gratitude

On guilt, whelm, ego, and not wanting to be helped.

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Taken by my husband. Somewhere, a cluster of stars is smiling. Can you see it too?

It’s day two of September, and I couldn’t be happier to see the arrival of a new month. I’ve found I like to divide life up into chapters – my Facebook albums are neat, chronologically organized, and cover a span of precisely six months; my 1 Second Everyday (sic) videos cover a month each; I had a 25 for 25 and a 30 Before 30. and my schedule is planned in week-long bursts on Google calendar. It’s slightly hypocritical of me to see the arrival of this month as a new beginning when I’m eternally professing not having to wait for a whole new day to reset a bad one, but sometimes it’s the little crutches that get us through.

Last time I wrote,  I’d just released my EP, summer had barely begun, and I was a week or two away from getting married. I hadn’t stopped all year; I was determined to get that CD complete before my 31st birthday rolled around, I wanted to book and shoot weddings, I was prepping for a house full of international friends and family here for my own, and Fringe festival was just around the corner. I was re-designing my website and painting my basement and I was so excited for it all, but, in keeping with my INFJ nature, equally excited for a bit of downtime come August. If we’re friends on Facebook, you’ll probably already know that August was quite possibly one of the worst, and busiest months I’ve ever had – I don’t think I’ve ever felt so overwhelmed in life before that I’ve wondered whether my actions were consistent with what a complete mental breakdown would look like.

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Speaking of overwhelmed, as I sit here in a coffee shop listening to the bubbling chatter of the go-getting elderly and well-t0-do housewives (my favourite cafe has closed since I last visited), I wonder why nobody ever speaks of being “whelmed”. Is that a thing? And what’s the word for the actual state of being overly so? I feel that being someone who feels things at a greater extremity than what’s typically considered “normal”, I’m in a pretty constant state of being overwhelmed with sensation and emotion – and that’s normal for me. So when things go beyond that, not only do I feel like a failure for not being able to  handle things, I feel like an immense letdown to myself (I’m used to operating in stress mode; everything should be a breeze!) and to everyone around me, because I – and I’m finding, like most people – don’t actually want to be helped.

Break for a relevant quote I’d love the non-feelers to know about us emotional people:

“Highly sensitive people are too often perceived as weaklings or damaged goods. To feel intensely is not a symptom of weakness, it is the trademark of the truly alive and compassionate. It is not the empath who is broken, it is society that has become dysfunctional and emotionally disabled. There is no shame in expressing your authentic feelings. Those who are at times described as being a ‘hot mess’ or having ‘too many issues’ are the very fabric of what keeps the dream alive for a more caring, humane world. Never be ashamed to let your tears shine a light in this world.”
Anthon St. Maarten

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Without feelings, there’d be no love, no friendship, no cheerleaders or causes to fight or stand up for, no compassion. Without logic, nothing would ever get planned, made, or achieved. We’re all different, and just because we may operate differently from those around us, doesn’t make our way of being any less valid. We fill in each others’ gaps in hardwiring.

Back to the point – lately (and by this, I mean over the past couple of years), I’ve noticed a consistent pattern in others as well as myself. Nobody talks about these things, but I feel that deep down, our own egos cause us to resist help – even at our most desperate. Around the time I turned thirty, I lost what were then my two closest friendships. (I think the story is in that last link somewhere.) This naturally threw my world into disarray – I willingly and continually suspend my disbelief for the illusion of permanence, and though all things must come to an end in some way or another, even if through the final act of exiting this world ourselves, it always catches me off guard. This happened again around Christmas time, when someone I’d known for years resurfaced in my life and we quickly began doing everything together, only to completely sever ties right before her wedding. This happens with those close to me regularly, and only now that I’m noticing it in myself am I starting to truly understand why. It’s because I’ve decided one of the primary legacies I want to leave is one of helping or improving the lives of others in whatever way I can, and ultimately, people don’t want to be helped. In its simplest form, my desire to help others robs them of control over their situation, and everybody wants to be in control of their own lives.

Take, for example, my old friend T. We so close we called each other sisters, but when life threw her what would ultimately end up a separation and then divorce, I went into rescue mode. I checked in every day so she wouldn’t feel alone (because I would want to know someone was thinking of me), but this soon became overwhelming to her. I started making lists, action plans, and scheduling dates to get together and hug and talk. I started analysing and problem-solving – but this wasn’t what she needed. She needed to figure things out for herself, because in life, I think the only true change or solution to a problem can last if we believe we created it ourselves. (And they say taking Psych in university is a waste of money.)

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Take my old friend M., who’d become recently engaged, and asked me to be one of her joint Maids of Honour, and whose wedding was suddenly brought forward an entire year, forcing it to be planned in a matter of weeks. I saw she was stressing about it, and once again, went into problem-solving mode. I offered to design invitations, craft with her, book some of my photography industry people for hair and makeup for her… all of which I thought were taking away from the stress, when in reality, I was taking away control. When our friendship ended, she was very frank – at the time, I was upset, but looking back, it’s become another piece of the pattern that’s teaching me why this keeps happening, and lessons like this are priceless when it comes to future happiness. Once again, something I thought was helpful was in fact harmful when viewed as “controlling” – the ego will always find a way to justify its need to be right. (Sidenote: please read this book if you’re at all interested in the psychology of human nature and learning about our built-in destructive tendencies.)

We don’t like to offer up control of our situations because in doing so, it tells us that somebody else knows better, and that’s something we don’t like to admit. It took me a while to figure this out because for the longest time, this didn’t make sense – I’d been trying to act as the friend, colleague, lover, or family member I’d want someone to be if I needed help – but now in a situation where I do, I find myself resisting in the same way. But in examining, I’m finding that awareness of this tendency is allowing me to understand what’s happened not just in the past, but also in the present, and I’ll remember this going forward for the rest of my life. So, as someone who a) derives meaning from helping others, and b) as someone who, just like everybody else, also needs help from time to time, what to do?

I think when it comes to others, it’s important to teach your brain the habit of attaching awareness to situations, so when ones come up that threaten your way of being, you learn to automatically think before acting, recognize that just as we all operate in different ways, we all also like to deal with our situations differently too, and the way I can personally best be there for others is to give them what they need at that moment, and not automatically go into fixing – or “controlling” mode. Internally, I think we all have the best of intentions when it comes to being there for our loved ones, but if they are resisting, it’s probably because they want to figure the situation out for themselves, because that’s what will have the most meaning for them in the long run. Stop checking in on my schedule and try to get a handle on what they need themselves. Maybe people don’t need someone constantly asking if they’re okay, psychoanalysing things or offering up lists of solutions – maybe they just need to know you care, and figure things out on their own.

So why am I so overwhelmed; why am I in need of help right now? Two weeks after our wedding, I suddenly lost my job. The company had gone into creditor protection back in May, and everyone at head office was consistently told that things would be okay, and to operate as usual. Despite bills not being paid, and despite losing vendors and contractors as a result of owing and not paying. This continued to the day before the weekend after which we were all made redundant (I actually prefer the north American expression of being “laid off” here; it’s far less insulting!). We were all called into the board room and told that the company had been sold to a liquidator and would be going out of business by the end of 2016, but not to worry, we wouldn’t be coming back on Tuesday to locked doors or anything, and that we’d likely be okay until December. I was personally even told I’d be introduced to other potential prospects who showed an interest during the bid. That Tuesday came around, and I was out of the office for a couple of hours in the afternoon for an appointment. I got a text from my colleague, who informed me quite simply, that we were all done – that over half of head office staff were all told to hand in their IDs, given dismissal notices, and escorted out of the building. After months leading up to the wedding and not even a year into a mortgage, I had expenses, and naturally went into panic mode. This only escalated when I read the dismissal notice stating that as a result of being under creditor protection, we would be given no notice, no severance, and that any benefits would cease immediately. This being against the law, a few of us affected soon went to the Labour Board, who informed us that they could do nothing until the company was out of the protection period in December – and by the time that comes around, they’ll have declared bankruptcy, and would no longer be around to deal with anything. In other words: we were all screwed.

It’s been a month, and I’ve applied for Employment Insurance and filled out my reports, and I’m still in the waiting period. We pay so much into these programs while employed without any choice at all, yet when we need them most, it’s near impossible to get the help we need. We have to sit and wait while our case is analysed, continue reporting and jumping through hoops and trying to keep our spirits high while our bank accounts are steadily being drained simply by the cost of living, hoping that someone at the government will tell us eventually that we’ll be helped. I’m incredibly lucky in that my husband, being the smart man he is, started planning for this scenario back in spring when we were first informed the company was in trouble. He’s been able to help with my share of the mortgage and bills this past month, which I’ve felt awful about – in another life, without a credit card, I’d be out on the streets. But our joint account is being drained, and there’s still no hope in sight. I was paid out my vacation time accrued, which I was saving for some time in the future when I’d actually be on vacation, or toward finishing my album next year or equipment to hopefully grow a photography business – but after five weeks, I’m approaching zero, and those dreams have evaporated. The world’s expenses don’t stop just because your employment does.

A week after the layoff, I got the news that my grandfather had passed away, that my grandmother was now alone and already beginning the descent into dementia, and was halfway across the world. With no job, I couldn’t very well fly over there and be there, and it made me angry and sad. So I made some art instead.

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I also got the news that another member of my close family now had a cancer diagnosis, and got some medical results back myself that were also unfavourable. I also had to immediately get a new phone contract (having had a work device provided), and our area of the city, while absolutely lovely, also happens to be the Bermuda triangle of mobile phone reception, meaning climbing with a blanket to the top of a small mountain, building a fire, and sending a series of smoke signals usually has a better chance of conversational success. Responding to interview calls and trying to change my phone plan with the provider became so frustrating that I found myself shouting down the line from outside in the street as well as the very top of my house, and eventually bursting into tears and throwing the phone across the floor.

I also had to find a job as soon as possible, so I had to learn to hide my grief and panic, put on a face and go on as many interviews as I could land in the middle of summer when most executives are off on holidays, and convince countless people that I was a happy, competent, fun and skilled person they needed on their team. Putting on an act is something that does NOT come easily to someone with Fe, and after buying a house, getting married, losing a job and losing a family member – some of the biggest stresses in life one can ever experience – was not something that was easy, but it was something that was mandatory. I kept telling myself the same thing I’ve had printed and framed since 2009: “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” I cried a lot, and didn’t get to see any of my friends for weeks because I had so much to do. For a very short time, I hated the world. But it amplified my gratitude for having someone to hold my hand. For having a roof over my head. For the forced lesson in being strong.

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I had messages from people offering their support, each one of which also made me cry, because people cared. But I resisted their offers of help. Why? I think I told myself it was because I didn’t want to be a burden. August seemed like it was pretty shitty for a lot of people, and I didn’t want to turn to anyone with my problems if they were having some of their own, but why, logically, if they were offering? I fell into the trap of what we all seem to do, and justified my ego’s need to prove I could do it on my own. I exhausted myself with bottled emotion, explosions of emotion, and the guilt of having an endless need to be doing, and as a result, didn’t do myself – or anyone around me any favours. In refusing help, I did what my old friends did to me – robbed carers of that from which they derive personal meaning.

I made endless to-do lists now I suddenly had time for things, but none of the items I checked off made me feel any better. I wasn’t nurturing or looking after myself, I was doing what I convinced myself I needed to – driving from interview to interview, writing cover letter after cover letter, keeping spreadsheets of applications, filing my strewn paperwork and organizing all my digital files, making sure I was on top of housework, catching up on laundry, ironing, washing dishes and mopping floors every other day, applying for grants, finishing other people’s photos, clearing out clutter, and compiling a portfolio. All I wanted to do was write a song, make art, grieve, see friends, finish my current book, get back to working on my novel, write a blog post, finish my scrapbook from last year’s adventure and make one for the wedding, and take online classes to learn more about photography, audio engineering and web design, but I didn’t allow myself to accept help, or to do anything my soul actually needed, because my ego needed to reclaim its control on the situation that had become my life. Was it making me a better person? Did it make me feel any better? And was it letting me be a good person to be around for anyone around me? No, it overwhelmed me, and either hurt or stressed those around me watching it all happen.

August was a really, really hard month, but September is a new chapter. And the best protagonists in any story are the ones who learn lessons from their experiences. I’ve learned a lot about human nature, about stress, and about my flawed tendencies lately. I’ve learned too that I can actually be strong when I need to be, and I’ve learned that the ego is far from being always right. I’ve learned to accept, and that it’s okay – even if the world seems like it’s ending – to take people up on their offers of help, as well as to take a little time to do the things my heart needs as well as the things my bank account does. Today, I indulge in reflection, writing, and singing. Last week, I wrote a song and learned a bit about mixing audio, and next week, I will start allowing myself to socialise again. I still struggle with the guilt of doing anything other than what’s strictly necessary, but I’m learning to practice being aware, being present, and to balance.

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That lesson in brevity will apparently sink in one day. Oh, and here are some fun photos from what actually was, for a hundred different reasons, the best day ever.

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.

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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.

To Bring Out the Very Best in Others

I started writing this at the tail end of 2015, and the past few months have gone by in an absolute flash. It feels like just yesterday I was returning home from a whirlwind trip to Europe, starting a new job, and J. was moving in – a short-lived venture, as we bought our house the same week and moved into that in November. I can’t describe how thankful I am for the whole year – one that began on New Year’s Day in a sobbing fit alone on my living room floor, and one that ended with tales of adventure, journeys, growth, new friends, goodbyes, challenges, lots of growing up, and, come Christmas Eve, a beautiful ring on my finger that symbolises not just the never ending circle of infinity, but my own promises, vows, and endless love for this beautiful man. I’m honoured to be chosen by the one I still believe I dreamed into existence, and after a few years of rather terrible Christmases, I can honestly say December 25th was the probably the best day of my entire life. 🙂 We’re just going to enjoy this for the time being – togetherness, happiness, and the brink of forever – but I’m sure we’ll start talking about plans and such in a little while. 🙂 To me, I’d be happy making my vows in our living room in an old white dress- the only thing that matters, to me anyway, isn’t fancy decorations or thousands of dollars on dinners or lights or fireworks – it’s the moments those words are exchanged, entwine around each other, and are launched into the universe for all eternity.

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(That said, I wonder if we can be transported by hot air balloon up into the night sky and exchange vows floating in starlight? A girl can dream :))

I always find years wrap up with a word or two that does a brilliant job of encompassing everything that happened within them; a theme, if you will. 2015 was unexpected. In every way. I had no idea I would meet someone on Instagram, travel the world, lose the people I believed to be lifelong kindred spirits, and instead gain a new tribe of unconditionally awesome, genuine and sincere human beings. I had no idea I’d voluntarily give up a job I loved and end up with the word “Director” in my job title, go through three roommates, buy a house, go off all my medication, have a complete breakdown and go back on it again. I had no idea I’d start working toward a career in photography, or that my fiction, photographs, and modelling would all be published in print magazines. I had no idea I would gain and almost lose everything. I had no idea I’d write enough songs and grow enough balls to somehow find myself professionally recording an entire EP. I had no idea of the kindness of strangers and of friends, and that some of the worst and best days of my entire life would take place within these 365 days. If you are reading this, I imagine your year may have been unexpected, too. Goods and bads, successes and failures… we got through it. And we thrived.

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I added a clip of the MASTERED version of my first song to my campaign page. There are three days left. Click through to hear/please help if you can at all!! 🙂 ❤ I can’t believe this little uke song turned into this!! 🙂 (I also made a Facebook page! #becomingreal)

Work was a huge change for me this year. The circumstances that led to me landing my new position were interesting: I very much enjoyed where I was, because it was a place that not only allowed me to exercise my imagination, but being a creative female in a heavily male-dominated sales environment allowed me to stand out. I was welcomed on board along with my colleague as a breath of fresh air, and I was allowed to run with pretty much every crazy idea I had. (Star Wars Free Press ads and zombie TV spots included). I felt valued, and I had a supervisor who was willing, always, to teach with patience and kindness. I was congratulated and my work shown to the entire salesforce in team meetings and at trade shows. The positive reinforcement and patient encouragement and reception of new ideas was fuel for me, and as a lifelong overachiever, it motivated me to be the very best I could be.

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I now find myself in a much senior position. One in which I have someone reporting to me, and one in which I hold a large level of responsibility when it comes to an entire company’s corporate branding. The title is one I’ve always dreamed of, and upon hire, I was excited beyond belief to hear of a place where everyone’s opinion matters, where innovation is the name of the game, where I would be seen with the potential I could reach, and where I would be mentored to succeed. Leadership is always something I’ve been interested in – as an INFJ I derive my biggest personal satisfaction when I can be instrumental in helping others do well. I’ve just never formally been in a position to do so. This is why I am of the firm belief that anyone, anywhere, can be a leader, even simply within their own community, group of friends, or home.

25c29a664c3adbf6cb0376956dcc3b65I hoped to be given the opportunity to help transform a culture, and I was thrilled at the opportunity. (NF ding!) I want to be the kind of leader, in work and in life, that sees people for what they can achieve, not their immediate shortcomings, and help motivate them to become more. I want to help them see the potential within themselves and encourage them to chase after it. Because this has been done for me, and it has changed my self perception, and my life. I know not everyone is the same, but I think it’s pretty universal that people will respond better to positive reinforcement and tapping into intrinsic problem-solving than they will to fear and repeated messages of you’re not doing it right. Being shot down creates an atmosphere of fear – and results will undoubtedly reflect that. If your leadership cultivates an atmosphere of fear in order to get a job done, the job will get done, but it will not come with the enthusiasm, excitement, or additional effort or creativity that often accompany the most successful of projects. You will feel more likely to stay at home if you’re sick rather than coming in, because you will feel unappreciated and uncared for. If your leadership is one of inclusion, encouragement, and belief in your team – your team will be on your side and want to support and deliver on a project that does have those things. They will want to be your cheerleaders. Absenteeism will decrease, quality will increase, as will a sense of community and of belonging. The resulting job may be the same, but the added unseens, the team spirit, morale, contributors’ confidence, loyalty, excitement and motivation – can only exist when the tone is set from the start.

Am I wrong? I think this can also be applied to life outside of work, too, and it’s something that’s been on my mind a fair bit lately.

I’ve read a lot of John Maxwell’s leadership books in the past, and actually was fortunate enough to spend a few years working in a place that not only offered Lunch and Learns, where the boss gave everyone the opportunity to take part in a leadership course, share ideas, and develop ourselves over a few lunch hours, but also offered a yearly retreat, usually revolving around the curriculum of one of his books. The one I went on was based on the book Put Your Dream To The Test – an overnight, two-day stay together watching DVDs and reading chapters and having group discussions as well as fun dinners and board games in the evenings. This was a non-profit organization with very little money, but with a culture of truly believing in its team members, in unity, in a common goal, and in personal development. They thought outside the box and really helped develop everyone as leaders in their own right, helped them realise what their individual dreams were, helped foster a culture of inclusion where everyone felt safe to express and contribute, and helped develop better human beings. The CEO was actively involved in morning meetings, extracurricular events, and sold me on the idea of creating a personal board of directors (it’s worth reading, for the idea alone) for your own life. A brilliant idea: be selective in those with whom you choose to share your innermost everything, and trust those who’ve earned yours time and time again. A personal board of directors will always guide you in the right direction, without judgment, and certainly without steering you off course for reasons of their own.

I’ve landed myself in roles in the past and felt the familiar INFJ twinges tugging at my heart. Why aren’t people supportive of each other? Why is morale so low? Why are people more concerned about succeeding themselves rather than helping others? I encounter it time and time again. In each job I will try to bring extra things I believe will improve team spirit, increase positivity, and a feeling of belonging and being valued. Things like field trips, parties, pot lucks, MBTI assessments, internal newsletters… things that go beyond day to day duties and actually help people get to see each other as just that: human beings. Human beings whose skill sets are all part of a giant team effort to help the company be successful. When people feel seen, heard, and valued, that effort will multiply. Relationships will strengthen. There will be harmony. When people feel replaceable, or worse, are chastised when brave enough to think outside of the box – you’re not going to get that out of them.

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As a leader in our own lives, I think our goal should always be to help others be the very best they can be. In work, in friendships, in relationships, even in day to day interactions with random people on the bus. Everything we say, post online… everything we write in an e-mail, every tone with which we choose to wrap our words can be interpreted in a myriad different ways because no two people are the same. This is the cause of all life’s misunderstandings and overanalyses! We can choose to learn each other – to put the effort into truly knowing them and how they are wired, what their needs are – communicate accordingly, and watch them flourish – or we can communicate in the only, rather self-focused way we know how – branding anyone who thinks differently “too sensitive”, “rebellious”, “useless”, or “too emotional”. The list goes on. Contrarily, as one often accused of being far too sensitive, I see many people that I personally judge to be “too closed minded”, “too opinionated”, “too confrontational”, or “too cold”. Nobody’s not guilty of this. Anyone that differs from ourselves can easily be called “too” this or that. But if we all took a moment to acknowledge that everyone is wired differently (it’s all just various combinations of brain chemistry, after all), and took the time to see their potential and encourage them to reach for it by speaking their language, I think the world would be a much happier place.

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I used to think it came down to treating people as you’d want to be treated. (Grandmas know best!) But I’ve learned that life is infinitely richer, fuller, and deeper when you treat people as they’d want to be treated. At work? Take the time to learn about your coworkers or employees. See what they react to. Get a sense of their vulnerabilities and strengths, and nurture the latter. If you want somebody to become something more than they are, learn their language and speak it if you want to see results. People blossom when someone speaks to them in their own language, especially when it’s not one’s own.

12346342_10153900478369171_1587333639328318231_nA great example of this recently for me has been working with my friend Dave. Like most of the best people I know, Dave came from the Internet in response to a call-out asking if anyone might be interested in working with me to get my EP out of my head and into being a real thing. I had no idea who he was, but over the past few months he has taken my little ukulele song and transformed it into something people keep telling me “could top charts” (I DON’T know about that, haha). I’m still too nervous to sing in front of people, so in the recording process, he built me a fort out of blankets and room dividers. At the recording studio itself, they turned the lights off in the booth and put candles in there. When I cried because I thought I was doing terribly, I was brought tissues, and my subsequent vocals encouraged for having emotion in them. Every time I missed a note, I’d just be asked quickly, behind my wall of blankets, “that was great, can we try it again?” No reprimanding. No actual pointing out of my cock-ups, even though I knew they were there. Just positive encouragement. And that form of mentoring and leadership brought out the very best in me.

This is what I want to do for others. I want to learn them. In relationships: I’ve learned my “language” is, unsurprisingly, one of words. I like to be told things, and I like letters and notes and messages. Other people may like demonstrations of service (cleaning the house, picking up groceries), or physical affection. People communicate in different languages, and each is valid. I know very well that not everybody needs the same type of communication as I do – I’ve learned that my levels of feeling, caring, etc. can be… intense, and sometimes when good intentioned, can come across as overbearing and actually drive people away.  These are all good lessons – the bottom line being to pay less attention to your own needs and more to the needs of those around you. Becoming fluent in another’s language is like a direct line to their soul, and every relationship, whether at work, home, or in friendships, will flourish as a result. 

Happy new year, everybody. May it be full of harmony, growth, wisdom, fun, reflection, happiness, and adventure. 🙂

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.

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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 ❤

Fringe, authenticity, and friendship: A single cloud cannot extinguish the sun.

As I begin writing, the Winnipeg Fringe Festival is at its midpoint and I’ve taken in four shows (five, if you count the one I enjoyed so much I went back!). Each one has been wonderful in its own way, and I can’t wait to wrap up this week with an explosion of theatre that will surely leave me as inspired and invigorated as it does every year, and has for the past decade. I’m positive I’ll write again after the second half after the festival is over.

I’m starting to realise that with words like “decade” – realizing that some of the brilliant souls I’ve shared this festival with over the years – I met before I’d even turned twenty years old, and it’s kind of fantastic how we’ve all shared in these creations of creativity, fully immersing ourselves in the experience that seems to exist to celebrate imagination and the artistic spirit. I remember shows from years ago, so clearly I can remember the goosebumps I got, or the awe that struck me, and I can look them up online to find barely a trace of them having happened at all. These performers flock to the city for ten days each year to display the products of their imagination, to share their talent, their energy, and to draw audiences into their world in the hopes of sharing it, inspiring, and creating memories. These shows burn brightly and touch countless souls, bringing laughter, tears, and wonder, and then, like the glow of sparklers after Bonfire Night, they are gone for another year. There’s something bittersweet but quite wonderful about their transience. If you are to exist for such a limited time, then why not make that existence shine?

Photo by Leah Borchert

Fringe couldn’t have been timed better this year. So far, I’ve seen master storyteller (and eternal favourite) Martin Dockery, who brought with him two shows (the second to come later in the run), strings of words and buckets of charisma, and DVDs (finally!) of some of my all-time most loved shows from festivals past; a tale of a man’s journey through cancer as told through story, projections, and stadium rock songs; the greatest hits of the always brilliant Die Roten Punkte, a “brother and sister” duo from “Berlin” who sing about robots, lions, and the Bananenhaus, and the 5-Step Guide to Being German, suggested by my friend, who’s dating a German man, returning for a second time after having such a blast being the token Brit and ending up befriending the performer, going for food, chatting about literature, travel, and pseudo-plotting the emergence of a British version of the show. To come: zombies, performance poetry, parodies, puppetry, and magic. I usually take time off work for Fringing, but this year I have a grand total of ten days holiday off from work (can Canada take a flip through the UK’s book of employment standards? McDonald’s workers back home get at least four weeks!) and they’re all being used up very soon in the most epic way possible: jetting off to Europe with the love of my life and packing in eight whole countries. In eleven days we’ll be stepping onto a plane, and my heart will burst with excitement, gratitude, and awe.

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But I digress. Fringe, in all its glory, is good for the soul, and as of late, this soul has been feeling a little empty. Perhaps empty is the wrong word – I haven’t stopped writing songs, making music, diving into this new photography business, planning trips or going on adventures. I haven’t stopped seeing people or filling my time with exciting things. But I have had a bit of heartache lately when it comes to the people in my life. I’ve come to realise I probably feel things at a greater extreme than what’s considered normal – and I think any fellow INFJ can relate. Everything I do has to be with passion, everyone I befriend has to become a kindred spirit, and everyone I love I do so with all my heart. Every hurt I witness is as if I feel it myself, and every injustice to a cause, or animal, about which I care, goes straight to my heart and tears flood out. Tears flood out with all the positive, too – whether gratitude for kindnesses, for love, or for simply being part of the same human race that creates such brilliant things – I feel pretty hard. So it’s no surprise that losing my two best friends this year has thrown me. I’m thirty years old, not thirteen, so I’m not going to go into details, but it’s made me pretty sad. The illusion of permanence always does, when things come to an end. I tend to invest everything into things and people I care about – believing words like “family” and “forever”, and thanking my lucky stars for people who feel as strongly about our coexistence as I do. It’s heartbreaking when things you believed were forever are shown to be untrue, and I feel a tad foolish for ever believing otherwise. But I guess that’s the price of growing up – as we become older, stronger, more authentic, and (hopefully) wiser, we scan and audit our environments to ascertain whether or not they still align with our values and the person we’re becoming.

“Highly sensitive people are too often perceived as weaklings or damaged goods. To feel intensely is not a symptom of weakness, it is the trademark of the truly alive and compassionate. It is not the empath who is broken, it is society that has become dysfunctional and emotionally disabled. There is no shame in expressing your authentic feelings. Those who are at times described as being a ‘hot mess’ or having ‘too many issues’ are the very fabric of what keeps the dream alive for a more caring, humane world. Never be ashamed to let your tears shine a light in this world.”
Anthon St. Maarten

Sometimes, what fit who you were before no longer has a place in the life you’re meant to be leading, and as you grow into that person, that life, fundamental incompatibilities begin to show. It’s sad, but somewhat inevitable –the more you invest in people, the more their authentic selves begin to show. Hopefully, as with any relationship, you discover layers upon layers of shared hopes, dreams, experiences, and above all, values – but sometimes, you discover you only aligned on the surface. Hurts begin to emerge, and panic sets in – it’s not supposed to be this way, you think, and before you know it, there are conspiracies and spite thrown about in the name of others’ preserving their own images and reputations at the cost of yours. Losing people is never easy in any circumstance, but witnessing those who once cared turn so quickly on you and toward gossip and flat-out mistruths hurts hard. Last week was a hard one, but after much reflection, introspection, and a tallying of all the wonderful things that hold true in life, I’m feeling better. I heard a turn of phrase recently that made me slightly wistful – “people are only happy for you as long as you’re not doing better than them.” Is this the new way of the world? It’s sad, but what can we do about it? We aren’t equipped with the power to change the world. But we can make a conscious decision to be honest, kind, true, and real, and leave the world hopefully a little better than when we arrived in it. We can choose to be an example of what we wish were the norm. And we can choose to let go of the things that are no longer good for us in order to do so.

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Fringe most definitely helps. Friends from other walks of life surface and relationships deepen, genuinely, and I find myself excited at the prospect of memories yet to be made. I count my blessings for those who’ll drop everything to show their caring when it’s needed, and hope they know I would do the same. I relive moments, words, and photographs of recent days and remind myself how lucky I am to have experienced them. I think of the past six months with J. and how much laughter and love have filled my days; moreso than the entire rest of my life. When your world seems to be falling apart, if you take a step back and look at it in its entirety, things usually aren’t quite so dire. The universe is simply pulling out weeds to make room for a more beautiful garden – one that’s pretty lovely to begin with, and one that you’re probably already standing in.

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From my Lady of the Lake photoshoot 🙂 (http://stardustphotography.ca)

So, here begins week two of this wonderful festival. I’ve already met people from faraway places I hope very much to stay in touch with. I recently indulged in some more creative storytelling, heading out onto the open road under skies of the most brilliant purple and orange, sitting solo under the symphony of the heavens. I’m working on new songs, finding ways to record on my own, and reconnecting with possible future collaborators. I’m loving the death out of summer, but quietly anticipating colder days and evenings filled with good tea, great music, and the return to my novel. I’m going on adventures to abandoned ghost towns in the middle of the night, jetting off across Europe with the most incredible soul on the planet, and capturing the beauty of this planet we share an existence with. For those things that have ended, their bitter culmination doesn’t take away from their season’s brilliance. With everything comes new skills, wisdom, and a clearer picture of what’s needed in life, and what isn’t. This week is going to be filled with creativity, camaraderie, fun and adventure. The one after will take us on a journey I’m sure will be a highlight of this lifetime. When things seem sad, it often helps to write things down, and see that one black cloud doesn’t extinguish the sun.

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On Turning 30: The End of an Era and the Land of Tomorrows

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There are four days until I turn thirty. Thirty! The big, elusive number that’s always hung up there on the shelf of somedays, a number I think on some level I’ve probably believed may perhaps hold within it the feeling of actually being a grown up. I know I’m not the only one sitting at the end of my twenties still wondering when I’m going to feel like an adult – I hear it all the time. Yes, I have a job, a car, real bills, food I buy myself (yes, sometimes rice pudding is a perfectly acceptable breakfast), and a sweet cat I all too often consider listing as a dependent, but I don’t feel there’s yet been a moment where I’ve felt there’s been a clear-cut, unequivocal moment that defined the transition from young person to responsible adult; girl to woman. I still feel uncomfortable referring to myself as the latter. I think I’ll always be that girl. The optimist. The hoper of far-flung hopes and the dreamer of impossible dreams. (Points if you caught that one.) But not a grown-up. I’ve looked forward to thirty for some time now – I still get ID’d, I still get the gasps from people ten years my junior that no, I’m not really in the same age bracket, and from people in the working world shocked to hear I’m in my second decade of employment and actually have a couple of management positions under my belt. I’m excited to hold up my card and have it reflect an age where generally people are seen as a little more together, and I’m excited to put the rollercoaster adventure that was my twenties in the memory box. I’m actually in a little bit of disbelief to be saying goodbye to them and all they’ve been.

My twenties were life-changing. I think I levelled up as a person at least twice – I had a horrid anxiety disorder for years that prevented me doing basically anything, I ended up in the hospital a few times, I broke bones, got beaten up and had a bunch of money stolen, got married despite crying the night before knowing full well I shouldn’t be doing it because nothing about that relationship was right, got banned from catholic churches, got divorced when he went religion-crazy, uprooted myself and moved countless times, and learned about the power of choice, action, and developed an awareness of our ephemeral existence and decided life was far too short to spend not trying to make it exactly what you dream of. There are things outside of our control that may pose limitations, but there are things within us – hopes, dreams, attitudes, and determination – that we have the power to simply activate and put into motion.

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In my twenties, I learned to stop seeing my sensitivity as a terrible thing and actually learn techniques that would help keep me more bearable to others and to myself instead of spiralling into fits of worry about imaginary things inside my head. I studied psychology and neuroscience relentlessly, and learned all sorts of helpful things about abandonment issues and deficiencies in object constancy. I trained myself to be grateful for at least three things every single day, to express that gratitude, and I decided to make a point of letting everyone I know and love just how awesome they are. I decided that success didn’t mean financial wealth, it meant value to others. I wanted to be the friend to everyone I always wished I had when I was going through stupid stuff, and a big goal of mine was for everyone to know I’d always be there for them no matter what. Because loneliness can, as my friend John says, “suck a d**k”.

I learned an instrument and started putting my voice on the interwebs. I was terrified, but I wanted to sing so badly. I spent many nights crying because I was so scared of anyone hearing and judging me, and I’m not saying I’m good by any means, but the act of repeatedly doing it as well as learning an instrument led me to making music with friends, and though at first I cried and made them look the other way, now we have half a dozen songs under our belt ready for polishing and hopefully an EP and some shows in the near future. I volunteered to be in videos and do voiceovers, and I started being funny. Something I always admired in my dad and something I knew I had inside me, but I’d always been too scared to try. I was known as quiet and shy – until I started a new job and nobody knew me from Adam’s house cat – so I started subtly, making wise cracks in newsletters and company profiles, and it slowly transformed into being known as “the extrovert of the office”. It was like every Christmas had come at once. Finally, people were starting to see me the way I always wanted to be seen. And I learned that that sort of thing fuels me to keep going. When small victories become real things, when wishes become habits, and who you always were finally starts to be strong enough to emerge on the outside, it’s addictive, and slowly all the old ways of thinking and seeing are transformed into something healthier, better.

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I also learned that I’m a bit of an emotional sponge. I try to be the eternal optimist, because that rubs off on people, and the world is a better place with more happy people in it. But I also find (maybe it’s an INFJ thing) that I absorb other people’s emotions like a sponge, and this takes me back to that place where I used to fear everything like a crazy person. One thing I’m learning lots lately is the power of our own thoughts in shaping our realities, which I touched on in my last post, along with words of wisdom from a movie I was lucky enough to see recently: Tomorrowland is full of adventure, sci-fi brilliance, imagination, but also science, philosophy, and some incredibly wise food for thought.

I didn’t realise how brilliant Brad Bird was until I looked him up after this. The SimpsonsRatatouilleThe IncrediblesMission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol? That’s one heck of a resume. And Tomorrowland may be on the shortlist of my favourite movies ever. It teaches the power of “feeding the right wolf”. “There are two wolves,” one of our leads says to her father. “One bright and hopeful, and one dark and cynical. Which wolf wins? Whichever one you feed.” How often do we fall into our own pits of self-absorption whenever things aren’t going quite right? We may be having a bad day, work might be throwing us unexpected challenges, our bodies might feel stiff and sore, or we may be overtired. We complain about these things because societally, that’s normal. That’s expected. A swarm of whiners in eternal competition to see who’s worse off.

Sympathy has a certain allure when we’re feeling crappy, but self-victimization and bringing others down to our own pity parties definitely doesn’t. With every word we utter, we have the power to influence someone else’s mood. Day. Life, even. With every attitude we adopt, we shape the lens of our own life. With every thought, the more we feed it, the more it shapes us, and in turn affects everyone we subsequently encounter. Do you want the root of it all to spread negativity, to your own days and to those around you? Or do you want to realise that life just happens, good or bad, accept it, and focus on making the most of the next minute? It’s an issue the film explores wonderfully. It makes the point that we, as humans, thrive on chaos. We devour unrest and catastrophe – we claim to desire inspiration and salvation, yet instead, adopt the easy route of depression. As a brilliant Hugh Laurie states during the movie: “You’ve got simultaneous epidemics of obesity AND starvation; explain that one. Bees and butterflies start to disappear, the glaciers melt, the algae blooms. All around you, the coal mine canaries are dropping dead and you won’t take the hint. In every moment there’s a possibility of a better future, but you people won’t believe it. And because you won’t believe it, you won’t do what is necessary to make it a reality.”

The film was full of writing that made me sit on the edge of my seat and applaud. (“Why do you love the stars so much?” “Because I want to go there.” “But what if nothing’s there?” “What if everything is there?” #swoon) It shows big problems with our world, and how the future, in growing up, may not be all it was cracked up to be when we were children. It shows that anyone; young and untainted or old and jaded, can choose to respond to a problem not with complaint, but with questions; can we fix it? as well we the bravery to try. Things can become difficult. It’s part of life. Everyone can get overwhelmed and things can feel impossible. But we can all look around, and find something we can do right now. Something that makes everything a little better. And decide to build a better future this very moment. Every course of action starts with the right attitude. There are all sorts of philosophical topics tackled in Tomorrowland, great performances, robots, time travel, alternate dimensions, spaceships, rockets, and a fantastic cast, but above all, it’s an enormous life lesson packaged in an adventure of the imagination, and it will leave you inspired, introspective, and exhilarated. Go and see it right now.

I wrap up my twenties with a heart that may have a few bruises and scars, but ones that will forever remind me of everything I’ve learned. I’m incredibly thankful for everything that happened in the last decade – every tear, every laugh, every friendship, every sunset, every hope lost and gained, every dream that shone bright enough to fuel action. Every sadness that made me want something different, every leader whose kindness and influence inspired me, every time I was thanked or felt thankful. Every movie or song, performance, story, or piece of art that made me feel proud to belong to the human race. Every adventure or act of serendipity. Everyone who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. Every fellow dreamer. Every quiet sign from the universe. Everyone who demonstrated love and kindness, and everyone who demonstrated the opposite, because it showed me exactly the sort of person I want to be. I feel I’m ending this decade as I would a school year, emerging with memories, life-long friendships and relationships built on authenticity, and life lessons I’m excited to carry into my thirties. I always wanted to have confidence, skills, passion, humour, gratitude, wit and compassion. I always wanted those things to be known. I always wanted to love unconditionally, to have such beautiful souls around me that have let me in, to sincerely know them, and to bring the good to their lives that they do to mine.

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On the edge of a new decade, I feel extremely lucky to be able to count many of those once-dreams as realities. I’m excited for my thirties. In a month, I am kicking them off with Fringe festival and friends (my favourite time of year), and with the love of my life on an epic 8-country adventure across Europe. I’m writing songs, building a business, expanding my skills, looking at the stars, and soaking up the sky. I vow to always be striving to be better, to always choose kindness, to not fall victim to what’s easy, and to always try to do what’s right. I vow to make my default attitude one of acceptance and action, to leave a good story behind, and to try hard not to get swallowed by my own fears or emotions. It may take a little while, but by eliminating excuses, procrastination, and shunning negative societal norms, and instead adopting an awareness of our own transience and making the absolute most of it, we truly can map the course of our own lives any moment we decide to.

Small Hands

How often do you think about your body? Its limbs, extremities, face, organs, mind? It’s almost two years now since I fell off that building and smashed up my arm, and I think I’ll always remember how terrifying it was. Not just the pain, but more the prospect of no longer being able to do all the things I took for granted. Simple things, like showering, being able to wash each part of your own body and then put clothes on it. Preparing food for yourself or someone you love. Being able to carry two cups of tea. Driving. Bigger things our limbs can do, like holding musical instruments that make beats and melodies that transport your songs to something new and beautiful. Stretching out to sleep comfortably, and horizontally. Holding a camera to capture moments, holding bags of treasures and presents, or holding another soul dear and close in an embrace of love and appreciation. Doing cartwheels. Since then, I’ve never lost sight of how easy it is to take things for granted. We usually don’t think about impossible, horrid things unless faced with them, but I think it’s important to cultivate an awareness of what we have, because of how quickly it can all be taken away.


walkOur time here is finite
. Unless you’re spending your life working on some kind of cryogenic stasis device that’ll let you wake again in two hundred years and zip about on a rocket ship, every day is another that evaporates with every sunset. When you look back from the end of your life, are you going to say you spent those precious days well? I feel like each and every one will have seemed like an individual gift, as opposed to the ongoing stream we navigate our way through today. At the end, people always seem to wish for just one more day, to spend close to someone they love, or to do something they’ve always wanted to. To live fully and completely, forbidding a single moment to pass by and be wasted. I tend to always be on the go, and I seem to have assumed responsibility for planning most things when it comes to my group of friends. Maybe it’s an INFJ thing, but I like looking at a planner and seeing it filled with things to look forward to. Seeing hours each evening booked up with songwriting, dashing about the city scouting locations for photoshoots, visiting friends, throwing Star Trek parties, or building blanket forts. Those things all totally happened within the last two weeks.

I don’t know if it’s the way I was wired or if it stemmed from earlier years filled with anxiety – I remember arriving home countless moons ago to one empty apartment or another, and having no idea what to do with the remainder of the evening I was met with. I remember living alone and wishing I had plans with people. Imagining everyone I knew taking part in fun activities and making myself so sad I wasn’t part of them. I convinced myself I was everybody’s afterthought. But that was the thing – and here’s where I want to travel back in time and give my younger self a good shaking – a) I was sitting there crying about something without doing anything about it, and b) I conjured it all up in my own head and told myself it was truth. Aren’t those the root causes of so much discontent? The human brain is fascinating, but it can also be a bit of a bastard.

I’m on the brink of turning 30, and I have to say 25 was the year my life started to turn around. Whether it was the sheer exasperation of having played the part of the victim for so long and blaming other things (formative years living in a sibling’s shadow, a trans-Atlantic move, a traumatising high school experience, fear of public speaking, a handful of unfortunate and pretty awful relationships, invented imaginings of people judging me or not thinking me good enough… the list went on), or the carpet being pulled from under my feet when my ex-husband went religion-crazy and having to get a new job, a car, a home, and truly Be A Grown Up – I made that list of 25 things I was sick of wishing for instead of actually being able to do, and did everything in my power to do it. Just do it. It’s a brilliant slogan, but a better attitude with which to meet life. “But what if I fail?” Just do it. At least then you’ll have the sense of accomplishment and lack of regret you get with actually trying. “But what if people judge me?” Just do it. If you have a burning desire to do something, it’s not for no reason. It’s meant to get out of your mind and into the world. It could be brilliant. “But what if I get hurt again?” Just do it. Ships aren’t meant to stay in harbours. Replace all those negative what-ifs with a spirit of forever trying anyway, and perhaps a new what-if: but what if it’s amazing?

You have two hands. Arms. A mind, a voice, dreams, and an imagination. Hopefully, all those things are in working order. I hope today, if just for a second, you reflect on all the things you’re capable of with those gifts. And perhaps do something wonderful with them. I like to give lots of hugs, make photographs, and write stories and songs.

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I think it’s too easy to fall into residing within the confines of what we tell ourselves, believing the walls to be solid and real. These words, these fears, these doubts – we invent them based on worry and we inadvertently live our lives according to them. We tell ourselves all the things we’re afraid of – not being clever or fun or attractive enough, not being wealthy enough, not having enough time – and we go ahead and live as if they were truths. In doing so, we limit ourselves – perhaps it’s a self-preservation thing, in which case if things do go wrong, then at least we already called it – but it’s stupid. We all have the potential, the time, and the physical ability to chase after our potential. So why do so few of us actually start realizing it? Why do we strap sandbags to our sails when we have every capacity to soar?

Bad choices are probably one culprit. We choose what’s easy, and often follow the path of least resistance because we tell ourselves we’re exhausted and that we don’t have the time or patience for anything else. But every day – think about that – every single moment of every single day – is another chance to make another decision. Miss somebody? Reach out to them. Stop waiting by the phone and pick it up, tell them what they mean. Scared of trying something new? Stop sitting and wishing, wasting and wanting, and start doing. It might take more effort than watching three episodes of Game of Thrones, but it’ll be time well spent. More obligations than time? Evaluate. Are the things and people upon which you’re spending your time bringing positive things to your life? I try to stick to the 80/20 rule as much as I can. Spend 80% of my free time on things that are 80% in line with what I want my life to look like, and 20% on necessities (housework, chores, shopping etc.). It’s easy to spend 80% on things that contribute 20% to your life, and only 20% of your time on the things that bring you 80. Doing what we feel we should be doing rather than what we genuinely want to be doing is another. We get caught up in other people’s expectations of where we should be with our lives and how we should be spending our time instead of truly examining if what we’re doing is contributing to our overall happiness. It’s okay to review and switch things up a bit.

Reacting adversely to things beyond our control is probably another habit that’s too easy to get into and only detracts from a happy life. I have to give enormous credit to J. here for being hands-down the most grounded, wise person I’ve ever been fortunate enough to have known, and I’m experiencing a huge and wonderful internal change as a result. Sometimes, things don’t go according to plan. You’re merging into traffic and hit a van full of wheelchairs, for example (#happened), or you visit IKEA to buy a pillow and lose your car keys somewhere in its labyrinthine aisles leaving you unable to get into your vehicle that’s right there. My usual course of reaction: cry, panic, and cry some more. One call to him? My brain stops seeing things as the end of the world and sees them as a minor inconvenience I’ll probably laugh about in an hour, and I’m reminded of all the things that I still have to be thankful for. I think I mentioned before, but in the last few months, I’ve found I no longer need anti-anxiety medication or sleeping pills – things that have been synonymous with life for years. I find myself in shops and car parks and see people freaking out at things that a) they can’t control, and b) really aren’t the end of the world. Life’s too short to be filled with such frustration and anger and tears for such trivialities. Wal-Mart doesn’t have the right brand of cat food? Relax. Take a drive to another shop and use the time to listen to some great music and sing your heart out instead. Then drive home and use those two fully functional hands to pick up that cat and give it a damn hug. Life really is 10% what happens to you, every moment, and 90% how you react to it. Practising awareness can do miraculous things for your state of happiness, stress, and overall well-being.

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I hope today is a good day for you. I hope your spirit is light and you have at least three brilliant things to be thankful for today. I hope that your hands are operational and uninjured, and I hope that with them, you choose to do something wonderful.

In which I’m suddenly an extrovert, write songs, am on television, and create a huge vintage freak show. Happy 2015!

New year! It’s funny I write this in such good spirits, because most of 2015 so far has felt pretty terrible. However, when life gives you things beyond your control, as long as you’re consciously doing all you can to make the best of the situation, I find the notion of acceptance a comforting one. (I conveniently had this realisation on my Google calendar scheduled “Epiphany” day. Anyone else have a good one?) Also, gratitude for all the things that don’t suck. They’re always there, if temporarily eclipsed.

I didn’t make myself any resolutions for 2015. I think New Year’s resolutions are kind of stupid (if you want to change something, do it on any day of the year), but I had the idea of making resolutions for everyone I know and love. At first that might sound horrid, but I think instead of everyone making lists of things that will likely evaporate two weeks into a new year, maybe we could all do these few things throughout the year. I kept seeing on my Facebook news feed how dreadful 2014 was to many people. So let’s make the next one awesome. 1) Stop wishing, and start doing. We only have one life. 2) Get out of your comfort zone. It’s scary, but I’ll hold your hand. It’s made me physically ill, but also led me to some of my greatest loves in life. 3) Think of at least one thing every night before bed you’re thankful for. Better, write it down. Wake up happy. 4) Stop and admire the stars. 5) Every time you judge or criticize yourself, ask yourself if it’s warranted. If so, do something about it. If it’s just a nasty inner monologue, ask yourself what your dearest friend would say about you. How they would see you. Because if you’re reading this, chances are at least one person (ahem) thinks you’re wonderful. 6) Cut things out of your life that aren’t contributing to where – or who – you want to be. It’s hard to give up on what can feel like obligations, but we all have hopes and dreams, goals, great people and self-nurturing to fit into our lives. Don’t run yourself ragged. You don’t have to say yes to everything.

Seriously, bundle up and lie on a table in the middle of nowhere and look up at the stars once in a while. It's magic.

Seriously, bundle up and lie on a table in the middle of nowhere and look up at the stars once in a while. It’s magic.

Those were my thoughts going into 2015. Some crap happened, but some incredibly great things have happened too, and we’re not even three weeks in. I attempted to conquer my fear of sudden loud noises. I spent time and many hours with my best friends on the planet, who picked me up when I was physically lying on the floor unable to stop crying, brought me chicken nuggets and let me sleep with every pillow and blanket in the world, talked me through everything with such openness and transparency, love and honesty, even if it hurt, that I felt they were legitimately part of my own mind for a while. I never imagined I would find friendships so close, and for the two of them, words cannot describe my gratitude.

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I wrote a new song. I spent a couple of days snowed in with my dear friend and she let me spend a day with my beautiful new baritone ukulele (for which I have to learn all the chords again from scratch! Whole new instrument, but it’s what I’ve always wanted to play! Thank you to The Professor for the wonderful Christmas present! I named him Cogsworth.), writing quite possibly the most heartfelt thing I’ve ever written. The feelings I had were so intense, I had to put them to music. And I wanted it to physically move people – sound very upbeat, as well as hopefully move them emotionally. I like songs whose feel sounds completely different from the actual lyrics. Here’s a very rough draft – recorded literally a few hours after I finished writing it – but with White Foxes we’re going to add in harmony, I hear some sort of kick drum, more guitar, and hopefully it’ll end up as a piece of ass-kicking folk a la Mumford and Sons. I’ve been really excited about making music lately. Just thinking that my whole life I’d wanted to sing or write even just one song, and in the last year I’ve written enough to record a whole EP. And I get to make music with two incredible people. I’m so very lucky.

I also tried the new instrument out on a song I figured everybody would know, along with another piece of new equipment – a Zoom H1 I bought to record band stuff. My phone REALLY wasn’t cutting it in terms of audio quality. So here’s Lady Gaga’s “Applause” I tried about ten minutes before my friend Nicole arrived for a movie night. (Yep, that’s my music stand falling down halfway through and me winging the end.) Excited to actually pair the mic with my DSLR once I figure out how to keep it recording video for more than 8 seconds at a time!

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I also got to be part of some amazing photography projects recently, both as a subject and photographer/editor. I always feel strange referring to myself as a photographer, because I don’t consider myself one – all my work is done in post; but I’ve been watching courses with the incredible Brooke Shaden recently, and she’s known in the fine art world as a brilliant photographer, yet she freely and regularly admits not really knowing how to use a camera. I organised my first big photo shoot as a “photographer” at the end of December – an entire series of weird and creepy old timey freak show shots I convinced people to pose for and let me edit. My dear friend Kevin owns a studio in the Exchange District and incredibly kindly allowed me to not only use it, but also his lighting equipment for the day. I had over a dozen models, a fabulous hairstylist and two amazing makeup artists all show up to donate their time and skills to help make my project come to life. I’m not quite finished all the images yet, but here are a few I’ve finished so far. (Of course I had to be one of the characters too – I’d written this character in my book, and it was the perfect opportunity to bring her to life!) I think you can click on each image to see it larger. I haven’t used galleries before. And yes, that’s a cut-up doll attached to a woman’s stomach as the baby that never came out.

I also got to be in front of the camera a few times – and my talented friends transformed me into a robot, an entire galaxy, and an evil disease infecting another poor soul.

I also really, really want to get back to working on my novel soon – it’s been too long, and I realised I’m turning thirty in a few months, and I began this project two years ago. I need to get back at it before another two go by. (But there’s so much to create!!)

Another fun thing that happened was that this very blog got featured on a local channel! It’s on television sets every day for the next few weeks, and I’ve already had people stop me and comment about it, which is very strange. My lovely coworker happened to be volunteering at the station and they were doing a series on bloggers, and though it was about two weeks after we’d met last summer, we’d become fast friends, and I ended up doing an interview.

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I realise I’m at about 1,200 words right now. You should know I gave up on the “rules” of blogging a long time ago, and for making it this far, thank you! I also had a bit of a realisation recently, and it honestly threw me. If you’ve been with me for a while, you’ll know how very interested in psychology I am. I love to study personality, the human mind, how we all weave our lives into each others, and how we’re all wired on the inside. People fascinate me, and the study of psychology is something that’s taught me a lot, as well as continuing to bring a sense of personal understanding and reflection. It’s also made me feel that after so many years, it’s okay to be exactly who I am. And as strange as I feel sometimes, I am not alone. The MBTI has been getting a bit of a bad rap lately, and I’ve never been one to call is sciencebut I have appreciated and learned a lot from it. It’s a psychometric typology assessment I’ve taken routinely for the better part of the past decade, at least, and I’ve eternally scored the same result: INFJ. This is considered, at less than 1% of the population, the rarest of all personality types, and I related to it so much that I got it tattooed as part of my text sleeve a few months ago. Over the past few years, my introversion has gone steadily down, which I’ve felt good about – the closer I got to zero, the more progress I felt I’d made in conquering my anxiety, but I always remained an INFJ, also known as “The Counsellor”.

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For two reasons recently, I decided to take the test again. One: I found myself filling out a new type of personality assessment, and noticed I was answering questions in a way I hadn’t before. I had more confidence and answered in a more extraverted way than I have for most of my life. I found this interesting. Two: I was given the biggest compliment in the world. In preparation for the galaxy photo shoot, I was telling the team that I’d like to incorporate something my friend Kier had always told me – that even at my quietest and most afraid, I had “a universe inside.” This meant so incredibly much that somebody saw what I was. My friend Melinda, whom I only met last year and who’s done some of the most incredible makeup I’ve ever seen, told me she “never would have guessed I used to be painfully shy.” Same with a coworker who’s only known me a few months. “Can’t imagine you not being this confident person”. Shy was THE word people described me as since I moved to this country, and I hated it so much. I hated what people saw on the outside just because I was so scared of everyone and everything. I was so scared of being judged that I never let what was inside come out. I feel like in the last few years I’ve tried to put myself in situations that force me to do what I’ve always wished I could. And to have people see that as ME… that in itself was enough to throw me.

enfpI’ve been worried lately I’ve been growing less sentimental, but that’s not it. I’m still the most emotional and sensitive person you probably know, and I’d still do absolutely anything for those I love. I tell them how much they mean regularly and I make a point of trying to put good out into the world whenever I can. I think maybe I’ve just learned to recognize things and see them clearly, and not through rose-coloured glasses. I’ve also learned that I’m more than okay on my own, because I’m incredibly lucky to have the best friends in the world. And I think that’s given me a bit of strength. Anyway, back to the MBTI. I held onto being an INFJ so hard because my whole life, it was me. 100%. But I retook the test. I expected maybe my introversion would have gone down a bit more, but I didn’t expect it to flip onto the side of extraversion. A tiny percent (basically a cat’s whisker over the border between the two), but also? My J changed to a P. Apparently I’ve become more okay with spontaneity rather than careful planning. Things have become more flexible. My entire personality has apparently shifted from the sensitive INFJ to the outgoing ENFP. Reading over this description… I don’t disagree. That’s the alarming part. Have I become a whole new person? I’d always wanted to become someone with strength and courage, someone unafraid to be authentically themselves in any situation, someone who wasn’t scared to try making an impact or putting my stuff out into the world… hopefully someone who could inspire others in some way. I just scored ENFP. The Inspirer. And I don’t know what to think. I know basing your identity on pseudo-science isn’t the wisest thing in the world, but because I’d related to it so very much; because it had made me feel so unalone – a shift threw me. Even if the results and people’s recent comments paint me as… the person I’ve always wished I could be.

I used to be afraid of taking the bus. Eating in public. I threw up if I had to be in front of anybody. It’s a little alarming to see what you only ever dreamed of actually becoming… real. But as taken aback as I am, I’m happy. I’m on the right path. I don’t know where it’s going, but isn’t that half the fun?

The bad news: Nothing lasts forever. The good news: Nothing lasts forever.

This week, other than band practice, a tattoo appointment and a Friendsgiving potluck at the end of the week, I have nothing. It’s strange, yet not, how my introversion kicks in sometimes – I’m told more and more as of late, especially by those close to me now who never knew me when I was an entirely different person, that me being an introvert comes as a surprise. That I should be on the stage; that I love dressing up and going out in public; that I make people laugh; that I’m a social butterfly. That I’m a complete extrovert. These words make me feel accomplished, more than anything – for those that have been with me for a while will remember, perhaps not quite so well as I, the many years I spent a hostage of fear and anxiety, desperate to possess half an ounce of confidence or self-belief, wishing so much I had the social skills that would attract people into my life and make them want to be around me, to impress, or sobbing into a pillow every night convinced I was everybody’s last choice. That nobody would miss me should I not be here, because I never had the courage to allow what’s inside to be seen externally. I used to fill up my weeks with plans because I craved the company of others, yet the desire was eternally outweighed by the fear of not being good enough, and I’d end up cancelling, and lonely, and upset with myself. These days my schedule seems to fill itself, and I find myself on the other end of the spectrum – busy, social, incredibly thankful, yet sometimes a little thirsty for what always terrified me most: solitude.

It’s strange how much the tables have turned. But then again, perhaps they haven’t. I still have moments where I find myself scared – of performing a song I wrote in front of people (yet I can karaoke in front of a room of strangers), of speaking on the spot in a meeting, or of others seeing the things I still sometimes see in myself. All of the flaws. I’ve worked so hard on embracing so many of the things that drove me to my darkest hour, and I feel more gratitude than I could ever express being in a position I’d only ever dreamed possible, but still, sometimes they sneak in.

Only occasionally, though. For the most part, I’m exactly where (and who) I always wished I’d be. I have deep, deep friendships with a few – “best” friendships, after never knowing what that could possibly feel like. I have independence and a sense of self worth I never imagined could belong to me. I let everything that begins as a tiny ember in the heart of my imagination burn brightly, so bright it spills into the outside world and I don’t care whether or not I’ll be judged for it, or if it’s odd. I don’t think any of us have these creative desires for nothing, and if we fail, we fail. At least we tried. At least there’ll be a record of our mind’s existence in this world.

So it’s been a couple of years of fierce determination, but I’m finally on the right path. I make music, I write stories, I make strange Facebook statuses about the sky. I try singing, I try taking photographs, and I try being in them, then re-working them to become the magical things I see through the lens of my imagination.

All of it’s a work in progress, but with passions, I think when they’ve spent far too long being stifled by your own fear, when you have the chance, you have to grab onto the time you have and unleash them into a creative explosion. Time is so fragile, and is stolen so quickly.

Tonight I sit in my new house, my housemate upstairs and a few hours before bed, alone. On one level I feel more connected and alive than I ever have; on the other, a sense of isolation so grand it almost evokes the feelings I used to have. But I’m stronger now. I have a tenor ukulele beside me, another laptop to my right, a glass of wine on the table, a few Photoshop windows open, a website half designed, a folder of sheet music in front of me along with a stack of stationery and postcards. I have so many things to put out into the world. Songs, videos, letters to loved ones, magical images. A sense of guilt hangs over me because I didn’t include storytelling in the list, and I’m desperate to write another chapter in my book, a short story inspired by a writing prompt, and another for the Hallowe’en season. I have tonight to myself, and so much with which to fill the hours. Hours to myself I’ve craved for what seems like months. I’m simultaneously overwhelmed and concerned. Not enough time for all I want to make, yet too much to spend alone. I haven’t felt the latter in an eternity, but I’ve recently had a bit of a deja-vu, in the worst way possible.

Years ago, when I was messed up, an emotional wreck and had yet to deal with my anxiety problem and insecurities, I lost friends. I hadn’t yet experienced a true, authentic, adult connection with another (platonic) soul, and those I had meant everything to me. I used to feel so much that I didn’t belong that anyone who stayed was absolutely cherished. But in the end, nobody did. I convinced myself it was because I was too much of an anomaly for this world; I felt too deeply, I was into too many different things, I was both silently passionate and loudly awkward, and I didn’t seem to fit in to anyone’s life well enough to stay. This was half a decade ago. In the last few years, I’ve learned how to fend for myself. To acknowledge the true power that lies in simple acceptance, rather than trying to control. To remain calm, and to train myself to capture any stray thought that may wander into the land of old and reform it into something new. Something real. To insist on living in the worlds inside my own head only if they are worlds of wonder and awe and inspiration. Not imaginings of others’ thoughts or intents or worst case scenarios. I used to believe every fear inside my head was intensely real and react accordingly. No wonder I was such a mess. Now I sit on the other side – though my feet sometimes dangle – and I know exactly what’s true. I believe in myself. I know my own worth. I continually learn, create, and push myself, and by doing so, somehow I’ve ended up with incredible people in my life. Intense kinship, for lack of a less fancy word, the likes of which I used to wish for so desperately. Yet tonight, I feel alone.

I lost people recently. One person in particular, who’s been in my life for over a decade, and has been one of the biggest parts of it in recent years. Relatedly (because it sounds otherwise), I’ve spent this entire year single. For the first time in my life, it was through choice. I’d experienced such depth of connection that I was sure nothing could possibly live up to it, and I wasn’t going to settle for anything less. In my younger years, my self esteem came from being with someone else. I was terrified to be alone. This year, I knew because I had experienced it, that what I wanted was possible. That maybe I actually deserved it. And I wasn’t going to take anything that I knew wouldn’t be that. My dearest friend, who I’ve come to see over the years as family, confessed his feelings for me a few times this year. Each time, I felt terrible saying they weren’t reciprocated in that way, but that he was the most important person in the world to me. He’d always say it was mutual, and that he’d get over it because we were going to be best friends “for life.”

Anyone would be lucky to have a best friend like this. We shared everything; celebratory wine on the good days and emergency car wine on the bad. Lengthy handwritten birthday cards, text reminders every day that no matter what, somebody cared about you more than anything in the world. Adventures in creativity, in other cities, pyjama nights and our innermost secrets, knowing they would always be safe. Trusting the words that no matter what, we would always, always have each other. Last week, this was taken away, and it threw everything I knew into disarray. My best friend is gone, because I said once and for all, I wasn’t “available” in that way. Ironically, this person was always the one to stand up for me if ever I was wronged, saying “talk is cheap,” and to look at people’s actions. His action in leaving my life defies every word he ever said, and I feel like somebody has died. Except worse than died, because I know he’s still right there, just choosing to no longer be around. I’ve been strong, but I’ve also broken down a few times. Old thoughts of years ago have stirred in my soul and I’ve begun to question again if anything could possibly ever be sincere. I believed with all my heart for years. But at the end of the day, everybody, even those you feel bound to for life… everybody leaves. And life is better for having had them.

I know in a former life this would have broken me. That I would have believed myself to be so very broken that nobody could possibly want to stay. But being on my own this whole year has brought a kind of strength – a lesson that sometimes, you kind of have to be your own superhero, because nobody is going to save your own day but you. It makes me sad to say that, because I was always the most hopeless of romantics, the most fanciful of dreamers, the believer of fairytales and human goodness and bonds that would transcend most anything. It hurts my heart to admit that I of all people have become jaded. Yet at the same time I feel a tiny bit proud, knowing after so many years of darkness, I can hold myself up and know that I’m good enough on my own.

Tonight, for the first in a very long time, I feel lonely. But I also know that I can choose to accept that. See the countless things in my life that I have now that I wished for for so long. Recognise that I have no control over anything but my own actions, and with reminders of appreciation, accept. I feel lonely. But I feel incredibly grateful, for too many things to list, and because of that, strong.

Night has always pushed out day; you must know life to see decay

It’s ironic that the last time I wrote it was about being the necessity of being repeatedly broken, and two days later I’d find myself in A&E (the ER) after falling about ten feet onto cold, hard concrete, shattering my arm in three places. I’ve never broken a major bone before, let alone into three pieces, and the agony was… relentless. I was doing a photo shoot with a good friend of mine, and we were incorporating the idea of levitation shots into our theme—something I was enormously excited about, and had done before, resulting in some really cool images looking like some paranormal force was in play. After spending the day shooting out in a small ghost town in the middle of nowhere, we returned to the city to catch some extreme outdoor shots—all with the assistance of my to-be-invisible balancing box. The final shot was going to look awesome—balanced on my box I was going to appear suspended in an alcove halfway up a building—but I had to make sure my feet looked suspended, too—not as if I were standing on something that wasn’t there. As I moved my feet to the edge of the box, it gave way, tumbling from the nook I’d climbed up into and down to the pavement, taking my bones and cries and scrambling limbs with it.

This was the front of the building, but I think nooks above the entryways were about the same height around the back in the alley where we were.

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 5.21.55 PMThe building was all locked up for the weekend and not a soul was in sight. I didn’t have my phone with me and didn’t know AC’s number by heart, and as I sat there screaming my poor friend ran to find out what street we were on and call an ambulance. As she was on the call I realised there was no way I could afford an ambulance and told her in a panic to hang up, but she said she’d cover it, and stayed with me until some downtown security patrol officers showed up. I was in frightening makeup and a hospital gown already, which likely did me no favours, and they kept me talking until the paramedics arrived. I remember them telling me my shoulder had been dislocated and being confused because the pain wasn’t in my shoulder, it was throbbing in my bicep/tricep area and radiating down my entire arm, and the lump seemed way too far down for a shoulder joint to fall to. My friend accompanied me to the ER in the ambulance and I remember arriving in a hospital hallway, screaming, the words “it has to stop, make it stop” repeated a hundred times, my only vocabulary. I kept calling for him, and I didn’t know how at the time but he’d made it.

I was there for four days. Bags of morphine, fentanyl, and hydromorphone were pumped into my veins and they did nothing to relieve the pain. I remember having to have x-rays taken of the arm, wrist, chest and shoulder and crying out, unable to move my body the way it needed to be moved for the excruciating pain and fear. Eventually they got what they needed, and confirmed the humerus had been broken in three places, and I’d have to be immobilised for a number of weeks.

photo (1)Every shift that came and went brought a new wave of doctors, nurses, and assistants, and the communication seemed to dissolve with every passing day. Naturally they wouldn’t let me leave until the pain was manageable, and it wasn’t anywhere close even with an IV, and I couldn’t leave on oral medication if that wasn’t cutting it. I had to—and still am, 2.5 weeks later—sleep upright, and was unable to shower for my entire stay. AC didn’t leave my side once; off work indefinitely just to take care of me, assuring me nothing was more important. I was and still am an emotional wreck with the gratitude of everything he’s doing. Timing and dosing my medication, helping me overcome my mortifying insecurities by helping me shower and dress, addressing the embarrassing side effects of strong narcotics alongside me and making me laugh in the process, holding bowls while I throw up into them (and onto him), cooking for me, cleaning my entire apartment, doing my dishes and my laundry because those I live with have offered zero help in the slightest… if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be able to have got through these past few weeks. Basic things like washing and dressing are impossible, as are cooking and doing dishes. I feel simultaneously like the luckiest soul in all the world to have this angel looking after me, guilty and frustrated that I can’t do anything in return, and lonely… so very alone. So scared of becoming the biggest burden, despite an arsenal of reassurances to the contrary. It’s been nearly three weeks without income; and every second of the day I’m in pain, useless, and dependent on someone else. It’s so frightening.

This took three days of writing in shifts with one hand, being propped up for as long as I could with pillows and pills, but I had to get it down. The emotions, the fear, the experience… I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. If you were able to get up today after a comfortable night’s sleep, shower yourself, put on an outfit, do your hair and make food for yourself while you replied to emails and checked Facebook… if you got to go to a job where all your limbs cooperated without second thought and got through a day without pain… if you’ll get home tonight and be able to embrace someone you love, and you know you’ll have a paycheque within a couple of weeks… if you have friends you can go visit or take a drive or have a glass of wine, or put on your own pyjamas… count your blessings so, so hard. I’m scared, hurt, and afraid because the world moves on without you. But more than anything, I’m grateful from the bottom of my heart for the small handful of friends and family who’ve come to keep me company, to bring me food and movies and a robot arm, to clean for me, to clean me, and to make me smile. To make me feel I still belong. I cannot thank them enough. And mostly, to my AC, who’s given everything and more to take care of me right from the very beginning. My protector.

A bolt of warmth, fierce with joy and pride and gratitude, flashed through me like sudden lightning. I don’t care about whose DNA has recombined with whose. When everything goes to hell, the people who stand by you without flinching—they are your family. And they were my heroes.

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.

The Butterfly Effect

 “Wisdom comes from experience.
Experience is often a result of lack of wisdom.”

– Terry Pratchett

Contrary to popular belief, I’m twenty-six years old. (I’m really hoping for some sort of prize if I still get asked for ID a decade after turning eighteen.) I’m at That Age where everyone around me seems to be busy Being Grown Ups and doing all the things my teenage self thought I’d probably be doing now too. Friends are earning degrees, planning weddings, welcoming babies, climbing the corporate ladder, celebrating anniversaries, buying cars and houses, and all the while I’m reminded that the clock is ticking, thirty is just around the corner, and my life is far from what I thought it would be.  I think we all have ideas of what our lives will look like when we’re younger, largely based on the patterns of those around us (my parents met each other at sixteen, married at twenty and had me two years later – and for most of my high school years, I thought this was probably going to be my life course too! Prime opportunity to make use of the word “crikey”?), added to interests, goals, hopes and dreams… but how many of us actually end up living out the life we imagined we would?

By my mid-twenties, I definitely thought I’d have graduated university. I thought I’d have been married a few years, maybe with a kid on the way around this age, and I thought I’d be living in my own house. Not a big house, mind – I envisioned a little bungalow somewhere with hardwood floors, walls I’d painted turquoise and sage green, and a garden I’d somehow enjoy tending. I definitely thought I’d be able to drive, and though I was passionate about pursuing psychology, I was told I’d never find a job in it, so I imagined I’d be using my finished university degree in driving to work every day to my job as an English teacher, which would be unaffected by any sort of social anxiety, and which I would love. I imagined the only debt I had being the mortgage on my house, and I imagined planning trips every year to faraway places. I imagined having taken a year off in my early twenties to launch myself across the Atlantic and explore India or Australia, and I think I always imagined I’d be living back in Europe. I imagined getting home from work by 4:30 and having an hour or two to catch up on housework, prepare actual meals from actual recipe books (and actually enjoy cooking), and sit down at my dark cherry mahogany dining suite with my family, a glass of wine in hand and classical music floating in from the living room. I imagined spending the rest of the evening in a nicely decorated study, catching up on marking, and I imagined going to bed by 10:00 with enough time to read every night.

How frightfully grown-up my illusory mid-twenties were going to be. And how frightfully boring

I ended up moving out at eighteen with someone I was dating at the time, and when that fell apart, moved straight back to my parents’ basement for three weeks before finding the first of a series of flatmates that ended up being… let’s say… interesting characters. I moved five times in seven years, cohabitating with people who didn’t realise the expenses of living alone (and moving straight back home after a few months), didn’t own plates or cutlery (and insisted on stockpiling all mine in their bedrooms for weeks at a time in what I can only imagine were endeavours at breaking some sort of horrible Guinness record), and stole movies and CDs. People who took monthly phone and Internet cheques from me, deposited them in their bank account, had us disconnected, and then broke my bedroom door in an effort to burgle their way in to use my computer. I ended up dating a series of bad people who left my self esteem in tatters, and ended up agreeing to marry multiple times because I thought that’s just what people did – that life isn’t perfect, people aren’t perfect, and we just go through the motions. I never imagined for a second that soulmates and fairytale love existed in the real world and ended up settling for what I thought I was worth, getting myself thousands of dollars in debt, emotionally and physically abused, and picking up pieces repeatedly as a result of my own inability to believe I was worth any more. I dropped out of university two years in because I couldn’t afford to keep going and live on my own, and because my dream of teaching English didn’t line up with the anxiety disorder I’d developed (and subsequent incapability of speaking in public). I lived in a series of apartments, I went through a series of groups of friends, and I drifted for years, just floating along through life, never taking any risks, always settling for less, never truly fitting in and never truly comfortable with who I was. No direction, no assets, and definitely nowhere near the picture I’d drawn of what life was going to be. But you know what? Being where I am now, I genuinely couldn’t be more thankful that things happened the way they did.

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
– Helen Keller

So I didn’t finish university – it doesn’t mean I’m not clever. I know I kept up an excellent GPA, and I know I still spend much of my free time reading and learning more about science, psychology, language and the world around me. Textbook clever, I think, is just as valid as real-world clever. So I’m still thoroughly undomesticated – I still hate cooking and would rather do six loads of laundry one Saturday afternoon a month than keep up with it weekly, but I keep things clean, and I spend my time on other, more interesting things, like writing or sci-fi nights with friends. I know the person I am today is a result of having been through complete and utter crap – and it’s not easy, but I fully admit I was the only one who allowed that crap to happen. That’s why I’m so determined today to stand up for myself, stand up for what I believe to be right, stand up for others who’re taken advantage of or can’t see their potential, and stand up for my own self worth. If life had been easy, if I hadn’t wanted for things so desperately, I would never have had any reason to push myself out of my comfort zone. If things had fallen into my lap, I could have been living the life I imagined, thoroughly sheltered from real world experience, thoroughly limited in my outlook on life, and thoroughly bored. As one of my favourite musicians once said, “darkness defines where the light is”, and I firmly believe that things are so much more meaningful, and so very much more appreciated when you’ve had to work to get them. If things had been easy, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wouldn’t have challenged myself, I wouldn’t have attempted things I wanted to be able to do, I wouldn’t have met half the amazing people I have in my life today, and I would never have experienced soul-stirring, life-changing, epic, fairytale love I thought only existed in fiction. I wouldn’t have learned to prioritize making a difference over making money, and I wouldn’t have learned how incredibly much there is in this life to learn, to attempt, to soak up, to throw yourself into and to experience with every fibre of your being. I wouldn’t have felt the need to tell those I love just how much they mean, I would have taken things for granted, and I wouldn’t have learned the valuable lesson of acceptance. I wouldn’t have stories or battle scars, and I wouldn’t be fuelled by such insatiable passion for making the most of the time we have.

“What are you thinking?” he asks.

I know he hates it when I cry – he is completely undone by the sight of tears – so I blink hard against the sting. “I’m thinking how thankful I am for everything,” I say, “even the bad stuff. Every sleepless night, every second of being lonely, every time the car broke down, every wad of gum on my shoe, every late bill and losing lottery ticket and bruise and broken dish and piece of burnt toast.”

His voice is soft. “Why, darling?”

“Because it all led me here to you.”
– Lisa Kleypas

Life may be far from what I imagined, but I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. There’s something about catching or missing a trainbumping into someone instead of passing them by, the wrong person getting their hands on an ordinary sports almanac, or preventing the wrong medication being given that may help illustrate my point – I do think there’s something thoroughly fascinating about the whole butterfly effect. I may not have a degree, a family, a house or a car, but I reckon I’ve got life experience by the bucketload. In the past, at times, things have definitely felt confusing and downright catastrophic. But they all led me to the here and now. They made me stronger, more aware, and more passionate. More grateful and more determined. They led me to true friends, true love, and true appreciation of what’s really important in life. My timeline may be off, and I may have taken a few wrong turns. But at the end of it, it was a terribly big adventure, and from where I’m sitting now as a result of the course things took, I wouldn’t wish for things to have been different at all.

Now, somebody stop me before I embarrass myself terribly and start quoting Rascal Flatts. 🙂 How about you? How do you feel about the darker times in your past? And did your life turn out the way you’d imagined it would? 

7 Days. 25 Dollars.

A little while ago, I disclosed what it was I did for work. (I hadn’t realised this had been a secret until I saw all the so THAT’S what you do!” messages floating on in!)  Working in the non-profit sector has been an amazing ride over the last two and a half years, a ride in which I’ve unearthed a passion for helping those less fortunate, been given an outlet in which to grow, and developed an incredible appreciation for everything I have. There are no words to describe the feeling of joy that accompanies watching someone’s life turn around in the span of a few months, and being in a position that exists to help rather than make profit is truly a blessing. But that’s not to say that every once in a while it doesn’t tug at the heart strings.

Sadly, I see so many people every day who’ve fallen victim to an array of sad life circumstances. They may be disabled, on welfare, in abusive relationships, or recently made redundant. Remember Greg? Heartbreaking, right? Often, they don’t have access to things like fresh fruit or vegetables, or even a telephone line. Sometimes, they may not even have a home address. The disturbing reality of wanting to help people is the fact that it’s a requirement for those people to need that help in the first place. At work, the testimonial I hear over and over again, however, is that the people that come here feel, often for the first time in a very long time, welcomed, cared about, and not judged. It’s so easy to judge a book by its cover, but taking the time to hear someone’s story and see them as a real person might just be the best give you could ever give them.

So last week, I had an opportunity to learn what it’s like to live like some of our clients have to every day. An e-mail was circulated amongst staff asking if anyone was interested in taking the “Poverty Challenge”- to live on a budget of $25 for seven days. That included all food and beverages, all personal hygiene products, as well as bills. You could earn a few extra dollars here and there by going without things like television $1 per day), mobile phones ($2 per day) or a shower/load of laundry ($1.50 per day). You had to go into it starting with absolutely nothing, and live on a similar budget to that of many of those on our welfare system.  I knew it would be tough, but I like to think I at least attempt a challenge when it’s presented! Plus I thought it would go a long way in deepening an understanding of (and care for) many of the people I see every day. At the beginning of the week, those who’d signed up had a meeting. There were only five in attendance.

On the first day, I buggered up right away and went on a Starbucks run with my coworkers. After I’d paid my $5 I was mortified as my prior obligation immediately made its way back to the forefront of my mind. I resolved to be 100% diligent and disciplined for the rest of the week, went shopping, and spent $20 of my $25 on food that I hoped would get me through the next seven days. A loaf of bread could be used for sandwiches at lunch, as well as toast in the mornings. Margarine was a luxury anyway. A couple of cans of tuna would last several days for lunch, and a bag of plain oatmeal, though pretty tasteless, would be a good start to the day that would probably keep me full longer. Dinner was the tough part. I bought one jar of cheap pasta sauce and a box of spaghetti, two boxes of Kraft Dinner, and a carton of Hamburger Helper (SO gross), which I knew would leave me with leftovers for at least two nights. I calculated what was in my shopping basket to see if I’d have enough for cheese. Just about, but I’d have to ration it. And that’s what lasted me all week. No fresh produce, no soy milk, no multivitamins, no tea or coffee, no snacks, and no juice. Tiny little things I usually weave into the fabric of every day without thinking twice became luxuries I couldn’t afford. I had to “earn” an extra few dollars by skipping a shower or a load of washing a few times, or refraining from using Internet or television (hence a bit of an absence from the blogosphere!).

I learned a copious amount over the last week, and as difficult as it was, I’m glad I went through it. I found quickly that I was learning not to waste – instead of making a big meal and scraping what I didn’t eat into the bin for example, I’d make an extra effort to take only half, and save some for the next day. I found the most difficult thing was learning how to say no to things I generally take for granted – even simple things like going on a coffee run with colleagues was $2 I didn’t have, so I definitely felt almost… embarrassed at not being able to partake. Embarrassment was a feeling that manifested itself throughout the week, not just at the workplace (an aptly timed “breakfast meeting” at a restaurant took place part-way through the week) but at home, too – I had to turn down invitations for coffee, lunch and dinner with friends, and had to show up at a friend’s barbeque over the weekend empty-handed.  I noticed a difference in my energy levels – not being able to snack during the day contributed to increased levels of fatigue, hunger and – shock, horror – irritability! I then realised I’d been rationing so much I had a whole box of Kraft Dinner left for the last day, and got incredibly excited – not a usual feeling about food, but very much so after going without so much all week. Not being able to take multivitamins in combination with the cheap brands of basic soap and shampoo took its toll on my skin, and I found myself breaking out more towards the end of the week too. 

In summary, doing the Poverty Challenge was definitely an eye-opening experience. It’s so sad to know that so many people have to live like this, and my heart absolutely goes out to them for getting through every day, often with a completely positive attitude, too.  This really made me thankful for everything I have, especially the little luxuries about which I wouldn’t normally think twice. I think I’m going to be more mindful over the next little while – asking myself if I really need that Starbucks, or thinking twice about the size of my meals, and being more aware of the possibility of making them stretch to a second day. I’ll take my time when eating, appreciating it if only for the fact that I didn’t have to struggle to get it. And I will make a conscious decision to try and spread what I’ve learned, to try not to waste, and always try to do what I can to help those in need.

Do you think you’d be able to take the Poverty Challenge? What daily things do you feel lucky to have, or be able to do without struggling?

I’m not asking you for money. I’m just asking you to think.

Friday is a massive day in the UK, and even though I’m thousands of miles away, I’m following along and trying to help as much as I can!  On the third Friday of March each year, known nationally as “Red Nose Day”, the entire country bands together to raise money in countless different ways to help impoverished or underprivileged people across the UK, and around the world.  Currently, Comic Relief is supporting projects across the world, including helping young people with mental health issues, including dealing with self-harm and suicidal thoughts; sexually exploited and trafficked young people, the elderly, those experiencing domestic or sexual abuse, local communities, and helping develop technology to better help people with disabilities. And that’s just at home. Internationally, Comic Relief is making enormous strides to help children living and working on the street, people affected by HIV and AIDS, women and girls, people affected by conflict, those living in slums, giving people access to education and healthcare, helping develop systems so communities can become self-sufficient, and protecting families from social injustice, abuse and neglect.

This may sound like I’m trying to ask you for a donation, but I’m not. Today I just want to write about this incredible cause, and just spread awareness of how big of a difference people can make if they really band together. If you’re not familiar with Comic Relief, allow me to explain: For a few weeks every March, absolutely everyone from the local postman to the nation’s favourite celebrity will be doing something to get involved in doing something to make this world a better place. Taxi drivers donate a day’s fares to the charity. Schools and workplaces have fundraisers across the country, and everyone joins in in “doing something funny for money.” Teachers lead classes of students in activities and contests; employees hold talent shows, shave their heads, walk around in costumes, run marathons, sit in baths full of baked beans, throw pies at bosses and even hold T-shirt relays, where branches of a company across the country take part in getting the shirt from one end of England to the other, having it ride all sorts of modes of transport with staff and taking in landmarks across the country.

Celebrities from all modes of entertainment get in on the action too, and raise hundreds of thousands in donations – 100% of which goes straight to changing countless lives throughout the world.  For the last few weeks, groups of celebs have given up all their creature comforts to experience life in one of the world’s most impoverished and unsanitary places – the Kibera slum on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya. Almost 4,000 people joined in at the Royal Albert Hall to blast out Ride of the Valkyries on kazoos to break a Guiness World Record. Stars of stage and screen join together to create parodies of popular TV shows, and favourite TV programmes air short specials during which people can make a pledge to the charity.  A couple of years ago, a team of some of my favourites (including the nation’s favourite radio DJ, the lead singer of one of the biggest bands in the world, and the beautiful Cheryl Cole) went on a six-day trek to climb Kilimanjaro, experiencing freezing temperatures, exhaustion, and altitude sickness to raise money for malaria nets in Africa.  The six-part documentary was incredible, moving, and absolutely awe-inspiring, and I remember bawling as I watched them reach the summit, and find out they’d raised over 3.3 million pounds – over $5,000,000 through the climb alone.  This year, another team went on a hundred-kilometre trek in 100 degree heat across the desert – all in an effort to raise money for people living unimaginably tough lives in Africa and the UK. As I write, the aforementioned DJ is currently broadcasting live on  national radio for thirty-seven hours straight – they’re in the eighth hour, and are at 93 thousand pounds already.  [Update: 4:47 PM CST – at hour fifteen, they have a giant beacon of a building promoting the show towering over London, and are at a quarter of a million. Update: Thursday morning: hour THIRTY-TWO, and over £600,000 -that’s over a million dollars!!) Tomorrow night, there’ll be a TV marathon culminating celebrity activities, comedy specials, and a documentary on the desert trek, with the final amount announced to the nation on just how much they’ve done to help countless lives across the world.

It’s things like this that make me proud to be British. I wish Comic Relief could go international, and North America could build their own nation-wide team of events and activities designed to change the world. Where every TV show, radio station, and newspaper had coverage of all the things people were doing to raise money, The power of a team on this scale, where everybody is involved, is absolutely phenomenal, and though I’m not asking you to donate, I am just asking you to take a moment to think, just for a second, about how lucky you are. If you have Internet access and are simply able to read these words, you are blessed. If you don’t have to worry about dinner tonight, or if your home is going to be safe, you are blessed. If you have access to water, and working limbs, you are blessed. And just for a moment, I’d like you to reflect on the good things you really do have in your life right now. Maybe you don’t like your job, or maybe you had a fight with your boyfriend. Maybe you ran out of milk, or your laptop is broken. Maybe you missed the bus. But please, if just for a minute or two, think about the thousands of people elsewhere in the world, who are living in war-torn or impoverished countries. Who lost their vision, or a limb. Whose entire families have been taken away by a catastrophic natural disaster. Who can’t afford to provide for their children, or who die from disease leaving those children to fend for themselves, or who go home to be abused every night. If you feel moved enough to donate to Comic Relief, you can from anywhere in the world just by going here. We may not be living our ideal life, but we can count our blessings. We may not be in a position to donate, but we can spread awareness. And we may not be able to change the entire world, but we can make a dent, and go about our days with a spirit of gratitude, servanthood, and compassion.

Blessings in a Bittersweet Christmas

In this week leading up to Christmas, there have been several thoroughly unfestive incidents affecting me personally, or indirectly through friends, family and other bloggers, which have left me desperately endeavouring to keep my holiday spirits high.  I’ve been shocked at how much death and illness has surrounded us at this time of year; lives of friends, relatives, and celebrities have all recently fallen into cessation, leaving behind heartbroken families at a time of year when goodwill and festivities are supposed to eclipse the worries of the rest of the year.

But it’s tough, when life insists mercilessly on throwing lemons, on a schedule inconsiderate of Christmas spirit.  I’ve been reading blogs of friends who are going through loss, grief, infertility and sadness, and all I want for anyone right now is to be able to enjoy the holiday season.  It’s just so hard to raise a shield and feign holiday joy in the face of adversity’s relentless persistence.

My heart goes out to anybody whose Christmas this year is tainted.  I’ve spent more than enough Christmases dealing with breakups, surgery and divorce, and everything at this time of year seems exacerbated by the inherent expectations of festivity and merriment.  I want you to know that if you’re going through something challenging this year, my thoughts and prayers go out to you by hundredfold.

In the last two weeks, the incident with my mother exploded as a result of her determination to maintain vendettas, as opposed to recognising someone in need and having an actual heart.  After years of disproportionate efforts, I’m finally done with her negativity.  She knows where to find me, should she suddenly grow a conscience, but until then I made it very clear I was done, and she was not going to be coming to my wedding.

My dad, who I love dearly, got laid off from his job.  A pretty high-end management position, two weeks before Christmas.  Luckily he has a few interviews this week, but in this economy and at this time of year (especially when you’re paying spousal support to someone who refuses to recognise the difficulty in actually paying when you don’t have a job…), I just hope and pray he gets something soon.

Because his mother, my dear Nan back in England, is in hospital.  She gets dizzy and has falls and lives by herself in a 2-storey house which poses more of a danger these days than a home.  Recently she had a fall, and fractured her arm and a rib, and is being kept in a hospital until at least the New Year.  The hospital is out of town, and the only relative who’d actually visit her doesn’t have a car, and hasn’t been able to take her up some clean clothes, or even visit.  My dad and I are totally helpless from halfway round the world, and it’s just so disheartening that we have other relatives over there who, for the sake of maintaining grudges, won’t go and visit.  And my dad can’t go over because he has interviews all week.

Last week I just broke down.  Things are supposed to be happy at Christmas.  And so I did everything I could to try and refocus my thoughts on how much I actually have.  I have wonderful friends who come round with hugs and cake and amazingly thoughtful gifts (we even got each other the same present!).  I have coworkers who send me emails, invite me to their holiday parties, and get together and pray for my Nan. I have you guys, who despite being miles away, read and write to me,  offer your support and even send me cards in the post. And I have my dad, who’s been there for me my whole life, and I’m trying to be able to do the same for him.

I put up decorations, hung the cards, downloaded a bunch of Christmas music and cranked it, singing at the top of my voice while I did laundry.  I made little snowflake cupcakes and bought stuff to make my first mince pies since I moved here ten years ago.  I dug out Love Actually and the Polar Express and my next two nights are full of plans of cat snuggles, movies and some Hot Butter Rum. (Seriously, make some – it’s the best Christmas drink ever, and it’s the only time of year you can drink it and not feel guilty about the calories!)

I’m really thankful for what I have, for my little cat, for my friends and family, and for all of you I’ve found this past year. I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve had to personally grow, the wonderful conversations, and the chances I’ve had to give back.  If you’re going through something tough this Christmas, my heart honestly goes out to you.  I hope you can take a moment to count even the smallest of blessings; those of friendship, of the work you do, of the gifts you have.  And I sincerely hope and pray that 2010 brings good things for all of you.