The Universe

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.

My New Confusion (and other future album titles)

Caveat: This post was very nearly entitled How to Lose Friends and Alienate Everyone: Further Lessons in Social Suicide. Another: This post is rather long. You may want to put the kettle on. You should really know that this post is not intended to offend, and if incidences of such result, please accept my most sincere apologies. But if you’re reading this, you’re probably fully aware that I don’t hide my thoughts – and this post is simply an exploration of some new ideas, written in the hopes of hearing some of yours.

Now, studying the psychology behind human personalities, thought processes and social interactions has always been a passion of mine. Perhaps it’s the science geek in me, but I’ve always had a keen interest in examining the inner workings of something to figure out how and why it works the way it does. Throughout the process of self-investigation, I’ve learned an awful lot that’s helped me become more comfortable in my own skin – desperate desires to be something else have transformed into the aspiration to simply develop and hone who I already am, and an understanding of true introversion, personality type and priorities has helped certain social anxieties evaporate. One thing I’ve learned about being an INFJ (also known as “The Counsellor”) is the tendency to want to fix things: whether it’s a problem in the workplace, in a friend’s life, or in my own, my first instinct is to go into action plan mode and set about restoring the balance. I derive an immense satisfaction from problem-solving, which I think can be a good thing – but on the flipside, it gives way to intense feelings of discontent when a solution cannot easily be found.

Lately I’ve been faced with a bit of a problem – a problem of the soul. Not too long ago, I posted a giant essay on my spiritual belief system – on how I came to believe what I do, what I don’t, and how it shapes my world view. For the majority of my life, I never really had a solid set of beliefs – I was open to a lot of things, but growing up, no one belief system was laid down as fact (something for which I am incredibly grateful; I believe curiosity and learning one’s own lessons results in something ultimately far more meaningful than something that at the end of the day is only somebody else’s version of truth). Over the years, I’ve been exposed to Christianity in various denominations and guises — Seventh Day Adventism, Atheism, Buddhism, Taoism and simple spiritual curiosity, and subsequently have pulled pieces and ideas from here and there to shape what I can get behind, and what I can’t.  As I’d previously written, something I’d decided was that I simply wasn’t able to stick any sort of label on myself: if you do, you acknowledge that you are different from everyone who believes anything other than you, and subsequently participate in the continuation of human division. Instead of uniting and focusing on the main principles of a religion, people get caught up in the politics of what makes “my” denomination different from “yours”. And that doesn’t make any sense to me at all – surely a spirit of unity would make this a better world than a splintered race divided?

You may have noticed I’ve made an ongoing reference to the Universe in many a post, and in recent years, the idea that life events play out as signs from such to steer us toward the right path is something that’s helped me deal with a whole lot of crap. But a recent conversation has made me think of this philosophy in a whole new light: where do the people who are condemned to live awful lives fit in? Sure, we all go through major challenges in life. And I firmly believe every one of us possesses the ability to choose the attitude with which we face those hurdles. Seeing them as signs from the Universe to open my eyes to what’s really important in life is something that’s facilitated dealing with the tough stuff – it’s made me evaluate how I really feel, what I really want, what I’ll bear and what I won’t stand for, and has helped me more and more when life throws curveballs to apply the philosophy that this too, shall pass. But what about those people forced to live an existence in a war-torn country, or people born into families whose households explode with domestic violence? What about those people with terrible diseases, or who lose everything in giant natural disasters? Is the Universe asking them to “just learn from it”?  I’m almost furious with myself for allowing my outlook to become so limited. I feel I’ve done nothing more than observe patterns, hypothesise explanations, and conclude it as fact simply because it’s what suits me. I feel incredibly unsettled if so, because it means my world view extends to nothing beyond my own field of vision. And that’s incredibly small-minded, and in direct conflict with how I want to live.

When it comes to faith in something more, I’ve always harboured a slight opposition toward those who put on their Sunday best, drive past all the homeless people and go to church every Sunday while allowing the words they utter inside evaporate the moment they step outside after the service. I was talking with a friend of mine recently whose mother’s behaviour had wildly affected her view toward religion: she’d attended services daily, preaching love, forgiveness and servanthood, and would get home afterward and beat her children for not doing as they’re told. But read Proverbs 13:24Proverbs 22:15 or Proverbs 23:13-14, and apparently, that’s perfectly okay. And I don’t understand how something that permits such actions could be a good thing. As well, hypocrisy has always bothered me immensely, and I’ve never been able to stomach the idea of so-called believers whose daily actions defy the doctrine to which they are supposedly devoted. I’ve witnessed first hand people who claim to be “good Christians,” yet partake in all sorts of behaviours that fuel division, malice and hatred. I’ve never really fully understood why something that makes people feel unworthy and guilty, and holds the promise of a reward like a carrot on a stick is seen as a model for creating good people. Surely people can be good on the basis of making intelligent decisions and doing good deeds regardless? But that’s not to say there aren’t an enormous amount of truly wonderful people who live lives of integrity founded on their belief in a higher power. The Dalai Lama once said that he fully believed anyone was capable of living a good life with or without religion. I completely agree. I saw this recently, and found it rather interesting indeed.

I see so many hypocritical so-called religious people, and I see just as many non-religious folk going about the world spreading love and making a real difference. I don’t believe one has to have religion in order to be considered a good person. Like I said, if I can’t get behind something 100%, then I can’t call myself a follower of anything at all. So where does that leave me in terms of what up until this point has been my answer to life? No longer does my equation solve every problem. My eyes have been opened to the fact that it has only ever really suited the ones to which I selectively applied it. And that makes me feel nothing more than a fraud, and leaves me stranded at a crossroads of blank signs.

Where does one turn when a belief system has been proved flawed? When one size no longer fits all, yet has provided comfort in terms of being able to deal with life’s challenges? Just because something is comfortable doesn’t mean it’s real. Surely everything would be much more comfortable if we were always surrounded by a nice fluffy cushion – it doesn’t make it real life. But if the idea of the Universe providing signs to steer us each onto our respective life paths is unfounded in terms of the grand scheme of the world, then what the heck does it all mean? On one hand, if life really is entirely within our control, perhaps what’s been a prevailing force as of late is exactly what it’s all about: realising our innate power of choice and making the right decisions even when they’re difficult. That doesn’t really address the topics of causality, free will or determinism, but that’s far too complicated a topic that’s better shelved for future discussion. But on the other, if I abandon the philosophy that I genuinely believe has helped me grow into a better human being, I risk dealing with future blows in unhealthy ways. Plus it doesn’t explain at all why those fated to all sorts of terrible circumstances must live with the hands they are dealt. My belief has allowed me to quickly move forward with life following challenges: knowing that it happened for a reason has helped me accept it, and focus my energy on the here and now instead of futile questioning and endeavours at rewriting an already written past. But if there is no reason for anything and our fate really lies solely in our own hands, then how does that explain why bad things happen to good people?

I realise I’m starting to wax ever so slightly philosophical here. But I’m a geek, and I like my problems to have solutions. Being unable to come up with an answer leaves me feeling a little helpless, and I don’t think any of us deal well with a loss of control. I’m in a bit of a limbo, I think, and I’m not really sure where to go from here. Faith in the Universe, fate or destiny just because it makes things easier sometimes goes against my advocacy for intelligence and education. Yet I can’t help but channel Fox Mulder a little here, and still feel I want to believe. But what I’m not certain about is the real reason why. I’m curious though, to hear of how you arrived at your personal belief system, and why it makes sense for you. How did you come to believe what you do, and what makes your truth real?

Peel the scars from off my back, I don’t need them any more

Peel the scars from off my back,
I don’t need them any more,
You can throw them out
Or keep them in your mason jars,
I’ve come home

– Lyrics from the beautiful Welcome Home (Radical Face)

If you told me a month ago I would now be happier and feeling more at home than I have in my entire life, I probably would have sent you back to the TARDIS to try another point in spacetime after clearly getting the wrong coordinates. I didn’t imagine that in such a short time, what would commonly be seen as one of the worst things that could happen in a lifetime was the catalyst that led me toward the path that genuinely feels more right than anything. I’ve always been a huge advocate for the power of choice, and when everything that’s supposedly certain is pulled out from under your feet leaving you hanging in mid-air, you really do have one: panicking at the loss of control, or shifting your focus toward something you can, and trusting that by allowing yourself to be open to a whole new beginning instead of frantically clinging onto a door already closed, the universe will deliver. And here I sit, a few months later, more secure, happy, and genuinely at peace than I think I ever have been. But I’m not going to lie and say that dealing with people’s reaction to the supposedly abnormal feelings of wellbeing hasn’t been a challenge.

There aren’t a lot of things in life that bother me, but one of them definitely comes in the form of people passing judgment before hearing a whole story, or put more simply: gossip. There have been all sorts of interesting studies about our propensity for talking about people who aren’t in the room, and the psychology of it is rather fascinating. On the plus side, it serves as something that bonds social group members together and can result in feelings of interconnectedness and belonging. But on the reverse, it can destroy friendships and reputations, and can lead one to feelings of alienation, humiliation and belittlement over invented or assumed stories passed through the rumour mill with little to no truth at all. So why is it that the human race is so quick to judge others without first bothering to hear the truth?

As I’m sure many of us experience at some point or another, I’m no stranger to being talked about. I think us bloggers especially may even inadvertently bring it upon ourselves: by putting our hearts, hopes, fears and dreams out there for the whole world to see, naturally there are going to be some old blasts from the past, jealous haters or other Internet trolls that are going to latch onto something you say and use it to fuel spiteful comments or make judgment about you. Something I’ve been tossing about my head lately is something about which I’m not sure how to feel: you know I’m hugely passionate about the idea of giving your all to everyone and everything, but the trouble with always pouring your soul into every open door is the fact that every subsequent occupant will have a piece of you that may no longer reflect the person you are today. This leads to incredible frustration when judgments are passed on those pieces of the past – everyone’s life path is strewn with wrong turns and mistakes here and there, but we become who we are today by learning from them. They’re not one-stop destinations that accurately describe present-day you, but when people’s only impression of you is from a period in which you were learning those lessons, the consequential judgment and skepticism can be hard to take.

Yes, I believe the past plays a huge role in shaping who we are now, but I don’t think we have to wear our history like a map on our face.  Enormous feelings of discontent can evaporate when you realise you have the choice to play along with people’s tendencies to define you by your past, or see yourself as the only true author of your own future. You may have been someone else once, but that doesn’t mean you’re the same person today. If nobody ever learned or grew or changed their ways, what a stale, hopeless world we would find ourselves in. The past definitely shapes who we become, but it doesn’t need to accompany us every day telling us who we “are”. The danger comes when we start to give credit to other people’s decisions that we are the sum of our past mistakes. If we keep telling ourselves the same stories, we start to believe them.  And in doing so, we construct our own prison cells caging us in from our true potential.

It’s tough not to listen when it feels like the rest of the world’s definition of you is stuck on who you were, overlooking the possibility you could have done any sort of growth since. For the last few weeks, I have been infinitely happier, more content and more secure than I can ever remember being. Lame sap that I am, I told someone recently that in hindsight, it seems that until this point, I’d been living with only ten percent of my heart and simply assuming that that was what life was. Feelings of intense wellbeing and the loss of fear and anxiety that have been such fierce companions for so long are now, for the first time, daily occurences, but people are having a hard time believing it, and tend to meet my mentality with suspicion. Lately, I’m filled with such passion, joy, and a sense of certainty – it feels like I’ve been living in a world of black and white and I’ve finally stepped into technicolour. But why is it so hard to believe that I’m fully capable of being happy? 

The reason I’ve been able to move forward so quickly is, I think, through acceptance. It was one of the goals I wanted to implement this year and it’s something that’s helped me see things with incredible clarity. I look back on the last few years and see so clearly that I was settling; on the surface, going through the motions of what one would assume to be a relatively typical life, yet on the inside, wishing every day for things to be that little bit different. Wishing I didn’t have to worry, or second-guess. Wishing I didn’t have to wonder about what was being said behind my back. Wishing for contentment, security, and genuine happiness. Wishing for compatibility. Wishing for the feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach to go away, and wishing that the stuff of fairytales existed in the real world. Wishing I didn’t have to wish so much. Looking back, I know without any shadow of a doubt that that ongoing feeling of discontent was a sign from the universe, and I’ve learned that if something feels wrong, it probably is, and no matter how much you overlook it, go along with a pretense or invest in endeavours to fix it, if you are on the wrong path, something spectacularly catastrophic will happen to open your eyes, and force you onto the right one. It’s happened before, and as a result, it made it that much easier to recognise this time around. I’m genuinely grateful for things taking the direction they did, because they led me to what currently feels like the best chapter of my entire life. And when you know in your heart that things genuinely happen for a reason, that things weren’t right, and that the only thing you can control is the here and now… it makes getting on with the future that much easier. Another goal of mine this year was not to waste any time. So why not choose action? Why not grab hold of opportunities life throws your way and have faith that they could be amazing? I can understand holding onto the past if you’ve lost something that was. But when it was something ultimately uncertain and at times, destructive, why not allow yourself close the door behind you and step into a brighter future just because it may not be the social norm?

There will always be people who’ll judge. There will always be societal pressure to do things a certain way, and there will always be questions, rumours or misunderstandings. There will always be people who will define you by your past actions, but at the end of the day, only you know your true heart, and the person you are today. The past will always be there, but it cannot be changed. The only thing any of us can ultimately control is our life from this point on. So why not leave history where it belongs, make the most of our time, and focus on a better future? If you’re making the right choices for you, gossip and judgment can’t really hold that much weight at all.

So it goes…

FINALLY, after what feels like absolutely months, I can say I’ve returned to the online world! I feel absolutely horrible I haven’t been able to keep up with you or write back to your lovely comments, but last week, with the help of a team of wonderful boys, I moved, got The Men in, the Internet hooked up, and am currently in the process of catching up on everything. Come to think of it, this may take another week. 🙂 

Unsurprisingly, a couple of things that seem to have worked their way into my mind as of late and taken up residence are the ideas of risk and change. If I were to describe the events of the last few months, you might wonder why said mind hasn’t handed in its proverbial resignation (seriously, when DIY espionage, treason, and a hundred-and-eighty-degree turn in life path, people, relationships, accommodation and finances all crop up within a few weeks of each other, sometimes the only thing you can do is laugh!). But in keeping with one of the goals I wanted to put into practice, I seem to have latched on tightly to the notion of acceptance, and consequently hitched a surprisingly comfortable ride through the last few weeks. 

Every hand we are dealt by the universe is accompanied by a choice of reaction, and if the last year has taught me anything at all, it’s the power that lies within every one of us to choose our response. For a long time, it used to be panic, and despite the best counselling efforts of one Mr. Adams, crap would happen, and I’d fly into a fit of despair. The rug would be pulled from under my feet, everything would go up in the air, and I’d find myself scrambling frantically in an attempt to maintain some semblance of control. But at the end of the day, panic is just one option of many. My boss once described a metaphor for change that’s stuck with me to this day: a trapeze artist swings through the air, and unless she takes a leap of faith in grabbing onto the next bar, momentum will slow to a stop and she will be left hanging.  There is a comfort in holding onto what’s comfortable, held back by the fear of free-falling through the air, heart racing, nerves pounding, not knowing when or where the next bar will come. But if you don’t take a leap, you’ll be left hanging, until the only way left is down. Sometimes a leap of faith is exactly what’s needed to launch you toward bigger and better things. 

breaking at the seams, heaving at the brace
sheets all billowing, the breaking of the day
the sea is not my friend, the seasons they conspire
yet still I choose to swim, and slip beneath the tide
James Vincent McMorrow, If I Had a Boat

It seems that lately I’ve become incredibly passionate about the idea of change. I think without it, one stifles all possibilities of future growth, of becoming more, of doing more and seeing more and exploring our unchartered potential… I don’t want to get to the end of my life, look back on my map and see that the ship never left the harbour. Someone once said that ships are safe in a harbour, but that that wasn’t what ships were for. I want to look back and see trails across stormy seas through torrential rainstorms and bands of pirates, up to new countries and through new sights and civilizations, stopping for treasure and beautiful sunsets and meeting a plethora of all sorts of fascinating people with whom I’ll share stories and build memories and from whom I’ll learn great lessons. I want to see it full of adventure and culture and colour, and I want to be left with battle scars that tell the story of a life well lived. I don’t want to settle for what’s comfortable. Settling’s better left in Catan. 

One does not discover new lands without consenting to
lose sight of the shore for a very long time. –
André Gide

I recently met somebody fantastic who has the words “so it goes” etched across his arm. Apparently I’d been living under a rock, and wasn’t familiar with Kurt Vonnegut (!), but in its stark simplicity I think it’s the perfect summation of an attitude with which to face life. Everything you could need is packed into three simple words that simultaneously accept and dismiss absolutely everything. Which is brilliant. There has been no shortage of people lately asking if I’m okay, telling me I must be doing terribly, and expressing confusion or doubt when I genuinely tell them I’m fine. These three words encapsulate the spirit with which I want to live: crap happens, and at the time it sucks, but it’s fine. We keep calm, as they say, and carry on. We focus our energies on forging a better future, not on futile attempts at rewriting an already written past. 

So in the spirit of great change and acceptance, a natural successor would be that of risk. It’s hard to imagine any change taking place without taking a risk first, but we seem so conditioned to construct walls of caution and fear around our hearts that we inadvertently become prisoners of our own design, and go through life staying in one place, allowing fear of hurt or failure to cage us in, outweighing the hope or potential of something more brilliant. It’s sad that people’s first reaction to my state of mind is one of surprise – why not choose to be fine? Why not take big leaps into creating the future? Why waste time on things that have already happened and doors that have been closed; why not learn their lessons as fast as you can and move on with life’s next chapter? If you take a risk and things work out, you’ll be that much happier; if they don’t, you’ll be that much wiser.

I was reading an interesting article recently about a study on the number one contributor of happiness. Money, health, attractiveness, popularity, and a hot sex life were all expected answers, but according to a report by The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “all these mentioned life goodies were topped by the biggest life goodie of them all: autonomy – defined as “the feeling that your life – its activities and habits — are self-chosen and self-endorsed.”

This makes sense, when you take a moment to contemplate how lovely autonomy can make you feel – and how miserable its absence can make you. In fact, when you’re upset about something in your life – a  break up, a job problem, your weight – it’s usually because you’re feeling as if you’re no longer in control of this area your life. “Having a strong sense of controlling one’s life is a more dependable predictor of positive feelings of well-being than any of the objective conditions of life we have considered,” says Campbell.  A University of Michigan nationwide survey also sings the praises of autonomy – reporting how the 15% of Americans who claimed they felt “in control of their lives” also raved about having “extraordinarily positive feelings of happiness.”

It’s all about how you choose to react, and I believe that with a focus on choice, action, acceptance and attitude, risk really can be a win-win thing. Life happens. We just have to allow hope to be of greater weight than fear, and be active participants in shaping our future. The possibilities are endless if we only take a leap once in a while, and, as they say, choose to build wings on the way down.

Here’s to change, to taking big, giant leaps into the unknown and risking your heart for the sake of possible brilliance. Here’s to resilience, to the power of choice, and to making the most of every precious moment we’re given. Here’s to everything that’s ever been, everything that ever will be, and to shaping everything that exists in the here and now. Here’s to great stories, battle scars, epic lessons, and infinite potential. Here’s to writing the next chapter. Here’s to risking it all, and hoping for the best. Here’s to life. After all, we only get one.

“My belief is that in life, people will take you very much at your own reckoning…”

First and foremost, I’m going to commit one of those unspoken sins of blogging: apologising for my absence. (I know. Fired.) I’m in the process of organising, well, my new life, and as exciting, nerve-wracking, and crazy everything is, I genuinely miss being in touch with all of you. Like a lot. After this weekend when I am fully settled into a new place, normality can start to resume, and I cannot wait to catch up with each and every one of you!

Now, in the spirit of returning to our regularly scheduled programming, there’s something that’s cropped up and made itself known in various avenues of life as of late: the idea of discrepancy. Psychology and the study of human behaviour is something that’s always fascinated me, and as a result I’ve done a lot of reading on the human mind and spirit. I’m lucky enough to have studied it at work, too, and the opportunity to have learned counselling theories and techniques to help others has been nothing short of a blessing. It was in this learning process that it first dawned on me what a powerful catalyst discrepancy can be for positive change: if there’s a giant, gaping chasm between where you are and where you want to be (or indeed who you are, and who you want to be), then what could be a more motivating reason for change?

Generally, I think it’s way too easy an option, when things in life aren’t what you’d hoped, to resign yourself to fretting and complaining without actually doing anything about it. It’s an easy option because all it requires is a vocalization of discontent and no actual risk or action to change anything. Making an action plan, as does any change of the status quo, requires courage, because ultimately, we are in the present situation because we can survive comfortably in it. Maybe not ideally, but it’s not killing us, and so subsequently it outweighs the potential risk in shaking things up. But is that any way to live? We only get one life, and it’s ticking away with every passing moment. Why not recognise that discrepancy and instead of using it to fuel a passive negativity, use it to propel yourself toward the future you actually want?

I mentioned earlier that the idea of discrepancy had become somewhat of a regular visitor these days. It first arrived in the form of a quote I received in an e-mail from someone very dear to me: “And, above all things, never think that you’re not good enough yourself. A man should never think that. My belief is that in life, people will take you very much at your own reckoning.  Now, what have I been saying for the last year? That the very reason I thrust myself in at the deep end into all the things I was afraid of was yes, primarily because I wanted to take control of my life and not be controlled by fear; but very much in addition to that, because I wanted to be seen as someone who was capable, courageous, fun and intelligent – someone who could have some sort of an impact in this world. Said impact may be small, but I’ve always maintained that if one person somewhere saw what I was doing and felt they could, too, then all the butterflies, nausea, shaky limbs and potential for humiliation would be worth it. And the desire for that outweighs fear every time.

That being said, here’s the part where I admit my own hypocrisy: to this day, I haven’t been able to cross off the one goal I’d hoped to more than anything. I wanted to stop listening to the inner voices that for so long have occupied my head; setting up residence and plastering the walls of my mind with their can’ts, won’ts, and not good enoughs. I think I’ve made a little progress, but my natural reaction to so many parts of myself is still one of negativity. I see myself in the mirror and instinctively begin a mental list of all the things I wish were different. My weight, height, skin, hair, facial structure… the list goes on, and in writing it down I recognise that I’m talking the talk, but not walking the walk. I tell others to focus their energy on things they can control, and not waste time musing about things they can’t. At the end of the day, we can’t change the past, but by choosing to pave the way for a better future from this moment forward, we’re using our mental energy proactively instead of wastefully. Practising acceptance of rather than resigning to life can go a long way in developing a healthy attitude to carry you through it. Yet I’m not living it out myself.

“If we divine a discrepancy between a man’s words and his character, the whole impression of him becomes broken and painful; he revolts the imagination by his lack of unity, and even the good in him is hardly accepted.”
– Charles Horton Cooley

But as hard as I try to put it into practice in external things, when it comes to dealing with my own self-image, I’m still doing just the opposite. I’ll sit across from somebody at dinner and allow worry to run rampant through my head, worry that the whole time they’ll internally be taking note of all the things that I worry about myself. That I’m too quiet, or not quick-witted enough. That I’m horribly disproportionate, or unattractive. That I thrust open the doors of my heart far too widely and far too quickly, that I’m emotionally too intense, and therefore abnormal or intimidating. That this plaguing self-doubt is scrawled all over my face, a traitor to the person I want so desperately to be. Another friend has been calling me on it lately. Pointing out the discrepancy between my negative self esteem and the positive influence I want to be. When someone calls you on something that is in such stark contrast with everything you’re trying to be, a natural reaction is one of opposition. Nobody likes having their flaws pointed out, and furthermore, nobody likes being called a hypocrite. So I ask myself what’s a more worthwhile use of my time – whining and making a lame endeavour to tell my friend why he’s wrong, or actually doing something about it?

I refuse to be a fraud. I so desperately want to be a person of substance and integrity but I’m never going to be able to make an impact in the world if I can’t apply the same attitude across the board, starting with myself.  I look back at the aforementioned quote. People will take you very much at your own reckoning. If I’m trying to put positivity out there into the world yet cannot apply it internally, then how is it ever going to be 100% genuine? If I say the words, but internally tell myself I’m not good enough, how can they come from a place of integrity? The discrepancy is alarming. And I have to do something about it. I’ve talked about changing my self-image before, but I’ve never actively done anything about it. And that’s hard to admit. I’ve filled my time with endeavours to conquer one-time goals instead of working on changing an entire mindset. Because it’s difficult. But if I want to uphold and spread the idea of being an active participant in the course of one’s life, I have to start from within. Any ideas on where exactly to begin, however, would be greatly, greatly appreciated.

In the spirit of substantial quotes, I end with one from my favourite movie:

 Let’s try this again.

The Final Countdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battlefield

So, I’m going to hazard a guess that my absence from the blogosphere lately, on top of several vague tweets and a thoroughly emo Facebook photo didn’t go 100% unnoticed. I say this as a result of something I hadn’t imagined happening: a complete outpouring of love, concern and support. This community has been incredibly kind to me in the past on many, many occasions, and through good and bad, I consider myself blessed to have built relationships with so many of you. Real life friends have become pillars of strength, and so many some would call “strangers” have offered solace and guidance – but someone once told me that a stranger was “just a friend you hadn’t met yet”. So many of you have truly shown the meaning of real friendship over these last few weeks whether the distance between us is five blocks or five thousand miles. So for all the e-mails, texts, hugs and phone calls, please know that the gratitude I express through saying “thank you” here can only reflect a small percentage of the magnitude of how very deeply I mean it.

I’m not going to go into details of what happened over the last couple of weeks, because this is partly the story of others, and it’s not fair for me to put something out there if it’s not one hundred per cent mine. But a lot of you already know, and trust me, everything you’ve expressed, advised and warned me about has been looping on repeat inside. I never thought Jordin Sparks would be my new best friend, but the only way I can describe what’s been going on inside me is in terms of visualising a battlefield.  I’ve had two sides raging against each other in my mind; one comprised of soldiers of shock and armies of anger under a ruling hand of disbelief; the other of heart, of hope, and of forgiveness. There seems to be a middle ground of reason which doesn’t seem able to join with either, and sits rather uncomfortably on the fence as both sides battle for its allegiance and the right to call it theirs.  In about twenty minutes, it will be reckoning night, and there can only be one winner. This is a fight to the death.

Supporters of both are cheering on loudly; banners of fear and betrayal held high as the opposition’s cries of compassion fight for the victory. Each believes wholeheartedly that they are battling for the right reasons, and I find myself sitting somewhere above it all, watching from afar. But the clock is ticking. I need to join a team. How could it be so difficult to choose between two sides so completely and utterly at opposite ends of the spectrum? One side’s soldiers wear shades of grey; a monochromatic army of emotion past and horror realised. As a fabulous song reminds me, everything they’re fighting for is like punching in a dream and breathing life into the nightmare. The ghost of disillusion hovers like a weight over them all, penetrating their swords with the stranglehold of memory, fuelling the fight to rage on. The other side, by contrast, doesn’t seem to have a uniform, but though in and of themselves they bear no semblance of cohesion, juxtaposed next to the resistance, are united with a sort of glow. Their cross-shields are emblazoned with symbols of love and hope; giant doves adorn armour and shimmering spells are cast across the battlefield, taking down dozens of greys at a time. In the heat of war, neither side seems to notice their torn observer, and I find myself praying for some kind of sign. The team to which I pledge allegiance will pave the way forward, and it is not a decision to make lightly.

The clock ticks loudly, an obnoxious reminder that my time is up. As I close my eyes in those last remaining seconds and surrender the decision to a blind leap of faith, the banner of a lone soldier catches my eye, and I see him looking directly at me. The rest of the field becomes a blur as our eyes lock in a simultaneously fleeting and eternal moment, and suddenly, my decision is made. The answer had been sitting inside of me the whole time, and was scrawled in giant, shining letters across his flag. Philosophy. I had to do what I did in every other walk of life, and apply my philosophy just as I would to anything else. I’ve always been a firm believer in humanity’s ability to choose their reaction, and no matter how difficult any situation may be, we all have a weapon of choice. My mission over the last year has been made evident time and time again: choose the right one. Fear is a trusty protector, and has been relied upon in battle after battle to shield from harm. But it’s only one weapon. A weapon that also blocks out the sun, and along with it, the potential for everything wonderful.

We cave so easily to the option of self-constructed walls around our hearts in misguided endeavours to keep them safe. The temptation to hold on tightly to those things from the past is almost sirenesque (did I just make that word up?), but like those sailors stolen from the seas, doing so only results in destruction. The power of acceptance has been pointed out to me in the past, and I think the lesson here may be to simply accept that in itself, and work it into my life’s philosophy. It’s an ongoing and ever-evolving mission statement, but I suppose in the grand scheme of things, that’s what life’s really all about. As I touched on earlier in the week, my philosophy already includes choice, love, forgiveness, integrity, and a focus on the big picture. At the end of the day, every one of us is only human, and if every person on the planet held onto all the hurts and pains from the past in order to protect themselves, this world would be a terrible place indeed. I think my lesson here is to focus on life from this point forward, not backward. Reaction to something that’s already happened isn’t going to stop it from happening (space-time continuum issues aside), but I believe accepting it, leading with love, and focusing on shaping a better future is the way forward.

We all have a choice. I just hope my heart is leading me in the right direction. Here goes…

A One-Way Ticket to the Rest of my Life

Recently, as you may have read, I came to the decision that it was time for a bit of direction. I was full of ideas and dreams – but had no plan in place to help them become part of reality, and it was high time that changed. In years of late, I think I’ve become more of a big-picture thinker – whether the current situation is life-shattering or miniscule, I try to think of how my future self would look back on my current course of action. Perhaps that’s why I have such difficulty understanding people’s choice to perpetuate rifts and disagreements – we’re only given a finite time on this earth, so why choose to waste time on something futile? 

This mentality has been the fuel for the newfound decision to take direction of my life. I don’t want to look back in fifty years time at my twenties and say I wasted them, settling for a job that, though pleasant, doesn’t exercise my strengths or passions. I don’t want to say I wasted these years surfing Facebook, watching back episodes of Star Trek, or saving for a rainy day instead of spending time actually living. I don’t want to live in a state of the perpetually unfinished – an education once started but never complete; an idea for a story once hatched but never written; a dream once borne but never transitioned into actuality. Now is the time I can make the choice to take control, and though the thought slightly terrifies me, there are three things that have been swirling around my mind, desperate to escape the confines of the immaterialised and take shape to become the rest of my life. It’s easy to talk about dreams and bucket lists that have no set expiry date, meanwhile being perfectly content to coast through the day-to-day without taking any risks. I’m happy that I started my 26 Before 26 last summer – it’s pushed me through my 25th year and made me grasp opportunities, take leaps, and do things I’d always dreamed of, but never had the proverbial balls to try. But these were all small things that though in part, add up to me becoming more comfortable with myself, don’t ultimately influence the grand scheme of things. I may be more comfortable in front of a group, and I may have developed a few new skills, but this isn’t the stuff of great magnitude. This isn’t stuff that charters the course of the rest of one’s life. 

But these three dreams, these three swirling ideas that wrap themselves around my day-to-day, may very well be just that.  I only have three more years as a twenty-something, and I need this decade to close on accomplishment. Three more years, three big ideas. It’s going to take patience, dedication, and financial hits. It’s going to take a shift in priorities, lifestyle changes, and lots of perseverance. It’s going to take a heck of a lot of faith, and a few big risks. But I can’t break this pull I’m feeling; I’ve been offered a one-way ticket to a threefold destination, and there’s no stopping the train. One of these stops involves higher education. One of these stops involves my biggest passion in life, and the pursuit of the ultimate dream. And one of these stops  involves something that wasn’t on my radar this time last year, but now seems the only way forward. Over the last few weeks, I’ve taken small steps into this new territory – and I’ve never felt more strongly that life is becoming exactly what it was meant to be.

The Weighting Game

Remember last year, when I realised I’d lost all my sick days at work rather quickly, and that when I get ill, I get hardcore ill, and started fretting I was going to get fired? My hypothesis was that because I was theoretically underweight (and my BMI was low), my immune system was pretty much a giant wuss. Fast-forward to now. Sweet and I have been on a major health overhaul for the last few weeks – we’ve both been exercising more, and have switched our eating habits to eating five or six little meals and snacks throughout the day instead of three heftier ones. I’ve heard for years this is way better health-wise. Now I just have to clear the piles of greeting cards off the treadmill and start working jogging back into my routine (it was brought to my attention recently that my wedding was three months ago, and my physical activity had plummeted to basically zero since saying “I do”), and I’ll be set!

Last week, though, I noticed an unexpected side-effect of the new diet: I’d put on six pounds. Before the wedding, people were eternally telling me to eat something, asking if I was deliberately losing weight, and pretty much hinting I was borderline anorexic (NOT true in the slightest). Yet crazily, it was something I was proud of. I was proud to be skinny because though I have huge body-image issues (don’t we all?), unlike the shape of my nose this was something over which I had some control. I never snacked, I drank nothing but water, I refused to order puddings, and I’d never eat anything past seven PM. Enter the new diet, where I’m suddenly taking granola bars, fruit snacks, crackers, cheese and yoghurt along with my lunch to work, snacking every few hours and thinking I need to invest in some sort of lunch briefcase – and I wonder why I’m surprised to have put on weight. My first reaction was one of despair: all of a sudden my skinny jeans were feeling uncomfortable, the scale slapped me in the face, and my first instinct was to wail like a giant baby. Sweet immediately reassured me, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of discontent – I wanted to get healthy, but I didn’t want to put on weight. Catch 22. Deep down, I know that when my BMI is 18.3 and all sources point to that being unhealthy, that gaining weight healthily is a good thing – but I can’t seem to feel comfortable doing it. Does that mean I value physical appearance over physical wellbeing? Does that mean I’m a terribly shallow human being? I hope not, but I feel incredibly uncomfortable not being comfortable that maybe I’m actually reaching my “healthy weight”, and I don’t know how to change my thought patterns.

Last year when I was thinking about this sort of thing, I felt like a giant hypocrite putting any energy at all into thinking such negative things. I wrote: I’m 104 lbs right now and I still feel like a whale after I eat a big meal. But I don’t skip meals or throw up or anything. I’m just naturally small framed and consequently the slightest bulge stands out a mile.  To me – and so, in my head, to everyone else as well. I just want to be able to overcome it – all of it, not to be seen as attractive by other people, but to feel confident in myself so I’m not held back so much, so I don’t shy away from people so much, scared of what they might be thinking.  I want to be able to be comfortable and confident. I want to be able to contribute to the world and this seems to be the one destination to which I can’t see a clear path. Six months later, I still feel like a hypocrite, advocating for stepping outside your comfort zone and challenging yourself to grow, to be a better person, to make a difference in the world when I’m guilty of spending my time thinking about something so shallow.

But maybe I just needed to read this post from the wise and beautiful Hannah Katy, which landed at the top of my Reader just seconds ago as I was about to wrap this post up. The Universe does work in interesting ways. Maybe I need to take a leaf from her book, and decide that if I, too, “had two extra hours to my every day, I would surely dedicate the 120 minutes to tracking down a scholar who could point out to me just where women started missing parts and cutting themselves off at the knees. Where it began… Where he believes it might end… Where we learned verbs like “comparing,” “despising,” and “sizing.”  And started using our adjectives to belittle our bodies and devalue our worth.”

Maybe I just need to listen to this incredible girl who I’ve not had the good fortune of meeting face-to-face, but who never fails to pull me back to what’s really important in life. Who never ceases to help me by sweeping my negative thoughts out onto the street and replacing them with the ones that deserve to be in the spotlight.  I really do value health and wellbeing, and I really do make an effort to eat and live well. I know that to live where I do, surrounded by the people I am, to have a home and a  job and a working body I am incredibly, incredibly lucky. But how do you become comfortable with being a bit bigger healthier in a world that’s encouraged you to feel blessed to be skinny your whole life? I’ve scoured the Internet for “healthy BMI” sites, and they are full of tips on losing weight – but it’s hard to find any information at all on gaining weight in order to be healthy – and feeling okay doing it. I realise reading this back, how frightfully superficial this all sounds  (and that this is probably anonymous troll-bait territory), but I’ve always told you I’ll write honestly, and I can’t pretend it’s not something I’m thinking about right now. I hope you’ll forgive me, and that soon, my thoughts can be more in line with what they should be.

Second Star On The Right, Straight On ‘Til Morning

It hit me a few days ago, while looking through recent posts, drafts, and randomly jotted ideas, that a great deal of what’s been on my mind has subconsciously been revolving around the idea of direction. Titles talked of ships lost at sea, of searching for clues, and of living in the void – the paradox of knowing what I want, yet having no map nor compass to tell me where I am going. [Sidenote: I am in love with this tattoo, but my wrists are far too small!] As was pointed out several times toward the end of 2010, last year was one of finding myself. Scratch that, creating myself. Taking steps to take an image embedded on the walls of my mind to a living, breathing girl who finally gets to call the shots. Eliminating the deadweight and breaking through those self-contructed ceilings. My life is accompanied by an ongoing list of goals, of things to strive for, because I believe in continual growth and continual experience, and that the only life worth living is one dictated by no other but yourself. But until now, those goals have paved the way to a vague and hazy destination. I’ve had no direction. I’ve aimed for the sky and hoped for the best without giving second thought as to what constellation I want to land in. I think there’s a lot to be said for living in the present moment. But I don’t think it hurts to have a bit of a plan.

I was talking to a friend recently about how our younger selves envisioned our grown-up lives. We joked about how we thought we’d have husbands, children, degrees, and own our own homes by the time we hit 25. When we were younger, it seemed like the only option. The road was paved straight and smooth, and marked clearly along the way. My parents did it by 22; 25 would be easy! So what happened? I think life happened; the very thing that occurs when what you are told as a child that what you should be doing with your life doesn’t line up with what you want from life. Of course, I wanted an education, a career, a relationship, and the proverbial white picket fence. I still do. But I think, as with so many things, lessons only sink in the way they were supposed to when they come from within. I’ve learned in life that one must forge their own path of their own devising, being allowed to stray and get lost and learn things along the way. One can be told to do this and not to do that, but none of it’s going to mean anything if it isn’t intrinsic. The realisation has come lately that what I am doing in my day-to-day existence does not necessarily line up with what I want to be able to say I did with my life. And if nothing else, discrepancy has to be the fuel for change.

In my early twenties, my problem was that I had no idea what I wanted. I didn’t know what the path looked like or if what I was being told to do was what I really should be doing. I remember struggling, at seventeen, to figure out what I wanted to do in University. I was always drawn to English and Psychology, even advertising, but I was told I’d never get a job in any of those fields, and that people “spend years paying lots of money and getting into lots of debt to get degrees they never end up using.”  Still under my parents’ roof and rule, I tossed the ideas aside, and continued with my application for University with no idea what I was working towards. As long as it wasn’t what people had told me I couldn’t possibly pursue, I figured simply being inside an academic institution for nine or ten hours a day was enough to say I was on the right path.

But then life happened. I moved out, spent money on furniture, broke up with my then-boyfriend, got kicked out of our apartment, and had to go crawling back home. Except my parents had downsized when I’d  moved out, and there wasn’t any room at the inn.  I spent three weeks on a sofa in the basement surrounded by laundry and boxes, all the while hunting for my own place. But I couldn’t get my own place without making more money. And I couldn’t make more money while I was still in school. So then began the chapter of adult independence. I had to work to live, and I didn’t have the money to pay for schooling, rent AND food. So I very reluctantly eliminated the non-immediately-essential.

The years since were full of life lessons, and I wouldn’t change my twenties for the world. Yes, they may have been full of heartache and moments darker than I’d ever dare share, but they also taught me who I wanted to be. The Universe will always provide hints as to what path you should be on. If you aren’t listening, it’ll just try harder until something catastrophic zaps you with a lightning bolt and literally throws you back on track. If you are listening, you’ll be led to where you’re meant to be. Lately, I cannot seem to shake the feeling that in fifty years and I look back on my life, I’ll be filled with regret if I never took the risk of following my passions. There’s a fire in my heart waiting to shine brightly and every day I choose to spend updating someone else’s spreadsheets is another day I haven’t followed my dreams. I know what those dreams are now, and they involve great risk. Throwing everything that’s comfortable and routine up into the air and taking a big giant leap into unfamiliar territory. They involve following a rocky path without streetlights or signposts along the way, with no guarantee of a destination; no guarantee that at the end of it all, the dreams will come true. But I suppose that’s where having faith in the Universe comes in. And you know what? It hasn’t let me down once.

The near future may be shaping up to be wildly different than I’d thought just eight or nine weeks ago, when the clock struck midnight that cold, bright New Year’s Eve. The path may be as unclear as the Marauder’s Map to a Muggle. But sometimes, I think you just have to take a leap, follow that star, and trust your instincts as your guide… knowing that whatever happens, you’ll end up at the right destination. I wish I could talk about it in more detail, but for fear of jinxing things, I’m going to have to wait until it’s real… but for now, I’ve decided to stop playing it safe, and take action. To stop wishing and start doing. To forge my own path, having faith that it truly will be the right one for me. Let Project: Rest of my Life commence… now. 🙂

Status Update

It’s been a couple of weeks since I got put in the Power Glove, and it’s been the biggest change of pace I’ve had in a long time. I’m still at work, and while I’m supposed to be avoiding using the rebellious buggers, my fingers still have to type from 7:30 – 4:00 – so I figured I could make a quick stop back in the blogosphere too. Because I miss you all an absolute TONNE.

My GOODNESS I miss electronic communication. I was told to stop texting (still not having caught up to the touch-screen generation, the keypad wasn’t doing me any favours), and I have subsequently lost all form of socialisation.  It makes you feel a bit rubbish when you have to stop contacting people the way you’re so used to, and then realise you’re the only one who usually initiates anything. 😦 I’ve run into the odd person on the bus, had one lovely dinner date, and a few phone calls from friends across the country, but other than that? I’m feeling a bit of a social castaway. What doesn’t help is not being able to blog or write – two of the things in life that bring me the most joy. Last week, I was over the moon when I saw Vista came with a fully installed speech recognition programme. I spent an hour training it and all seemed to be going well until I started trying to use it. Five mistakes per sentence soon became more trouble than it was worth, and the novelty wore off immediately. Does anyone have any experience with Dragon?

I’ve seen a hand physiotherapist twice in the last couple of weeks, and though the splints are helping me do things like, you know, actually dress myself and brush my own hair, without them there’s still a tonne of pain whenever I try to grip or hold onto anything at all. Why do we train ourselves to ignore our bodies when they’re trying to tell us something’s wrong? Why do we shut out the signals and hope it’ll go away, until it’s too late?

I recently read an interesting article about early 19th-century artist Henri Matisse, and feel somehow inspired:

Old age or illness are never comforting thoughts. For an artist especially, it can be a real horror. It rings up images of arthritis in which merely holding a brush can bring anguished pain. It threatens the artist’s lifeline to the outside work, his or her vision. It often entails frailty and fatigue where once there was strength and vigour. There can be sadness and despair, yet the creative urge never dies. Sometimes it is the one spark that keeps an artist alive and aware. It can be a harsh taskmaster, driving the aging artist, now with excruciating pain, and an uncertain, but nonetheless final, deadline to do that which in youth would have been quite easy. Where others might simply give up, the true artist adjusts. Claude Monet painted massive garden scenes seen through double cataracts with a brush bound to fingers which could no long grip it. Henri Matisse, in the last decade of his life, following repeated, debilitating surgeries, his eyesight also failing, and so weak he could no longer get out of bed, adjusted to his condition by moving to huge sheets of paper he could still see and large blocks of painted paper meticulously arrange by assistants according to the master’s directions. The work was necessarily abstract. No more could he create the intricate, flat, interior designs or two-dimensional painted figures that had long been the hallmark of his flamboyant style. His gouache on paper work entitled The Snail, created in 1953, just a year before he died, is an excellent example of the adjustments an old man made in continuing to do as best he could what best he loved. Much of his work is a testament to a man’s sheer stubbornness to persist in the face of years of daunting debilitation, giving new meaning to the phrase, “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.”

I hope desperately that this is only temporary. I hope with all my heart I’ll be able to, some day soon, fix this problem and once more be able to write whenever I want to instead of once or twice per month, to read your stories, email, engage in discussion, and to work on my creative stuff… it is my biggest dream and remains the sole thing that brings me most joy. But for now, I have to take this step back. A friend once told me, “if you have the urge to do something, and you feel like you have to do it, it means that’s what you should be doing“. I still feel I should be writing, but the Universe right now has other plans. I don’t know what those plans are, but, as with all the big things in life, I have faith that this is happening for a reason, and that somehow, that reason will become clear.

Okay. Enough whinging. I just wanted to check in to let you all know I miss you, and hopefully, if I can find some decent software, I’ll be able to rejoin the Internet soon. 

Have a wonderful weekend everyone 🙂

The Disease of Perfectionism

Recently, I had one of those “Message from the Universe” moments. You know, when you encounter the same message repeatedly in a plethora of different situations all within a relatively short time frame? I love it when this happens. This time around, I was at singing class, having just finished what must have been my 8th or 9th attempt at getting this one bar of music down. I don’t read music, and I don’t know what the different notes mean with regards to tempo, so I was struggling a little with this one bar. I’d got it right first time, but in every subsequent attempt, I found myself getting stuck at the same point. Overthinking it, overprocessing, frantically trying to figure it out, panicking as the melody caught up and overtook my internal efforts, resulting in messing it up each and every time. After a few goes, I think I got it, but my coach said something at the end that began the theme of the next few days:

“Perfection is never the goal. When you think about it too much, you stop learning – you should trust your instincts more, because they’re right!”

I went off into the night, that sentiment floating around my mind, and thought no more of it until the very next day, when an article forwarded to me by a friend sat in my inbox, entitled The Disease of PerfectionismHow aptly timed (and, if I may say, how very Borg!). I immediately opened it, and was intrigued by the first few lines: “It’s amazing that people admit to being perfectionists. To me, it’s a disorder, not unlike obsessive-compulsive disorder. And like obsessive-compulsive disorder, perfectionism messes you up.”

I’ve seen a lot of “Protesting Perfect” blog posts floating about lately, which I think originated at this wonderful one,  and it’s made me really happy to see so many people recognising that we don’t NEED to be perfect, and taking a stand against it. Not only acknowledging, but embracing our imperfections for what they are – part of who we are. One man’s flaw, after all, is another man’s perfection.  Take a look around. If a friend of yours said something silly, tripped over their shoelaces, or stated an incorrect fact, would you think less of them? Probably not. You’d both laugh about it in a few minutes, and it’d be something that’s evaporated into the past, barely even remembered by the same time tomorrow. So why are we so afraid to make mistakes?

“The huge problem with perfectionism is that people stop learning when they’re constantly afraid of being wrong. We learn by making mistakes. The only way we understand ourselves is to test our limits. If we don’t want anyone to know we make mistakes, which is how perfectionists tend to behave, we are actually hiding our true selves.”

When I read those words, I’m pretty sure my heart skipped a beat. How many posts have I written in the last few months about staying true to yourself? About being genuine, regardless of it costing readership, comment counts, or social acquaintances? I think the Universe tried to send me this message once more this week, when I was attending a Journal Therapy workshop put on by one of my best friends. The first exercise was the “5-Minute Sprint”, where we were given a question (a big one, like “Who Am I?”, “Why Am I Here?” etc. – something that would usually demand an awful lot of thought), and had five minutes to write the first thing that came to mind. At first, I panicked – in true introvert fashion, I like to take my time to construct my thoughts and write them well, paying strict attention to flow, grammar and language – but when it came to sharing, I realised I was having another Universe moment, and thought of the above excerpt, and my voice lesson experience. When I think about it too much and focus on being or creating something perfect, I lose the raw, natural essence of it all. By being forced to write instinctively, without giving the inner critic time to catch up, I was allowed to be my true self. So why do I devote so much energy to perfectionism?

The realisation that we only have a finite amount of mental energy has been somewhat of a theme as of late. I am guilty of having spent far too long allowing futile, unproductive, negative thoughts consume my mind. Setting goals is one thing, but beating yourself up every day for not having achieved them on the journey to accomplishment is entirely another. In my job, I make a point of encouraging others to learn at their own pace, offering support and telling them it’s okay if it takes a little while, it’s okay if they make mistakes, that they’ll learn from them, and that they’ll get there in the end. Yet I tell myself the opposite story. There’s no such thing as a learning curve. You need to be good at it now. If you screw up, you’ll look like a failure. You’ll wear your mistakes like a giant badge for all to see and judge.

The act of writing this out forces me to see this ridiculous mantra of hypocrisy and self-created falsehood. Nobody thinks this way, and by choosing to spend time giving power to thoughts like this, I’m robbing myself of authenticity as well as of time that could be spent infinitely more constructively.  I’m spinning my wheels in a frenzy and remaining absolutely stationary. And what’s the point of that?

As I believe everyone has the choice with how they spend their time externally, I always advocate for the fact that everyone also has the choice regarding how they spend their internal thoughts. Inner critics may have worked their way into our minds, entangled and entwined themselves around our every thought, masquerading as reality, but through the simple act of recognition and choice, we can cut the strings. Realise nobody cares if we’re perfect, and all anybody cares about is if we’re real. By focusing and ruminating on being perfect, we lose our true selves. So let’s put an end to it now. If we have imperfections, it’s okay. It makes us human. If we have ones we really dislike, we have the power to work at changing them. We can choose to work hard at being a good person instead of working hard at beating ourselves up for not being perfect. We can choose to spend our time and energy productively, or self destructively. We can learn to see ourselves through the eyes of others, and give ourselves a bit of a break.

Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone has the choice to learn from them. And at the end of the day, simply ask yourself the question: Does anybody really care if you’re not perfect, or if you make a mistake? Imperfections are the source of growth, of learning, of adventure. And most of all, I think, of sincerity.

Well played, Universe

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you’ll probably know there are a few things I’m rather passionate about. Music, great writing, history, education, science, compassion, travel… these all hold special places in my heart. Bigger things, challenges, growth, introspection, and the psychology behind so many things we experience along our paths also enthrall me. I’d love to be a fly on the wall of humanity, witnessing the ways in which we live, interact with each other, think of and define ourselves, react and relate to people and events, and why every one of us is so very different. To watch our minds’ internal hardwirings mesh with our hearts’ deepest emotions, combine with the global supporting cast, and see the endless dramatic possibilities play out on the stage that is our lifetime.

Gravitation is one of the fundamentals of nature (I did say ‘science’…), in which objects with mass attract one another. But I think the same philosophy can also be applied to our interpersonal relationships – applied to that global cast of characters that have starring roles at various stages in our life.  I like to think people come in and out of our lives being gravitationally pulled in and out of each other’s orbit, in an elaborate dance orchestrated by the Universe, only learning the steps as we go.  Sometimes we try and make it work – just because the person has arrived in our life, we automatically think we’re supposed to have some sort of relationship with them – but I think certain people are placed in our lives to teach us lessons, not just to befriend.

Interpersonal relationships and their subsequent timing, strengthening, weakening, death and resurrection absolutely fascinate me. I’m a firm believer that everything in life has its right time for happening, and a lot of personal frustration can stem from wanting to have control over when things happen in our life rather than having faith that they will, when they’re supposed to. This can happen with wanting the right job, the right house, the right friends, the right partner… we grow up with this notion that by a certain age, we should have certain things, and if they haven’t happened yet, we go into panic mode. We start believing there must be something wrong with ourselves, especially when surrounded by Things Happening for Everyone Else, and it’s natural to start comparing ourselves. We become frustrated and start delving into action plans, trying to take control over something the Universe will ultimately provide when the timing is right.  I believe there are lessons that need to be learned before certain things can happen. These lessons will only get more pronounced and more difficult if we don’t take the hint the first time around, and will ultimately end up being those Major Life Lessons we look back on sometimes as turning points – times when things started to turn around.I’ve had a couple of instances of this in my life, the biggest probably being the lesson of learning to have some sort of self-worth. Going through a string of awful boyfriends in my late teens/early twenties; people who lied, cheated, became emotionally and physically abusive, that I continued to stay with because I didn’t feel I was worth any better. I honestly thought I’d be better off taking what I could get, even it if put me at risk, because it’d be better than being alone. I want to take my younger self and give her a good shaking for allowing this to happen, but you know what? I had to go through it because it was a lesson I needed to learn. The Universe had hinted at it with the first Bad Boyfriend, hinted a little harder with the next, and slapped me in the face with it with the final one when I ended up questioned by the police about how I’d been treated, and spending a chunk of time in the hospital.  If that’s not a sign I needed to change things, I don’t know what is. But it was the wanting to have control that made it get to that point. Lesson learned, however, and once I’d learned that I had to start believing I was worth more, and set some standards for what’s acceptable, then I was delivered an incredible man who’s helped me grow, believe in myself, and I’ll be marrying in seven weeks’ time.

The other big lesson is one I still believe I’m learning. Do you ever have people in your life who keep showing up, when you wish you could close the door on them and never have to see or hear about them again? People from the past who’ve hurt you, old flames, former friends, people who define you by who you were when you knew them, refuse to see the person you’ve become, and just keep showing up? It’s frustrating. You see their face somewhere and you want to ask the Universe why – why are they still here when all I want to do is move on? The interwoven fabrics of our social networks, especially in the day and age of the Internet, can make this especially hard, and just because you’ve moved on from one relationship doesn’t mean everyone else in both parties’ networks feels the same way.  So what’s the lesson here? Lately, I’ve come to the realisation that the Universe is trying to teach me the lesson of acceptance. Allowing things to be, without reacting to them, without getting frustrated, defensive or annoyed. Accepting the situation that this person still exists and you may bump into them every once in a while, and that’s okay. Let go of frustration, because you know what?

Who cares. This was what a good friend told me a couple of weeks ago when I started fretting about something I couldn’t control. Who cares? Nobody. Nobody at all cares, and if you’ve moved on from a relationship with someone, it doesn’t matter if they still show their face every once in a while. Yes, it would be nice if once doors had been closed on bad relationships, you never had to be reminded of them again, but the reality proves otherwise. You have no control over it, so just accept that they’re here, without getting exasperated about it. Accept that you’ve become a better person since, and it doesn’t matter what the other party thinks, because they’re not in your life any more. There will always be people who’ll talk. People who’ll never move on from the chapter in which your lives intersected. People will be pulled in and out of your gravitational orbit for some reason or another, and you may not want them to. But that’s okay. As long as you make the choice to live the life you want, make the right choices, be the best person you can be, grow from experiences, let go of the past, and focus on making the present the best you can, that’s all you can control.  I think I’m learning this lesson as we speak – and I’m already feeling a whole lot better.

Hear that, Universe?

You can also find this post over at Aly’s blog, Breathe Gently, who I was lucky enough to meet in London this summer! If you don’t read her already, I’d highly recommend checking her blog out – she’s an absolute sweetheart, has an amazing story, and is currently travelling across the world 🙂

Of Pirates, Poetry and Prayers

I’m not going to lie, this week and last have been lots of things, but the victory prize goes to exhaustion! Not in a bad way – work has been packed with learning, meeting new people, and creating copious amounts of curriculum leaving little time for anything else. Except that what little time has been leftover, I’ve been filling to the brim with STUFF.  Theatre (the city’s enormous Fringe festival is in town. Read: 155 plays; sleep is on the backburner!); friends from far away staying with us for 2 weeks; weddings, new experiences, and family stuff. It’s left me running on adrenaline, excitement, nerves and of course, way too much coffee, so I think I may be taking a bit of a break from blogging until later next week when I have time to gather my thoughts.  So much stuff has been going on that today’s post is a tad disjointed, so please forgive me!

The Winnipeg Fringe is seriously my absolute favourite time of year. Huge theatre companies, solo shows, musicians, contortionists, comedians… you name it, if it can go on stage and entertain people, it will happen in Winnipeg in July.  Each year’s Fringe also has a theme – we’ve had the frightfest “Night of the Living Fringe”, James Bond, Vegas, a Fringe “Factory”, Cowboys, and this year – everything Science Fiction (I KNOW!).  The Exchange District is a BEAUTIFUL part of town, full of old buildings, ornate architecture, and little boutiques full of vintage clothing and music. But it’s also sadly one of the dodgier areas for most of the year, bridging downtown and the North End (think crime and poverty), and, for the most part, deserted.  Streets are empty and a slight feeling of danger lurks in the air (maybe because I’m a bit of a girl when I walk alone at night!). But in July, everything changes. Hundreds of artists take over the city; dance halls, upstairs book shops, pubs and even the streets become performance spaces, home to a thriving community of arts lovers. Colour and creativity radiate from every corner, and every conceivable surface is turned into prime advertising space for shows ranging from the hilarious to the moving, the haunting to the incredible, the brilliant to the downright bizarre. This week, I’ve seen a one man riot, a brilliant true story of one man’s joke gone wrong that shot him to international stardom, two actors playing one man as they deliver spitfire comedy in Freud vs. His Ego, Cirque du Soleil-esque 19th century pirates, a stunning romantic tale told through tin can radio, described as  “part fairytale, part vaudeville routine, part old-fashioned love story… the theatre show The Decemberists would create if Roald Dahl directed them.” This weekend we have one of the funniest men I’ve ever seen on top of a parody of everything Europop – it’s my favourite two weeks of the year, and this year I’m thrilled a good friend of mine (who visits every year doing shows) happens to be staying with us. All this culture is fantastic, but I’d be lying if I said my sleep pattern hasn’t been affected 🙂

In less than two weeks, I will be heading home to England with Sweet, for his first time to Europe. We’re chiefly going to visit family and friends that won’t be able to make it over for the wedding (it’s a long way, a lot of money, and December in Winnipeg pretty much qualifies for Arctic conditions) – so they get to meet him, and so he gets to see home! I have mixed feelings about the trip – I’m so excited to go home, see friends, see sights and castles and stock up on Angel Delight – but I’m also nervous. I had word earlier in the week that my Nan, who most of you know was in hospital from late 2009 – early summer, doesn’t remember being in there at all, neither does she remember my Dad’s visit from earlier this year. One of my biggest fears is a loved one losing memories of our time together, and worse, forgetting people – my Dad says she remembers we’re coming to visit, but I’m terrified one day she won’t remember me.  It breaks my heart to even think about, and this trip is going to be one of mixed emotions.  If you could spare a thought or prayer for her, I’d really appreciate it.

These past few weeks have also brought about big changes in terms of socialising. I’ve always been a big advocate for putting things out into the Universe, and an even stronger believer that the Universe is pretty amazing when it comes to delivering.  I don’t want to alienate anyone by talking about something that’s very personal to each and every individual, but let’s just say I’ve been very blessed on a number of occasions  over the last few months in which I’ve prayed… and my requests have been fulfilled. I believe more and more that there is a path that’s set for each of us, and sometimes we don’t understand why things happen… but there are certain things that are meant to be, certain people we were meant to meet and share experiences with, and certain people who we’re better off without. Recently I’ve experienced both.

Finding meaningful friendships and people who were genuine, who’d be around for the long haul, was something I’d wished for back in the Spring, and since then, people have arrived in my life who have welcomed me with open arms, talked and shared and listened like good friends, and have just felt 100% natural, fun and comfortable to be around.  I am so lucky to have crossed paths recently with so many awesome people.  On the other hand, people who had been around for previous chapters in my life, who, though still present, brought with them unnecessary disputes, stress, and a feeling of uncertainty, have recently had those doors closed. When we’re younger, I think we place such importance on popularity, sometimes at the expense of sincerity – we’re more content with lots of people who may turn their backs at the drop of a hat than we are with a small handful of amazing souls who’ll stand by through anything. I have a feeling I’m experiencing the tides turning, and I’m beyond excited to be able to start a brand new chapter.

Work! My first month is almost at an end, and it’s been full of training and learning and opportunities to create new and better ways to serve people, to empower them, and to contribute to the community. That’s not to say there haven’t been a few fits of tears worrying about not being good enough, or learning quickly enough, but I have to remember we’re all in the same boat, and we all have the same goal: to work to make people’s lives better. I’m so incredibly fortunate to have been given this opportunity, and though quite possibly the biggest challenge yet, I’m ready for launch come August. I can’t wait to see everything that happens over the course of the next year.

And lastly, there’s less than a week to go until the Weddingbells contest ENDS!! I have been in this competition for eleven months and words cannot come close to doing justice to how much I’ve appreciated everyone who’s stuck by me throughout this journey. Six days left, and trust me, after being in the semi finals I know how quickly a big lead can turn into a close call – I have so much love and appreciation for all your votes so far, and if you could keep spreading the word over the next few days, I promise I’ll never ask you to do anything again! 🙂  You have been absolute STARS!!

I’m off to spend the week soaking up the arts – see you all next week. Have a great one 🙂

In which I accept sweets from and get into cars with strangers

Okay, first order of business here is a MASSIVE THANK YOU for all the birthday wishes this weekend! You guys absolutely made my week and I love you all!! Also? BEST. BIRTHDAY CAKE. EVER.

So, moving on, one of my tasks on the 26 Before 26 was to meet new people, branch out and make new friends. Pardon me while I get a little deep for a minute, but I’ve had the experience once before where I’ve put something out into the universe, and the universe has abruptly halted whatever it was in the middle of only to deliver in abundance. In situations where I’ve suddenly decided I didn’t like something about the way I was living, and actually declared I was going to bloody well do something about it, things seemed to… kind of just fall into place? I don’t know what to chalk it up to, but the universe is proving to be a supremely awesome listener/provider.  One of the things I’ve been uncomfortable with in my life lately is the lack of really close friendships.  There are people I absolutely adore… but have moved away for education, still live back in England, or I just don’t see as often as I’d like to here in the city. And I want to change that this year. I want BFFs, dammit!

So, in the last week or so, things have started changing. New people have started cropping up at every turn, and with them (hopefully!) the opportunity to build the foundations of new friendships.  It started just over a week ago when someone who’d originally been a Facebook suggestion (You have 8 friends in common!  Surely you know each other!) turned into a weekly penpal with whom I started exchanging emails for the past couple of months. We shared all sorts of interests, and he recommended the book I’m currently reading (and ADORING) on life, purpose and seeing the world differently. (Review to come!) Long story short, we met in person last weekend – and proceeded to chat for over three hours about where we grew up, football, science, philosophy, music and personal goals… TOTALLY nerded out, and it wasn’t awkward in the slightest! I really hope this turns into a more regular thing – and I’m still surprised this person still actually showed up after a random ‘hello Internet stranger, you seem awesome, be my friend? kthxbai’ – but as a mid-twenty something in a world where friendship circles already seem to have formed long ago, making new ones calls for something outside the box. Even if that’s at the risk of coming across a total weirdo. I’m very grateful the risk was worth taking and I’m hoping this is the beginning of a great friendship. 🙂

Coincidentally, said recommended book had a part to play in last Tuesday’s event: going out for dinner with one half of the duo that’s going to perform at our wedding in December. I interviewed one half of Keith and Renee a few weeks ago for the magazine that was kind enough to publish me, and Keith used to pop into the post office where I worked back in 200….3? On top of touring the world, travelling to Africa to build schools and water supplies and going across the country promoting positive messages and new albums, he plays in the same church band Sweet does on Sunday nights. Oh, and coincidentally does hot yoga every day, and is totally up for a buddy. Turns out the author of that book I’ve been reading is one of his favourites, too, so we chatted about literature, personal growth and making a difference in the world over dinner. One of the most POSITIVE people I’ve ever met in my life – it was great just to get to know someone so upbeat that little bit better, and with both of these people, it felt more like I was catching up with an old friend I’d had for years than someone I didn’t really know much at all. After dinner he drove me to the bookstore and bought me a book I “had” to have. When I asked why, he said “because you basically quoted the title of the book while we were talking,” and he felt like I was “meant” to have it. What was it called? Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life.  If you’ve been reading for a while you’ll know how incredibly meaningful and apt that is. I was left with a really good feeling of just finally having the right people on my path, who left me feeling like I could totally be myself, and that was absolutely okay, and full of encouragement, inspiration, and real self belief. I can’t even describe the sense of excitement I felt after two such awesome connections within such a short time frame.

Then came Thursday. The Meetup. I went to the pub to meet a group of “strangers” – the Winnipeg Creative Society ‘Secret Handshake’, who get together once a month for networking and chatting and sharing projects. Sounded totally my cup of tea, so I’d added a few people on Twitter before I went, and since it was around my birthday, what I thought was a  joke about cake and party hats TOTALLY became a reality when I got there.  I ended up quickly surrounded by about 40 people wearing elasticated pink cones on their heads, with a giant carrot cake, candles, all singing me happy birthday!! I “knew” maybe two people, who I’d only been tweeting with for a couple of weeks, and proceeded to chat with a whole bunch of other people about work, about creativity, technology, writing, art and sci-fi.  There were too many people to meet individually, but the ones I did get to connect with were awesome, and as a result I am apparently now starring in one advertisement, one music video, having ice cream with a new neighbour and going to a dance party at a composer’s house, as well as preparing for an ’80s karaoke night in drag. After the cake actually showed up, I’m taking everything entirely at face value. This is going to be fun 🙂  Someone caught some video clips on the night (and edited this on their iphone!!) (including the cake!)

Photos courtesy of Luc Desjardins @ http://www.at-first-sight.ca

I spent so many years consumed with the worry that I wasn’t popular enough, fun enough, or into the same things as most people, worrying about something being wrong with me because I didn’t have those Sex and the City friendships by which I seem surrounded. Only recently, I’ve been learning, writing, and thinking more about the importance of staying true to who you are and letting go of the cares and worries of how big (or small) a social circle is. I think it was shortly after my impromptu blogging rant that I really began to believe and carry out the notion that you shouldn’t have to pretend to be someone you’re not in order to fit in. If you have to carry around a persona that masks your true self, how will you ever have true friends? I spent far too much time prioritising popularity over integrity, and it almost shames me to say it. I guess it’s all part of growing up and finding out who you are. But these days, I’m learning that when you cease to empower societal expectations, almost dictations that you need to look or act a certain way in order to succeed in life, life just starts to become genuine, natural, and incredibly fulfilling. When you choose to let go of what doesn’t matter… the people that do will naturally start to flow in.

I feel blessed right now for the changes happening in my life, and excited about what’s to come in the near future. I sign off today with a song that I feel is quite fitting these days – reflecting a journey from fear to awareness, from old chapters to new journeys, from uncertainty to determination, and of the excitement I feel this very moment.


…Stars, hide your fires, for these here are my desires,
And I won’t give them up to you this time around
And so I will be found with my stake stuck in this ground
Marking the territory of this newly impassioned soul…

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…