kicking anxiety in the ‘nads

Hurdles

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

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

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

#Searchlight

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

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

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

Triad video

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

p5

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.

Waking Up from Ash and Dust

Last time I wrote, I believe (it’s hard to keep track of because I’ve been privately publishing small “performance diaries” to chronicle this journey from the get go), I’d just decided to team up with a good friend and form a band together. I was all sorts of terrified and simultaneously excited at the possibility of something I’ve always wanted actually materialising, but most of all I was baffled that someone who’d actually been performing and writing/recording music and in other bands wanted to start one with me. The goal was two cover songs at an open mic – incidentally one of the things on my 30 Before 30 list.

And it happened. I didn’t throw up this time, but I did completely over-analyse it afterward and burst into tears, thoughts of having let my friend down flitting about my head along with worrying about if I was awkward on stage, if I was too stiff, if I sounded any good… people kept telling me it was great, but it was like their words were being thrown at my brain which had built a solid, impenetrable fortress around itself and couldn’t hear any of it. Then it happened again. I went from not being able to physically face the same direction or look at my friend to actually enjoying getting together to jam. There was something magical about having a far better musician than me actually be willing to sing and play songs I’ve always wanted to right there with me, and I’ve always been a sucker for great harmonies, and ever since we’ve been performing, I’ve lost count of how many times people have said how perfectly suited our voices are to each other. And it’s really difficult and strange and bizarre… and kind of amazing to keep hearing when your brain has told you otherwise for so long.

First performance

It’s been six weeks, filled with many jamming sessions, a handful of performances, and an almost complete turnaround in belief – I’ve always felt I was too quiet, too soft, too nervous, and too doubtful to ever fully sing properly. But even though I still wish I had a bigger voice, or could play more instruments, or could commit songs to memory in a heartbeat, the love of doing something has finally, finally outweighed the fear. Last performance was my first ever in front of the biggest audience yet without the safety net of lyrics and chords in front of me. We did an Imagine Dragons song and made it completely our own and I don’t think I forgot a single word. Afterward I noticed I hadn’t needed my water, which I’d chugged the time before because my throat was so dry with nerves, and I noticed I wasn’t shaking with post-performance analysis and anxiety, I was actually REALLY HAPPY and excited that I’d just done something I really never, ever thought would be possible. My heart wasn’t sinking to my feet any more. It was bursting with joy.

I was reading a blog post today from someone I am beyond proud to know, and these words struck such a chord (I swear that wasn’t intended):

Whether you’ll admit it or not, there are dreams you’ve kept since childhood. There are things out there that make you come alive. There is a burden in your soul that feels like its been lit on fire, and it makes it difficult to speak, and you fumble for the words, and you ache to quench the thirst. That’s not your heaping serving of cliché for the day. That’s just the truth. The truth, the truth, that we are often made for things so much bigger than we ever allow ourselves to have. We get small doses. We get little reminders. But honey, honey, what could it look like if you just opened the flood gates and let the passion pour out.

I felt that passion come pouring out when I finished my first short story. I feel it now I’m 30,000 words into a book in which every strange twist of my imagination is allowed to live and breathe forever. Once you hit the point of taking that step over the edge, into the unknown, and you realise it’s actually okay – it becomes a fuel to keep going. People always say things like “feel the fear and do it anyway”, “what have you got to lose”, or “what’s the worst that could happen?” But I thought to myself the other  day, before a practice session, perhaps some better words might be along the lines of “…but what if it’s brilliant?” Everything you ever try has the possibility to turn out a million different ways, and we have such a tendency to believe our capacities are far less than our true potential. We’re conditioned to believe it’s almost arrogant to go into something new thinking “I might be kind of good at this”. And so we don’t. We go in scared, if we even go in at all, because then at least if it does suck, it’s not like we didn’t expect it. It’s a self preservation thing; a mask that’s been so tightly glued to our faces that even we’ve forgotten it’s false, and we believe it. We believe that we are small. And we let those beliefs shape everything we’re ever brave enough to try.

I don’t know if anybody’s watching this season of The Voice UK (shh, guilty pleasure), but I remember seeing this little Irish ginger kid with a guitar auditioning with an absolutely arse kicking version of an Ellie Goulding song of all things. And he just WENT FOR IT. I looked him up on YouTube afterward, and he does it all the time. He doesn’t hit half the notes, but it doesn’t matter – his enthusiasm and commitment to just pouring that passion out into the world and rocking it is all he needs to just be absolutely brilliant. And he’s kind of become a bit of an inspiration. Every time I get nervous about hitting a note or trying a new song for the first time, we talk about “just gingering it”. Not thinking about nerves or worrying if it comes out wrong, just letting the excitement and love of music and hope for something awesome come out instead. And I think when you do it that way, perfection doesn’t even matter. My whole life I’ve been scared of showing anything I’ve created to anyone unless it’s 100% perfect first.

First video: Bastille’s Pompeii

I’ve spent the last six weeks learning how to jump in unprepared and ride on hope and enthusiasm and trust… That’s a big one. Trust in other people’s words for the first time, that maybe I’m not that awful at this thing I’ve wanted to do so badly for so long. I know I have such a long way to go. I need to learn more chords, I need to learn how to write a song, I need stage presence and I need to strengthen my range. I need to stop doubting and being afraid and just keep focusing on the passion and forcing myself to keep doing it. With writing, and with music… I’ve been wired with a longing to dive into them both, such a strong, deep desire to create, to get what’s on the inside of this head out into the world… I suppose some of the very same reasons I started a blog in the first place. To prove to  myself and to the world that what was on the outside, or what I saw in the mirror, wasn’t truly what existed inside. Wasn’t what I truly was. Another few words from my wise friend seem applicable here, too:

We’re all a lot deeper than we give ourselves credit for. And we live within a world that never lets us fully know that. It’s a culture that keeps our intensity, and the fire in our eyes, and the lost hope in our bones at bay because shallow sells and the harder questions make us wince. But you, you, will always be hungry to go deeper than this world has ever let you believe you could. Going deeper isn’t easy. It’s not pretty. But it is so, so, so, so, so, so, (so, so, so) life giving… This world is much, much shallower than your sweet identity.

And maybe you already cry over that at night. And maybe no one ever thought to tell you but, yea, you’re kind of deep. Deeper, deeper than you even allow yourself to see. But the scary truth in all of it is that we have to be the ones to wade out into deeper water…. If you choose to walk forward, leave some of the smallness behind, plenty of others will stay to pick up your load but you’ve got be the intentional one in all of this. The one who sets the space for something more. Or else, you’ll stay a clam shell. You’ll stay surface level. And no one will ever fault you for that but you’ll probably start to feel those concrete shoes getting buckled to your feet when you look at your hands and ask, wasn’t I supposed to do something more with these? 

Diving inside to retrieve that passion and intention has been a long time coming. Words cannot express how happy and free I finally feel, but moreso, how grateful, for those around me who’ve been my safety nets. My cheerleaders. Those who’ve made it their mission to get me to see that maybe I really can follow my dreams after all. We only have one life. And it absolutely cannot be guided by, or wasted on fear. 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

City of Bridges

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

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

The Anti-Romanticism of Pathology

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

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

[via]

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

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

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

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

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

[via]

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

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

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

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

[via]

I think this is the start of brilliant things.

My Ukulele Decemberists Cover

So… remember about a month ago when I wanted to finally man up and sing in front of an audience? And went into it shaking harder than a cheap hotel bed and came out the other side throwing up? Yep. Fun times. But amidst the terror and the vomit was a tiny sliver of accomplishment – and an enormous desire to be able to learn an instrument (if only to give me something to do with those damn arms), lose the nerves, and be able to Perform Properly. I’ve never been able to play the guitar, so I decided on a ukulele. Less strings, and a way better fit for my hobbit hands. And only $25!

Naturally this first proved a lesson in patience. I wanted it to be in tune, I wanted to know the fingerings of all the chords, and I wanted to be able to read music and play every song I knew immediately. I’m learning these days that one of the things I need to work on most in pretty much everything is learning to be patient. (But “carpe diem” has such a good ring to it…)  But after a week or two of perfecting playing the basic chords in my best carpal tunnel-inducing claw and almost giving up, I figured out the proper way, and managed to bugger my way through a whole song! So here’s my first attempt at playing the ukulele for people. The cat doesn’t count. PLEASE bear in mind that a) I’m a total n00b and have a LOT of work to do, b) I look crap in glasses, c) I’m still terrified of singing in front of people, but d) I really, really want to keep taking these steps – even if they’re scary and even though I’ll probably look back in total mortification – because I love music. I love singing, even if I’m not the greatest singer. And I really, really want to stop being afraid of doing it.

Here goes. (God I wish they’d let you actually choose the thumbnail!)

It doesn’t matter where you come from, it matters where you go (in which I sing publicly, on video, looking like a moron – but finally finish that infernal list!)

It doesn’t matter where you come from
It matters where you go
No-one gets remembered
For the things they didn’t do
– Frank Turner

I started writing this post the week of New Year’s before apparently taking a sharp turn through the time vortex and ending up halfway through February. The subject of reflections and resolutions is subsequently a little stale, but bear with me: over the last two months, Big Things have happened, and both of the above have played rather large parts in my day-to-day life.  On January 1, I didn’t make any resolutions. This was likely in part due to the fact that I still had a handful of things to check off my 26 Before 26, and partly because I think waiting until the turning of a new year to start doing things better is a bit of a procrastinator’s cop-out. If you’re going to make a change, what better time than the very moment you decide to? So while I didn’t new year’s resolutions, I did try to hop aboard the Life Lesson Express to see if I could learn something from the year that was to pave the way for a happy, healthy 2012.

Now, the thing about learning experiences is that they usually end up having the biggest impact after you’ve made the biggest cock-ups. Maybe the reason we’re all stuck in the eternal Groundhog Day of making resolutions that evaporate faster than a Winnipeg cup of tea in February is the fact that it’s so bloody uncomfortable to admit we’ve made bad decisions in the first place. Nobody likes being wrong, and it’s easier to cover up the past with declarations about the future than it is to actually stop for a second and take accountability. But if you don’t genuinely acknowledge your own part in things not happening the way you wanted, nothing will ever change – we throw ourselves into our own time loops of history repeating itself simply to avoid the temporary discomfort of admitting we were wrong. When I began this post, I wanted it it to be my personal acknowledgement: there were things I did and decisions I made in 2011 that led to life being significantly less full of win.  There were definitely a few big mistakes, and a crap load of smaller bad habits I’d formed over the years – but as someone commented last time I was here, the good thing about bad habits is that with enough dedication, they can be broken, and room can be made for new ones. And that’s exactly what I decided to focus on.

Lesson One: Being too focused on “not wasting time” prevents you from giving time to situations when that’s exactly what’s needed.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a difficult time with conflict. I think it results from the uncomfortable combination of being extremely opinionated, extremely sensitive, and extremely stubborn, all three of which are bad ingredients to begin with, but when combined result in one recipe for ultimate disaster. Keeping the idea of life being short and avoiding future regret in the back of your mind I think is a good thing, but as with many things, taking it to the extreme results in them being very bad indeed. My lesson here was to break the habit of closing the door on negative things too quickly – whether in short-term situations (a disagreement with a friend, for example, who wants time to cool down – I’m trying to learn to see that as a positive step to a healthy resolution, and not a waste of time that could be spent moving on) or long-term ones (getting the proper treatment for my anxiety and self esteem issues, and not trying to be a hero and do it on my own, or do it all now). As much as I like to think things could be as easy as flicking a switch, I’m learning that even though life is short, some things do take time – and patching over things for the sake of moving on quickly isn’t going to fix anything in the long term.

So this weekend, I begin a ten-week program with the Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba. And since December, I’ve been seeing a counsellor who’s given me all sorts of techniques and insights into the way I’ve grown used to seeing the world – and armed with this knowledge, a chunk of humility and blind determination, I’ve seen an enormous change. I don’t worry so much any more, I don’t assume the worst, and though I still break down in tears practically daily, it’s now usually a result of things finally being more awesome than I’d ever dreamed of. (I know, I kind of wanted to punch myself when I saw that in print too.)

Lesson Two: Just because terrible things happened in the past does not mean terrible things will always happen.

I’m not going to go into this one in depth, but something I allowed to spiral out of control last year was allowing past baggage skew (and ultimately sabotage) how I viewed the present. I got into the habit of absolutely ruining things that were going wonderfully because in the past, something always bad had happened – I started reacting compulsively to my own catastrophic imaginings of history repeating itself, and became a leech for constant reassurance. It wasn’t enough to have things going brilliantly; I had to be told repeatedly that they were, and that sort of uncontrollable worrying and assurance-seeking is enough to drive anybody away – causing a distancing that fuelled the worries that had been unfounded in the first place. I created my own self-perpetuating cycle. It had to stop, and breaking the habit of over-worrying and needing reassurance has been my biggest focus in 2012 so far. It started with forcing myself not to text people when I felt the urge to, which was enormously difficult for the first few days – but within a week or two, I’d learned that it was completely okay to go several hours without communicating, and actually valued the messages and phone calls more knowing that they were completely on somebody else’s initiation. It’s an interesting phenomenon to witness how drastically a cycle’s direction can change – to learn that constant neediness drives others away, resulting in more worry and more need for reassurance – and that with a change of habit, it can all turn the other way. I don’t catastrophise any more. I don’t worry that somebody’s died, or found more interesting and exciting friends if I don’t hear from them for a little while. I give myself a grace period when learning new things, and don’t beat myself up half as much if I’m not an expert after watching something once. (Half as much however is apparently still too much, and something I still need to work on…) I don’t ruin perfectly fun evenings any more by inventing some reason to worry and then be reassured. It’s been two months of continually tearing down these old habits and rebuilding new ones, and I can honestly say I’ve never been happier in my life. I feel terrible for the loved ones that had to put up with me last year, and I’m so grateful to those that stuck around.

Lesson Three: It’s perfectly okay to spend time in your own company.

I’ve always been thoroughly fascinated by the psychology of personality, and still remember being thrilled when I first discovered that there weren’t just 16 Myers-Briggs personality types, but 16 independently scaled variables, too: one INFJ may be on the extreme side of introversion and feeling, for example, and another may be extremely intuitive while only slightly introverted. These two people may score the same fundamental personality type, yet their wildly differing levels of each component would make them incredibly different people. When I learned that I was barely a cat’s whisker on the introverted side (I like using making reference to cat whiskers when I have the chance), it was like I’d unlocked the Library of Babel. Every answer I’d been searching for suddenly arrived – I’d forever wondered why, if I was such an introvert, I craved company so bloody much, had such difficulty spending time alone, yet was often terrified of social situations where I might find myself centre of attention. It was because I was stuck in the middle of introversion and extroversion – and realising this led to understanding, and finally being able to do something about my discomfort. I wanted social interaction, but my inner introvert wanted to do solitary things like reading, writing, or watching a movie. But the extravert would always say how terribly loserish I’d be if I spent time doing any of those things, and encouraged me to fill up every night of the week with plans involving other people. And then cancelling them because I’d invariably be too tired, and then feel bad I was stuck at home alone again. Egads! I decided to work on becoming comfortable with both – primarily the solitary activities, because I desperately wanted to be able to go home and not be intimidated at the thought of an evening by myself, wondering what I’d do with the time – but also the more outgoing things that go along with being an extrovert.

With the former, I started small. I’d opt to walk home instead of taking a bus, despite it being winter.  I’d wrap myself up in countless layers, tuck my hair into a big furry hood, plug my earphones into my phone and head off into the night. It’s about a twenty-minute walk, but it’s down one of the prettiest streets in the city, and at night in the snow with nobody around, it can be quite magical. I found myself getting caught up in the lyrics of wonderful songs by moonlight, getting goosebumps more from the words than the chilly air outside. I stopped to take in small displays of loveliness – tree trunks and bows silhouetted in fairy lights, or brightly shining stars above. The cold didn’t seem to matter – I’d stop at various points along the way, pulling out Google Sky Map and pointing it skyward, learning the positions of Jupiter and Orion. I’d make it home eventually, hair and eyelashes coated in frost, to a happy little cat, and realise for the first time, I actually enjoyed something I did alone. So I started doing more – spending time on things I really wanted to do, and learning how to feel perfectly at peace in doing them. I went on walks just to listen to music and take lots of photos. I carved myself a new workspace at home, with candles and greenery and sepia-toned photographs, and I find that now, it’s a place I love to go. This also led to an incredibly exciting project – I can’t share too many details yet, but I’ve started a project I’m beyond thrilled about. Research is being done, calls are being made, buildings are being explored and imagination is in overdrive. I’m a happy cat.

As for nurturing the extraverted side, I decided to take the plunge and cross the last two things off my 26 Before 26. I’m well aware of how long ago my June 2011 deadline was, but there were two really big and really scary things on there that I’d been terrified of for as long as I can remember. The first was learning to drive and getting my licence. It took a couple of months, one intense car crash (!), one instance of being pulled over by the police (for going too slowly), two test attempts, one lesson in learning how to operate windscreen wipers and one extended crying fit (I’d never failed anything before!), but I got there – at the end of December, on icy roads in lots of snow! Words couldn’t describe the feeling of finally achieving something I’d been afraid of for a whole decade, and now I’m just getting used to driving around on my own. And it’s brilliant!

The second thing was a little more nerve-wracking: being in the spotlight singing a song on stage in public to an audience full of strangers, friends and coworkers. I’ve always loved singing, but the love has always been outweighed by fear. For some reason I can sing proudly and confidently in my own little apartment, but I find it incredibly difficult to do so in front of a single person. Cat-shaped people notwithstanding. But over the last few months, I’ve been “jamming” with a couple of good friends, who’ve encouraged me to pursue it. We made plans before Christmas to perform together at an open mic, but I managed to lose my voice for a good month until the end of January. At the beginning of this month, I was practicing with one of said friends, who suggested I perform one song with him during his next set – the night before Valentine’s day – only two weeks to get my proverbial shit together. I’ve never been good at getting my shit together. Especially on a deadline. Remember last time I had to do something in public? I went up there, raced through the entire thing, and left the podium sobbing uncontrollably. Which wasn’t exactly awesome.

So Monday came after a night of definitely not sleeping, and I found my heart defiantly attempting to burst out of my chest every time I thought about what I’d be doing at 8:00. I made sure my coworkers knew I didn’t think I was a good singer and had expectations lower than a rapper’s trousers. I went home at the end of the day to find my lovely little cat and a lovely boy there to surprise me me, into whose arms I immediately fell and burst into tears (how many times is this now? We should make this a drinking game) crying about how I didn’t want to do it. After a good sob and a better cup of tea, I decided I should probably practice. But I was too scared to sing in front of him, so I sent him outside on the balcony (in mid-February) to run through my song once. When I let him back in, I sang it in front of him. Well, that’s a lie, I meant facing away from him, because I didn’t want him looking at me while I was singing. (Because I am a crazy person.) After finally managing to squeak it out kind of in his direction, it was time to go… and we arrived at the venue. Friends and coworkers started pouring in, and after a couple of songs, it was my time to join my friend on stage. I’d never been so scared in my life. The next five minutes flashed by – I remember getting to the final chorus and thinking ecstatically that I was almost done – and looking back, I know you can tell how incredibly scared I was. I know they probably turned the mic up because I was singing too quietly, and I know I sound awful because I was focused on just getting sound out without fainting, not on actually singing well, and after I was done, I felt very proud for about thirty seconds that I hadn’t cried – before running into the toilets and throwing up. But I did it! It may be terrible, but I finally crossed the last thing off my list. And for that, I’m happy.

Here’s a video of the whole thing. It starts with a giant case of feedback, keeps focusing on the back of some guy’s head, and I look like an uncomfortable moron, but apparently if I don’t post it, it didn’t happen. Next step? Learning to do it standing up (shut up), without shaking, without the words, and actually making eye contact with the audience.

And apparently to not be so hard on myself.

Here’s to the amazing people who helped me keep striving, who put up with my crap, who believed in me, and who helped me do things I’d only ever dreamed of being able to do. Here’s to friendship, to life lessons, to creativity and to passion. 2012 is shaping up to be the best year ever, and right now, at this moment, I feel on top of the world.

(2012 is also the year I promise to learn the lesson of conciseness. If you made it this far, you’re a brilliant human being.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There I was thinking it was just a good idea, and it went and got its own whole day

It has come to my attention that today is National Face Your Fears Day! And I couldn’t think of a better reason to HAVE a day dedicated to it. This whole year has been one big Face-Your-Fears-Fest for me, and I love being able to look at my list and always be able to say I’m pushing myself to be more. Even if it is scary. Because the victory over fear is always so much more meaningful than the handful of panic attacks along the way. I don’t think anyone ever wants to look back and regret not trying. To admit that they allowed fear to control their life. I certainly don’t. So today, I thought it a good day to write about one of the tougher items on that list. Remember a couple of weeks ago, where I decided I wanted to stop being so terrified of singing in front of people, signed up for vocal coaching, psyched myself out so much I made myself sick and cancelled the appointment? Yeah. Fun times. Well, as I write this, I’m pretty excited – because this past week I tried again – and actually made it out the front door! 🙂

I’d emailed the coach apologising profusely for being such a scaredy-cat, tried to feebly explain how afraid I was of this, how desperately I wanted to sing and how sorry I was, promising to pay double next time – I felt SO BAD about inconveniencing her, as well as letting myself down. But she e-mailed me back an incredibly thoughtful, kind, understanding message which really reassured me that I wasn’t the only one, and that she wanted to make it as safe of an environment as possible.

Singing can make you feel exposed and vulnerable and a one-on-one setting can be pretty intense. But perfection is never even remotely the goal. Believe me. I won’t be perfect. I’ll demonstrate things and I’ll make mistakes, sound bad, make mistakes in the piano parts to your songs, and it’ll all be okay. It’s always my aim to make our little environment a safe-feeling place and for it to feel okay to screw up. And if we’re ever working and you’re feeling overwhelmed, please know in advance that it’s okay to say so and we can take a break or call it quits for the night, or whatever needs to happen, okay? 🙂 I think that every singer I know has cried in a lesson or a coaching at some point – or many points! I know I have! It’s just the way of it.

So I rescheduled – and this time, showed up.  Let’s backtrack for a second. When I’m home alone, the first thing I do is close all the windows, crank up the stereo and sing my absolute heart out. But I also keep a close eye on the view outside the window, in case I see a neighbour close by, or Sweet arriving home, so I can be sure to turn everything down, and most importantly not be caught in song. I’ve always wished desperately to have a good voice and a good range, but I’m pretty sure I don’t. I can’t hit the high notes, I can’t do those diva-esque runs, I can’t belt it out or do any sort of imaginative take on a song, and I definitely can’t read music. It’s funny, last week I was talking about my issue with the “niche philosophy” – should you stick to what you’re good at, and focus on being great at it, or do you branch out into things you’re not, riding on the hope that one day you will? I’ve always identified more with the latter, but the former makes a lot of sense. But, as a good friend once told me, if you feel you need to be doing something, even if you’re not good at it right now, it’s because you’re meant to be.  So I’m going to keep going.

 

 

Last week, I learned the difference between “strong voice” (which I’d always thought was the sole indicator of your range) and the “natural voice”, and that it’s okay to switch into that falsetto sound when the notes get high. Awe-inspiring musical theatre-type singing, where they hit the notes with the “strong voice”, was a style created by theatre people, not singers, and classically, it’s about strengthening that upper range so you can project over crowds and choirs and instruments and still be heard.  I felt a little silly waving my arms around while I was singing, but I learned that different parts of the body work best when they’re in harmony with each other, so if I want to sing those high notes loudly, let my arms move in big circles and do with them what I want to do with my voice. I was shocked to hear I was actually a soprano – hitting only 2 notes lower than my coach and going down even lower than she did, but it doesn’t mean I did it well… I didn’t believe her when the words weren’t “you’re going to need some work.”I’ve never felt I could sing, simply because I’ve never allowed myself to practice.  Strengthen the muscles and therefore my voice. It all makes complete sense to me now, and I can’t wait until I really am able to carry a tune! I left with homework – a 17th century Italian song, scribed on five sheets of music in two languages I can’t understand. I don’t know how to read music or speak Italian, and I found myself getting lost as I was trying to follow along, but I was reassured that was okay. We’d learn together. Pronunciation doesn’t matter at this point, and with practice, reading music will become easier.  I’m not going to lie – some of these notes are pretty intimidating. But I’m going to try anyway. Tomorrow night, I’m back for lesson 2. And this time around, my heart’s beating with the excitement of learning instead of nerves.

What fear of yours are you allowing to hold you back?

Shelving the Past

Recently, I had the pleasure of going for dinner with one of the most insightful people I know. We only see each other once every few months – he’s often travelling, touring, or teaching yoga day and night – but every time we get together I leave feeling incredibly uplifted and inspired.  We got onto an interesting topic last time we got together – the past – and how we have the tendency to hold onto it.

People always say the past helped them become the person they are today. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that – the past can be full of hardships and mistakes, as well as growth, deepening of relationships, and happy memories. Of course the past helps us become who we are today. But there’s a difference between allowing it to shape who you are, and allowing it to define who you are. We all have the choice between looking back on past experiences and archiving them in the vault of memory, or pinning them to our proverbial jackets for all to see in every walk of life.

We talked about the things from the past we’re guilty of dragging around with us into our present. Traced negative self-talk back to events in childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood to find its origin. As you know, two of my bigger struggles are speaking in front of people, and dealing with how I look. The self-destructive things we allowed to be planted in our youth and grow into poisonous weeds that tangle around our every thought, holding us back from reaching our true potential.  I was in the middle of trying to explain how it feels to have a continual loop of self-detriment running through your head, worrying that the nerves and thoughts about yourself on the inside are going to spill out somehow and everyone will see exactly the same things you do – when my friend interrupted me with a smile.  “But they’re just stories“, he laughed.  “They’re all just stories we choose to keep telling ourselves; they’re not real.”

I’ve always been an advocate for the power of choice. Not blaming things or other people when things are crappy. Not waiting for tomorrow to roll around before deciding it can be a good day after all. Choosing hard work and determination over fear of failure. Questioning rumours rather than contributing to their continuation. Swallowing pride over perpetuating a grudge. But I’ve always had trouble with choosing not to beat myself up over things out of my control. I listen to the voice that tells me I’m not fun or attractive. That I’m too quiet, too awkward, too ugly. I let it hold me back in social situations and I allow it consume my thoughts. But after this conversation with my friend, I felt I really could let go. Close the door on the past experiences that lead to these unhealthy thinking patterns, acknowledge them for what they are – “just stories” – and choose to let go of them.

All sorts of things can happen to us throughout life, and unfortunately, as often as there will be people to lift you up and enrich your life, there will be people who hurt you. They may be deliberate, or they may be completely unintentional – but they can fester in the mind and take over a lifetime if you choose to let them. But there’s something incredibly powerful when you come to the realisation that you are choosing to perpetuate those stories you tell yourself, and you can choose to close the door. When you realise that you’ve had the choice all along to either be defined by the past, or keep it where it belongs. The past definitely shapes who we become, but it doesn’t need to accompany us day in, day out, telling us who we “are”. The danger comes when we start to believe we are the sum of our past mistakes and hardships. Labelling ourselves “awkward,” “ugly,” or “a sufferer” of this or that. If we keep telling ourselves the same stories, we start to believe it.  And in doing so, how we limit what we can become.

When you realise you alone have the power over those stories, it can be as simple as closing the book. Storing it on a shelf somewhere, always there, but up high and out of immediate sight – instead of carrying it everywhere, a heavy weight dragging down on the soul.  Choose how much credit you give those stories, and ask yourself if they’re really worth perpetuating. Choose to learn from the past, and then to let it remain there.  Choose whether you want to limit yourself by others’ definitions, or to let go of them and set yourself free. None of us need be a slave to stories.

Is there a book you’re dragging around with you that would be better off shelved?

Sometimes, when we fall, we fly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Physiology of Fear. And How to Pwn It.

Once  upon a time, I had a dream. A dream of being able to stand in front of a group of people and speak, with excitement, passion and confidence, without fear taking over, making my hands tremble and voice shake, without the constant worry of being good enough, intelligent enough, or entertaining enough. If you’ve been reading for a while now, you’ll know that it’s an ongoing challenge, and something I’ve been trying to tackle at every opportunity. But getting my body to cooperate with the direction in which my mind wants to go has proved… difficult.  The first efforts were small. Attending meetings at work, and actually speaking up instead of keeping my mouth shut for an hour. Breaking out Cranium at parties and choosing Star Performer over Word Worm. Facilitating workshops to groups of 5 or 6 . Tiny steps along the path to my goal of shaking free the fear. Talking the talk is becoming easier, but physically walking the walk? Not so much.

Through those workshops, I realised something that helped push me forward: I wasn’t public speaking, I was teaching. I was giving people information that they could use to help them succeed. When I started thinking of it that way, it was a doddle. No longer was I in the spotlight, all eyes on me, ready for judgment day, but I was simply being blessed with the opportunity to pass on helpful information to others. The desire to help outweighed the fear, and it became okay. It became okay when it stopped being about me.

A few weeks ago, however, I was put into one of the most terrifying situations I could imagine. All the extroverts out there may very well laugh at this – but I had to do a public reading of a piece of my own written work.  Fiction. In a public bookshop.  I couldn’t use the same mechanisms I could in front of a class, because I wasn’t “teaching” or providing anyone with helpful information. I was just baring my words to the world; something I’d poured my heart into was to be lifted from the refuge of the page and thrust into the great wide open. I was petrified. I arrived at the bookshop an hour early, frantically texting one of my dearest friends, ordering a large glass of wine, and trying to remember to breathe. The seconds crawled by and the world followed in slow motion; rows upon rows of chairs slowly growing, bodies starting to fill them.  I’d prayed nobody would come, but the faces kept coming, their words of encouragement and support filtering through my ears,  landing heavy on a rapidly beating heart. 6:00 rolled around. I was up.

The 10 minutes seemed almost an eternity, but I kept reading, my eyes glued to the page. As the words came out, I tried to lose myself in the story I’d created, forcing my mind into the scene and the character, subsequently forcing out thoughts of self-deprecation. I made it through, took a deep breath, and lifted my head. I saw rows of smiling faces and clapping hands. I heard “wow”s whispered and was asked when I was going to finish the book. It didn’t seem real – I felt like I was living someone else’s life for a moment; someone who was actually able to do something well in the real world – and I couldn’t quite grasp it. A moment I’ve longed for for as long as I can remember, and I came out the other side unscathed.

So I did what any hip and cool person would do, and proceeded to burst into floods of tears. I don’t know what it was – the release of weeks worth of pent-up nervous energy, the unexpected victory, the compliments I’d spent years convincing myself I wasn’t worthy of receiving – or a combination of the three, but I bawled like a BABY.  In front of everybody. Luckily I was back in my seat, and even luckier I was struck after my performance, but it was something I’d never felt before. As with every difficult thing, practice = less panic and greater confidence, so as uncomfortable and scary as it is, I have to keep going.

So, next steps? I’ll do what I always do, and throw myself in at the deep end. My new job starts in a matter of weeks, fifty percent of which is going to be teaching in the biggest classroom in the building. This weekend and next, I’ll be standing in for a couple of DJ friends of mine who host their own radio show (who just had a beautiful baby girl, who though adorable, may not fit right at home in a radio studio). Hosting it. I want to learn new coping mechanisms of how to throw off the anxiety and embrace the challenges and opportunities. Mentally, I think I might be on the right track, but how do you overcome the body’s natural tendencies to fall into the physiological reactions to fear? The heart racing, the hands shaking, the pit of the stomach wallowing, and the mouth drying. Changing your mind about something is one thing, but changing your body’s defiant behaviour is quite another. I want to get in front of those classes and behind the mic and just bask in the excitement of it all – project enthusiasm and confidence, rather than the telltale signs of nerves.  I’m really working on changing the way I think about the situations – but any tips on altering the way I physically react would be hugely appreciated.

Failing that, pictures of kittens/celebrities falling over/the OMG Cat/OMG Cat vs iPad always fixes anything. 🙂

Twenty-Five

At the beginning of the month, on top of being slightly lame and asking the Internet how I should celebrate my 25th, I decided I wanted to make a list of goals for the year of 25.  I’ve heard from so many people that 25 was their best year EVER, and I really think this will help make it awesome in terms of challenging myself, trying new things, and continuing a journey of growth. So here’s what I’ve got so far. The 26 Before 26:

  1. Get in crazy good shape. I’ve used my back pain as an excuse for far too long, and I’ve come to the realisation that it’s going to hurt whether I’m exercising or not, so I may as well be doing something good for myself! Right now, I’m running once every two weeks. Not a good plan. Now my evening classes are done, I’m scheduling time for at least 2-3 times a week for running, and getting back on board with strengthening exercises as well. SO I CAN DANCE LIKE TOBIAS.
  2. Start hot yoga. There’s a place ten minutes away from me that I’ve heard rave reviews about, and I’ve talked about trying it (without actually doing it) for six months now. And last night I met up with someone for dinner who absolutely raved about it, goes for two hours every day (intense!!), and offered to be my hot yoga buddy. Apparently it’s life changing! Hopefully as much so just three times per week.
  3. Learn a choreographed dance. Last week I posted videos from this year’s Britain’s Got Talent finals and the incredible precision, strength and creativity of some of those dancers just blew me away. So what if I wasn’t in gymnastics or dance at five years old? I may be 20 years late to the party, but even if it’s just learning Bad Romance off YouTube, I want to dance properly.  Or pop and lock. Yes, I realise the eighties are calling and want their moves back. Yes, I also realise I will need to vlog this. I’m on it. 🙂
  4. Team up with Sweet and cover a really popular song in a totally different style. Bluegrass Radiohead or something, I don’t know. He’s a drummer and has guitars and banjos upstairs, I’m sure we could figure something out! And I can bash a… Tupperware drum? I just think it’d be really fun, and the whole point of covering a song is to do something different with it, right?
  5. Get my driver’s license.  I know this is the only 2010 resolution I haven’t tackled yet, but I still have 6 months left of the year. 4 before the snow comes back. I need to get my arse in gear.
  6. Write non-blog or magazine material. The creative writing class I took this spring really opened my eyes to what I really love to write. Blogging and writing for magazines is all well and good, but I’ve found that I don’t really feel proud of that kind of style when showing it to people. I’ve been working on some fiction over the last couple of months and have found a passion for literature, for creating, for the English language, and for eloquent prose, and I’m feeling totally motivated to keep going. Even if it is a sci-fi story. 🙂
  7. Meet new people.  Pretty self-explanatory, but just taking opportunities to invite people into my life instead of being held back by societal “norms” of keeping to myself. I’m not going to lose anything by trying. This one started last Saturday, when I met my first Internet Stranger (thank you Brittany for checking in throughout to make sure I was safe, LOL), a friend-of-a-friend penpal of sorts I’d been exchanging emails with for the last couple of months. It was a brilliant time, not awkward in the slightest, full of interesting, inspiring, fun and intelligent conversation, and I’m really hoping the beginnings of a new friendship. 🙂 This challenge continues this week , when I meet a bunch of local ‘strangers’ I met on Twitter for a “Creative Show and Tell”. Who are apparently bringing me birthday cake. At the pub!
  8. Do REAL karaoke.  The infamous Wicked! attempt was tough cookies but it went over pretty well, and even if I can’t sing well or reach the high notes it doesn’t mean I don’t LOVE doing it!! This year I won’t be scared to break into song, and I want to gather enough balls to do it in front of real LIVE people. 🙂 Partner in crime, anyone?
  9. Plan meals and cook better. One of the big things I decided in January was that I wanted to cook from scratch more often instead of getting so many takeaways. This proved far more difficult than anticipated and we’ve ended up eating out at least once a week. I want to make it a routine to shop on Sundays, and prepare for a week’s worth of meals, including buying less prepared/easy stuff and switching to healthier options. Including switching my beloved morning porridge to these Green Monsters – started this week, YES that is spinach in a smoothie… but I just feel better starting the day without copious amounts of sugar and carbs.
  10. Speaking of cooking, MAKE ENGLISH FOOD! There’s a local place called The Brit Café that makes brilliant Toad in the Hole, Bangers and Mash, Steak and Kidney Pudding, and of course, Fish and Chips, and I miss it all terribly. I want to make something traditionally English. But maybe once every 6 months, because I don’t want to be a lardarse.
  11. Floss. Self-explanatory.
  12. Stop hating how I look. Short of winning the lottery, I can’t change it. I can’t half the size of my nose or shrink my chin or erase the bags under my eyes. I can’t grow taller and I can’t chop my thighs in half. I can’t make my hair naturally straight and healthy and I can’t in good conscience keep up the “olive skin” look.  I want to be able to look at a picture of myself and NOT have my first thought be of how much I wish I could change. I want to seriously be able to like myself just the way I am. Apply to myself what I try to do with life: that things are the way they are for a reason, and to make the most of the cards I’m dealt.
  13. Get a laptop and become a Starbucks blogger. Or writer. I just want to get out there and do more writing.
  14. Perform something in front of my coworkers.  Around Christmas there’s all sorts of festive events – costume competitions, talent shows, games and cook-offs – last year I was too scared to get up and rock the sing-off. But it’s all in good spirits, and nobody really cares if it’s any good. This year, I’m joining in.
  15. Teach a full class of people without shaking with nervousness and actually be excited about doing it. In the year of 24, I managed to work up to a classroom full of about 8 people, max. I want to be able to do 30 like a proper teacher. In July, I’ll be starting a new position where facilitation makes up fifty percent of my job. For some reason they think I can do it. I just want to thrive on it instead of being scared, and fuel the nerves into enthusiasm, focusing on the fact I’m in a position to relay information that will help people. Which is way more important than fear!
  16. Get (and stay) entirely debt-free.  After the Europe trip in August, the only major expense left is the wedding, for which we’ve been putting money aside for months. Sweet’s parents are helping with the cost of the food (which is an ENORMOUS help, we’re so lucky!!), and with our savings (and DIY stuff), it’ll hopefully not be TOO big a surprise in December. I can’t even imagine having $0 debt, but I’m determined to get and stay that way during 25.
  17. Volunteer somewhere. I haven’t volunteered in two years now and I feel dreadful about it. I’m going to make time for a good cause again.
  18. Go on a blogger meetup. Some of my favourite people in this world live MILES AWAY FROM ME and it’s about time I met them. And thankfully I am marrying the best man in the world, who BOUGHT ME A TICKET TO CHICAGO this September. I get to see Ashley and Brittany, Jen and Phampants . Go on a chocolate tour and visit a secret bar and dress up and have a Glee-off and my first big girly weekend ever.  SO. EXCITED.
  19. See more of the world. Somewhere I’ve never been before. And soak up every last drop.
  20. Go a bit feng shui. Right now my walls are covered in black and white photos from a year or two ago, and oversized framed Doctor Who, Tim Burton and Hives posters.  Sure, I have some “grown up” stuff, too – the Book of Kells hangs proudly in my living room along with a cityscape of the London skyline. But I need more art. Modigliani, this is your year to move from my heart to my bedroom walls.
  21. Finish my tattoo, even if I have to be hypnotised, drugged, hardcore trained or anaesthetised. This thing’s getting finished THIS YEAR.
  22. Forgive. I’ve learned that relationships will only work if two people’s timelines are ready to coincide, and that it’s okay to opt out if clearly the timing isn’t quite right, all the while having faith and leaving the door open. I also realise that by not forgiving people, we waste so much time we’re given on maintaining grudges and harbouring negativity, instead of doing the hard thing, sucking it up, swallowing pride and actually being the one to take the difficult step toward what’s hopefully a better future.
  23. Do something drastic with my hair. After the wedding I have no reason at all to keep abstaining from haircuts and keep it black, so I may very well go for a totally different cut and colour. Hey, I’ve had a pillarbox red pixie cut; nothing can be too drastic! (What’s that, pictures?)
  24. Become more spiritual. I don’t tackle the topic of faith on my blog at all because it’s something I’m still relatively new to, but I’m determined to grow more spiritually this year, and learn all I can about faith and purpose in this world, really figure it out and try to be the best person I can be. Things have happened in the past week that are just BEYOND coincidental and I feel are leading me down the right path, and I’m so excited to explore that this year.
  25. Stop being scared of talking on the phone. I know it sounds ridiculous but I’m more scared of talking on the phone than I am of talking in front of a group of people. Up until now, this has pretty much been my rulebook (you can’t say you don’t agree with at least HALF of those!!), but I’d love to be able to chat on the phone or ring somebody up without worrying that I’m bothering them. Less e-mail time (well, maybe not) and more real conversations. This means phone me up and hold me to it. 🙂
  26. Set up a professional website. (Read: have someone set one up for me.) Right now I’m using a WordPress-hosted site for my graphics and writing portfolios and though it does the trick, it’s hardly the most impressive thing in the world. This will be the year I get a site to match my business cards, and look like a real pro.

This was a tough one to make – but I’m going to ask you lot to keep me on track, and I’ll be sure to share the fun ones when they happen. Can you do me a favour? Take a look at the list I made for 24.  Just a few bullet points about halfway down the page, but this time last year, they seemed impossible. I can’t believe this weekend I will be 25. This year’s flown by and been full of amazing things, in a large part thanks to YOU, and I really hope I can fill this upcoming one with even more adventure. Wish me luck!! Has anyone else made one of these lists? If not, what would you put on yours? Resolutions don’t only have to come in January. 🙂

See you on the other side!

What are you waiting for?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Writing… and Reading to Hundreds of Strangers!!

A few weeks ago, I had a bunch of really good news.  We’d booked our trip to England, I was starting my new position at work, Nan was doing better, we’d signed up for dance classes, and I was just about to start my Creative Writing class.  Since then, things have continued to be great.  We’ve discovered Sweet is, hilariously, a NATURAL at ballroom dancing (while I’m still stuck on which foot goes backward) – but each class has been filled with fun and laughter, and it’s the perfect way to start our weekends.  I also phoned my Nan last week – and not only was she thrilled, but apparently she’s well enough to go home – to HER home, not a care home! – within the next two weeks! Work is going well, we’re making all sorts of plans for the UK trip, and Creative Writing class? ALL sorts of awesome.

From WinnipegLoveHate.com

I’m going to tell you a secret: I never finished university. I grew up hugely academic, spending my high school years continually on the honour roll and spent Saturday nights in the university library, reading Chaucer for fun and gazing out at the city’s skyline, as the sky turned from pinks to blues and the streets below came alive. I loved school. I love to learn, to challenge myself, to succeed in something I adore – but at 20 years old, life started to happen.  I’d moved out just as I turned 19, with A Boy, which lasted about a year – we broke up, and after a short stint on my parents’ sofa , I got my first apartment. I was working part time, and had no savings – or furniture – so I reluctantly decided to take some time off from school, get my life in gear, and work for a little bit in the Real World.

I was lucky enough to find jobs that led me toward graphic design. In school, I’d been studying medieval English literature and psychology – which would serve me really well in the real world [ahem] – but through work, I found I loved graphics. I was offered real-world experience, networking opportunities, and the chance to build a real portfolio.  This led me into marketing and advertising, which I adore – but I’ve also realised I have a passion for writing. Blogging has become just about the best hobby I’ve ever had, but I’ve always secretly loved to write fiction, too. I get lost in the worlds of incredible authors, surrendering my mind to their vivid imaginations, and longing to visit these fantastical places in the real world. I love the art of crafting a piece of prose as that’s as beautiful as a masterpiece painting. I love the English language.

Mr Flay appeared to clutter up the doorway as he stood revealed, his arms folded, surveying the smaller man before him in an expressionless way. It did not look as though such a bony face as his could give normal utterance, but rather that instead of sounds, something more brittle, more ancient, something dryer would emerge, something perhaps more in the nature of a splinter or fragment of stone. Nevertheless, the harsh lips parted. ‘It’s me,’ he said, and took a step forward into the room, his knee joints cracking as he did so. His passage across the room – in fact his passage through life – was accompanied by these cracking sounds, one per step, which might be likened to the breaking of twigs.
– From Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake

Isn’t it beautiful? (The text – but yes, Jonathan Rhys Meyers was in the miniseries, we can refer to  him, too :))

So two weeks ago, I started my Creative Writing class. I had all sorts of hopes of meeting new people, of indulging my creative passion, and of a place my imagination could really take flight.  The first class wasn’t quite what I expected – I don’t think the instructor expected a group of only six, either! – but I was in my element.  I’m not usually one to pipe up in groups, but I instantly felt comfortable in a place where creative thinking was encouraged and praised.  In class, we all have to read our assignments and classroom activities out loud in front of each other.  This is slightly intimidating – but I’m hoping may be just the ticket to keep me going on the whole breaking free of fear journey.  Last week, we had to write a “character”, which I initially struggled with – I wasn’t used to having such open-ended assignments! But the second I sat down to write, I couldn’t stop. I ended up with something I was really rather proud of – I can’t use literary techniques and flowerly language on the blog, but I indulged on my assignment. And it went down really well!

We were also told about our final assignment, due in about 8 weeks. It’s open-ended in that it can be a play, a short story, a review, a poem… anything we like. But we’ve been booked a spot at one of the city’s biggest bookstores, where we will do a reading. In public. This is quite possibly one of the most intimidating tasks I’ve ever been given.  The way I got through facilitating my classes at work was to tell myself I was in a position to pass along information that would ultimately help people.  The desire to help surpassed my fear, so I was able to do it, no problem.  But putting something I’ve created out there, where it can be judged by other people? SCARY.

I’m trying to tell myself this is just another stepping stone in my ongoing journey. That I’ve learned how to live without worrying constantly about other people judging me, so I should be able to do the same with my writing.  Hopefully the next few weeks will be practice enough that I won’t bomb it in the end… and I’m feeling a mixture of nerves and excitement.  Let’s just hope the latter dominates.  Until then… hold my hand?

My (Literally) Naked Fear

Recently I’ve been tackling a lot of things that I’m afraid of. You all know about my (almost) past issues with anxiety, and it’s my ongoing goal to try to attempt every single thing that scares me, in the hopes of being able to overcome them.  Public speaking was the absolute scariest.  Throw me out of a plane, put me in a cage full of spiders, no problem, but ask me to stand up in front of people and speak? No thank you! Until about… 6 months ago? I asked my boss if I could facilitate a workshop every week. All eyes on me, thinking on my feet, projecting to a room full of blank faces… biggest fear, let me tell you. But I did it. And I kept doing it. I forced my desire to overcome it to hold more weight than my fear.  And though it started incredibly scarily, the only way to get over it was to take the risk.  Now, I’m still slightly nervous if I have to speak up in front of people, but it’s nowhere near as bad, and it’s no longer something that makes me want to leap out of my office window onto the gob-infested concrete below.

Now, as you know, I’m also terrified of singing in front of people.  Lauren commented on my little poll the other week asking, if I was so afraid of it, and I thought I wasn’t very good at it, then why did I want to do it in the first place? The simplest answer is that I don’t want fear to dictate my life. I don’t want to be held back by what other people might think of me. I enjoy singing, even if my range is  barely an octave.

I adore musical theatre and I get goosebumps when I see a massive choral number taken on in Glee.  I might not be any good, but it doesn’t stop me wanting to try.  So next week? Up goes the vlog. In which I serenade the internet, knowing full well that as well as the kind souls who cheered me on when I first posed the idea… there’ll be people ready to judge. And I’ll try my damnedest to instead focus on the courage it took to do it in the first place – and the fact that I’ll never try and take anyone down if they’re trying to break out of their comfort zone.

Tiny victories fuel my perseverance and determination to keep going, keep taking on the intimidating and riding through on the adrenaline, focusing not on fear, but on triumph, the growing confidence that’s slowly rising, and liberating me from the fear that held me back for so long. I might make a fool of myself in the process. But that’s okay. It’s all about whether or not I think I’m foolish for trying. People may think I’m incompetent, or untalented, or whatever they need to feel in order to make themselves feel better. And that’s okay too. Because at least I’ll have tried.

So, what’s next? Right now, my biggest fear is building the foundation of new friendships.  It’s so easy to do online, where people can take the time to construct their words and sentences, promote their most desirable qualities and hide behind the safety of a computer screen in a tracksuit and greasy hair going on day 3 while posting cropped and Photoshopped pictures on Facebook.  Not so easy to do it in person! I see people I’d love to be friends with – but I also see a similar pattern of being afraid to take a chance. I listen to the voices I carry around telling me “they wouldn’t be interested”, or “I’d be crossing professional boundaries” and worry about being rejected, content to stay in on Friday nights with my cat singing Rock Band to her delightfully non-judgmental and forever loyal little kitten face.  But that’s easy. And those people I want to be friends with? Would be awesome to hang out with instead.  I mentioned my nail girl and my massage therapist a few posts ago, when I was writing about where to find friendship as an adult. WoW doesn’t count. Well, let’s see. I see my nail girl every three weeks. We’ll talk for an hour or so and catch up and I find myself really looking forward to chatting and seeing how she’s doing, hearing her stories and sharing my own.  And wishing I could just have the courage to ask her to hang out sometime, so we could maybe do that more often.  Same thing with my massage therapist, who I see weekly, who’s as big of a nerd as I am, who seems to have the same kind of values I do, and who’s another Trekkie… who hasn’t been introduced to Doctor Who yet.  We’d be great friends! But still, I let that fear of rejection and crossing boundaries prevent me from taking the risk. Though this may have something to do with the fact that all of our conversations take place with me half naked with my face in a hole.  But still. Is that really a good reason for not potentially having a great new friend in my life?

What do you guys think?  Naturally, Facebook would be the easy route… but naturally, both of them have massively high privacy, non-contactable or addable profiles.  I have another appointment this Sunday for a massage, and an appointment on Thursday for my nails. Should I bite the bullet and just see what happens? And how do you do it without coming across a total weirdo?? Tips would be very much appreciated!

A call, an answer, and to new beginnings

First order of business: you guys are AWESOME.  Seriously, the emails, comments, texts, and cards in the MAIL made me feel tonnes better after the weekend, and I hope you know how much I appreciate every single one of you.

It’s been four days since everything went down this weekend, and I cannot even begin to describe how incredible they’ve been. On Sunday, I was hit with an unexpected blow, and after a few tears, I found in my inbox a message from one of my favourite bloggers.  It posed the question: “It may seem challenging, but when have you not been up for a challenge?” It threw me back to the last time I felt overwhelmed by something.  Back to almost a year ago, when I was afraid of everything. So crippled by the fear of judgment from others, so desperate to be living a different life, one where I could lead groups, speak my opinion, and be free of worry, perfectly secure in myself.  Back to when I made the decision to change everything.  Fast-forward a year, and I’m finishing up almost six months of teaching weekly classes, offering my thoughts in meetings, even singing in front of people. The journey still has miles left to go, but what I’m learning along the way, those tiny victories, give me the belief I can carry on. And the kick in the pants that I can do the same thing all over again if I have to.

When life throws us curveballs, I’m trying to grow into the person that realises the choice they have as to how to deal with them. Instead of taking the easy road into self-pity, when things aren’t going our way, we can get up and face the world head-on, taking new roads and new opportunities we may never have thought to try.  When one door slams harshly on our faces, we can struggle in vain to unlock it again – or we can walk away. Try a new one.  And see where it leads us.

Hannah’s words made me realise I had that opportunity. So Monday’s post was me putting it out to the universe – and the universe, in the last three days, has delivered. HARD CORE.  I was surprised that very afternoon, whilst at my desk at work, by a phone call from one Nate St. Pierre, down in the States, asking me what I planned on doing for lunch the next day.  I don’t think I’d ever been so simultaneously thrilled and confused! He explained that someone he’d spent a week with recently exploring Napa Valley, California, just so happened, according to Google Earth, to work two blocks down the street from me, and he thought we’d have a lot in common, and might hit it off! So Tuesday I went for my “blind date” – and had a wonderful lunch with his friend. We talked charity work, social media, travel, immigration to Canada, work – work! She just so happened to be pretty high up with a very well known chain of restaurants, and passed my info along to the regional manager – who called me today to see if I’d like to meet to talk about marketing and promotion while he was in town. During the first week of April. AKA my first week of unemployment. Coincidence? I don’t know, but all I know is I’m stunned by the impeccable timing of this wonderful twist of fate, and feeling rather excited indeed.

I also went out for lunch this week with a great coworker, who sadly is leaving the same day as me – we’ve shared many a laugh, a Glee-fest and a thought-provoking discussion since we’ve shared an office, and I’ll miss seeing her every day dreadfully – but at lunch this week, we talked about outside-of-work plans, including tea, good TV, and working on our goal of singing in front of people together.  I’m totally excited to spend more time with her!

And then today, I arrived home to a bit of a surprising email – from a friend I hadn’t spoken to in years.  I was shocked, initially – but after I finished reading it, I was literally jumping up and down.  We’d fallen out over something silly, and she’d read my post on Monday, and decided to reach out.  We used to be extremely close, and I was often sad she was no longer around – and all of a sudden, by random fluke, she finds my post, and decides to take a risk.  And it couldn’t have come at a better time.  This was the girl that I used to see multiple times a week, have endless conversations with, trade music with and convert to all my British TV. 🙂  Her email reminded me of how I’d felt about Sweet and I – we used to date years ago, didn’t speak for at least five, and had a second chance… after we’d had some time to learn more about ourselves, about the world.  And once we’d grown up a little, we got the chance to give it another go.  This time, the timing was right. And I’m awfully hopeful it’ll be a similar case with her, too.  We’re meeting to catch up this time next week – and I can’t wait.

I’m gobsmacked at the fact it’s only been a matter of days. And at the difference the power of choice can make.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned recently in life, it’s that we really do have the ability to shape our lives.  It’s just a matter of deciding what choice to make.  Sometimes, when you profess your desire for change to the universe, it really does deliver, with more rapidity and assurance than you ever could’ve hoped.

Despite many things right now still being very much up in the air, I’m feeling a heck of a lot more comfortable that everything’s going to work out just fine.  And I owe a great deal of that, my dears, to you guys.

Here’s to the next chapter…

Human-alien hybrids changed my life

“So you just figured you’d come here, to the most hostile environment known to man, with no training of any kind, and see how it went? What was going through your head?”

Maybe I was sick of doctors telling me what I couldn’t do.”

This weekend, two months later than the rest of the masses, Sweet and I went to see Avatar.  I’d heard so many amazing things, but we don’t tend to get out to the flicks very often (especially in winter; braving -30 on a Friday night isn’t always our first pick after a busy week), but this week, we decided on a date night of dinner and a movie (followed by late night rock band karaoke, could a girl ask for more?).  And I was STUNNED.

One of the first pieces of dialogue in the movie, there, made me instantly question its relevance to my life.  (Well maybe not instantly, I was initially preoccupied figuring out how to keep 3D glasses on my face over the top of my normal ones, and thoughts of how science was not only correcting my vision but allowing me to see 2D as 3D at the same time.  I’m a nerd, I know.)  The protagonist is an uneducated, physically disabled man who goes on to stand up against evil and save the world.  Seconds after I heard the on-screen exchange, I felt… empowered.  Motivated.  Determined, not only to keep taking small steps to my ongoing goal of overcoming anxiety, but blowing it out of the water – taking a giant leap out of my comfort zone and surprising everybody, most of all myself.

It’s been six months since I made the decision to stop living trapped by a fear that had taken over my life for so long.  I look back on the words in this post in astonishment at the fact that it was only six months ago when I decided I wanted to break free.  I recognised that I had a choice in how I lived my life; I could see what I wanted, but I was choosing to live it differently.  There was a discrepancy between what I dreamed of and held important… and what I was actually doing.  So I made the decision to change everything, and it’s been a journey of small steps, but always choosing to take the risk into new territory in the face of fear, bluffing my way through it… and getting incredible feedback.  Evaluation forms in my classroom full of “strongly agrees”, and this Friday, when I was put in a literal “fishbowl” on the spot in a training room full of staff to demonstrate what I’d learned over the week, inside I was shaking – but I chose to go first.

And as well as some incredible feedback, I got a round of applause! These small victories have kept me going – checking things off lists, practicing with increasingly difficult situations, and getting through them okay – I have an incredible sense of momentum, and I can’t wait for the day I can not only speak in front of a large group without my cheeks flushing or my heart racing, but the day I’m fuelled by the adrenaline and self-belief to actually want to do it.

The quote from the movie really made me think.  It’s taken six months to get to where I am now, but I still have a long way to go.  Every time I’ve pushed myself along the way, chosen to take a step – my initial worries were blown away by positive feedback; success.  I still get nervous – but I don’t let it stop me any more.  I’m no longer held back on the outside – I just want to be totally free on the inside, too.  My outlook has changed enormously – and I realise that the power of choice, making the decision and actively following through has been invaluable.  So if I’ve done okay in my little steps – what if I took a leap? Instead of following my PowerPoint to the letter next class, what if I threw things in on the spot? Games, jokes… and delivered with passion, positivity, and total confidence? It’s the people who can do that effortlessly that inspire me, because they can use it to make such a difference in people’s lives.  And, for the time being, at least – I’m in a position where I could potentially do that.

Found on Caro's blog

Avatar was not only visually stunning, incredibly written, and moved me to tears – but those first few words fuelled me with a desire to reach the finish line.  I’m going to choose to trust those little victories and take a risk next time I get up there.  I’m going to speak up, make people laugh, and really try be a positive influence in my little corner of the world.  Not for myself, but for the hope I might make a difference if I do.  I’m faced with the same choice I was back in July, just on a slightly larger scale.  I see how I’m choosing to live, choosing to let the nerves and anxiety sometimes get the better of me before I get up in front of people, resulting in an impression of a girl who’s uncertain and scared… I’m choosing to appear nervous, and I have the choice not to.  I think now, it’s time to take another risk.  What’s “going through my head”, as the movie said?

Maybe I’m sick of thinking of the things I can’t do.  I’m going to show the world I can.

Playing to your Strengths vs. Proving Yourself

I’m really lucky to work in an office with three lovely ladies I get along with so well.  We chat, we vent, we motivate each other with our goals and we get together at lunchtime to watch British TV on our computers.  They’ve become great friends, and yesterday, I was chatting with one of them about the idea of playing to your strengths versus feeling the need to prove yourself. 

Our organization is really great for putting people in roles they’re best suited for; I quickly moved into a position where I’m in charge of creating and booking all advertising and marketing material, as well as doing a fair bit of writing, whether for radio scripts, our website or people’s resumes.  I enjoy all these tasks, and after our “achieve your dreams” –themed retreat last year, I told my boss I wanted to challenge myself and start teaching.  

My wish was granted – the thought absolutely terrified me, but I was on a mission to overcome my anxiety and push myself out of my comfort zone.  I wanted to get my confidence back and stop being afraid.  So I was given one class every week.  These people saw past the fear and doubt and trusted me to develop a curriculum and actually deliver the information to people.  I’ve been doing it for a few months now, and yes, it’s become easier – I no longer get butterflies if I have to speak up in a meeting, and I can go into my little classroom and feel comfortable presenting my information, because I’ve had practice, and I remind myself I’m here to help these people.  I’m leaps and bounds from where I was, and I’m incredibly grateful to have been given the opportunity to grow. 

But yesterday I came to a realisation.  I had to give a presentation to a much larger group – and not just students, but other service providers.  Really Important People from across the province were coming to learn about what we did, and it was my job to represent us well.  I totally freaked out.  There were going to be twice the number of people I was used to, and the information wasn’t something I knew inside and out.  They weren’t coming in wearing jeans and hoodies, they were coming in wearing suits, armed with sophisticated haircuts and business cards.  This wasn’t my own little room, it was a big intimidating boardroom.  I was so far out of my comfort zone I panicked – and ended up asking someone else to do it.  For the first time in months I hit something too difficult.  All I’ve done so far in overcoming my anxiety has been little steps; small victories that have left me feeling that little bit more confident.  But this I couldn’t do.  

My current position is a term one that’s supposed to end in March, and the original plan was for me to go back to reception.  My thoughts: not going to happen.  Not to toot my own horn, but I can do a heck of a lot more than answer phones and make photocopies.  On top of the issue with the ergonomic factors and the back stuff I need to do throughout the day, I can’t do it.  So a few weeks ago, my wonderful boss and I had a little chat about The Future, and she told me, as long as we get funding (we’re a government-funded non-profit), there will most likely be a new position I can go into, involving all the same advertising and marketing stuff I’m doing now, as well as “more facilitation”. 

Yesterday, this got to me.  I’m incredibly grateful for everything they’ve done for me here, and I feel like since I asked for the opportunity to facilitate in the first place, I couldn’t really say I couldn’t do it.  They’re making a whole new position for me!  What sort of ungrateful cow would I be if I said I couldn’t do it?!  But I got thinking about the idea of putting people in roles that play to their strengths.  I’ve tried teaching, and though I’ve got a little bit better, it’s definitely not a strength.  I don’t think I’ll ever develop a love for being in the spotlight in front of people, and I don’t want to go to a job stressing out and being afraid to step into a classroom every day.  The experience has helped me immensely in terms of becoming more confident and less afraid, but it’s not a strength.  My strengths are in behind-the-scenes stuff.  I’m quietly opinionated and creative.  I love to write, and I love to design.  I could type for England.  I thrive in the sort of role I have now.  But I had to decide what was more important to me – proving to myself and the company that I was fully capable of being a facilitator (and forever being uncomfortable), or playing to my strengths?  

They say if you put someone in a position that doesn’t involve an inherent strength, they can learn – but they’ll never do as well as somebody who’s naturally good at it.  But if you put that person in a position that plays to their natural talents, they’ll excel.  A few months ago I heard this, and started questioning why I wanted to facilitate in the first place.  I think it was to put myself out of my comfort zone, and prove to myself I could do something I wanted to be able to so badly.  But it hasn’t developed into something I’m good at, and yesterday, my coworker and I were chatting about the importance of playing to your strengths versus proving yourself.

I started to worry, and had to email my boss asking what was meant by “more” facilitation.  What if it meant more people? Bigger classes, bigger chances to fail??  Maybe it meant “more often”.  I could deal with that – small groups, a few more times in the week would be okay.  I went home worrying about what I’d got myself into, and arrived back at the office in the morning to find an email from my boss. 

“Facilitation would be a small part of the position – and it would just be more small groups similar to what you’re doing now.  Don’t even THINK about work on your vacation!!!!”

So it looks like I’m going to get to keep the majority of my position – and the scary part doesn’t seem quite so scary after all.  If anything, it’s another small step in moving forward.  And it’s just the relief I needed before heading off next week.

How Badly Do You Want to Keep Those Resolutions Anyway?

It’s the last day of the decade.  I already did my recap of the noughties, and so having satisfied the need to look back and reflect on the past, it’s time to look forward at the year, decade, or however long, to come.  I kind of made a whole batch of resolotions earlier in the year, and as I sit here with 2009 rapidly fading faster than I can hold onto it, I’m trying to come up with some resolutions I can take on in the new year.

This year has been the biggest, most memorable, most wonderful and life-changing one yet.  So 2010 has a lot to live up to.   But I realised this year that I wanted to grow as a person, to push my boundaries, to figure out who I really was and start putting things into action to be on my way to being that person.  I’ve been thinking recently about a list I made earlier this year – I don’t think I ever blogged about it, but I certainly wrote it down and handed it to Sweet, who said he’d happily help me as much as he could to achieve every single thing on it before the year was out.  It was kind of a New Phase Resolution list – I’d spent months and months trying to cope with an anxiety disorder, and one night, after a big old cry, I rolled over and declared my resolution to break free.  He offered words of support, but also cautioned that big changes didn’t just happen overnight – and being the stubborn, impulsive girl I am, I told him yes, they bloody well could.  I made the List, and set about changing things the very next day.

It looks so ridiculous now, but if you’ve ever experienced severe anxiety, I’m sure you can relate.  I remember my first (and only) visit to ADAM, where I was shown a page of a book called Dying of Embarrassment; a list of common thoughts people have when experiencing this type of thing.  Things like “I look stupid.  Incompetent.  Everybody’s judging me.  I’m not good enough.  I’m too fat.  Nobody cares about me.” I remember taking one look and bursting into tears on the spot because in all honesty, that kind of self-deprecating mantra was stuck on a continual loop around my head – it became a habit that defined my life, and ultimately landed me numerous sleepless, tear-filled nights and a fear of socialization.

I’d make plans because I felt I needed human interaction in order to feel wanted, only to cancel them last minute as a result of my fear of being judged.  What if I look stupid when I eat?  What if they think I’m boring? I’d sit silently in meetings at work.  What if I’m too quiet?  What if I say something dumb? I was thrilled when I got my own office at work, so I didn’t have to go sit in the lunch room where I’d spent the first 5 months of my employment not eating for fear of spilling/looking stupid.  It all sounds so far-fetched and ridiculous, looking back – but at the time, the smallest thing – even taking the bus and the back door getting stuck – filled me with fear.

Recently, Sweet and I were driving along, probably talking about what we were going to resolve to do for the new year, and I asked him if he remembered the list.  “Of course,” he said.  I remembered some of the things I’d put on it that I’d wanted to be able to do comfortably, without that sinking feeling, turning a rather flattering shade of crimson, shaking, or my heart beating up a storm:

  • Go to meetings and offer opinions
  • Stand up in front of people and teach a class, or give a speech
  • Sing in front of somebody without reservation
  • Sit at the back of the bus and not be afraid of doors not working
  • Look in the mirror and feel somewhat attractive
  • Eat dessert without feeling fat and beating myself up
  • Write regulary, and write well
  • Host a party without the fear of nobody coming
  • Make (and keep) plans with friends
  • Get through one day without thinking something negative about myself

These are a small handful of things that were on the list. And now, from the other side of making that decision, they look so ridiculously small.  Totally manageable and not a big deal at all.  I posed the question to Sweet: “Is there anything left?” In the last six months, I’ve gone to meetings, spoken up, and initiated new practices.  I’ve said grace, I’ve sung songs when musical inspiration struck, and I’ve done photoshoots with confidence.  I’ve started writing again without feeling like nobody cares what I have to say – thanks to you guys for reading, I’ve gone from 260 page views for the month of October to almost 3,000 in December alone, and it makes me feel like maybe I am actually good at something.  I’ve seen friends regularly, eaten a tonne of cake without worrying how large my thighs are going to be, and am teaching my own class every week.  I’ve stopped worrying about things I can’t control, and have spent my time and energy in an entirely more positive way.

It’s astonishing how much can change if you make the choice to just do it.  And this is why I’d asked Matt to guest post for me at the end of the year, at a time when people are thinking about everything they didn’t like about the year passed by and resolving to change things for the one peeking its head around the corner.  “This year’s going to be different,” people say at this time of year.  People make all sorts of grandiose declarations and by the time Christmas rolls around, wonder what the heck happened.  So when you’re making your resolutions, I hope some of you can really take that to heart.  You can choose to live your life however you want to.  Just decide to change everything you don’t like about your life, no matter how intimidating – because I’ve never felt better, and I can’t wait to face the new year with newfound strength, belief and optimism.  I’ve also had a great deal of support from close friends, loved ones, and people like you.  It’s because of these people I stopped looking at what I was, and started believing in what I could be. When life throws us difficulty, we have a choice to go one of two ways – there’s a quote I’ve always liked that seems quite appropriate for any situation: Life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you choose to react to it.

Even if the path looks treacherous – the end result can make all the difference in the world.  So here’s to a new year, full of new choices, new hopes, and a new drive and determination to make all wishes come true.  Happy new year to all of you, and thank you.  Your readership and comments have done more for me than I think most of you know, and for all your stories, support, and friendship – thank you.

And I promise I’ll quit slacking off and come up with some proper New Year’s Resolutions before the week’s out. 🙂

Poster of a Girl

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about Things I Want To Achieve in life, you know, the big stuff. What I want my profession to be in ten or fifteen years. Which things I want to conquer, and why. What I’m going to do to make a difference in the world. This was all brought about on Friday, when I took my biggest step yet in getting over my anxiety, something that’s socially crippled me for a larger chunk of my life than I’d like to admit.

I taught my very first class. And after a week leading up to it full of restless nights, I actually did it, and left the room slightly shaky – but entirely overwhelmed, with a sense of accomplishment I haven’t felt in a very long time. And I have to thank my newfound faith, and the prayers and encouragement of people close to me who’ve reminded me that I wasn’t put on this earth to be afraid and held back by fear, and if I wanted to make a different in people’s lives, however small, I was bloody well going to do it. So I did, and now I get to continue to push myself, continue to grow, and continue to get better at it, all the while hopefully passing on some kind of knowledge to those who may not have it, who may use something I said to feel like they can do something too. Which is pretty cool.

I also had a really cool lunch with one of my coworkers on Friday, where we sat cross-legged at little tables, eating sushi and debating the different thought processes people have. I did a brief stint studying psychology in university, and though I never finished, I never lost my fascination for everything encompassing it, and in the office we often talk about different personality types and how they relate to careers, hobbies, etc. I’ve taken the Myers-Brigg several times, always with the same result – an INFJ, making up a whopping 1% of the population. INFJ’s are known as “Protectors” or “Counsellors” with an emphasis on heightened emotional sensitivity, introversion, creativity and caring. Which is all very accurate. So then why, in my coworker’s words, “why do you want to prove you can be in the spotlight?” Why do I want to be able to be comfortable in front of people?

“Because I used to be”, I answered. Which wasn’t a lie; go back ten years and you’ll find a girl heavily invested in performing; a girl who went to stage school every week, put on talent shows, organised fundraisers and sang her heart out in shows and bands. Go back fifteen and you’ll find a child who was always first to volunteer to take the solo part of the chorus in school musicals, always the first to narrate when reading stories. My childhood formative years were full of extraversion, creativity and a love of the limelight. But fastforward to those “adult” formative years, between 18 and 23, and you see a different story. Those were the years my anxiety grew progressively worse, and I always looked back and blamed the series of dysfunctional, slightly abusive relationships I kept getting myself into. How could a girl ever believe in herself when everyone she ever loved treated her terribly? Looking back, all I can say is it was a huge learning experience, but it definitely left me feeling pretty rubbish about myself, and knocked my confidence completely.

So why DID I want to push myself out of my comfort zone so badly? When being in front of people made me feel physically sick, my head was full of fear and my body started shaking, why did I so badly want to push myself into this situation? I wish I knew my Intraversion/Extraversion scores numerically; maybe, as my coworker suggested, I was on the borderline. 51% Introvert, 49% Extrovert, though if you only came into my life in that period, you’d never know it. I asked myself why, if I was naturally an introvert, I felt so uncomfortable being alone – felt the need for company, to be out and about and doing things. But then if I was so close to being an extrovert, why being in the spotlight made me want to run for the hills. It’s a very interesting time in my life, and I don’t have the answers yet.

But I do know that I can do it. I can put myself out there and be absolutely fine in front of other people, because there’s evidence to show that I’ve done it before. Sure, I might be quiet by nature, and a pretty tough period in my life may have led me to believe I didn’t have anything worth giving to the outside world. But things have become clear to me, in the last year. I used to let the fear of other people’s judgment control my life. And it’s a REALLY tough thought pattern to let go of. But if I don’t, I’m never going to be all I can be. And whose opinion about me really matters? The people I love, and the people I’m putting myself out there for – people I want to help. I was lucky enough to get a pretty good education, and I’ve had opportunities in life that now allow me to be in a position to share some of that education with people who may never have had the chance. Seeing someone at 10:00 on Friday looking at me so lost, and then two hours later fully engaged and asking questions and looking a whole lot more confident left me feeling pretty good.

So I’m going to keep working at it. I may never be back dancing on stage, or fronting a rock band again. But I can keep pushing myself to be in front of people, with the goal of getting back to who I was meant to be, and hopefully helping other people out a little bit. As for performing in front of anybody again – well, isn’t that what cats are for?