and I found myself excited, without a trace of fear. It was beyond bizarre. But I couldn’t be happier. This freeing has left me with a sense of urgency – to dive into the world around me and do all those things I’d set out to do, knowing how much easier they’re all going to be. Knowing that the joy and adrenaline will finally outweigh the fear. My first week at work is going swimmingly, and the plan is to get up and perform at an open mic within the next two weeks (without throwing up afterward).

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I think this is the start of brilliant things.

A New Dawn

I’m only in my second week of the new year and my life has already turned upside down. I say that in the best way possible.

The change began over the Christmas holidays, over which I couldn’t get the nagging little thought of work out of my mind. I’d had my annual performance review right before buggering off for two weeks of hot chocolate and Every Christmas Episode of Everything Ever (Community in claymation was the clear winner of the awesomeness category), and it hadn’t gone as I’d hoped. I’d submitted my self review about a week prior, and finally felt proud as I handed it in, seeing real achievements listed throughout. I’d built a network that spanned across the country, initiated and developed regular newsletters and communication pieces that engaged people, managed a social media presence, become chair of the global LGBTA steering committee, spearheaded a regional employee recognition campaign to promote organizational values, and been chosen as one of only fifteen worldwide colleagues to represent the company at a 3,000-strong attendee summit for corporate diversity. I’d been told they’d never had anyone like me, and I handed in my review (along with several areas for improvement, of course) with a real sense of pride. I’ve always had issues with self-doubt and feelings of not being good enough, but I was confident this year, I’d made some pretty big strides.

But apparently not. In 2013, I was to be spending less time on communications and more time on filing and learning the Canadian pension system, studying handbooks and learning the legal terminology needed to draft complex invoice schedules. I was to be more passionate about clerical duties and less about issues that are important at a corporate level, but have been lacking at a local one. I was to stop bringing forward new ideas and remember my position. And that haunted me for the next two weeks.

I’ve known for a while there’s been a discrepancy between my values, passions and strengths and the ones expected in my current position. I’ve tried desperately to bring forward what I believed was valuable and much-needed change, but there’s only so much you can do from an entry-level position. Everyone around me has always told me I need to be somewhere creative, somewhere that plays to my strengths and allows me to do what I love most of all: writing, design, social media, communications, and building a culture of respect, diversity and inclusion.

So over Christmas, I tried to find one. I found a position I felt would be perfect, but didn’t hold my hopes too high. Everyone and their dog makes the new year’s resolution of finding a new job, and the market would be saturated. It also asked for a professional qualification and several years’ experience in an industry I didn’t really have, but I applied anyway.

Then I was asked for an interview.

Then I was asked if I was interested in an even more ideally suited position: Communications Manager at a magazine/publisher. I spent 45 minutes talking with someone who saw everything I stood for, who was on the same page when it comes to relating with a team, building a culture of respect and creativity, who valued my efforts as key communications ones, not administrative “extras”. We talked openly about my anxiety and how I was continually trying new things to tackle it. We talked about psychology – he’d been researching the Myers-Briggs personality model hours before my interview because he, too, felt people work better together when they understand each other. I may have done a happy clap at this point. The next day I was called back and offered the position. I was told told one of the main reasons for the decision was because he’d read my blog the previous night. This very one right here, where I write about my struggles, my goals, my dreams… ironically, this very blog which a current colleague had forwarded to my supervisor in attempts to get me into trouble became the very reason someone else wanted me around. It was everything I’d ever wanted in a work environment.

So I accepted! I gave three weeks’ notice on Monday, and was blown away by the plethora of e-mails from people all over the world telling me how much of an impact I’d had. How integral I’d been to people and how much I’d done to stand up for what’s right. I had people in other countries I’d never even met telling me how much they’d miss me. And on a day where I felt scared, nervous about taking a leap into the unknown and questioning my ability to live up to what I hope to be, it was exactly what I needed.

via [http://gigiare.tumblr.com/]

I start the first week of February, leaving me a whole day off to transition. But that’s okay. I didn’t want to leave my girls here in the lurch, and I wanted to leave in good faith, despite the challenges over the past eighteen months. Because this place gave me opportunities. I met lifelong friends and I got to travel and be surrounded with thousands of souls committed to making the corporate world a better place. I got to put Winnipeg on the map, and I learned truly what I should be doing. And as if to solidify exactly what that is, I received an e-mail this week informing me I’m going to have my first work of fiction published in a literary magazine!

SanitariumI can’t wait for this next chapter. I’m terrified, but I refuse to let that dictate my actions and mentality. I’m incredibly grateful, and more than anything, I’m excited. It’s kind of what I’ve wanted my entire life.

The Terror of Freedom and the Illusion of Permanence

I did something emo recently. I posted a vague, ever so irritatingly melancholy status on Facebook without referencing what the hell it was about. I don’t know if anyone read it, but I felt I owed it to anyone who did to elaborate a little. And to myself, as a reminder to never be One of Those People again.

Of course it’s a Neil Gaiman quote. When I die, I really hope I can be a ghost that can not only move through walls but also through all the barriers of human anatomy, through the great divide between the physical and the intangible, and haunt the inside of that man’s brilliant head. I want to live inside his imagination, but I’d be content just to be a passenger for a day or two, and observe what comes out of his mouth. He’s just so damn quotable.

The instant I read this, I was transported back to an early conversation I’d had with a boyfriend when we’d first started dating. I’d ended up in tears through being unable to unlearn something that has completely stolen a lifelong hope. We’d been discussing ghosts and the supernatural. A bit of religion was probably thrown in there too, but that’s definitely a topic for another day, and conversation had moved to the idea of existence after death.

For my entire life, I’ve clung to the hope that this isn’t all there is. My mum went through all sorts of spiritual journeys growing up, and I remember learning about everything from chakras to the Dalai Lama, but one thing that captivated me as a child was the idea of reincarnation. I didn’t know if I necessarily believed it was actually possible, but I hoped desperately that it was. She taught me that we’re all reincarnated in groups of about fifty, I think she said, and that the people who have the biggest parts in your life are because their souls have always been incarnated with yours, just in a different form. She taught me things like  that maybe in a previous life, I’d been her mother, and the idea always fascinated me when it came to love, relationships, best friendships… Did this mean that it was possible to always find your way back to these people over and over again throughout all of eternity? That no matter what happened in life, somehow true love, whether for family, friends, or someone else, would triumph across all of time and space, even death? The idea wasn’t just reassuring. The thought of every relationship with someone you care so deeply about ending after a handful of years on Earth seems such an incredible waste. For friendships and love and bonds to burn so brightly for such a short time, only to be extinguished by life’s ephemerality. I couldn’t bear it.

But over the last year, my beliefs have come to rely more and more on empirical fact than on hope – I realised that one reason a lot of people hold on to religion not because it’s real, but because it gives them hope. A crutch, a lifeboat upon which to sail through stormy seas. But just believing in something because it made life more bearable kind of goes against what I value. I value proof, questioning, searching for evidence, and discovering the truth before simply accepting someone else’s. And the notion of human connection’s immortality beyond death cannot ever be proven. And that makes me incredibly sad. I think logically, I’ve come to accept that in all likelihood, this really is it. But there’s a tiny sliver somewhere in my heart that holds onto the hope that these infinitely unlikely bursts of brilliance will happen all over again. I guess it’s a sliver that not just inhabits my heart: part of my newest tattoo includes the words of Emily Dickinson, who believed that “love is life, and life hath immortality.” More updates on the ink later.

That took a bit longer than I thought to explain, but I guess I’ve just been feeling a little sad lately. The past has been weighing heavily on my heart, I suppose triggered by continual reminders of what used to be. People I was once incredibly close with cut me out of their lives, largely as a result of who I am. I have baggage. I worry. I get overwhelmed by emotion, and I am subsequently too much to deal with. Over the last couple of months I’ve seen photos of parties, celebrations, and weddings I always imagined to be sharing with people who instead turned their backs. I’m not blaming them. My insecurities, anxiety, emotional extremity and pent-up esteem issues made me a pretty shitty person to be around. It just sucks that I’ve put so much work into dealing with it, managing it, and being a better human being, and it’s still not good enough. People would rather move on or actively tell me, as was the case a couple of weeks ago, that they’d rather keep their distance. I feel lost and torn: I desperately wanted to get my issues in check so I could be a better person to be around, and so I could reign in my tendencies and alleviate some of the worry and heartache – but I don’t know how much is something that can be fixed, and how much is simply how I was made. I want to be true to who I am, to wear my heart on my sleeve and to see the good in how much I feel – even if it does mean bursting into tears after reading a news story about a local tiger cub dying at the zoo, or getting myself into a teary-eyed panic while waiting for a loved one’s test results – I’ve battled with my emotional tendencies my whole life and hated who I was because of it, but lately I’ve tried to embrace it – not see it as such a bad thing because it’s not usual, but see the good in it, that it’s because I care so damn much. But then if I think of things in those terms, I set myself up for failure – people left my life because of who I was. So I don’t know which way to turn.

“But the lonely are such delicate things, the wind from a wasp could blow them into the sea with stones on their feet, lost to the light and the loving they need…” – The Shins

The lives I watched continue without me on Facebook have made me feel very lonely lately, so I did delete a large chunk of people from Facebook. I was confident it would make me feel better if I didn’t see it all the damn time. And I suppose, in a way, it did – but it also served as a huge reminder that I have lots and lots of free time now. I used to be terrified of coming home and not having plans. I figured it meant that nobody wanted to do anything with me, and that I was always last on other people’s priority list. Since I started seeing a counsellor and taking medication to get the anxiety under control, I really have learned to switch how I see free time, and in most cases I’m now able to see it as a luxury with which I can enjoy a good book, make photo albums, catch up on EastEnders or crank out another few hundred words for the book. But with all these reminders lately, I’m starting to get scared again. Evenings alone are spent suchly because everyone else has other people to be with. The freedom of time alone isn’t something to cherish any more. It’s a terrifying place in which your mind can go into overdrive, reminding you of all the people who once wanted you around, of all the plans you’d had, of all the doubts you have about yourself. Time alone allows your thoughts to take control. And when those thoughts start in a place that feels a little lonely, the destination can leave you feeling completely abnormal and thoroughly abandoned.

‎”Isn’t it funny how some thoughts and cherished memories can become your worst enemies? The ones you loved to think about, the memories you wanted to hold up to the light and view from every angle–it suddenly seems a lot safer to lock them in a box, far from the light of day and throw away the key. It’s not an act of bitterness. It’s an act of self-preservation. It’s not always a bad idea to stay behind the window and look out at life instead, is it?”

As down as I’ve felt lately, the universe has made a pretty huge effort to let me know I’m not alone. Literally seconds after I received one text confirming someone’s decision to cut contact, I received two more – one from a wonderful new friend I made through Fringe Festival this summer, with whom I instantly clicked and spent several hours telling our entire life stories to each other, and one I hadn’t seen in years, who’d just found my blog and wanted to reconnect, and to let me know that if I ever needed a friend, I had one. I really do believe that one door closing generally allows another, better one to open, and honestly, that very much has been the case this summer. The people who’ve come into – and the people who’ve continued to be – in my life are people with whom I never have to worry about hiding my emotions, or how long they’re going to stick around. They know everything, and they still want to be here. And that means more than I could ever express.

I’ve been listening to this song a lot lately. Yes, it gets stuck in there for days and days, and it does sound like some sort of bizarre fusion of country, The Lion King and Cecilia (you’re breaking my heart), but for some reason I love it. And it seems kind of fitting for right now.

Some nights, I stay up cashing in my bad luck
Some nights, I call it a draw
Some nights, I wish that my lips could build a castle
Some nights, I wish they’d just fall off

But I still wake up, I still see your ghost
Oh I’m still not sure what I stand for, oh
What do I stand for? What do I stand for?
Most nights, I don’t know any more…

This is it, boys, this is war – what are we waiting for?
Why don’t we break the rules already?
I was never one to believe the hype – save that for the black and white
I try twice as hard and I’m half as liked

Well, some nights, I wish that this all would end
‘Cause I could use some friends for a change
And some nights, I’m scared you’ll forget me again
Some nights, I always win

But I still wake up, I still see your ghost
Oh, I’m still not sure what I stand for most
What do I stand for? What do I stand for?
Most nights, I don’t know…

Ten years of this, I’m not sure if anybody understands
This is not one for the folks at home; I’m sorry to leave, I had to go
Who wants to die alone all dried up in the desert sun?
But man, you wouldn’t believe the most amazing things
That can come from some terrible nights…

I’m a little down, but not a moment goes by where I’m not incredibly grateful for the people I have. I guess by writing it out, I just needed to remind myself of that again. I’ll be back to positivity again soon.

Our anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strengths

“Anxiety is love’s greatest killer. It makes others feel as you might when a drowning man holds on to you. You want to save him, but you know he will strangle you with his panic.”   – Anaïs Nin

It’s been a difficult couple of weeks. You know, one of those annoying splotches somebody spilled on the canvas of the life you want to lead. Have you ever looked at your life as a nice, freshly baked pie? Rhubarb, perhaps, because it’s the best kind of pie.  (It should also probably be noted that I’m writing this at lunchtime, having forgotten to bring something to eat, and trying desperately not to spend on the exorbitance of downtown dining.) Have you ever mentally divided that pie into sections – work, home, friends, love? And have you ever delved in only to find that somebody’s eaten it all up? A vacuous dish you expected to be filled with deliciousness, but instead filled only with an ugly mess of scattered crumbs and regurgitated leftovers somebody decided they didn’t like all that much after all. It’s slightly alarming when you look to your plate and instead of finding things neatly in place, everything is all wrong. I’ve felt a bit like that over the last few weeks, and when that feeling hits, it’s hard not to look to the common denominator and feel that you must be the problem. But can it be you, if you genuinely feel inside that you try desperately to be a good person and do the right thing for every person and in every situation? Or could it be that your intentions become warped somewhere in the transition between your heart and the world outside, and you, simple medium, are oblivious to the final product?

A couple of issues from various areas have surfaced as of late and I’ve been left feeling powerless as to what to do. Take a blast from the past friendship, for example. A few of you may know that December 2011 was a pretty rough point in my life, and the build-up of only partially really dealing with my anxiety effectively led to me doing something awful that resulted in many people in my life wanting to distance themselves. It was a very sad and lonely, but I had no-one to blame but myself. Since then I’ve been determined to right the wrong, and have dealt with it in the best ways I can think of.

I went through a ten-week program through the Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba, and began seeing a counsellor. I started medication and increased the dose so I could get to a point where I wasn’t crying all the time. I did assignments every week and learned the enormous thought distortions that accompany an anxiety disorder. I learned to separate reality from distortion, and reshape my thinking and subsequent reactions to things that before would have had me in tearful hysterics, spouting my twisted imaginings onto those close to me and believing them to be real. I was a horrible person to be around, but the catalyst for really getting better was the self-inflicted isolation. If I wanted friends and loved ones to be around, I couldn’t treat them as I had been, and had to learn new and healthy ways of relating to people. Learn to be independent, to not catastrophise and assume the worst, to stop reading minds and seeing the world solely in black and white, and to stop blaming others for things my mind had invented. I’m in a much better place now, but I’m still not there yet. The slow journey is one that sometimes doesn’t sit well with my impatience, but I know it’s the only way to truly get there.

A handful of people stuck by me six months ago. A small handful of people who wanted to understand why it got to the point it did, and wanted to be there to support me as I got better. To let me know I wasn’t alone. I wish I could re-write the dictionary, add a second volume of words or maybe even add another twenty letters to the alphabet, to conjure up a whole new lexicon of emotions that express the true extent of how deeply thankful I am for those people, and how the amount of love for them I have fills my heart up so full it could almost burst.  But a larger number of people turned their backs. People I’d invested heart and soul and love and vulnerability into told me I “needed more than they were able to give”, and went about their happy lives without being weighed down by a friend in need. It stung. A lot. But I couldn’t blame them.

I reconnected with one of these people recently and we chatted about how things had been since December. I had thought that devoting myself to all the things I had to do to rectify the way I’d been acting may result in some of these people coming back, but I received this message earlier this week:

It sounds like things are really looking up for you and that you’re happy in your life right now and I think that’s fantastic. It took a long time to find what you were looking for, including a divorce, a partner’s stressful family, coping with a boyfriend who has a debilitating condition and then when things got too much, what happened in December. Up until the very last point, I was with you every step of the way, but at the end of it all, there was just nothing left to give. If you have friends now that you know will stick with you through thick and thin and are the rocks at the bottom, that’s wonderful and it makes me really happy to know that you’ve found those people. With that said, I just can’t be that friend – I just don’t have enough in me to be what you need. I’m happy to see you if we run into each other and catch up, but that’s all that I have right now. I’m sorry if that hurts your feelings, but I respect you enough to be honest. I still think that you’re a good person and I’m genuinely happy that things are looking up for you. Thanks for understanding and I’ll see you around.

I think, six months later, I’ve earned the right to feel it’s good to know who your true friends are. The reason for putting so much work into getting better wasn’t to win friends back, it was to be a better person – a better one for loved ones to be around, one who was more equipped to see things in a positive light and not cause undue stress on those I care about more than anything; a better person at work, who wasn’t preoccupied with worry about things that were only an issue in my head; a better person for myself, to have my thoughts and actions be in harmony with my values and what’s most important to me. So I’m not disappointed – the last six months have been spent with a few people who really have become those rocks, as well as learning to be independent, do the things I’ve always wanted, and be more of the person I really want to be. But when life gets overwhelming, I have a terrible tendency to revert to the stranglehold of old thought patterns and behaviours.

When life seems to be beyond your control, it can lead to feelings of despair. I spent many a night alone in my little apartment in the weeks leading up to Christmas sobbing into my poor little cat’s fur, wishing for things to be different. But if I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that nothing is going to change unless you take the action to do something about it. If you don’t like something, change it, don’t just sit there crying and playing the victim of the world’s wrongdoings. If everything seems out of your control, focus on what you can control. Your own actions and attitudes, not the thoughts of others.

The mind can become a sinister place when eclipsed by the shadow of anxiety. Every thought is wrapped meticulously in a dark veil of uncertainty, every hope and ounce of positivity choked tightly until all that remains is a core of steadfast fear. Friends become liars, who must be masquerading care and concern. Lovers become impostors, saying the right words but surely secretly wishing you were different. Acts of kindness and affection are drowned before registering as ever having existed at all, and you are left feeling alone, lost, and abandoned, wondering why everyone is suddenly giving up on you. But as real as it may seem, it is a fantasy. A dark place that exists solely in the imagination of those affected, their world becoming distorted as if by some sort of intoxication.  where everyone is an enemy.  Trust nothing, no-one. Become blind to reality and see the world only through a distorted lens of neglect and fear. It’s terrifying, once safely on the other side, to look back and see yourself helpless to an attack of the mind – to have studied psychology and read all the ins and outs of anxiety, yet once in a while still be powerless to its brute force.  There have been a few of those attacks recently, and I’m upset with myself that I still haven’t 100% beaten it, but I have never been more determined. The big difference is that before, I believed my thoughts to be completely justified. Now I can see that they’re not, but every once in a while, I still can’t seem to escape their grip.

I need to learn how to better deal with life when it gets overwhelming. I need to learn how to channel that energy into something positive and productive, to remind myself continually that crying and victimising yourself is the complete opposite of how I want to live. I pride myself on taking action to better things when there’s a problem, not sitting there whining about them. I think I’ve made a lot of progress, but I want it to be always. I don’t want there to be relapses, however few and far between. I want to be better permanently. For me and everyone around me.

But enough of the nervous ramblings. If we’re friends on Facebook, you may have seen there are an awful lot of fantastic things happening in the next little while, and having that to look forward to is my shining light. Soon enough, problems won’t seem so large, work will be caught up on, and all that will be left is awesomeness. In five days (touch wood), after a year of waiting, my divorce will finally be granted. In just over a week, an amazing new friend and roommate will be moving in with me, someone I am so glad to have met – a fellow INFJ with an incredible story who loves reading and musicals as much as I do, and – be still my heart – Moulin Rouge! 🙂  Not long after that, Winnipeg seems to be having a festival celebrating pirates, steampunk and the Renaissance – I can’t wait to get costumed up, watch jousting and dance around to one of my favourite Celtic bands. Then for a night of fancy board games for my birthday, a Space Party to celebrate the anniversary of humanity launching itself into the sky and landing on the moon, and then FRINGE, where the city turns into an enormous celebration of culture and creativity, and old friends come to visit from across the globe. The last few weeks have had their fair share of win too: a 1920s themed, swing dancing games night, being given the captain’s chair on creative projects at work going across the country,and a giant party in the park put on by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, surrounded by fellow space nerds, watching a partial solar eclipse. Summer really is shaping up to be pretty wonderful. And for now, I must focus on the positive. Focus on what’s important, and what’s a priority. Focus on catching myself before I fall, and focus on making the most of every moment I am lucky enough to have been granted. I’ve got a lot to be thankful for. And I’m determined to show just how much I really am.

Of typewriters and tear-stained tempests

I just got home from a seriously crap day involving some potential bad news, some actual bad news, and a subsequent thirty-minute crying fit in the work toilets. Not high levels of win. But on the bus, I found my thoughts drifting from feeling sorry for myself to writing, to two massive things in my life right now, and I found myself mentally drafting a post about it. I’ve taken to carrying a notebook around with me everywhere lately – I pack it in my bag along with my lunch, several books, and USB chips in the morning, keep it beside my computer at work to jot down ideas and flashes of what I hope to be inspiration, hauling it home at the end of the day and keeping it beside my bed in case I wake up with an idea in the night. It’s a habit I’m enjoying immensely, and it kind of makes me feel like a little bit more of a Real Writer. Note: I wasn’t using it because I was trying to hold a pile of letters, a laptop bag and a bottle of port as well as the handrail, and the remaining energy that wasn’t being spent coming up with this post was being used on Not Falling Over.

That’s one of the things that’s been a big thing lately, as I think I may have mentioned before my giant hiatus from blogging. Writing. I can honestly say I’ve never felt so passionate or engaged about it in my entire life.  I used to blog often because I had things to say, and I enjoyed compiling an ongoing archive of the way my life and thoughts took shape over the years. But it was completely different from what I wanted to be writing.  It’s always been my biggest dream to write fiction, but though I think I can describe atmosphere and scenes and stuff pretty well, I’ve always sucked at plotting and dialogue – you know, the things that make any story an actual story. If it were up to me, I’d describe creepy old rooms and echoing hallways and buildings that cast looming great black shadows until the proverbial cows came home. (Likely from the library, where they’d gone in exasperation to find anything with some sort of action.) I also learned in writing classes that if you wanted to be a Real Writer, you had to also be a public speaker. Not only did you have to be able to include conversations and actual people in your stories, you had to be charming and charismatic and engaging, and able to read your stuff in public without breaking down in tears or throwing up afterward. So for years, it remained a dream. One of those things people put on bucket lists that they really like the idea of actually happening, but deep down know it’s probably about as likely as life-sized, strawberry-filled, Nicki Minaj-shaped chocolate zombie victims hitting the shelves next Halloween. (Just me?)

But then it happened. I got an idea! And I think it’s a really good one! And to be working on something I’ve always wanted to do, with a real premise… to conjure up characters and and give them all their very own back stories… to have them consume my thoughts throughout every day, to book off days from work just to have time to devote to giving them life, to be able to share a secret notebook of stories and ideas and to be able to create something, finally? It’s quite possibly the best thing ever. It’s killing me not to be able to talk about the actual premise, or show you any of my fiction writing, which is very different from something I just throw together without reviewing and splurt out onto the internet, but I’m bursting with excitement to be taking this on. Every day, I find myself rushing home from work to pour the ideas from inside my head out onto the page, or to do further research on the topic, setting, and history. I’m sure it’ll be at least a year or two until it’s fully complete, but until then, I’m loving every minute of it.

But it hasn’t been without its struggles. I know every writer’s process is different, and, so I’m told, mine is very much like a certain Mr. Vonnegut – I write meticulously, taking an hour to form two sentences and refusing to continue the next page until the current one is perfect. This defies a lot of advice on writing – I’m told at every roadblock to just keep writing, even if it’s shit. That that’s what editing is for. But in perfecting it, you set yourself up for future hardship when something you spent hours on has to be hacked up and reworked to fit someone else’s mould. I know perfectionism is a disease. Heck, a couple of years ago I wrote a thousand words in a blog post on the very subject, and genuinely believed myself to be convinced it was true. But here I am, still unable to shake the habit. Today’s meltdown at work was a result of perfectionism and unrealistic expectations of myself. Every time I hear the word “feedback” after I’ve shown somebody a rough draft of something, I find myself tensing up, bracing myself for criticism, ready for a crushing blow of imaginary proportions. If I slip into an old habit I’ve worked hard to eradicate, or make a mistake at work, the thought of being seen as weak, wrong, stupid or, I suppose, less than ideal, is absolutely crippling. I work myself into a frenzy, beating myself up for not being perfect when nobody in the world expects me to be. It’s something I’m tackling in the anxiety program, and I know awareness is the key to changing bad habits, but my god, it’s difficult.

I think one of the reasons I want to write so desperately because I see a heck of a lot of crap out there that somebody’s decided to immortalise in print, and I know I can do better. Kind of analogous to being a decent person in general (I see why this mental post was drafted whilst on Winnipeg’s public transit system) – you see a heck of a lot of shit being put into the world, and you feel almost an obligation to put something awesome out there instead. The tough part is getting out of your own way. If I’m going to be a proper writer, it’s great to have an idea, characters, and plot points – but I need to be open to what’s inevitable. Edits upon edits, well-intentioned criticisms, processes that may be outside my comfort zone… all things that will help the end product be the best it can be. I just need to learn to stop being such a perfectionist, admit that things may be utter crap the first time around, and apply that principle to life in general. Learn to be okay with just being okay sometimes.  And stop beating myself up for not being perfect first time.

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that there had been two big things in my life as of late, the first of which happened to be writing. The second is related, but kind of on the other end of the spectrum, and is something that’s been a part of me for as long as I can remember. Oversensitivity. Notably, crying. I cry all the time. Before shit hit the fan at the end of last year, I cried because I let myself worry about everything. I let my thoughts spiral into imagined scenarios in the future that seemed absolutely inevitable as a result of the past. I worried about spending an evening at home alone without plans because that must make me a socially inept loser that nobody wants to hang out with. I worried that I wasn’t witty or confident enough, that I wasn’t attractive enough, and that my giant emotions about everything would push people away – which they did, which led me back to worry #2. It was a self-perpetuating cycle I couldn’t escape, and I was the only one administering my own entrapment.  Then things reached their climax, and I started to get my act together. I tried not to be so reliant on others for reassurance. Learned to see evenings solo as a chance to do things I loved, and not sentences to be served in isolation while the world continued on without me. Learned to see periods of non-contact as simply being busy, or sleeping, or being in class or with people – nothing to worry about; and actually do the same myself. But I still cry. I cry not because I worry about the worst, but mostly because I can’t believe the best is actually happening. My biggest dream of being a writer is coming true. My longest desire to feel confident and funny and smart has materialised, and I’ve found myself with the self-confidence to do things I’ve always wanted to. I’ll be mid-conversation and just start breaking down in tears simply because my dreams are becoming reality. But ever so often, I cry for the wrong reasons. I catch my thoughts spiraling into worry again, and I start sobbing. What is this all disappears? What if my job gets cut, or my Dad moves away, or people still see me as the person I used to be? I know all of those things are beyond my control, but there’s something terrifying about life finally becoming what you wanted it to be, and the very real possibility that something may happen to take it away.

via Hyperbole and a Half

It’s not like it’s a new thing. Anyone who’s ever met me for more than a day will attest to the fact that I am probably the most sensitive and weepy person they’ve ever met. But the thing is, I don’t want to be seen as a wuss. I know I’m bloody strong, I just think I feel things with a hell of a lot more impact than perhaps is normal. I’ve written before about the emotional spectrum, about how keeping yourself from expressing how you really feel can suck away the full potential of joy. Yes, I firmly believe that it’s better to be incredibly happy for a short time than just to be okay for your whole life. But the danger in handing yourself over to the full range of human emotion is that you put yourself at risk of turning from master to puppet, to be taken hostage by them and rendered powerless to do anything about them once they take over.  This week I’ve found that happening, and it’s a scary place to be.

Before I started seeing a counsellor and going to the anxiety program, I didn’t have the tools to recognize my thought patterns and subsequent crying fits as unhealthy or detrimental. I believed them to be perfectly logical and rational behaviours. Now, I can see my tendencies, process them, and stop them before they take over the world around me – and I’ve been doing infinitely better. Life has been infinitely better. I don’t worry so much, I don’t react to every little thing like the world is imploding, and I’m happy 99% of the time. But twice this week, I found myself absolutely paralysed – able to see what I was doing as illogical and irrational, but physically unable to stop sobbing and being sad. Now, this may very well be an unusually extreme case of PMS induced by a day without eating, my back being worse than usual, and not having had any coffee that day, in which case I think we can forgive the slip up. But I found myself sitting in a toilet cubicle, giving myself a pep talk about how there was no reason to be sad, failing, and unable to stop sobbing.  An interesting thing I’m learning in the anxiety program is that other people have this problem too, and I’m not going to discount the idea of me simply being, as Psychology Today so wonderfully brought to my attention, a Highly Sensitive Person. Please read it. When I read psychiatrist Judith Orloff’s words – “It’s like feeling something with 50 fingers as opposed to 10,” I breathed a sigh of relief. I wasn’t alone, and it may actually have something to do with biology and science as to why I am this way. But that doesn’t mean I’m okay with it. I don’t like being in constant fear of criticism or rejection, and I don’t like bursting into tears if I haven’t heard from my boyfriend for a few hours and I’m worrying he’s lying somewhere unconscious. I don’t like overanalyzing and reading into things that aren’t there, and I don’t like catastrophising every little event in a day. I love that my sensitivity allows me to be incredibly in tune with others’ emotions, or that I read a piece of beautiful prose or hear a great song and want to jump up and down because somebody’s just been an awesome human being. I love being overly enthusiastic about things like simple existence and celebrating creativity and taking the time to see small beauties of nature and spend two hours in the cold photographing them because nature is just so stunning. I love that there may very well be a biological explanation for being extremely sensitive, and I love that just because I cry a lot doesn’t have to mean I’m a giant baby – it just means I feel things more extremely. But I don’t like being a slave to its tendency to send me crashing down faster than an IQ after an episode of the Kardashians.

So what do I do? How do I manage the lows healthily and still exude enthusiasm and passion and soak up excitement from the highs? I tried reading other people’s (hilarious) stories of being sad for no reason. I tried taking my very good and well-intentioned friend’s advice and “manning the fuck up.” I tried giving myself pep talks. The counseling and reading and stuff is definitely helping, but I want to just develop the capability to not be a sobbing mess every time something bad enters my head – or something beyond wonderful happens because I’m terrified of losing it.

Anyway. I realize I’ve just rambled on for a good six pages, and I don’t know if I have anyone left reading. If I do, hi! This is more just a state of where things are right now that’ll go into a scrapbook at the end of the year. Don’t get me wrong – things have been on the up and up for the last three months, and I’ve been doing much better than I used to be. I just know if I could get this under control, I could be even better – for myself and the poor souls around me. But things are brilliant. Writing is brilliant. I’m excited, and being creative, and learning and sharing, and doing something I’ve always wanted to. I even got myself a set of snazzy business cards to go along with the tattoo I got to inspire me to keep writing. And despite the crappy outset of today, I arrived home to it all turning around. A new issue of Psychology Today in my mail box. Finally, FINALLY, a copy of the Dry the River album – the record I haven’t been so excited about since I first heard Mumford and Sons two years before theirs finally hit the shelves. An evening of cancelled plans opening up a good four hours to spend fuelling and feeding my latest character. A snuggly kitten, an already clean apartment, a glass of port, and a desk covered in deliciously creepy warped candles.

I think that somewhere in all of this, there’s probably some sort of lesson in patience.

The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before.

“You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.” – Neil Gaiman

It’s seven o’clock on a Saturday morning, and after eight hours of tossing and turning, waking from strange, sporadic dreams every hour or two (one involving dating someone who wore salad for a beard, and getting upset with my parents for judging him on his choice of facial hair), I think I might be having a Writer’s Moment. A few minutes ago I was tucked away with a happy cat in my arms and an electric blanket warming my toes. Snug, but getting rather tired of focusing exercises designed to slow your thoughts and will you to sleep after every attempt resulted in nothing but more consciousness. So I found myself starting to form sentences in my head instead. I wonder sometimes if there’s something wrong with me. Is the inside of anyone else’s head so busy, so full of an endless rapid fire of thought after thought, feeling after feeling? I’m okay with being a deep thinker, but sometimes (usually around three o’clock in the morning), I yearn to be able to shut off the relentless stream of consciousness.  Especially when said stream is composed of a rather irritating mathematics problem I’d heard earlier that day, which barged its way into my head, grabbed hold of every scrap of drowsiness, and proceeded to promptly punch each one out before putting its feet up, lighting a cigarette, and cranking the stereo. (Sidenote: thank heavens I have someone I can call at 1:30 in the morning to solve it for me. Hopefully I still will at the time of broadcast.)  This morning was another restless one, and I found my thoughts wandering to where I was this time a year ago. I gave up on the idea of a lie-in and decided to write about them instead. This time a year ago, it was the night before my wedding, and I was sitting on my bed in tears with my husband-to-be, torn between calling the whole thing off and trying to convince ourselves we could make something so very wrong work.

A year ago, I was writing the following words. It’s hard not to see the signs from every direction pointing out the enormous mistake I’d be making:

It all started last Thursday night with the rehearsal dinner. The plan was to have everyone have a quick run through at the church,  head out to a restaurant that’s usually one of my favourites, then head home for our last night as Mr. and Miss. And words cannot begin to describe how polarly opposite the evening went. The rehearsal itself was fine until the very end, as everyone was departing, when something very dramatic, very unpleasant, very… conniving, and very unexpected happened. It wasn’t the best way to head off to a dinner that was supposed to be a celebration, but we got there, met our friends and family, and ordered what looked to be a fantastic meal. Until the table became a battleground. And we were told they had no beef. Or wine. And it arrived over an hour late. One meal missing. And they refused to give us a discount. And then it broke into a rave. It was kind of beyond ridiculous… but after talking with some married friends, I found myself slightly reassured when I was told “I don’t think there is such a thing as a smooth rehearsal dinner”.

I then arrived home and thought I’d do one last Facebook/Twitter check before logging off for the weekend… when I was met with one of the most horrible things you could imagine two nights before the day you get married. An anonymous comment on my blog, held for moderation, on the post immediately following the one about Internet Trolls and the exceptional cowardice it shows when someone takes the time to invest in attempts at sabotage, and doesn’t have the balls to attach their own name. But since this person’s contact information was limited to “pseudonym@dontpostthis.com”, I have no choice but to respond to it here.

“I wonder if you really should be getting married. You seem so ready to emerge as who you fully are. It seems to me that you could be traveling around the world, doing great and amzing things, playing the field, flirting with all sorts of things.  If your married, day-after-day you’ll wake up with nothing to take you beyond yourself and your husband can only challenge you so much. Really, as exciting as it sounds, how is a theater production going to make you a better person in the grand scheme?

Maybe its just that we’ve all watched you grow so much in the last little while that it seems foolish now to throw all the opportunities that life has to offer to settle with one person in a cold city that really has nothing to offer. When your husband comes home after a long day of work, won’t that bother you that hes content living in a city with his family and you’re so far away from the amazing things you could be doing elsewhere?

When you say, “I do” it may be like your a princess but the very next day it’s just routine and a drag. You can’t be happy with that. I think that married life is going to stop you from growing into the person you’re becomming and I think you know that. You’re going to be stuck and I think you’ll grow to resent the fact that your husband is keeping you down. Well, its not him but its married life. You could be hanging out with so many interesting people, going interesting places. Instead you work (I presume) only 9 to 5 and write about music and doing drama. Already your relationship has limited you.

Sorry Emily but I had to say it. I fear this marriage might just put you in a rut. Every day, the same person… the same place… the same routine. That’s not the emily I know.”

To this day, the author’s identity remains unknown, but it’s interesting to see that despite everything around me telling me to turn around and run, I still went ahead with it. Yes, hindsight may be 20/20, but there’s something unsettling about having gone ahead with something when logic had been flashing neon BAD IDEA signs at every turn. I know there are thousands of people who make the same decision I did – who defy logic and instinct and get swept away in the pressure of having spent a great deal of time and money investing in something, in the fear of judgment, and in the idea that maybe true, fairytale, soul mate love really does only exist in stories and films, that nobody’s perfect, and that maybe this is as good as it gets. It’s unsettling to look back and see how I prioritised what was comfortable, despite knowing that what I longed for was so much more. How many people, I wonder, unwittingly spell their own life sentence of settling for something just because what’s comfortable is an easier option than the risk of never finding what they truly desire?

I had a conversation with The Professor recently, about our past relationships and how we’d both been subject to criticism for some of the decisions we’d made. In my early twenties, likely tying in to a bit of self-esteem issues, I went from relationship to relationship, not spending much time alone because being alone was scary, all the while knowing deep down inside that every one was wrong – that somewhere, I was always wishing for something more. Not the healthiest of way to spend a few years, but then again, perhaps going through the so very wrong allowed me to truly recognize what was actually right and acceptable. Perhaps if things had been too comfortable, I wouldn’t have had any motivation to get out, and the opportunity to meet the someone I was more suited to would have sailed past into the sunset, and I never would’ve known otherwise. Contrarily, he’d spent the same years doing quite the opposite – avoiding relationships like the plague because they never met the hope of what true love should be, spending years in solitude and breaking off potential connections soon after they’d begun because that nudging feeling of knowing they weren’t it was ever-present. It’s funny, the way people spend those first few years of adulthood, and how attitudes to relationships are formed, shaped, altered and evolved, and I don’t really know what it means, but I don’t suppose it really matters, because each path led to the here and now.

I just realized this post isn’t going to end up being big on coherence, but since I’ve been a tad absent over the last few months, I felt a strong urge to write one last post before the year was out. A few noteworthy incidents have taken place recently – my job for one has turned out to be an absolute dream, and I can genuinely say I’d be happy to spend seven days a week there! I’m up on the fourteenth floor of the tallest building in the city (I think), and I arrive each morning to a view of downtown stretching as far as the eye can see, the sun illuminating an expanse of morning cloud cover in bright pinks and oranges, and spend my last hour of the day watching it retire as the lights of the city below slowly come out like stars. I work with a brilliant group of people who seem to accept, like, and even encourage me to be my nerdy self, and I’m somehow seen as the extrovert of the office. It’s become a safe environment for me to be exactly who I want to be, and I absolutely love it.

Six months past deadline, I finally checked off the hardest thing on my 26 Before 26 list – learning to drive. I’d written about it this summer after driving out of the city for the first time, spent looking at the biggest, most glittering night sky I’d ever seen, and the sense of accomplishment outweighed the fear I’d had for so very long. But then winter came, and dropped a whole pile of snow and entirely foreign driving conditions on top of me – three days before my road test. I panicked, but did kind of okay – took the test, parallel parked perfectly, and promptly failed – I got five points too many, for not knowing how to turn the windscreen wipers off. I was really disappointed and cried like an absolute child for a good half hour – I’d never failed anything in my life, and when you pride yourself on overachieving, it feels like the end of the world – but I made my second appointment, and will be trying again right before New Year’s Eve. Fingers crossed I don’t bugger it up this time – although getting into a giant car crash and totalling my boyfriend’s car last week isn’t exactly the smooth sailing I was hoping for. I was driving down a main street on the way to the last of the Christmas shopping when out of nowhere, somebody ran straight through a stop sign to our right and pulled out immediately in front of us. The road was icy, there was less than a second to impact, yet it felt like everything was in slow motion. I could see it coming, I could see there was nowhere to go, and we ploughed straight into the side of the other vehicle in front. The airbags immediately went off – and those are not the soft, cushiony things you’re led to believe will save you from rocketing headfirst out of the window – they’re a sudden, very solid punch in the face, and they emit some kind of smokey gas which absolutely suffocated me. I couldn’t breathe, and the door was jammed, so I couldn’t get out of the vehicle. I looked to my right and saw my love with blood all over his face from the smashed passenger window. I kept saying I couldn’t breathe and scrambling to get out of the car, the door not opening… when the other driver opened it for me from the outside. Apparently The Professor had been trying to help me get out of his side, which I don’t remember, and apparently I’d had the car in park and my foot pressing wildly hard on the accelerator while I struggled to get out… which I also don’t remember. I just remember panic, shards of glass flying into the car slowly as it filled with smoke, and ending up in tears in a fire truck next to my poor boyfriend, whose nose had bled all down his face and onto his coat and hoodie, unable to stop shaking. The funny thing was I knew the other driver – a rich older gentleman I’d done some design work for a few years ago – who gave me an enormous hug and apologized profusely. We exchanged details, and my dear in-laws came to pick us up and take us for something to eat. I felt terrible I’d completely wrecked somebody else’s car – a really great car, too – but was thankful it wasn’t so much worse.  It hasn’t done wonders for my road confidence, but I figure now’s as good a time as any to get back behind the wheel – and hopefully we’ll be mobile again within a couple of weeks.

Oh, another noteworthy event – my tattoo! I got a beautiful old quill pen on my inner forearm a few weeks ago – an eternal reminder of my love for the written word, and to draw me to the activity I love more than anything in the world. I also spent four hours getting black out of my hair for good and going a bold red I really love. I finally feel comfortable and confident enough to carry it off. 🙂

Outside of work and big scary accidents, I really should write about something that’s been quite a prominent feature of my life over the last month or so. I guess it could fall under the category of “general health and wellbeing” – very much so, for reasons a handful of you know, regarding The Professor, but also in terms of really dealing with my anxiety. I think a number of factors contributed to it getting to a breaking point. The thoroughly traumatic dissolution of my marriage, the subsequent moving home, the new job… the letting go of everything that had become comfortable, and immediately focusing on forward movement rather than allowing myself time to heal properly was definitely a factor – and I’m at a point where I’m reframing how I deal with the world; retraining myself and rewriting my attitude to life in general. I’d always felt so strongly that life was short and no moment should be wasted, and only recently am I learning that an attitude I felt so positive actually caused a lot of harm in the long term. By not allowing myself time to deal with what happened and diving straight into creating a new future, the damage was never given the opportunity to be resolved in a healthy way. It began to affect everything around me: I spent every day in a state of constant worry, and subconsciously allowed the fear of history repeating itself to manifest and weasel its way into everything I did. I started getting upset for no reason at all in the real world, seeing tiny, insignificant things as the catalyst for what happened happening all over again, and reacted accordingly. I became an insane person. I’d get into fits of tears and despair over trivial things; I’d take out my worries on those I loved as if they were actually doing the very thing I feared most; I’d worry about being fired for not learning quickly enough at work and was shocked to receive a glowing review from my coworkers and bosses about how I’d done the opposite. “Not wasting time” and focusing so strongly on shaping the future right now prevented me from dealing with things healthily. It came out in disagreements, too – I’d want to move on immediately, when what was needed was some time to cool down, and my insistence on “making the most of the time we have” was the very thing that exacerbated everything. So for the last few weeks, I’ve called that into question. I think my tendency toward impatience definitely plays a part too. I started seeing a counsellor who’s helped me recognise the destructive thought patterns that had begun to take over, and provided me with tools and techniques to catch myself in my tracks, break bad habits, and make healthier choices.  I’ve done a lot of work over the last few weeks, recognised my habits, and been able to react differently – and life has been so much easier. No longer am I consumed by worry, or desperate for reassurance. No longer do I fear being physically alone in my own company – something that had for a long time been a territory of fear and overthinking things, a place to allow my thoughts and worries to take over reality and lead to panic. I’m learning slowly to break the compulsions that almost destroyed everything, and for the first time, I feel genuine. All the endeavors at conquering my anxiety up until now definitely helped me in a way, but those unhealthy thought patterns were never properly addressed. I was building a house before laying the foundations – it’s no wonder everything came crashing down. So I’m starting again. I’m not just focusing on actions lining up with the person I want to be, but thoughts, too – that’s the hard part, but the important part. And at the end of the day, they’re just a habit. And habits can be broken, and new ones can very much be made.

So it’s a few days before Christmas, and after an eventful year, I have a feeling that things paved the way for what’s going to be the best one yet. I’m in a place where everything is clearer – the past, present and future are written in a language I finally understand perfectly, and 2012 is looking brighter than ever. I’m heading into it with more certainty, knowledge, and tools than I think I’ve ever had, and I think those are going to lead to more happiness, confidence, deeper connections, less worry, and a better person for people to be around. I’m not proud of how badly I slipped up, but what are mistakes if we can’t learn giant life lessons from them? The darkness does, after all, define where the light is. I’m looking forward to a holiday filled with real friendship, genuine happiness over obligation, seeing the looks on people’s faces when they open presents I have a sneaky feeling are rather awesome, the Doctor Who Christmas special – and course a good old EastEnders massacre. I’m looking forward to a year where every thought, feeling and event of every day shines a little brighter. I’m looking forward to more tattoos (thank you Frank Turner for the endless inspiration), more risks, more meteor showers, more writing, brilliant music, more laughter, more growth, and life truly, finally, being exactly what it was supposed to be.

Happiest of Christmases to you, and I apologise wholeheartedly for the lengthy ramble. I just felt I ought to note a bit of life as it is here and now before heading into the new year. 🙂 I hope 2012 is everything you hope and dream for. I started this post quoting my favourite author, and I think he’s pretty good for wrapping it up, too:

“May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.”

The Final Countdown

Something rather alarming came to my attention over the long weekend.

Friday, in addition to being my lovely Dad’s birthday, was an alarming reminder: a single month was left in the biggest challenge I’ve ever set myself. An ongoing theme over the last year has been the 26 before 26, the list of things mostly comprised of everything I’ve always wished I could do but had always been too afraid to try. Some of them were simple no-brainers. But the majority revolved around the decision to tackle those things I felt drawn towards yet scared of, and choose fight over flight. Certainly, the former may involve risk, pain, and discomfort. But I’m desperate to be able to one day look back on my life without regret and confidently say that my life became what I wanted it to be the day I decided that fear was no longer an option.

So I have less than four weeks left, and I’m not going to lie: with some of the stuff that’s cropped up over the last few weeks, I’ve fallen off track. But what’s a tight deadline in the grand scheme of things if you’re positively determined to succeed? I may run out of time, but it’s not going to stop me trying. So what have I crossed off so far?

#1: Get in crazy good shape. When I made this list, my level of physical activity was pretty much zero. I never did any form of deliberate exercise, and my weight wasn’t healthy either (too low; not too high). While I may not have maintained the initial level of commitment (a wedding does wonders for your treadmill motivation!), I am proud to say that for a while, I ran three times a week, I became stronger, pushed my endurance, and altered my eating habits. I put on a few more pounds in the healthiest way I could, got my BMI back into the “normal” range, and crossed off #2 in the process – starting hot yoga – as well as #9 – planning meals, eating better – and trying that ominous green monster once and for all.

#6: Write non-blog or magazine material. I really found a passion for creative writing last year, and I think what had been putting me off committing to doing it regularly was the fact that I didn’t feel I really had any worthwhile creative ideas. But then… I did. And I’m diving straight in. I converted our spare room into a “writing room”, attended conferences, and managed to cross off numbers 13 and 20 in the process!

#7: Meet new people. My goodness it feels strange to say that this time last year, people I consider absolute friendship soul mates weren’t even in my life yet. Looking back, I can’t help but feel the universe was at work when I put it out there that I was willing to make myself vulnerable. I was so used to living within the confines of my social anxiety “disorder” that the thought of voluntarily going to a massive meetup, on my own, full of strangers, was enough to make me want to throw up. But in deciding to take that leap, I met some of the most incredible people I’ve ever had the blessing to know, and been lucky enough to call a friend. The acts of attending one meetup group and messaging one stranger on the Internet were the turning points that shaped the path of the last year enormously, and I can’t imagine how different life could have been had I not met these wonderful souls. This one kind of went along with #25: Stop being scared of talking on the phone, and I am happy to say I am no longer one of Those People.

#8: Do real karaoke. I wasn’t sure whether I tackled this one or not, but in talking to a friend this weekend she assured me it definitely did count. I looked back on the original list, and the original goal was to “break into song in front of live people, and not just people on the Internet.” (Please don’t ask for the URL!) It may not have been on a stage in front of strangers, but it was in front of about 20 of my closest friends, and ended up being a totally brilliant night 🙂

#11 was the most frightfully boring and easy item on the list, and barely deserves acknowledgement, but even if it is just for my dental hygienist friend Dani, I have fully implemented flossing into my daily routine. 🙂

#15: Teach a class full of people. Comfortably. It’s amazing to be able to look back on something that’s become so routine and remember how it felt to be absolutely powerless to the same thing a year ago. This was probably the biggest challenge: practising being on the spot, in front of people, and speaking publicly to an audience. I’ve struggled with questions from others as well as myself – why do something that feels so unnatural (Peter Gabriel – sorry, couldn’t help it; bonus points for getting that) when you could focus your time and energy on something you’re good at? I look back on my initial motivation: “I just want to thrive on it instead of being scared, and fuel the nerves into enthusiasm, focusing on the fact I’m in a position to relay information that will help people. Which is way more important than fear.”  It’s not an easy task for anyone to change thought patterns that have been established for such a long time, but the thing that’s helped me most is trying to focus on the big picture. Catching myself slipping back into old tendencies like fretting, worrying about things beyond my control, being too quiet… and just deciding that something else is more worthwhile. Like the fact that I at least tried, or the fact that just maybe, something I say or do might actually help someone else in the process. Speaking to groups has now become part of my job, and I think this is a perfect example of putting something out there into the universe, and having it deliver. 🙂

#18: Go on a blogger meetup. Last year I was absolutely blessed in being able to meet up with amazing people all across the world. I met fellow local bloggers, explored a beautiful city with people I’m honoured to now call real-life friends, and even enjoyed breakfasts and explored science museums with bloggers internationally. As much as I harp on about trolls, the Internet is genuinely a wonderful place, and I’m so lucky to have been able to meet some incredible people off-screen as well as on.

#19: See more of the world. This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the above, but I definitely saw some new places over the course of the last year. Mexico, Chicago, new places in England, as well as Spain are all crossed off my list – too bad that wipes my travel budget for the next two years!

I was pretty sure #22 (forgiveness) was going to be the toughest one on my list, but the moment it became reality, I felt the biggest weight lifted off my shoulders. Forgiveness is something I’ve learned is at the forefront of how I want to live my life, and goes hand in hand with the practice of “big picture thinking”.  It’s a tough one to implement when accompanied by the stranglehold of memory, but at the end of the day, the past has already happened, and the only thing I can control is how I face the future from this moment on. Ultimately, holding onto past grudges and baggage is contrary to how I want to live my life, and though pride can be a bitter pill to swallow, I think at the end of the day, it’s way more worthwhile than maintaining any sort of vendetta.

#23: Do something drastic with my hair. I’d had mid-length, boring brown hair for the longest time, so this was the year to step outside the comfort zone. I went jet black, added near waist-length extensions for a few months, then chopped it all off and started going red again. Now I’ve got the bug, I’ll probably end up with something completely different by summer 🙂

#24: Become more spiritual. This was one I was really hoping would come to fruition this year, and over the last few months, I think I’ve really found a belief system that works. I’m still learning, still reading, and still exploring different avenues of expressing faith in a way that makes sense for me, but it’s something I think that’s helped me grow, as well as strengthened already existing relationships.

#26: Set up a professional website. I revamped my writing and design portfolio, and made some snazzy business cards to go along with it. It may not be a thousand-dollar investment, but it’s a long way from where it started!

I’m beyond thrilled I decided to stick to this list – and I’m glad I did it in a way other than New Year’s Resolutions, which have the tendency to evaporate mid-January along with the last of the mince pies. I can honestly say it has contributed immensely to the shaping of this past year, which was genuinely my best one yet, and I think the biggest lesson is that life really can be exactly what you want it to be when you make the decision to become an active participant in shaping it, and hold yourself accountable to the words, actions and thought patterns of the person you’ve always wanted to be.  That being said, I still haven’t finished. I have just over three weeks to check off the remaining nine goals:

#3: Learn a choreographed dance
#4: Do a cover of a really popular song in a completely different style
#5: Get my driver’s licence, or at least take lessons
#6: Make traditional English food
#12: Stop hating how I look
#14: Perform something in front of my coworkers
#16: Become entirely debt-free
#17: Volunteer somewhere
#21: Finish my back tattoo

I realise that some of those are pretty much impossible to complete in three weeks – there’s a year waiting list and a thousand dollar deposit required to fix my tattoo, which probably isn’t happening this month, and I’m not sure anyone can get a full on driver’s licence in twenty-four days – but I’m absolutely committed to at least trying everything before the clock strikes midnight and I turn into a pumpkin turning 26. I’m not a hundred per cent sure how just yet, but the countdown is most definitely on!

If you’ve set goals or resolutions over the last year, how are you doing with yours?

BIG NEWS: Someone has stolen the real Emily. Apparently, I’m in GLEE…

Firstly, I need to extend an enormous thank you to the absolute army of support you all offered over the insanity that stemmed from my last post. Thank you for standing up for me, sticking by me, and offering proverbial shoulders to cry on – words cannot express my gratitude for the friendship and support you showered upon me following the downright vicious behaviour of some anonymous coward who had nothing better to do than try and destroy my wedding, and reputation. Seriously, it amazes me how people will not simply cross the line of acceptable behaviour, but run in leaps and bounds over it simply because they can be anonymous. I think there’s actually an equation for this sort of thing. It baffles me, but also says volumes about their life and character. The good news is that the attempt failed miserably, and everything is 100% okay (although credit should be given for exceptional cowardice, supreme saboteurial spirit, and general trollishness). Your kind words and support throughout the whole debacle were appreciated enormously, the wedding is most definitely still on, and I think we’re actually in a better, stronger place now than we were even a week ago.

Now, it’s a new week, and I’d like nothing more than to slam the door shut on the last one, and enter this one with brighter spirits – and some fun news. Last week, I did something crazy. I was checking something or other on Facebook, when I was accosted by a little sidebar advertisement that stole my attention, a beat of my heart, and soon enough, $300. I know Facebook advertising is targeted in all sorts of clever ways to your interests, your habits, topics you mention (although why I keep getting weight loss ads I’ll never know), but this little ad seemed to have read my blog five months ago when I declared I wanted to learn to sing, dance and perform – and made me sign up for Glee club.

We have a handful of theatres in the city, and Prairie Theatre Exchange always offers great shows. It’s a fabulous venue, home to countless wonderful performances I’ve seen over the years, and also offers acting classes to teens and adults. Now, this is me we’re talking about here – the girl who runs kicking and screaming out the nearest window at the mere mention of public speaking, let alone performing. But over the last few months, I’ve been a little more accomodating to my inner desire of being able to perform.  Taken a couple of singing classes. Shamelessly attempted to learn the Bad Romance choreography off  YouTube in my living room. Read my writing out loud in a public bookshop.  But this is a whole new level. I had just signed up for the next fifteen weeks for real musical theatre classes. I was going to be thrust into a group of adults, many of whom have musical training and acting experience, where I would be learning to sing showtunes and taught actual choreography. Oh, the the cherry on top? There’ll be a public performance at the end of the course. In the actual theatre. Cabaret-style. For EVERYONE to see.

This isn’t me. This is my inner dreamer, who seems to have jumped on board and stolen the reigns while the inner critic was on coffee break, and signed me up for something I’ve always wanted but been too afraid of. This isn’t just public speaking. This is high risk of total embarrassment territory. But this is also exactly what I do when I have the house to myself for a couple of hours on a Friday night. I crank up the music. I belt it out regardless of whether or not I can hit the notes. I dance down my stairs as if I were making a big entrance on a Broadway stage and I imagine it going brilliantly. And in my dreams, it does. Not in real life!!

In the five months or so that I’ve been tackling this list, I’ve been lucky enough to have received a lot of encouragement. I’ve also been recipient of a certain amount of questioning. Why are you doing this? If you’re not naturally good at something, why would you put yourself through the discomfort of doing things that scare you?  Bravery will only get you so far, but there are more important things in life. Why don’t you stick to what you’re good at?

To which my (internal) response has always been: Why the bloody hell not? I’m at a point in my life where I’m no longer embarrassed to admit that I spent most of my adult life ruled by fear. It’s not something I’m proud of, but it’s no longer something I’ll try to hide. I had an interesting talk with someone after X Factor last week after they saved one contestant who’d been in the bottom two almost half a dozen times. “But she’s a fame whore!” she said, “they should have got rid of her!” I told her firstly not to believe everything you read in the papers. So what if she slept with a couple of famous people to try and get famous? That’s in the past – now she’s at the point where she’s making an honest, dedicated effort every single week, facing the nation that’s slapping stories about her being a “whore” all over the place, and chasing after her dream. Just because she may have made mistakes in the past doesn’t mean that’s who she is today. What if I went on X Factor, I asked her, and one of my ex-boyfriends went to the press and said I was some crazy psycho who needs psychological help. What if that was the image the nation had of me? Would it make it true today? No. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s choosing not to keep making them that makes us better. I think the best we can be is when we decide to let go of the past and focus on creating the best possible present as the best possible person we can be in this very moment. Just make a choice to live the right life, and start doing it.

That’s what this year has been all about for me. That’s what this list is all about. Hopefully in seven months time I will be able to look back, and maybe I won’t have achieved everything on it. But I want to be able to say I tried. To be able to say I made the choice, when it came down to fight or flight, to not choose fear. To be able to have courage and guts, and not take myself so seriously, not spend so much time trying to perfect things that I miss out on growth and adventure. So on Saturday, I had my first musical theatre class. What I loved most of all was that in every song I ever thought was too high for me to sing, there was a part for me. We got to choose which range we felt most comfortable in, and even if it wasn’t the direct melody, it was still just as valuable and helped in creating something beautiful when everyone sang together. I even learned a DANCE!! Every Saturday from now until March (save perhaps Christmas, and one in early December) I will be in musical theatre. And even if I fall flat on my face, it’ll be a challenge. It’ll be fun. It’ll be the scariest thing I could imagine and it’ll push me to my absolute limit. And I think, for right now anyway, that’s exactly what life should be made of. 🙂

Revenge of the Introverts

Last month, I went on a great big blogger meetup, in a city far, far away. On top of some amazing experiences with some awesome people, this allowed for one big thing: lots of alone time waiting in airports. I’m usually the sort of person to get bored rather easily – usually demonstrated in any attempt at physical exercise – so my first stop was to the newsagent’s, to stock up on magazines. Secretly, I kind of enjoyed being dressed up in ruffles, rosettes and accessories for once (first impressions, people!) and purchasing a pile of science, technology and psychology magazines, and I spent the remainder of my solitude reading them cover to cover. That’s the great thing about these sorts of magazines – the popular ones are half filled with ads for products you don’t care about, gossip about celebrities you don’t care about, and recycled articles on the same old beauty techniques, weight loss, and sex tips used in every issue of archives past, tweaked for wording and wrapped in a different package to give the impression of fresh material.  Okay for flicking through for ten minutes in a waiting room, perhaps, but not for four hours sans company or entertainment.

These magazines are great for really reading fully, cover to cover, full of interesting facts and insights. I learned about holograms, peak moments in life, technological advances, and even forgiveness after death, but the most interesting thing to catch my attention was an article entitled Revenge of the Introverts. It was the cover story: a picture of a brunette girl, hiding behind her hair, with my eternal inner monologue pasted over her face. How to Thrive in an Extraverted World. Doesn’t this just encapsulate everything I’ve tried to do this year?? This seemed to be a story written for me to read, so of course I had to pick it up.

It was a long article, but it was absolutely fascinating. Written by a therapist, it opened with a confession: the author loved the study of psychology, but hated dealing with people all day long.  “I was perpetually overstimulated, busy decoding everything I took in. Plus, I wondered why I couldn’t tolerate the large caseloads my colleagues took on willingly.”  This is so true for me – I love education, as well as the idea of helping to educate others – but being continually around or in front of people is exhausting and anxiety-inducing, rather than stimulating. At the end of the day I love nothing more than shutting my office door and putting my favourite radio station on – retreating into my own little world.  I’m normal! my brain rejoiced, as it continued to digest the story.

There are plenty of introverts around. It’s just that perceptual biases lead us all to overestimate the number of extraverts among us (they are noisier and hog the spotlight). Often confused with shyness, introversion does not imply social reticence or discomfort. Rather than being averse to social engagement, introverts become overwhelmed by too much of it, which explains why the introvert is ready to leave a party after an hour and the extravert gains steam as the night goes on.

This doesn’t mean us introverts are shy. This means that unlike extraverts, we get our energy from alone time, and too much exposure to people is actually draining. Introverts are collectors of thought. Extraverts are collectors of socialisation. What surprised me, was that according to a national US study, introverts make up 50% of the population. So why does it seem we’re vastly outnumbered by extraverts? The answer could be cultural. “Like individuals,” the article stated, “cultures have different styles. America is a noisy culture, unlike, say, Finland, which values silence. Individualism, dominant in the U.S., promotes the direct, fast-paced style of communication associated with extraversion. Collectivistic societies, such as those in East Asia, value privacy and restraint, qualities more characteristic of introverts.”  But if every other person is an introvert, why doesn’t our cultural tone seem to reflect that?

It’s not just that we overestimate the numbers of extraverts in our midst because they’re more salient. The bias of individuals is reinforced in the media, which emphasize the visual, the talkative, and the sound bite— immediacy over reflection.  “In verbal cultures, remaining silent presents a problem,” reports a study of communication styles in the U.S. and Finland. Perceptions of competence tend to be based on verbal behaviour. An introvert who is silent in a group may actually be quite engaged—taking in what is said, thinking about it, waiting for a turn to speak—but will be seen in the U.S. as a poor communicator.

Is this why I’ve struggled to much with public speaking? Is this why it remains one of the highest ranked fears across the nation – because we’re conditioned to believe that extraversion equals competence and, subsequently, success? Is this why, for years, I believed I wasn’t really worthy of deep relationships and meaningful friendships, because I wasn’t a big speaker, not really good at improvisation or making jokes, or even thinking on the spot to answer simple questions like “how are you?”

Conversation between an introvert and an extravert can involve a series of misunderstandings. As the introvert struggles to follow multiple conversational threads and sort out his own thoughts, he remains quiet and appears to be just listening. The extravert reads that as engagement, a cue to keep talking. The introvert struggles with the continuing flow of input and soon starts to shut out the extravert, while nodding or smiling, or even trying to stop the exchange. Rather than simply answering the  question, an internal dialogue begins, in which the introvert “hears” themself talking internally as the other person speaks.

Even if the introvert responds, “I’m good,” they’re probably still internally reflecting on how they really are. They may evaluate their thoughts and judgment about the day, and even the question itself, wondering why we revert to “good” just because that’s the question, or if the other person even really wants to know. The cognitive load becomes increasingly difficult to manage, as the internal talk competes with the external conversation.  Moreover, while trying to keep the conversation going, introverts may miss social cues, which can  make them appear socially inept. The conversation is also anxiety-provoking, because the introvert feels they have too little time to share a complete thought. They hunger to pull away and give time to the thoughts their brain has generated.

How fascinating is this? A scientifically researched argument for all my years of self-questioning actually being normal enough to constitute half the population. One thing I love about the blogging world is that, contrary perhaps to day-to-day existence, there seem to be a copious amount of introverts. According to the Myers-Briggs personality test (of which I’m a massive fan), my type is supposed to be the rarest of them all. Yet in discussions with other bloggers, I’ve found a good number of people whose type is just like my own. Perhaps, as collectors of thought and lovers of solitude, it provides a safe sense of community where we’re free to take all the time we need to construct our ideas and responses, from the safety of our own isolation. In the blogosphere, we can be successful social communicators and contributors, unaffected by the interruptions, fast pace and expectations of external society.  And perhaps this realisation is just what we need in order to give ourselves a bit of a break once in a while, and embrace who we are in our own skin. It seems we’re not such aliens in our own world after all.

Vocal Adrenaline

For as long as I remember, I’ve had a problem with my voice. I remember the day it began vividly – it was one of my first classes in Canada. American History. Our teacher was a skinny little man, probably in his late fifties. His skin was a phoney shade of copper brown, his nose bespectacled, and his head adorned by a mop of floppy, greasy hair through which he insisted on running his fingers at every opportunity. His wardrobe must have consisted of an entire closet of tight-fitting grey suits, and a few dozen pairs of squeaky black loafers. One eyebrow was continually raised, and it seemed a smug sort of Sean Penn-esque smirk had visited his face one day, and liked it so much it decided to set up camp. Needless to say, I wasn’t a fan.

One of his favourite things to do was to assign presentations. Get the students to stand up there all class so he didn’t really have to do anything. My first time up was during my first term in a north American high school, and I was nervous. Nervous they’d make fun of my accent, or that I’d be too quiet for them to hear. I got up there, glued my eyes to the page my hands were struggling to keep still, and started to read. I’d barely got to my second sentence before Mr. Milan stopped me, and started laughing. “Slow it down, and speak up! Nobody can understand a word you’re saying!”  My face flushed. Everything I’d worried would happen had happened, and in front of the thirty other students, too. I took a breath, and continued shakily. Every presentation from that point on was prefaced by Mr. Milan’s jibes, reminding me of my initial humiliation. That moment had forever traumatised my feelings toward public speaking.

“I wonder sometimes how any of us survive when we are all so fragile as children that makes it impossible to reach adulthood unscathed. I find myself wondering if these things don’t happen to force us to grow, but so often we don’t know how to heal and remain stuck.”

Jenny, local blogger and kindred spirit, said it so well in one of her recent posts. Sometimes, I don’t think people realise the lasting impact their words can have – and the damage it can potentially do in shaping someone’s future.

I was telling a good friend of mine this story last weekend, after we’d finished recording a chapter in his audio drama (!). At the beginning of summer, he’d asked me if I’d be interested in a role in a radio play he’d written. I was shocked – I had zero acting experience, and my voiceover work was pretty limited – stuff that required nothing in the way of character or emotion. Still, he convinced me to give it a shot. A couple of weeks ago, we did our first take. And for some reason, he was thrilled with my performance. Outside, I’d been reading the lines, but all the while the inner monologue had been on loop, telling me I wasn’t believable… my accent was too different… why the heck would he want someone with no acting experience anyway… but somehow, he thought I was good.  I told him about the incident in high school,  why I was so afraid of using my voice, and how I didn’t understand how all these opportunities to do so kept popping up lately.

Narrating the company video at work. Recording the voiceover on our radio ad.  Being given a job where speaking in front people is now my primary function. Being asked to host radio shows three times in the last two months. Why did they want my voice? My friend asked me what the logical conclusion would be. If I was no good, why did people want me? “Well… maybe it’s not that bad?” I said. “People don’t want ‘not bad’,” he laughed. “People want excellent.”  I didn’t know what to say. Compliments are so hard to take when you’ve believed the opposite thing for the longest time. But I was grateful for the encouragement… and slightly intrigued.

See, I’ve wanted to use my voice in another way for a while now. Every time I hear a good song, watch X Factor or crank up the Glee soundtrack, I have a near irrepressible urge to burst into song – but my thoughts limit me to doing so solely when there’s nobody home, and all the windows are closed. I never used to have this problem – there was a time I thrived on performing – taking stage school, putting on shows for the neighbours, and once upon a time, fronting a punk rock band. I love to sing. If I had three wishes, I’m pretty sure one of them would be to have a voice like Lea Michele. I had this conversation with an old friend this summer while I was in England, who, since I’ve moved away, has become an accomplished actor and musical performer. He had an interesting thought on the subject: If you have the urge to do something, and you feel like you have to break into song, it means that’s what you should be doing.” He went on to convince me that though some people may naturally be better singers than others, it doesn’t mean anybody can’t become a great singer with the right training.  “It’s just muscles,” after all – and, like couch potatoes can become athletes with enough hard work, training, and dedication, non-singers can gain strong musical voices the same way.

Filled with hope, I decided to do something about it. I hired a vocal coach. I was supposed to have my first lesson last Thursday, but – and I hate to admit it – I got hit by what happens when you rush into things before you’re ready. I ran the thought of singing in front of someone else over and over in my head until I was so nervous I was nauseous, and ended up making myself sick. I could’ve kicked myself – I’m not a patient person, and when I want something, I want it right away. Taking the long road is hard in the best of times, but when something ridiculous like nerves is your barricade, it’s the most frustrating thing in the world.

I still want to take that lesson. Study, train, and practice. Sing in the house regardless of if the windows are open or closed. Learn to let go and dive into something I love… with the hope that one day, I’ll have the guts to perform. Maybe it’ll be at the work Christmas talent show. Maybe it’ll be around a campfire. Maybe I’ll even do karaoke – I only have another nine months after all, and it’s so frustrating that something I want to do so badly is going to be one of the harder ones to cross off the list. The coach was understanding, and sent me some extremely kind words of encouragement and reassurance. I’m going to give it another shot next week. I just have to pluck up the courage, and keep some more of Jenny’s words of wisdom in the back of my mind:

“If I’m lucky enough to be able to take lessons, I am not going to waste it by being afraid! I finally get that it is not only about giving myself permission to make mistakes. It is also about believing that I am worthy, and have the right to shine.”

Sometimes, when we fall, we fly

It’s been almost a quarter of a year (blimey!) since I posted the list of things I wanted to do before I turn 26. This means I’ve used up 25% of my timeline! Unmonitored resolutions can end up being lost in the universe, never having had the chance to have an impact on a life. I think it’s a good thing, when you make goals for yourself, to check in every once in a while, and make sure you’re still on track. Especially when the whole reason for doing it is a big one. I look back at old posts, sometimes, and see that scared, frail girl, and it propels me to keep trying – every tiny victory, no matter how small, is another slap in the face of fear. I know anxiety and worry are things that plague so many people, and I know how helpess they can make you feel. I want to do everything on this list, everything that ever terrified me, and hopefully one day, be free of it all – it’s been my biggest dream for a number of years now. I feel like I’m in a way better place – I still can’t get over the fact that my job title is now Facilitator – but it doesn’t mean I’m what I’d consider confident yet. I still wonder why I was picked. But it’s an ongoing process of choosing fight over flight, and I’m hoping, with enough practice, one day, it’ll feel natural.

So, that list? Here’s the lowdown on the progress so far:

1. Get in crazy good shape.
2. Become a hot yoga person.
These were the “physical” sort of things on my list – as we established last week, fitness isn’t something that’s been a big part of my life, and I’ve always used back pain, being too busy, or not being able to afford memberships as an excuse. Over the last three months I’ve told myself to stop being such a princess and suck it up: I’ve been doing exercises for my back several times a week. I’ve also begun sticking to my goal of running more than once a week, and took an introductory month of hot yoga (while it was cheap). I even got Sweet started too – he totally fell in love with it and ended up going more often than I was! Unfortunately the price has gone up – so right now, I’m exploring other options in the city, and hopefully finding somewhere less riduculously priced. I loved hot yoga – it was incredibly calming – the first session was done by candlelight with a live acoustic musician! – and I can’t deny it helped my back significantly while I was doing it.

5. Get my driver’s licence.
I renewed my learners, and the card came in last week! Which means I’m legally now able to be behind the wheel. I’m going to start taking lessons with my Dad ASAP – I only have another 8 weeks before the snow hits!

7. Meet new people.
Since I made the list, I started going to local Meetup groups and sought out some new local penpals (despite the potential to look a total weirdo in the process!). In the last few months, I’ve been blessed to have met some incredible people – people who bring joy, inspiration, encouragement, and real friendship to my life. One of them had to move away – which was pretty tough, but the texts and long distance phone calls make it that much easier. Another couple of them, I soon found out, live a few blocks from us, and have become friends with Sweet, too, and the last few months have been filled with many a night of great conversation, laughs, song, life stories, and dreams, and I’m so incredibly excited they said yes to being part of our wedding party in December!

9. Plan meals, be healthier, and cook better.
Adjusting to planning meals a week ahead of time has been a challenge, but luckily Sweet is a whiz in the kitchen and has been whipping up all sorts of healthy, delicious stuff! (Note to self: share recipes!) I’ve also been good nutritionally, and have been starting every morning off with a Green Monster full of spinach, fruit, vitamins and nutrients. Blended fruit and veg is so much more convenient than eating it. And, thanks to your AMAZING outpour of advice, I’m learning to snack healthily throughout the day too, and not starve myself.

15. Teach a class full of people without being scared.
I’d taught small groups before, but last month, I had my first full on class. THIRTY. ADULT. LEARNERS put up with me for a couple of hours, teaching them about customer service and good habits of successful employees, and actually enjoyed it. The feeling I got after finishing was indescribable – I actually felt like I’d made a difference, and I couldn’t wait to start developing the rest of the materials. Self awareness, communication skills, interview techniques… are all modules I’m going to be responsible for in the coming few weeks. I’ve been given a position where I can pass on information that could change people’s lives for the better – and I have to remind myself that’s so much higher a priority than my own fear ever will be.

18. Go on a blogger meetup.
I was thrilled to meet Stephen and Aly in London a few weeks ago, and this Friday, I leave for 4 days in Chicago! I will be sharing pyjama parties, sightseeing, brewery tours, secret bars, skydecks and fancy dinners with some of my favourite people in the world – words cannot express how excited I am to meet Ashley, Brittany, Nate, Jen and Phampants – two more days until they get the BIGGEST HUGS EVER.

19. See more of the world and soak up every last drop.
England and Spain were amazing, Chicago next week will be so much fun, and Mexico will be jaw-dropping. As will, perhaps, my bank account balance at the end of this year, but you only live once.

20. Do more home decor.
We rent our house, which, though wonderfully homey, has rather bare cream walls. Last month I splurged and bought some of my favourite pieces of art, framed them, and hung them around the house, replacing some old TV and band posters (sniff). I also printed some pages from medieval manuscripts and had them blown up and framed, so all along wall beside the stairs is now historical artwork that indulges my nerdy side – and looks just lovely.

21. Finish my tattoo.
After the disastrous results of attempts one, two, and three, I finally found someone who’s going to finish the thing – make it completely different, completely beautiful, and completely new. T-35 days until the appointment!

The verdict: I think I’m doing okay! I’m far from being close to the finish line, and I’m not going to deny, some of the hardest ones are still to come. Some are going to be fun, some scary, and some still seem near impossible – but I’m determined to try. Doing this experiment has been a rollercoaster of emotions, so far, but I think it’s worth it. I just feel I need to prove I can be the person I want to be – and not the person I was. Yes, the past helps us become who we are today, but it also has no control over how the future unfolds unless you let it. A blog friend of mine said it well last week:

Too many of us live behind walls of our own design. We hide our true selves because we feel weird, or that we won’t be accepted. We feel that we need this acceptance to live; we need to feel normal, related-to, and understood. Many of us, however, don’t feel understood. We might feel loved, appreciated, welcomed, and accepted, but rarely do we feel understood.

So many of us let this fear of nonacceptance rule our lives. We keep our hopes and dreams and true selves locked away, worried about what other people might think if they were ever to see the light. And it’s a shame. It’s a waste. And it leads to an unfulfilling, unmeaningful, hollow existence.  I think we can all choose whether or not we allow those walls to stay up, or if we want to break them down and put ourselves out there. If you’re met with adversity from putting yourself out there, you have the choice as to how to take it. Is it going to dictate the way you live your life, or are you going to take control of your own? At the end of my last day of being 25, I don’t know if I’ll have achieved everything I set out to do. I might try and fail miserably. I might get hurt. I might get laughed at, and I might get gossiped about. But at the end of the day, I’ll have tried. And if, somehow, I manage to do it? I want anyone who’s ever lived by the reigns of fear to believe they can break free too. For now, I’ll keep trying. Fight over flight. In the eternal hope that, as a favourite blogger shared, “first, you jump off the cliff, and you build wings on the way down.”

Did you set goals for yourself this year? New Year’s Resolutions, or Four Simple Goals perhaps? How are you keeping yourself on track?

The Broken Mirror

Note: I actually wrote this two and a half weeks ago in a fit of tears and I’ve been contemplating whether or not to post it since then. I tossed around the idea of password protecting it for a while and decided on just putting it out there. Hiding it went against what I strive for: sincerity.  And though I realise posts after the excitement of the wedding competition should probably all keep riding  the wave of the upbeat (and don’t worry, I’m okay, and said upbeat WILL return pronto), as I’ve mentioned in blog posts prior, I’m not one to pretend everything is sunshine and unicorns when behind the screen, it’s not.  I may be shooting myself in the foot and alienating readers with this, but I’m hoping, contrary to what I’ve sometimes seen around the blogosphere, people might be drawn to the genuine rather than stories about cupcakes and puppies.  But if this does push people away, I apologise in advance. I just have a really hard time sugar coating things when being real is so important to me.

This brings me to the issue at hand. Remember the List? Of course you do; I’ve been writing about my endeavours to tackle it since before it went public. I was talking about it earlier this week with someone, and I started worrying about the items that were going to be rather more difficult to achieve than others. Anyone can start exercising, or make smoothies, or floss. Anyone can make new friendships, or do karaoke, or learn to speak publicly with enough dedication and hard work.  But what happens when something on your list seems to defy the way you’ve lived your entire life? I panicked a little when I revisited Number 12: Stop Hating How I Look.

How can you change the way you feel about something when the reality of it stares you in the face on a daily basis? What if I suddenly wanted to like, I don’t know, rap music, or root beer – things I’ve experienced, disliked, and subsequently formed an opinion on.  I wouldn’t magically be able to start appreciating them when I already know I’m not a fan. I feel like it’s the same with how I look, as painfully awkard and superficial as this sounds. Every day I look in the mirror, or at pictures, and I think how repulsive I am. I want to Photoshop my nose because it’s hideously huge and I don’t understand how the rest of the world doesn’t see what I see.  Every time I sit across from someone I worry if they’re secretly looking at my face and seeing what I see when I look in the mirror. Ugly. I was trying to explain myself to this person and found myself breaking down in tears at the thought of getting my wedding photos back – being completely natural and happy on the day, only to get the photographs back  in a few weeks and be appalled at how awful I looked.  In all honesty I’m dreading being the centre of attention and the subject of every photograph because I feel like every snapshot is another piece of evidence in the case that proves how unattractive I am.

This person asked me if outward appearance was important to me. If, in my list of goals for how I want to live my life, physical beauty or lack thereof was ever part of my equation.  Every fibre of my soul wants to say no – because I know I would never judge someone based on how they look.  But the reality is that a large part of the rest of the world does.  There are countless studies on the human face in relation to partnerships, career opportunities, satisfaction with life – and every study proves that those who are considered to be more attractive do better at work, have higher salaries, larger groups of friends, and more satisfaction with their lives and relationships than those who feel, or are considered to be, unattractive.  I know with everything I am that outer appearance doesn’t matter in the slightest, but I also know the way in which the world works.  I genuinely feel uncomfortable in front of people, not just because I’m afraid of public speaking – and that’s something for which I’m able to take steps to tackle – but because I fear everyone in front of me is thinking the same thing about me I do.  I can’t help but feel if I had plastic surgery, and looked how I want to look, that worry and self consciousness would disappear and I would be free to enjoy life, to be in front of people without fear and just do a better job, to be less afraid of getting out there into the world and making a difference, achieving my potential.  How I feel about how I look is holding me back. But unlike social anxiety, it’s not something over which I have any control.

Anyone who’s been reading me for more than a couple of weeks will know I’m a huge advocator for taking control of your life. If you don’t like your circumstances, have the strength to dive in there and actively shape them into what you want them to be.  I let fear and negative self talk rule my life for far too long – you all know that, and you know I’ve been jumping at everything I used to be scared of in the hope of becoming stronger for trying.  I want to be comfortable in front of crowds? Jump right in and start practising instead of hiding on the sidelines. But the goal of being able to not see myself the way I have for so long – I don’t know where to even begin. I don’t know how to change a thought pattern – which sounds so hypocritical, considering I’m the biggest advocate for changing your thoughts in order to change your life. This person told me she doesn’t want me doing something drastic like surgery because she’s “seen me take the hard path before, and this seems like the easy road.”  She wrote me a message earlier in the week:

You have transformed your life in ways I could never imagine, overcome huge struggles and you’re a better person because of it. I’m so proud of you. This is why I’m challenging you to once again take the difficult road of self-loving that I’ve seen you undertake time and again these past few years. I guess the reason I don’t see the need for you to resort to an extreme tactic to fix this ‘problem’ is that I’ve already seen you overcome so much that I don’t see how you can’t overcome this as well! Think about everything you’ve overcome… and I know it seems hard, maybe impossible, to see yourself liking the way you look, but just think, a couple of years ago would you ever have talked openly about your fears, would you have gone outside without makeup on, or seen yourself speaking in front of classes of people week after week, being on the radio, befriending STRANGERS… you probably never would’ve seen yourself loving those either! Don’t you see? Everything you’re feeling and saying now is just a repeat of what you’ve already overcome! With the same hard work and dedication you’ve already put into your life, you can overcome this as well. That’s why I don’t see the need to resort to such drastic measures, because I’ve seen you conquer challenges before and it’s made you stronger. I know you can get through this as well.

I hear the words and I know they’re true. I know with hard work and determination anything is possible. But I’m stuck right now, in a place where I feel there’s no way of seeing things any other way. I know I’ve said the same thing before about old habits, old thought patterns… but this time, I don’t see anywhere to ‘jump in’. I feel hypocritical encouraging others to change their thoughts and habits, to step outside what’s comfortable and grow and come out stronger on the other side. Putting time and thought into something so negative defies how I strive to live my life, and I feel almost ashamed to be writing about something so superficial. I want to smack myself when I think of the good I could be doing with my energy, when I think of how lucky I am to live the life I do… but I can’t seem to shake it. Is this just another on the list of insecurities I’ve had for so long, another challenge that can be overcome? It’s not body dysmorphia – isn’t that just when people feel they’re overweight and lean toward anorexic type behaviours… I don’t have any problems with my weight. That’s a lie (see? I can’t sugarcoat things). I do. I’m 104 lbs right now and I still feel like a whale after I eat a big meal. But I don’t skip meals or throw up or anything. I’m just naturally small framed and consequently the slightest bulge stands out a mile.  To me – and so, in my head, to everyone else as well. I just want to be able to overcome it – all of it, not to be seen as attractive by other people, but to feel confident in myself so I’m not held back so much, so I don’t shy away from people so much, scared of what they might be thinking.  I want to be able to be comfortable and confident. I want to be able to contribute to the world and this seems to be the one destination to which I can’t see a clear path.

I’m sorry for the uncharacteristic downer. I’m so sorry to write about something so superficial but I’m not going to pretend these thoughts aren’t in my head. This is me, this is my life and my thoughts, ramblings, ups and downs, the lot. I appreciate if you’ve made it this far. I just needed to be honest with how I was feeling and get it down, and if people stop reading, or judge me… well, those who are only around for the good times aren’t worth worrying about anyway. I’m not looking for comments on this post… I just had to get it out. But if you could go vote for me over at Weddingbells today… I’d really appreciate it. You guys are wonderful. And I’ll be back to normal next post, I promise.

What are you waiting for?

I remember, maybe a little less than a year ago now, my first (and perhaps only) true light bulb moment.  Do you ever find yourself in a place where all around you, you can see things in life you wish were different? The year from summer 2009 – 2010 has been one of self-discovery for me, and it all began with that moment.  The moment when it dawned on me, for the first time, that my circumstances were never going to be what I wanted unless I took the steps to make them that way.

If you’re reading this on my blog, you’ll know that I’ve written on and off about my past struggles with anxiety.  I think this is the first time I’ve ever written about them in the past tense. If you’re reading it on Samantha’s (I’m guest posting for her today; do check out her blog, as she’s just wonderful!), then I should probably give you a little bit of a back story.

This time last year, I was seeing a therapist for a social anxiety disorder. I don’t like the idea of therapists, really. I also don’t like the term “social anxiety,” and I especially dislike the word “disorder”.  It evokes images and feelings of being afraid, of allowing something to control you, and of something being wrong with you. Although perhaps that was the motivation I needed – I’ve learned over the last little while that the bigger the discrepancy between where you are and where you want to be, the stronger the motivation to change.  I think it was a result of years of low self-esteem – with friendships and relationships, I often latched on to whoever showed the slightest interest, even if it probably wasn’t a good idea to have them around.  I learned my lesson the hard way – got kicked out of where I was living, had one ex-boyfriend jet off halfway around the world never to come back, and had another gradually sap about $12,000 out of my bank account, start doing drugs, and get arrested for physically abusing me in the street. I think these things, combined with my ongoing self-doubts to make me want to retreat from the world. I gave in to the inner voices that told me that I wasn’t good enough.  That I wasn’t worthy enough to be treated well, and that I had nothing of value to offer the world. That I should keep my mouth shut, because everyone would see how useless I “was”.  I was terrified. But I allowed it to happen.

Looking back, I want to take hold of my 22-year old self and give her a good shake, but at the same time, I have to remind myself that things happen for a reason. If it hadn’t been for the bad, I never would have been fuelled to grow in order to find the good.  I think in life, we can be nudged slightly, reminded that what we’re doing isn’t good for us. This can be in the form of a simple daydream, wondering what our life would be like had we made a different choice.  Or a series of negative events paving the way of a relationship; warning signs to get out.  Unfortunately, if we allow our self-doubts to win, bad circumstances are going to continue until something catastrophic has to happen in order for us to open our eyes and truly listen.  What happened to me was a megaphone in my ear telling me to alter course from the road I was taking.  And had it not come to that point, who knows where I may be now?

One night last summer, it was a low point. I was upset that inside, I so desperately wanted to be able to break free of this fear that was holding me prisoner, and offer myself to the world, hoping to find friendships and new situations, and growth in my career.  I wanted to be happy, to be content and comfortable in my own skin, to be able to stand up in front of people and do something inspirational without being plagued by nerves.  I was upset because things weren’t the way I wanted them to be.  I wasn’t the person I wanted to be. And on came the light bulb; a literal shining light of hope on my self-induced darkness.

Dreams are never going to become reality unless you become an active participant in calling them into action. 

I’d been wishing and waiting for things to be different… without doing anything about it. It’s so easy in life to victimize ourselves, because I think, sadly, people have a tendency to gravitate toward the things that don’t require as much effort. I was upset that things weren’t the way I wanted them to be, yet I hadn’t played a part in making them happen. Silly girl! I decided from that point forward, things were going to be different.

I made a list of all the things I wanted to be able to do without fear. All the things I wanted to be without worry.  A great piece of advice I got was remembering to remind myself that I only have a finite amount of mental energy. I will never be able to control what other people think of me, so instead of using that energy worrying about judgment, I should use it to focus on the things I can control. I can control what I put out into the world. I can control whether I allow myself to take risks with the hope of coming out stronger on the other side. I can control how I take the words of others.  “This is a big change,” I was told, “and it’s not going to happen overnight. These things take time.”

But why should they?  We all have a choice in how we decide to live our lives, in the way we choose to see the world, and in what we put into it.  Just because I’d spent the last twenty-something years making the wrong ones doesn’t mean I have to ease myself into making the right ones gradually. Every day is a new opportunity to change everything, if you only have the determination.  Since last summer, I’ve made the choice instead of retreating, to dive headfirst into everything that scared me.  I can choose whether I allow things to control my life, or if I want to control my own.

It started off incredibly hard. Just because the mentality is shifting doesn’t mean the physiological signs of anxiety shake off so easily. The first workshop I facilitated, I went in trembling and stuttering. The first workshop I came out of, after telling the students why I decided to give it a shot, I left to the sound of applause. It was the best feeling in the world.  A tiny victory that fuelled my desire to keep growing, keep trying anything and everything that used to terrify me. It’s definitely been a journey of ups and downs – chairing meetings to a room full of people twice my age is intimidating, facilitating a workshop as the youngest person on staff is daunting, singing to the Internet was nerve-wracking, and sharing my story perhaps the scariest of all.  But I’m determined to keep trying. Of course there are things still on my list. Real life karaoke, speaking to a class of 30 instead of 10, and reading my writing in a couple of weeks in a public bookstore to a bunch strangers.  I’m still apprehensive. But determined to come out stronger on the other side.

Sometimes, all it takes to change what you don’t like about your life is making a choice and sticking to it. Having the courage (or at least pretending to!) not only to recognise what it is you don’t like about your life, even if it’s admitting past mistakes, but to venture forth and take control.  None of us need be a prisoner of fear.  We have every right to be able to be the person we want to be.  You can’t control what other people are going to think about you. But you can control what you put out into the world. And if it’s positivity, and determination to better yourself and the lives of the people around you? I don’t think anyone could ask for anything more.

Find yourself

I’ve been struggling a bit lot for the last little while with a lot of personal issues, and while I’ve been exceptionally grateful for the people who’ve offered words of advice and encouragement, I can’t seem to shake what’s going on. 

I count myself so lucky to be blessed with wonderful friends, a wonderful partner, a bright, sunny city that embraces culture, diversity and the arts, to live in a beautiful house and never have to worry about things that affect so many people in other parts of the world… these are the things I try to keep at the forefront of my mind, but I find so often they find themselves in the back seat, while my personal insecurities and anxieties take over. 

I worry so much about everything it’s affecting – well, everything.  I worry I’m not fun to be around, that nobody would ever want to hang out with me if I didn’t make the first move.  I worry about what other people will think of me if I open my mouth and offer an opinion.  I worry that they’ll see me turning red and shaking, and then I’ll get upset because I’ll convince myself they think I made a bigger fool of myself than I do.  I worry the past will repeat itself and I’ll be left for something… better, more exciting.  I worry about people judging me, thinking I’m incompetent, tactless, ugly, weird.  Even when I’m around people I love dearly, I worry about what they really think of me.  Do they secretly see me as the socially awkward, funny looking, too quiet, unexciting girl I do? 

I have so many dreams… if I could get over this constant fear, I’d be able to do so much more.  I love to sing, but I’ll only do it alone when all the windows are shut tight.  I love to dance… and I’ll throw myself into it, when I’m sure nobody’s home.  I love to write and create… but I’ve stopped trying, for fear it’s all rubbish anyway.  I’d love to write a play but the fear of it being judged horribly scares me away.  I love to share, to educate others on the issues of the world… but I’ll make my contribution in the form of a monthly donation, or a sponsored event where I don’t have to be in front of anybody.  I love to play games and throw dinner parties… something I haven’t done in years.  I gave up on my dreams of being a teacher two years into my post-secondary education when I realised I’d never be able to stand in front of anyone for a living.  I’m passionate about so many things… and I just feel trapped by my own insecurities, and I don’t know how to get past it.

I saw a play last night, a good friend of mine was in it, and one of her lines said something along the lines of “I don’t get embarrassed.  I just made the decision not to a long time ago.”  If only it were that easy, I thought.  If only I could make the decision to believe what other people tell me, believe in myself, and not be so sure everyone else in the world thinks I’m an idiot. 

I spoke to someone about it all a few weeks ago, and she said it was all about finding who you are, where you fit in in the world.  I’ve always kind of turned my nose up whenever people say they went off “to find themselves”, but maybe there’s something in it after all.  Right now there’s the person I think I am, and the person I want to be.  The stress, I guess, is caused by the discrepancy.  I want to be able to be fun, exciting, talented, confident, someone who can inspire others and someone people want to be around.  But maybe I’m just better off by myself? Maybe I need to realise that I do better alone, when I’m at home with my cat reading or singing or watching TV.  Maybe if I didn’t feel such a need to be reassured all the time I’d actually feel more okay about myself, and not worry so much about being judged.  I don’t know what the issue is, but I wish I could just go take a week and spend it somewhere remote, figure it all out, and come back ready to face the world.  I think it’s my turn to find myself, and maybe when I do, things will be a whole lot better.

Back on solid ground (well, sort of)

I’ve always tried to live my life with a positive outlook. Crap gets thrown my way – it’s okay, it could always be worse; I’ve got a lot of things that aren’t totally pants, and well, I always try and learn from whatever it is. The last couple of weeks have been a little tougher than normal, and I’ve kind of put myself on the line; feeling pretty low about myself I turned to those I held dear, and now, after a serious of really good talks, a lot of time to myself to think about things, a potential promotion in the works and really realising I have all I need in the world, I can safely say I’m back on track.

So I might have tendencies of social anxiety. It’s okay – I’m finally getting to be okay realising I don’t have to be a great public speaker to move ahead in the world, I don’t have to look picture-perfect to be attractive, I don’t have to be the life of the party and have plans every Friday night. I do have to realise that it’s not the end of the world if I have to make a speech and I stumble over my words, that nobody’s going to think I’m weird if I eat messy food in public, that nobody’s going to really think I’m an idiot if the back doors on the bus don’t open properly. I’ve realised just how much energy I’ve been wasting on things that really don’t matter at all, and I’ve been allowing it to consume me, to exacorbate my insecurities, when I should just stop worrying so much and use the energy to actually enjoy myself.

I’ve also unfortunately learned the hard way that some people in the world could care less about anyone other than themselves, and would rather take advantage of someone’s vulnerability and use it to provoke drama and conflict rather than help. I’ve been really hurt by a few people recently, but it’s just made me realise how hard it is sometimes to find truly good people in the world, and how lucky I am to have them in my life. So what if I only have a handful of people I can call true friends? They mean the absolute world to me. Their support, encouragement and advice have been invaluable over the last few weeks and you know who you are – thank you, thank you so much.

So I’m sitting in a pretty good place right now. I have people in my life who I know are still going to be there fifty years from now telling me to get my arse in gear. Football season’s started, which means my lovely is gone from six in the morning until ten or eleven at night, but it makes those fifteen morning minutes and the hour before bed together so cherished, so magical. His support and love have also been incredible over the last few weeks, more so than ever, and though we don’t get to see each other much right now, I’m feeling more steady on my feet, and I know in just a few months there’s so many good things to look forward to. I also applied for an internal position at work, a senior position to mine, with more graphic design, more PR, more marketing and less tedious tasks and being in front of people. And my own office, hopefully. Fingers crossed! So I’m sitting in a pretty good place right now – well, not the most comfortable place, considering I got second degree burns on the bottoms of my feet last night and spent the day bandaged and walking on my toes – but other than the flesh wounds, the world’s looking a whole lot better. 🙂

Back to reality, please

The last few weeks have been pretty tough. Maybe I’ve not been updating for a while because I just haven’t had the heart to share, or perhaps I’ve been scared to, but whatever it is has had me retreat into myself to the point where I’ve just been taken over by sadness for the last few days. I was debating even writing but I felt it might do some good to get it out, and I logged on… and saw my last post. Which kind of brought me back to my senses.

There’s been a few things getting to me lately, namely my dad possibly moving away, my mum still not talking to me, friends moving away, a habitual lack of sleep and just being in pain a lot of the time… it’s all got me pretty down, and I haven’t been myself lately – I know it, but I haven’t been able to shake it. I keep thinking about 18 months ago, when I first sat down in front of someone from the medical profession instead of relying on the words and encouragement of friends and family, feeling scared, alone, anxious and generally not really good enough for anything. After a few weeks I started to feel better; I started seeing friends more often, spending time with my dad lots, making a concerted effort to get over whatever “social anxiety disorder” this person thought I may have, and just back into being positive and comfortable and optimistic. It worked, for a while – I hung out with people all the time, I took up new hobbies, I found Sweet, I got a new place… and things were really good. But in the last few weeks I’ve felt myself slipping. I see opportunities for me to grow and contribute as a person, yet feel crippled by the fear of what other people might think about me. What if I’m too quiet? What if my accent’s too strange? What if I speak too fast? All my flaws one high school history teacher had pointed out in front of the class during a presentation one time come flooding back, and I feel paralysed by anxiety. I can’t go for promotions or new roles at work, because they all involve speaking in front of others, or giving presentations, or talking at staff meetings. Heck, I can’t even give a coworker a goodbye speech after organising a group gift and making a big goodbye card. I’ve stopped going to devotions at work because I’m afraid I might get asked to speak. I try and avoid sitting at the back of the bus so I don’t have to use the back doors for fear they won’t open and I’ll have to yell “back door!” in front of a bunch of strangers. It’s ridiculous, and awful, and I can’t get over it.

I feel like I’m retreating, reverting back to the shell of a person I used to be, so afraid of other people and scared to take risks. All I want to be is someone who can make a positive difference in other people’s lives; I don’t want to be the centre of attention but I want to be able to go out and not be afraid to order food in front of people, I want to be able to contribute to group discussions and have my ideas heard and appreciated, I want to be able to get up in front of people like I used to, when I was in stage school, when I was in a punk rock band, when I was in plays and dance classes… I don’t know why, or how, but I feel trapped by my insecurities and by fear, and lately it’s just taken over. I’ve been miserable for the last few days because I just feel I have so much to give, but unable to ever get anywhere because I can’t get it out. I’m too scared of other people. Recently I’ve felt like everyone has so much more going for them; friends, family, travel plans, jobs, scholarships… I want so much to be a part of it, to be able to give and express and not worry about being too quiet or too fat or unfit or too ugly or too shy… I want so desperately for this feeling to go away, to go back to how things were a few months ago… to be happy and content again…

I know how lucky I am… I’m lucky enough to have someone remind me every day how lucky I am to live in a country where we have so much, we have jobs, a roof over our heads, food on the table, no war or terrorism or disease to worry about… how lucky I am to have a wonderful place to work in, to have a father who’d do anything for me, to have a love so strong I know to the bottom of my soul it will always be there, to have friends who’ll be there no matter what. I’m so lucky and thankful for all of that, I really am. I just want to feel good again, confident again, liked, respected and not scared and insecure again. How do I make it stop? How do I get back on track??

I think I just need to put things into perspective and do something to get over this. Realise just how lucky I really am. Actively face my biggest fears and actually go to Toastmasters instead of talking about it for 6 months and never venturing out. Keep stretching and exercising and trying to get past the pain. Sing in front of somebody. Contribute to discussions, call people and hang out again. Count my blessings. I don’t like how I’ve been thinking for the last few days, and we’re about to enter football season (meaning I’ll see Sweet for about an hour or two each day for the next 8 months, and I want those two hours to be filled with happiness and gratitude, not self-deprecation and anxiety). I want so desperately to get past this, and as of right now, I’m going to take a long hot bath, rinse the last few weeks down the drain, clean up my house, and start tomorrow fresh. I have a whole summer ahead of me. And I want to make it the best one yet.