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.
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
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
I started writing this at the tail end of 2015, and the past few months have gone by in an absolute flash. It feels like just yesterday I was returning home from a whirlwind trip to Europe, starting a new job, and J. was moving in – a short-lived venture, as we bought our house the same week and moved into that in November. I can’t describe how thankful I am for the whole year – one that began on New Year’s Day in a sobbing fit alone on my living room floor, and one that ended with tales of adventure, journeys, growth, new friends, goodbyes, challenges, lots of growing up, and, come Christmas Eve, a beautiful ring on my finger that symbolises not just the never ending circle of infinity, but my own promises, vows, and endless love for this beautiful man. I’m honoured to be chosen by the one I still believe I dreamed into existence, and after a few years of rather terrible Christmases, I can honestly say December 25th was the probably the best day of my entire life. 🙂 We’re just going to enjoy this for the time being – togetherness, happiness, and the brink of forever – but I’m sure we’ll start talking about plans and such in a little while. 🙂 To me, I’d be happy making my vows in our living room in an old white dress- the only thing that matters, to me anyway, isn’t fancy decorations or thousands of dollars on dinners or lights or fireworks – it’s the moments those words are exchanged, entwine around each other, and are launched into the universe for all eternity.
(That said, I wonder if we can be transported by hot air balloon up into the night sky and exchange vows floating in starlight? A girl can dream :))
I always find years wrap up with a word or two that does a brilliant job of encompassing everything that happened within them; a theme, if you will. 2015 was unexpected. In every way. I had no idea I would meet someone on Instagram, travel the world, lose the people I believed to be lifelong kindred spirits, and instead gain a new tribe of unconditionally awesome, genuine and sincere human beings. I had no idea I’d voluntarily give up a job I loved and end up with the word “Director” in my job title, go through three roommates, buy a house, go off all my medication, have a complete breakdown and go back on it again. I had no idea I’d start working toward a career in photography, or that my fiction, photographs, and modelling would all be published in print magazines. I had no idea I would gain and almost lose everything. I had no idea I’d write enough songs and grow enough balls to somehow find myself professionally recording an entire EP. I had no idea of the kindness of strangers and of friends, and that some of the worst and best days of my entire life would take place within these 365 days. If you are reading this, I imagine your year may have been unexpected, too. Goods and bads, successes and failures… we got through it. And we thrived.
I added a clip of the MASTERED version of my first song to my campaign page. There are three days left. Click through to hear/please help if you can at all!! 🙂 ❤ I can’t believe this little uke song turned into this!! 🙂 (I also made a Facebook page! #becomingreal)
Work was a huge change for me this year. The circumstances that led to me landing my new position were interesting: I very much enjoyed where I was, because it was a place that not only allowed me to exercise my imagination, but being a creative female in a heavily male-dominated sales environment allowed me to stand out. I was welcomed on board along with my colleague as a breath of fresh air, and I was allowed to run with pretty much every crazy idea I had. (Star Wars Free Press ads and zombie TV spots included). I felt valued, and I had a supervisor who was willing, always, to teach with patience and kindness. I was congratulated and my work shown to the entire salesforce in team meetings and at trade shows. The positive reinforcement and patient encouragement and reception of new ideas was fuel for me, and as a lifelong overachiever, it motivated me to be the very best I could be.
I now find myself in a much senior position. One in which I have someone reporting to me, and one in which I hold a large level of responsibility when it comes to an entire company’s corporate branding. The title is one I’ve always dreamed of, and upon hire, I was excited beyond belief to hear of a place where everyone’s opinion matters, where innovation is the name of the game, where I would be seen with the potential I could reach, and where I would be mentored to succeed. Leadership is always something I’ve been interested in – as an INFJ I derive my biggest personal satisfaction when I can be instrumental in helping others do well. I’ve just never formally been in a position to do so. This is why I am of the firm belief that anyone, anywhere, can be a leader, even simply within their own community, group of friends, or home.
I hoped to be given the opportunity to help transform a culture, and I was thrilled at the opportunity. (NF ding!) I want to be the kind of leader, in work and in life, that sees people for what they can achieve, not their immediate shortcomings, and help motivate them to become more. I want to help them see the potential within themselves and encourage them to chase after it. Because this has been done for me, and it has changed my self perception, and my life. I know not everyone is the same, but I think it’s pretty universal that people will respond better to positive reinforcement and tapping into intrinsic problem-solving than they will to fear and repeated messages of you’re not doing it right. Being shot down creates an atmosphere of fear – and results will undoubtedly reflect that. If your leadership cultivates an atmosphere of fear in order to get a job done, the job will get done, but it will not come with the enthusiasm, excitement, or additional effort or creativity that often accompany the most successful of projects. You will feel more likely to stay at home if you’re sick rather than coming in, because you will feel unappreciated and uncared for. If your leadership is one of inclusion, encouragement, and belief in your team – your team will be on your side and want to support and deliver on a project that does have those things. They will want to be your cheerleaders. Absenteeism will decrease, quality will increase, as will a sense of community and of belonging. The resulting job may be the same, but the added unseens, the team spirit, morale, contributors’ confidence, loyalty, excitement and motivation – can only exist when the tone is set from the start.
Am I wrong? I think this can also be applied to life outside of work, too, and it’s something that’s been on my mind a fair bit lately.
I’ve read a lot of John Maxwell’s leadership books in the past, and actually was fortunate enough to spend a few years working in a place that not only offered Lunch and Learns, where the boss gave everyone the opportunity to take part in a leadership course, share ideas, and develop ourselves over a few lunch hours, but also offered a yearly retreat, usually revolving around the curriculum of one of his books. The one I went on was based on the book Put Your Dream To The Test – an overnight, two-day stay together watching DVDs and reading chapters and having group discussions as well as fun dinners and board games in the evenings. This was a non-profit organization with very little money, but with a culture of truly believing in its team members, in unity, in a common goal, and in personal development. They thought outside the box and really helped develop everyone as leaders in their own right, helped them realise what their individual dreams were, helped foster a culture of inclusion where everyone felt safe to express and contribute, and helped develop better human beings. The CEO was actively involved in morning meetings, extracurricular events, and sold me on the idea of creating a personal board of directors (it’s worth reading, for the idea alone) for your own life. A brilliant idea: be selective in those with whom you choose to share your innermost everything, and trust those who’ve earned yours time and time again. A personal board of directors will always guide you in the right direction, without judgment, and certainly without steering you off course for reasons of their own.
I’ve landed myself in roles in the past and felt the familiar INFJ twinges tugging at my heart. Why aren’t people supportive of each other? Why is morale so low? Why are people more concerned about succeeding themselves rather than helping others? I encounter it time and time again. In each job I will try to bring extra things I believe will improve team spirit, increase positivity, and a feeling of belonging and being valued. Things like field trips, parties, pot lucks, MBTI assessments, internal newsletters… things that go beyond day to day duties and actually help people get to see each other as just that: human beings. Human beings whose skill sets are all part of a giant team effort to help the company be successful. When people feel seen, heard, and valued, that effort will multiply. Relationships will strengthen. There will be harmony. When people feel replaceable, or worse, are chastised when brave enough to think outside of the box – you’re not going to get that out of them.
As a leader in our own lives, I think our goal should always be to help others be the very best they can be. In work, in friendships, in relationships, even in day to day interactions with random people on the bus. Everything we say, post online… everything we write in an e-mail, every tone with which we choose to wrap our words can be interpreted in a myriad different ways because no two people are the same. This is the cause of all life’s misunderstandings and overanalyses! We can choose to learn each other – to put the effort into truly knowing them and how they are wired, what their needs are – communicate accordingly, and watch them flourish – or we can communicate in the only, rather self-focused way we know how – branding anyone who thinks differently “too sensitive”, “rebellious”, “useless”, or “too emotional”. The list goes on. Contrarily, as one often accused of being far too sensitive, I see many people that I personally judge to be “too closed minded”, “too opinionated”, “too confrontational”, or “too cold”. Nobody’s not guilty of this. Anyone that differs from ourselves can easily be called “too” this or that. But if we all took a moment to acknowledge that everyone is wired differently (it’s all just various combinations of brain chemistry, after all), and took the time to see their potential and encourage them to reach for it by speaking their language, I think the world would be a much happier place.
I used to think it came down to treating people as you’d want to be treated. (Grandmas know best!) But I’ve learned that life is infinitely richer, fuller, and deeper when you treat people as they’d want to be treated. At work? Take the time to learn about your coworkers or employees. See what they react to. Get a sense of their vulnerabilities and strengths, and nurture the latter. If you want somebody to become something more than they are, learn their language and speak it if you want to see results. People blossom when someone speaks to them in their own language, especially when it’s not one’s own.
A great example of this recently for me has been working with my friend Dave. Like most of the best people I know, Dave came from the Internet in response to a call-out asking if anyone might be interested in working with me to get my EP out of my head and into being a real thing. I had no idea who he was, but over the past few months he has taken my little ukulele song and transformed it into something people keep telling me “could top charts” (I DON’T know about that, haha). I’m still too nervous to sing in front of people, so in the recording process, he built me a fort out of blankets and room dividers. At the recording studio itself, they turned the lights off in the booth and put candles in there. When I cried because I thought I was doing terribly, I was brought tissues, and my subsequent vocals encouraged for having emotion in them. Every time I missed a note, I’d just be asked quickly, behind my wall of blankets, “that was great, can we try it again?” No reprimanding. No actual pointing out of my cock-ups, even though I knew they were there. Just positive encouragement. And that form of mentoring and leadership brought out the very best in me.
This is what I want to do for others. I want to learn them. In relationships: I’ve learned my “language” is, unsurprisingly, one of words. I like to be told things, and I like letters and notes and messages. Other people may like demonstrations of service (cleaning the house, picking up groceries), or physical affection. People communicate in different languages, and each is valid. I know very well that not everybody needs the same type of communication as I do – I’ve learned that my levels of feeling, caring, etc. can be… intense, and sometimes when good intentioned, can come across as overbearing and actually drive people away. These are all good lessons – the bottom line being to pay less attention to your own needs and more to the needs of those around you. Becoming fluent in another’s language is like a direct line to their soul, and every relationship, whether at work, home, or in friendships, will flourish as a result.
Happy new year, everybody. May it be full of harmony, growth, wisdom, fun, reflection, happiness, and adventure. 🙂
I have to look to my last post for advice – from myself, to myself, in times of such fragility. “All your tomorrows start here.” I’d thought that the power of choice was enough to overcome such uncertainties that have hung about for so very long: Finally, I had a small range of motion back. Finally, I was returning to work, settling into a new home, stepping back toward being financially stable, and finally, starting to have the physical ability to do the things I loved again that had been stolen dreams for months. I was starting to sing again, model again, and write again. I was starting to imagine again, and plan, and take action. I was so very excited and moved and frightened by the jellybean video that I had no choice but to get back on course; seconds of life were evaporating and I was compelled to get back to living the heck out of them. Enough was enough.
But then I went back to the hospital, and was told something frightening. That even though the bones themselves were almost healed, the reason I was still in so much pain and had such a limited range of motion was due to being in a certain stage of “adhesive capsulitis“, in which, as the orthopaedic surgeon so vividly put it, the muscles and tendons transform from being flexible and stretchy to “cable-like”; rigid, and from that point, they don’t turn back. I was mortified. It’d been almost half a year; I was holding on so desperately to the hope that it was just slow going. Not permanent. And after this long, they can’t keep providing physiotherapy twice a week, so I’m on my own. With my broom handle, trying hard to force some kind of movement.
And then I quit my job. I’d come back and, understandably, my job wasn’t really there any more. It’d been carved into pieces and handed out to different pairs of hands, and all the efforts I’d put into creating a positive, inclusive culture seemed to have been forgotten, and I felt like a stranger all over again. Shortly after, and on a day I was feeling a little down about it, through random chance, I received a text message from a good friend of mine. A friend of hers had posted something on her Facebook about their company having an opening for a “strong creative writer” with a communications background and social media skills, and my friend told me I should apply. I sent in my resume and cover letter eagerly, along with some writing samples from across the board (yes, even one of my horror stories! #Diversity), and the very next day, I had a call from the Vice President saying she’d arrived to work and been told by three people that morning, “CALL HER”. I was so excited! We met face to face at Starbucks one evening, and we hit it off royally. We’d studied the same very random things at university; we were both into MBTI; had family in the same county in England… we really got each other in terms of values, workplace culture, making an impact, understanding people… it was a wonderful meeting, and I wanted the opportunity more than I’ve ever wanted a job in my life. I actually remember, at that moment, realizing that this was kind of my dream job, in terms of skills, environment, people… and I’ve never had that before.
Then I had about 200 interviews and was made offers elsewhere, but I was focused. And determined. I was sent a few assignments, to show I could actually write, and spent hours throwing in design work too to show what I could do. I met with the president for breakfast one weekend; another great meeting that ended with being told “this was the position for me” and that I’d have an offer within the week! After my references were checked (I cannot convey the depths of my gratitude for all the wonderful things they said!), I was called in for a formal offer (and to make sure I knew “it was going to be primarily a creative writing position” and ask if I was okay with that…haha), accepted, and… I start on Monday. They didn’t even advertise the position. Two of my favourite people in the whole world know people that work there, and I’ve already been in contact on Facebook and e-mail with some of them, and have already been invited on a day out next weekend with a group of them, and received kind words of encouragement from some that had seen the news of the breakup online. They just seem to be a really caring, genuine bunch, and I haven’t even met them yet. I even had a discussion with one about wizard hats and the TARDIS. I’m really excited.
But yes… that happened. Such an intense loss I was unable to do anything for days, and my body, perhaps in rebellion, just kept throwing up and collapsing. I also got sicker than I’ve been in years, and recently realized I’d lost 27 lb. in the last seven months (seven of which have probably evaporated in the last two weeks due to sickness and grief and the sadness of everything). When I returned to work, ALL my clothes were miles too big, and I was told today “I didn’t have to step on a scale to see I was just skin and bones”. Things haven’t been panning out as they were when I last wrote at all, and when there’s stress, apparently my appetite disappears. But I have to remind myself – and my friend keeps telling me – this too shall pass, and everything, good and bad, must have an ending. I was a bit of an emotional wreck for a while, but again I return to my last post and remind myself: the frustration can become the fuel. I’ve forever believed in the power of choice, vehemently so, even when things are at their hardest. But I’m also a creature of intense emotion, and those two things can sometimes be at war. The head and the heart. Both such strong warriors for the same cause, but both so completely opposing at times. It’s hard not to feel lost.
But this is where acceptance comes into play. Things have been tough for a really long time, but as sensitive and emotional as this heart is, it’s also full of dreams and a longing to know and to create. To connect, yes, because true human connection is the most beautiful of things, but it is not the only thing. I have to focus on some of the other things. I’ve been seeing friends often (for those who’ve been beside me through everything, I can’t even begin to say how humbled and grateful I am, and how much love I have for you), and I’ve been brainstorming up a fury in terms of creating again. I’ve fallen in love with conceptual/storytelling photography, and have been lucky to have been part of some great shoots (and hope to do more!), but I’ve also always loved digital creative manipulation.
I’ve been so incredibly inspired lately by photographers who create worlds of fantasy and tell stories through powerful, whimsical images… that I’ve decided to try it for myself. I don’t have a fancy camera, but I have a head full of ideas and hands that can bring them to life and I live in a city where the arts community is absolutely thriving. I threw out my ideas, and the response was overwhelming: over the next six months or so, I’m going to be creating my own images, editing them, and telling stories in new and (hopefully) exciting ways. I already have one group lined up for a shoot next month, and I can’t wait to get into the post-production and make something awesome. And literary! I also had someone ask if I wanted to make a music video of one of my songs… I don’t know where I’m going to go with music, now, but people seem to like this one, and it’d be a huge challenge to be in front of a camera, filmed and playing… worried about doing it alone, worried about memorizing lyrics and chords… but I think it’s a challenge I should take on. Especially if someone’s offering their time and creative brain to make it happen.
So… things are hard right now. But they could also turn out great. I don’t know what the future holds at all, and that’s terrifying, but right now I do have things to be thankful for. My incredible friends and family, my imagination, people willing to indulge it, and a new job I think is going to be pretty amazing. I might not be able to turn off my brain’s rapidfire of thought, fear, worry… the list goes on. But I can choose not to be consumed by it, and let what will be, be.
All my posts come from my blog over at http://proseandconstellations.com.
The year is drawing to a close and with it, a difficult chapter, and as the door to a new one opens I sit in the half-light of the in-between. It’s New Year’s Eve, and yes, traditionally this is a time for goals and reflection (and when have I not taken the opportunity to make a big list to dive into?), but I think I’ve been doing a lot of that over the past five months while I’ve been removed from my life. 2014 beckons with a warm glow, but recently I’ve felt plagued with the old flames of self-doubt I thought had been extinguished.
As I mentioned in my last post, breaking my arm led to a whole topsy-turvying of worlds, and the time has come to get back on board. I’m not fully healed by any means, but I am well enough to do most of the basics, and am hopefully on track for the anticipated full recovery by about August if I put in the work. The routine part of normal life is scheduled to commence on the 2nd, and I will once again join the ranks of the daily workers. I’m scared, because I’ve now been off for almost as long as I was at the job in the first place, and I was by no means an expert in my role when I had the accident. I’d given it my all, and brought in new things to the company (and will be returning with a completed project I hope my boss adores) that I think made a difference, but now I’m going back and I feel like the new girl all over again, except this time, there’s the expectation I should fall straight back into the groove of things. So much happened in the six months I was there, I can’t imagine how much more there is to learn almost another half-year later. I want to go back and show them how committed I am, how determined I am, how I’m worth holding onto… but my fear of not being well-versed or up-to-date enough coupled with pain and limited mobility frighten me.
I think I’ve allowed this fear to fester in other attempts to regain a sense of normality lately, too, and I don’t like it one bit. Throughout the injury I’ve been pretty down about not being able to do so many things that were either part of the things in life I loved most, or were about to become them. In recent weeks, I’ve gone back to music – I can hold an instrument now, and AC and I made a joint goal in November to get 50 live performances under our belts by this time next year. That’s at least one per week, and we’re relatively on track, but after most of them, I’ve found those long-buried voices resurfacing, telling me I’m not good enough. And firmly believing I’m not. I watched an old video I did in my apartment before we decided to start a band, and it made me incredibly sad, because though it was before I’d ventured onto any sort of stage, I sounded better, vocally and instrumentally, than I do now. I know, logically, that if you take five months off from any activity, you’re not going to be a pro when you first try again, but it frustrates me to no end knowing I’m filled with such determination and had the courage to go from throwing up after singing one song in front of someone to being asked to do several shows (and being thoroughly exhilarated by them) – to having a weaker voice, less of a range, and losing much of the progress I’d made in playing. I know I can’t help what happened, but in a linear fashion, logic says I should be better than this video by now. And I’m not. And it’s horribly discouraging.
The same seems to be happening in another area I was really enjoying before the break. At the beginning of this year, I’d decided to give modelling another go, and over a few months discovered a passion for artistic, conceptual photographic storytelling – something I plan on exploring on the other side of the lens in the new year. I’d done a bit of it years ago, but being cursed with apparently not aging (please don’t tell me I’ll appreciate it when I’m 40; I’m sure I will, but for now it’s hard turning 29 and still looking 20 and trying to be taken seriously in the professional world), I decided to give it another go, and became really passionate about it. Anyone who knows me in person knows I feel HARD, for better or worse, and so when I’m excited about something, I can’t not let it shine. I had great compliments from photographers, took risks, and took pride in being a model who could be counted on to be there on time, prepared, make everyone laugh and take risks for a good picture (not always the best decision), and it was a passion that kept building.
Then it happened, and I watched the world continue on without me. In recent weeks, I had a couple of opportunities to get back on set. I was prepared for the fact that I wouldn’t have full mobility, but I wasn’t prepared for my mind acting like it did years ago. I found myself in a sort of physical and mental paralysis that forbade me from being what I was before, and I didn’t seem to be able to do anything about it. I was completely taken over by having watched the world continue to spin without me and pent-up feelings of being forgotten that I couldn’t shake the feeling of not being good enough. My mind kept telling me: you were great six months ago; you should be better now. Again, logically I know an extended break is going to set anyone back, but I couldn’t stop judging myself. And it made me a poor performer. My photos reflected someone whose fear was overtaking their passion. My own mind was sabotaging the very things I love to do as an artist. And I can’t not see the results of how I was compared to how I am now and not be saddened.
My last post, however, was all about choice. I’ve always believed that life truly is only 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it, but sometimes it’s a really tough battle, even when you’re given the tools with which to choose. It’d be easy to stop, now. But it would go against my entire nature to do so. I’m determined, and always have been, to be better each and every day than I was the day prior, whether as a person, a friend, a lover, a musician, a thinker, or a writer. I also realise the power of acceptance, and maybe I have to take this as a lesson in that. That maybe the reality is that something horrible happened and it did take me ten steps backward. But staying there isn’t the answer. Staying there isn’t me. I have to remind myself on days where the voices resurge that I, too, have a choice, and maybe I can’t help where I am right now. But I can choose how I deal with it. Stop judging myself, and realise that other people probably aren’t judging too harshly either. Start from where I am, keep marching forward, and if I make mistakes or don’t live up to my own expectations, then work harder. It’s what I have to do with my arm, so it’s the same attitude I should have with everything else I’m trying to rebuild. The hard part is that all those things are in their very nature, worthy of being judged. Modelling. Singing. Performing. Writing. All efforts to put something out into the world for anyone to see. But I think to keep going is to keep following dreams, and to be brave. And that’s something I’ve always tried to do.
I came across a quote recently that I feel may be apt for this situation, and may lead me through the door into a new chapter and a new year safely:
“If you have built castles in the sky, let not your dreams go to waste; just build the foundations under them.”
– Henry David Thoreau
I am finding it tough. But I think if I learn to accept, stop judging, be brave, put in the work, and look at reality, life is going to not only return to normal, but become even more of what I’ve always wanted it to be. I’m determined to make 2014 the year I tried my absolute hardest to make my dreams come true, to fill every moment with love and gratitude, and to try to always make the right choice.
“We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well,” someone once said, “that Death will tremble to take us.”
Have a wonderful new year, and don’t forget that no matter where you are now, every passing moment is another chance to turn it all around.
I haven’t been writing here half as often as I used to. I’ve been spending most of my writing time on fiction for the last little while (enormous thanks to those darlings who took a peek at my recent short story!), and when I’m not doing that, I’m making various endeavors to learn to play musical instruments, getting more tattoos, and decorating for my cats (seriously, this is in a frame above their food dishes. It is important for me to chronicle this life of mine through writing, but lately I’ve found it slightly hypocritical to do so without actually spending it living. Still, I’ve been taking lots of pictures and recording lots of videos (which I’m sure will come back to haunt me in the not-too-distant future), and connecting regularly with some really awesome people.
But recent life hasn’t all been smooth. I’ve always maintained the importance of eternally moving forward, no matter in which direction, but for a little while over the few months leading up to Christmas, I felt myself being pulled toward a dangerous destination. A place where old, distorted ways of thinking wrapped their way around the progress and masqueraded as reality. And that called for action.
From late 2011 until about spring 2012, I started to see a counsellor. I also started taking medication for my anxiety for the first time in my life. I went through a ten-week course with the Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba, I did my homework, and after a few months, my case was closed. But toward the end of 2012, I found myself immersed every day in what felt like a pool of toxins that began to insidiously creep in and distort my entire mentality. No longer was I spreading my wings on the vast ocean of possibility, but I was becoming caged, torn between my own vision of capabilities and the person I had to be in order to comply to that environment’s standard. I’ve always been motivated by achievement and surpassing others’ expectations, but when your wings are clipped and all you’re left with is a dream of what you could be doing, you begin to question the capabilities you had in the first place. Everyone around me told me what a huge, positive difference I’d made. But those with authority over me saw nothing but someone stepping beyond their role, taking on too many “extra-curriculars” – necessities, in my mind, for a successful operation – and pointing out all the places things could be done better. I was someone who didn’t fit the corporate mould.
“I’m too good for that, there’s a mind under this hat;” words to a favourite song come to mind. “I speak because I can to anyone I trust enough to listen; you speak because you can to anyone who’ll hear what you say.”
I mean no malice in writing these words, but I have to be true to the reason that led me down the path of old habits and distorted imaginings, things that led me toward the place I used to be. I started feeling that if all my achievements, hard work, creativity and dedication to bettering something meant nothing, then maybe the same held true for myself as a person. Maybe the same held true for my friendships and relationships; maybe I personally felt I was doing all the right things but maybe I had it all wrong. So I started looking for signs. And in doing so, I saw my insecurities manifest from thin wisps of possibility into a corporeal monster that tore away at everything I held dear. Something had to be done. Something had to be done now.
So I went to see a psychiatrist. Re-opened my case with my counsellor, who, after a session, recognised where I was and wanted someone who specialised in mental health to help me. I’d been on the medication for about a year, but I apparently should have been getting infinitely more benefit from it than I was.
The assessment consisted of a one-hour booking which turned into a near two-hour session with me, my counsellor, and a young psychiatrist. I think I threw him a little by being so on the ball with my own mentality, and after an extensive fleshing out of my childhood, my cross-continental uprooting, my traumatic experience of a “marriage”, my amazing but heartbreakingly ill partner and my increasingly toxic work environment, he decided I “didn’t fit any one mould.” I learned that within classifications of the various mental illnesses any one person could have, there were “cluster A, B and C trait” characteristics, each subsequent one being less common than the last, but still possibly present. I didn’t have a textbook anxiety disorder. I definitely didn’t have social anxiety, which explains why I felt so out of place in the ten-week program I attended a year ago. I didn’t have generalised anxiety either, but I did have B- and C-cluster traits of a “non specified anxiety disorder”. Additionally, I had the same for borderline personality disorder. He made it very clear I didn’t have BPD – but my heightened concern about others’ perception of me being “good enough” and continual fear of abandonment fall into that realm.
The fact that I didn’t fit neatly in one box didn’t surprise me. I never have in any area of my life, and only recently found peace with simultaneously being a fiercely passionate creative with a love for arts and language and an enormous sci-fi, psychology and science nerd with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. I never have been typical, and this plagued me for most of my life. But I think I’ve learned to embrace the uniqueness – and so the diagnosis, as it were, didn’t upset me. He recommended a change in medication, some mental exercises, and to check in with my doctor and counsellor regularly over the next couple of months.
“There is nothing less romantic, literary, or lyrical than the language of pathology, diagnosis, symptom checklists. As I read through these checklists over and over again I was struck by the harshness, the crudeness of the terminology. And once the evaluation process began, more and more distinctly unpoetic terms were added to the lists, as the problems quickly grew in scope and seriousness.” — Priscilla Gilman
It’s hard to put this stuff out into the world, to admit that you’re flawed, but I want to remember the journey. I’m not scared of being judged for it because I know I’m really doing something about it. And I tell myself that makes me brave. On top of that, I am so much more than a diagnosis. I’m someone who takes action when things get sucky, I’m someone dedicated to bettering myself, I’m someone who makes goals and follows through on them, and I’m someone who feels the fear and goes ahead and tries anyway. I’m someone who sees beauty in the universe and feels so very deeply, and I’m someone who’ll be a brilliant friend if you’ll let me. I am so much more than a diagnosis, and this is merely a stop on the map that will lead me to where I believe I’m supposed to be. I know a lot of people are reluctant to turn to medication when it comes to issues of mental health, usually due to the strange notion that becoming dependent on them is both terrifying and bad. Is it so terrifying when one has something as terrible as cancer and “depends” on medication for a better quality of life? Why the double standard when it comes to issues of the mind?
So it’s been a couple of weeks. The first night I began the new meds I was promptly knocked the hell out for a good fifteen hours, and struggled to stay awake past 8 PM for the next few nights. But that very first day, I was blown away by how quickly I felt so much better. It felt like I’d been living with my heart in a vice that had finally been released and allowed to breathe. I felt free, and it felt strange – it felt like the continual physical tension and weight of anxiety and worry I hadn’t even realised was there was gone. I was just about to go into a brand new job, and I found myself excited, without a trace of fear. It was beyond bizarre. But I couldn’t be happier. This freeing has left me with a sense of urgency – to dive into the world around me and do all those things I’d set out to do, knowing how much easier they’re all going to be. Knowing that the joy and adrenaline will finally outweigh the fear. My first week at work is going swimmingly, and the plan is to get up and perform at an open mic within the next two weeks (without throwing up afterward).
I think this is the start of brilliant things.
I’m only in my second week of the new year and my life has already turned upside down. I say that in the best way possible.
The change began over the Christmas holidays, over which I couldn’t get the nagging little thought of work out of my mind. I’d had my annual performance review right before buggering off for two weeks of hot chocolate and Every Christmas Episode of Everything Ever (Community in claymation was the clear winner of the awesomeness category), and it hadn’t gone as I’d hoped. I’d submitted my self review about a week prior, and finally felt proud as I handed it in, seeing real achievements listed throughout. I’d built a network that spanned across the country, initiated and developed regular newsletters and communication pieces that engaged people, managed a social media presence, become chair of the global LGBTA steering committee, spearheaded a regional employee recognition campaign to promote organizational values, and been chosen as one of only fifteen worldwide colleagues to represent the company at a 3,000-strong attendee summit for corporate diversity. I’d been told they’d never had anyone like me, and I handed in my review (along with several areas for improvement, of course) with a real sense of pride. I’ve always had issues with self-doubt and feelings of not being good enough, but I was confident this year, I’d made some pretty big strides.
But apparently not. In 2013, I was to be spending less time on communications and more time on filing and learning the Canadian pension system, studying handbooks and learning the legal terminology needed to draft complex invoice schedules. I was to be more passionate about clerical duties and less about issues that are important at a corporate level, but have been lacking at a local one. I was to stop bringing forward new ideas and remember my position. And that haunted me for the next two weeks.
I’ve known for a while there’s been a discrepancy between my values, passions and strengths and the ones expected in my current position. I’ve tried desperately to bring forward what I believed was valuable and much-needed change, but there’s only so much you can do from an entry-level position. Everyone around me has always told me I need to be somewhere creative, somewhere that plays to my strengths and allows me to do what I love most of all: writing, design, social media, communications, and building a culture of respect, diversity and inclusion.
So over Christmas, I tried to find one. I found a position I felt would be perfect, but didn’t hold my hopes too high. Everyone and their dog makes the new year’s resolution of finding a new job, and the market would be saturated. It also asked for a professional qualification and several years’ experience in an industry I didn’t really have, but I applied anyway.
Then I was asked for an interview.
Then I was asked if I was interested in an even more ideally suited position: Communications Manager at a magazine/publisher. I spent 45 minutes talking with someone who saw everything I stood for, who was on the same page when it comes to relating with a team, building a culture of respect and creativity, who valued my efforts as key communications ones, not administrative “extras”. We talked openly about my anxiety and how I was continually trying new things to tackle it. We talked about psychology – he’d been researching the Myers-Briggs personality model hours before my interview because he, too, felt people work better together when they understand each other. I may have done a happy clap at this point. The next day I was called back and offered the position. I was told told one of the main reasons for the decision was because he’d read my blog the previous night. This very one right here, where I write about my struggles, my goals, my dreams… ironically, this very blog which a current colleague had forwarded to my supervisor in attempts to get me into trouble became the very reason someone else wanted me around. It was everything I’d ever wanted in a work environment.
So I accepted! I gave three weeks’ notice on Monday, and was blown away by the plethora of e-mails from people all over the world telling me how much of an impact I’d had. How integral I’d been to people and how much I’d done to stand up for what’s right. I had people in other countries I’d never even met telling me how much they’d miss me. And on a day where I felt scared, nervous about taking a leap into the unknown and questioning my ability to live up to what I hope to be, it was exactly what I needed.
I start the first week of February, leaving me a whole day off to transition. But that’s okay. I didn’t want to leave my girls here in the lurch, and I wanted to leave in good faith, despite the challenges over the past eighteen months. Because this place gave me opportunities. I met lifelong friends and I got to travel and be surrounded with thousands of souls committed to making the corporate world a better place. I got to put Winnipeg on the map, and I learned truly what I should be doing. And as if to solidify exactly what that is, I received an e-mail this week informing me I’m going to have my first work of fiction published in a literary magazine!
I can’t wait for this next chapter. I’m terrified, but I refuse to let that dictate my actions and mentality. I’m incredibly grateful, and more than anything, I’m excited. It’s kind of what I’ve wanted my entire life.