life lessons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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To Bring Out the Very Best in Others

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Tell-Tale Heart

Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway.

– Eleanor Roosevelt

So many emotions running through my veins, tangling themselves up and forming themselves into words so desperate to launch themselves out into the world with the hope of landing somewhere in a place of understanding. I didn’t know where to aim, so I  turned here.

For the first time in my life, I feel I’ve been filled with a spirit of standing up for myself, for my own being, my own feelings, my own heart and my own worth, and it seems I should preface this with the fact that I shouldn’t have to – everybody is made up of a thousand different thoughts and experiences that lead them down different paths and shape their ideas and viewpoints and lives and very beings… nobody should have to feel they have to defend themselves. But the past has taught me that the Internet, heck, the world, is filled with those who see one veering off the path of formulaic shoulds and seek to judge or offer advice before first venturing in to understand. I know true friends, genuine, caring souls will do that, and I thank everyone for their concern in recent days and, I’m sure, in those yet to come… but I just have to give my heart the floor for a moment; thrust its worn and battered soul back into centre stage and hope for the best.

I always maintained I never wanted to die without any scars. The idea of “living backward” is something I’ve latched onto in recent years; grasping every day and opportunity by the throat and living the fuck out of it, seeing every second as a gift and living with the mentality that if you live life to pieces, there’s no possibility in the world that you’ll get to the end of it and have regret. I don’t want to die without any scars. And my heart is covered in them, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Because with every one of them has come incredible experience, lessons, growth, memories… the choice to keep going is not an easy one, and I’m sure any sane person would lock it away behind a fortress where it could be protected from the dark depths that sadly must exist if the highest of highs are ever to be experienced… it would be easy to hide away from life, to take time, to barricade myself from the world if just to stay safe. But this goes against my very way of living. Our days are finite. We are filled with an endless capacity to feel… and just because the world’s timeline says our actions and paths must be those that are pre-carved to be societally acceptable doesn’t mean it aligns with mine.

Every time we listen to what someone else says we should be doing, we fall away from what our heart tells us we need to be. Yet we go along with it, because it’s normal. It’s traditional. It’s “the rules”. We grow up, and go to university, and get a degree because that will get us a job. We meet someone, stick it out even though it’s not perfect, and settle in relationships that aren’t so bad and can sometimes be pretty good, and we tune out the gut instinct that tells you there might be more. We get mortgages and houses and have children and work jobs that pay the bills and it’s all so very safe. But why are we given these instincts, these wishes, these strong desires and hopes and dreams if we’re not allowed to follow them? I think we are allowed. I think it’s just scary because it’s so much easier to play it safe and follow the path, and it’s so much scarier to be judged for veering into the forest. It’s so much scarier not having a safety net. But if we weren’t meant to have these feelings of curiosity and hope and passion for something more, why are we equipped with the capacity to have them?

I want to clarify what’s happened over the course of the past week… and the past little while. The past few months… the past two years… the past five… I want to be understood. Again, I am hit with this sentiment, but I also – and I guess this is my super INFJ-ness coming out – am hard wired with a desperate need to be understood.

If other people do not understand our behavior—so what? Their request that we must only do what they understand is an attempt to dictate to us. If this is being “asocial” or “irrational” in their eyes, so be it. Mostly they resent our freedom and our courage to be ourselves. We owe nobody an explanation or an accounting, as long as our acts do not hurt or infringe on them. How many lives have been ruined by this need to “explain,” which usually implies that the explanation be “understood,” i.e. approved. Let your deeds be judged, and from your deeds, your real intentions, but know that a free person owes an explanation only to himself—to his reason and his conscience—and to the few who may have a justified claim for explanation.

I was told recently that attachment to safe, neutral, acceptable terms can neither steal nor produce anything of true value… or it can produce an urgency, to live, to feel, to create, to love, to dream… to create a life so full of experience that the heart is so well travelled that when it finally reaches its destination it recognises where it’s meant to be.  Why should we be conditioned to live the life the rest of the world tells us we should? Why should our own timeline be bent and shaped according to what’s traditional just because it’s what everybody else does? Anything could happen tomorrow. I don’t know if I’m going to be on this planet for another day or another ten years or another ninety, but I don’t want to waste a second of it. I have no patience for waiting in corners and turning away opportunities when I know, I know that the path I was on was the wrong one. Let me regain my footing on another that may lead to exactly where I’m meant to be. And if not, let me make my mistakes. This life is mine, and these choices are mine. This heart is mine and this sense of never giving up may be frowned on or judged, but let me do it my wayIt is my right.

I sobbed for a good two hours straight last night at the realisation that with my decisions comes judgment from so many who see things from afar without bothering to take the time to first come in, see what my past has held, whether near or far, and where it has led me. I was the one that was left. Repeatedly. I gave all, and for the longest time, I held onto something that hadn’t been right for a very long time. I think we all have a tendency to do that… to accept what we have, to ignore the feelings of feeling misunderstood and the imaginings of something more. To accept that no two people are perfect and to just make the most of it. I did that. I did that every time I was left and convinced myself that with enough work, things could be perfect. But when the decision was made, for the final time, for the first time I felt equipped with enough self confidence, enough passions and enough truly incredible people in my life that I didn’t have to settle for forever feeling inadequate. So this time, I accepted it. It so happened that in recent months that what could be was illuminated… I did nothing wrong. I came to a realisation that I was worth more than forever being left, forever struggling and fighting for understanding… and I realise that on the surface, it may look like “jumping”, from one thing to another, but we’d been strangers for a long time. Different homes, different friends, and a building of walls I tried so hard to break. It is no-ones decision to judge but mine, but I’m so incredibly saddened that the world jumps to easy conclusions before first hearing, knowing, understanding the path that led to where I am. 

I hold no resentment or malice. The past two years have filled me with incredible memories, gratitude, learning experiences and a growth that’s fuelled me forward to a place where I finally feel at peace with who I am… I feel for the first time it’s okay to be the way I am, emotionality and all. Yes, I’m throwing my heart open again, but I genuinely feel for the first time… it’s understood. It’s recognised. It’s battered and bruised, but it’s filled with an eternal hope. All its past flaws are somehow now seen as strength and beauty and I’m embarking upon something with someone whose heart truly speaks the same language. I’m genuinely happy, and I feel like I… deserve to be. This is my path. Please let me walk it. If for no other reason than tomorrow, it’s my fucking birthday.

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. 

 

A slightly sad post on life and the philosophy of happiness

It’s kind of ironic I sit here today writing about happiness when recently, I’ve felt so sad. I’m sad that every day I feel I’m running at a thousand miles per hour just to achieve the tasks assigned to me and feel myself slipping under the tide. I’m sad it’s all had such an effect on my wellbeing – I find myself doing, doing, doing, just to do what’s right and what’s needed – with the side effect of having lost all appetite for weeks, being unable to eat breakfast, not having time for lunch, and eating something quick and full of crap in the evenings if anything at all because I am obsessed with always needing to be doing. Since February, I now find myself at 104 lbs. And I feel it.

I know everyone says you need to take time to nurture yourself if you’re going to have any chance at functioning as an optimal human, but I can’t do it. I know I need to relax. I need nothing more than a good night’s sleep, a few hours and a glass of wine to do some reading or writing, an empty apartment so I can sing my heart out, or an evening free tasks and chores and fretting to just do something I love. Apparently I’ve  started grinding my teeth at night “with such intensity it’s a wonder the teeth didn’t fall out”. I looked it up to see if it had anything to do with the jaw pain I’ve developed lately – it hurts to open my mouth wide, affecting chewing, singing, yawning – minds out of the gutter – but apparently this is something that happens with stress. And it’s affecting some of the things I really love to do. That video I posted last week? I was so excited to try out my new equipment. But it hurt like hell to just get the words out.

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I know, attractive, right? I want my other vampire tooth back!

I’m going to stop whining and being such a bloody sad panda here because I said this was a post about happiness – though it’s more a philosophical one than one relating to my own. Despite this manic busy-ness that I’ve either stumbled into, taken upon myself or had thrown at me (I’m really not sure), I still have time to think. And there’s always so much going on inside my head.

Two happiness-related questions came up in conversations recently:

1. If a person lost their altruism, stopped caring/doing things for others above themselves, and became utterly selfish, would they be happier?

2. Is it better to live in ignorance of a certain knowledge or truth if it means being happier?

I think with both these hypotheticals, there’s a difference between day-to-day happiness and longer term, “ultimate” happiness. There’s also the defining factors of happiness that fit in as well, but I’ll get to that in a bit. If I remember.

The first question really stopped me in my tracks. I know my tendency to always put myself at the bottom of the priority list should be a good thing in a person, but lately it’s become harmful. I can’t take a bath without getting out after five minutes because there’s dishes or ironing to be done. I cancel social obligations and plans with friends if there’s an important deadline at work and I can take an extra few hours in the evening to work on it. But my problem is that I see everything else as a priority. Everything. In the moment, this is causing me harm – I’m becoming more anxious, losing weight, skipping meals, losing sleep, and feeling overwhelmed – because I insist on putting everything above my own wellbeing. But in the end, I’d hate myself if I did anything else. Taking an evening to do nothing but get a takeaway, read a good book, or go to the movies is a foreign concept to me right now because there is so much that needs to be done. I’d feel like I was letting everyone around me down if I took that time to “self-nurture”. For the first few weeks at my job I’d feel guilty going to the lunch room to get a glass of water or some lunch because it might look like I have the time to do it. I’m fully aware this is crazy. Short term? It is. But long term… even if this is wrong (and you can tell that somewhere, I know it is)… I think it makes me happy. Knowing I did everything I possibly could for others gives me a sense of enormous wellbeing. But in the current moment, I’m burning out.

I think back to the question and think of examples of people I’ve encountered who were exactly the opposite. They put themselves first in every situation, took two-hour lunch breaks, charged every fancy meal to the company, and manipulated and bullied others to get them to do what they desired. And they were completely content with living this way. Yes, to many they came across as selfish and arrogant, but day to day, they seemed perfectly happy with their life, because they get what they want.

I spoke to a friend recently who makes an incredible impact on the world. A lot of you will know who this person is and will probably have spoken with this person numerous times. This person is an incredible soul whose life consists of doing enormous things to change people’s lives for the better in the biggest ways possible. This person’s entire life is comprised of efforts of continually making the world a better place. But speaking to this person, there’s a sadness. This person has no time to for self-nurturing, or spend time doing the things they love. But this person keeps doing it anyway, because (and I’m guessing here), of a similar personal value system. Leave the world a better place then when you found it, whether on the smallest scale of doing errands for somebody you love simply so they don’t have to, or by organising global fundraisers to help those in desperate need of help and making headline-breaking news in doing so.

From a study I was reading (a backwards take [does happiness result in selfishness, not vice versa], but still an interesting read:

Does temporary mood influence how fair or selfish we are in interpersonal situations? These three experiments predicted and found that when people have the power to allocate scarce resources between themselves and others in the dictator game, positive mood increased selfishness, and sad mood produced greater fairness. In a public setting (Experiment 1), happy persons kept more raffle tickets to themselves when making allocations, and Experiment 2 confirmed this effect in the laboratory. Experiment 3 showed that mood effects on selfishness were strongest when the external norms for fairness were relaxed. The results are discussed in terms recent affect-cognition theories, suggesting that positive mood recruits more assimilative, internally focused processing, while negative affect promotes more externally oriented, accommodative processing and thus greater concern with social norms. The implications of the findings for everyday interpersonal decisions are considered.

I will always advocate for altruism, maybe at the expense of immediate happiness, but with the hope that ultimately, it will make me happy. I’d feel like a terrible person if I did anything else – even if it does seem that selfish people are generally happier on a day to day basis. I just need to learn to figure out how to fit my own immediate happiness into the equation. (I kind of want to go off on an evolutionary tangent on why altruism is part of our programming in the first place, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

As a certain Ms. Keller once put it: “I would rather walk with a friend in the dark than alone in the light.” 

2. So, onto the second thought – is it better to be happier in ignorance of truth, or be aware of your entire reality, even if it lessens happiness? I had this debate with a friend last night, and I – now, at this point in my life – am firmly on the side of always being informed. I’ve lived life in the past believing things and keeping myself in the dark because I knew reality would hurt, and I liked believing something I didn’t quite question, but generally made me feel better. Coming to the conclusion that there is no cosmic, divine force or afterlife hurt, but ultimately, it’s made me happier. It’s made me value every minute of every day. Blissful ignorance goes against the value I place on knowledge and education. Again, there’s an element of short-term happiness and long-term in play here – and it comes down to a matter of how much weight you place on what you value. I imagine a scale of knowledge versus happiness existing in the present moment – there are so many things I’m certain I’d be happier not knowing – but if you don’t know about the things that could potentially upset you, then you can’t do anything about them. You can’t grow as a person unless you keep learning and experiencing, and I don’t believe hiding knowledge at the expense of happiness is a good thing.

This discussion came about as a result of informing people about his condition. He’s a very private person, and I think the main reason he didn’t want people to know was because knowing would equal them worrying and being less happy. But if it were you… if someone you loved and cared about hid what life was really like… wouldn’t you want to know, so you could do something – even if that did mean a temporary decrease in overall happiness (purely from the knowledge that someone you care about is suffering)? I thought back to some past relationships, and some of the things I found out after they ended. Yes, they were tough things to learn – and at the time, I felt a fool, I felt stupid, and of course I was unhappy – something I thought was real for a period was most definitely not the whole picture, and it made me sad – but ultimately, the learning experience has led to personal growth, experience, and ultimately, strength… all resulting in my being a more informed, and thus happier, person. Maybe short term pain really does translate into long term gain. As long as your intent is never to actively hurt someone for the sake of hurting them, educating and informing is always worth more in the end. I think.

I’m going to wrap up this philosophical stuff and actually end on a few happy notes. The darkness, after all, defines where the light is, and there haven’t been days without some pretty awesome positives. Firstly of which, I suppose, would be my new car!

After talking with a good friend, who’s actually visited me at my new job, my work location also came into play. I’ve worked in dodgy areas before, and it’s not like I haven’t had hobo snotrockets fly into my actual mouth (welcome, new friends!) as a result – but I’m back out of the corporate world and into another area of downtown that isn’t exactly the most… comfortable, and it’s a ten minute walk from the bus stop. (Okay, there was a pile of poop and some vomit at the corner of the building for three days last week, and the streets are scattered with zombie-like street folk on substances half the time.) She affirmed my necessity of a vehicle – if not just to be able to see people, but to decrease my likelihood of actually getting mugged (or thrown up at) on the way to work.

After one god-awful experience with my first ever dealership, I went somewhere recommended – and it was amazing! No pressure, completely friendly and respectful – it was like going to visit old family friends more than salespeople. After much budgeting and deliberation, it was decided – I was getting the car I literally squealed at when I first drove into the lot. Oh, and it matches my lime green handbag exactly. Hello, Being a Grown Up!

I’ve also re-taken up (there’s a real word for that, I’m sure) an old hobby of mine I always enjoyed: photo shoots. I’ve developed a love for the more creative, conceptual shoots moreso than any other – pictures that go beyond the norm and tell an entire story. I’ve met some amazing people in the process, too, and already have some dates planned for things that evoke more of me… including a neo-goth type runway show sometime later in the year!

shoots

I’m also going to see my favourite band in the whole world next month. Around this time last year, I took a road trip down to Minneapolis to see another excellent, excellent band, and it was the most fun ever. I’ve already seen Mumford and Sons, but it was in a tiny venue before they’d even released Sigh No More in North America. The electric feeling of absolute eagerness and anticipation was indescribable – those couple of hundred people, if that, all gathered in one place to experience something magical together. Passion is always best when shared with fellow enthusiasts, and this time there’s going to be thousands of them. On top, I discovered I had enough travel points accumulated through my Visa that I scored as three nights in an extra-fancy hotel, minutes from the stadium, for absolutely nothing. And this time, it’s domestic – meaning we can take his medication. Last year was a risk. This year – as with anything, really, may still be a risk, but that reassuring factor at least is there. It’s going to be one of those life-changing, soul-stirring, breathtaking experiences I’ll never forget, and I’m excited beyond words.

mumford

And lastly, I can’t go without addressing the generosity of friends, family, colleagues and complete strangers. I wanted to do something big for The Professor as a result of our recent situation – a fundraiser of some sort, but he was having none of it. “There are people who need help much more than I do, and if I can make it work on my own, then shouldn’t they be the ones to receive it?” Boys. I understand the pride component. I’m generally horribly awkward when it comes to even borrowing money from people, and I can’t imagine how uncomfortable it would be to have an entire group of people just giving it to you – I wouldn’t know how to thank them, and I’d feel, probably, a certain degree of embarrassment – so I understand where he’s coming from. But at the same time, I couldn’t do nothing. So I signed up for the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada’s Spring Sprint, with the intention of power-walking my way across 2.5k (really, can you imagine me running?) one day in June and maybe getting a little financial support along the way to go toward the charity. It’s kind of exploded – and I now have a team of fellow runners, and we’re sitting at almost $1,000 thanks to the incredible generosity of some of those we’re lucky to have in our lives – and from people who read the story and spread the word in their communities, retweeted, etc. and felt compelled to help. I do wish the fundraiser was going to have a direct impact on him, to get him the medication and to allow him to come home – but knowing that in this way, I’m kind of honouring his wishes, and that in some way, maybe the funds raised will go toward the kind of research and programs that will help people like him – and those others affected by this monster of a disease.

sprint

To read the story of why I’m doing this, to join our team, or simply to make a small donation, please click here. Anyone who helps in any way at all is an absolute rock star.

So yeah. Sadness… happiness… philosophy… life. Forgive the stream of consciousness.

“There’s always going to be bad stuff out there. But here’s the amazing thing — light trumps darkness, every time. You stick a candle into the dark, but you can’t stick the dark into the light.” – Jodi Picoult

Of typewriters and tear-stained tempests

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

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

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

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

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

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

via Hyperbole and a Half

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

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

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

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

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