Under Pressure

Recently I started going to counselling again. It’s kind of a shame I waited so long because she’s really wonderful and talking to her is easy. A lot of weight in my life isn’t necessarily caused by the big, clunky stuff but by the constant drip, drip, dripping of independently insignificant things. It’s that slow drain of energy reserves caused by trying to maintain a household, work full time hours and see to the well-being of two children. My mornings are a whirlwind. My lunch breaks at work are often occupied by making phone calls and appointments. My evenings are filled with homework, housework, cooking, laundry and social media so I can try to find some connection with other people. Squeeze in self care. Remember to call on friends. When did I last call my grandparents? On the days when my kids are with their father, I’m fielding questions and troubleshooting problems for them. It’s a lot of late nights, broken sleep and early mornings. So when I walked into the counsellor’s office and she asked me what was going on…the dam broke.

“I can see what’s real and what’s not.” She shifted in her chair and asked me to elaborate. There’s this ideal normal in society: find a partner, buy a house, get a decent job, two cars, have kids, get a dog, go on all-inclusive vacations, drink wine with friends on the weekend and bake your arse off at Christmas. It’s not really real. Life doesn’t work like that and happiness is found in all sorts of different ways. The ideal normal doesn’t fit my life or my inclination but conditioning keeps me doubting and feeling failure when things get hard. There’s that voice of doubt that creeps in and says, “If you would just conform, things would be easy.” I tell the voice, “I tried that before and it didn’t go so well.” The voice turns sickly sweet and condescending, “Well if you failed before it’s because you didn’t stick to the plan or try hard enough. This time it will be different.”

This inner struggle alone is exhausting. Keeping things in perspective and playing the long term game takes dedication and devotion that only the most stubborn of us can achieve. Add in having to ignore thoughtless comments and educating when it might make a difference. Add in the subtle, subconscious cues of inadequacy that I’m not living in the ideal normalcy.

$10 per ticket, $15 for two

And then the counsellor said something that seemed completely off hand and simple but it knocked me over. She said, “You deserve to be happy.” I’ve had many friends, coworkers and acquaintances express these exact words to me before but this was different. When a friend says, “You deserve to be happy” they’re saying it to make you feel better. They’re saying it as part of the bargain of being friends. Making each other feel good is part of the currency of friendship or kinship. Lifting your spirits in that moment and you’ll return the favour to them as well. I don’t mean that they’re insincere or that it isn’t true. In that office, when this woman I don’t really know, who has no stake in our relationship said, “You deserve to be happy” I heard her saying it is a basic human right. She made it sound like I didn’t have to do anything to earn the happiness. I didn’t have to suffer for it and this is a completely different notion from the ethics I was raised believing.

So I left counselling that night a whole lot lighter and with restored faith that I am living my best life. That it’s possible to be happy doing things my own way and following my heart. I’ve been trying to focus on the things that are most important to me. Saying no more often and planning time to myself instead. Listening to my body and my soul when it comes to care and not the ads telling me I can be better if I just (fill in the blank). Prioritizing my life differently so I don’t feel as much pressure, strain or anxiety. And working on habits that have failed to serve me in the past. For me, self improvement is all a part of self care and there is always room for improvement.

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How Not To Date

I’ve been dwelling on something. It’s dumb and I should just move on but here I am wasting my time thinking about this little blip that will eventually be forgotten. I hope writing about it here will keep it from replaying over and over in my head.

It was a Friday. Someone I followed on social media and had had minute interactions with messaged me out of the blue. We chatted back and forth throughout the day. Nothing of any consequence just chatting. Interesting and light conversation like I’ve had with lots of online people. On Saturday he suggested that maybe we should meet up. I was really surprised. He wasn’t someone I had ever considered going on a date with but I try to be open minded and he seemed nice. I was away for the weekend but we made plans to go to the art gallery the following Thursday.

On Tuesday I realized I hadn’t heard from him since Saturday so I sent him a text to wish him a great day. I thought I’d touch base and see if he was still alive. He didn’t reply. Nothing on Wednesday. Nothing on Thursday (the day we were supposed to hang out). I felt abandoned and that he wasn’t interested anymore. I was disappointed and hurt. On Friday afternoon I got a text that read:

“So I guess that’s that, eh?”

Instant panic attack. I felt accused. Like I was supposed to have carried all the responsibility of us meeting and had dropped the ball. I texted back very directly that it had been a week since I’d heard from him and it was obvious that he wasn’t interested in getting to know me. We went back and forth a couple of times. And he finished by saying he wouldn’t waste any more of my time. I was seeing red. My chest was tight and I couldn’t breathe. I felt disrespected and foolish. I was hopeful that I’d at least make a new friend and was embarrassed that I’d been looking forward to meeting him.

It’s been a month. And the worst part is, he’s friends with other people I follow on social media. So his picture randomly infiltrates my feeds. Friends of his are promoting him and talking him up. I keep thinking he’s gone and told all his family, friends and neighbours that I’m “that crazy bitch” who didn’t chase him down for a date. That I’m mean (I was a bit in the end). And that I led him on somehow. Etc etc…I should have listened to my intuition and said no in the first place. He didn’t seem my type. Our lives are completely different.

I am struggling with staying hopeful and open minded while I build thicker, higher walls.

It’s Written All Over Your Face

When my Grammie died in 2013 I was battling with depression and anxiety as I had never experienced. It was mostly situational and it was crippling. I was only a few weeks away from falling apart in my doctor’s office where she prescribed SSRIs to try to get me to a place where I could function enough to take care of myself and my children. I drove the 4.5 hours to my hometown in a rental my maternal grandparents arranged for me because I didn’t have reliable transportation. The children stayed with their father because they were too young to understand the ceremony that accompanies death. I sang along to the radio. I cried. I prayed. I chewed off all of my fingernails and I arrived at the funeral home just before the wake. My sisters were living out West at the time and weren’t able to make it so I represented our branch of grandchildren.

My Aunt had gathered dozens and dozens of pictures of Grammie into a scrapbook which was placed on a table in the hallway where people were lining up to come in. I looked through that scrapbook over and over throughout the day. I studied her face, her hairstyles and her simple but flattering dresses. How she stood or sat or carried herself in each picture. I looked carefully at her eyes and her smile. How she folded her hands in her lap and crossed her legs or ankles. I planted myself firmly in front of that book and looked carefully through images of her living her life and all I could see in her eyes was sadness. The only pictures of my grandmother that showed true joy and happiness were the ones where she was holding a baby or playing with a child. The rest of the smiles seemed forced and tight. And it broke my heart.

My grandmother was one of 17 children in a French Catholic farming family. They lived in a very rural area of Northeastern New Brunswick and everyone had to help out to make ends meet. She learned to make bread when she was 4 years old and that became her daily chore. The girls all learned to knit, sew and mend clothing. The boys worked in the woods, grew food and kept the animals. At 14, my Grammie left home and moved “to town.” She lived and worked in a hotel cooking and cleaning. At 18, she met my grandfather who had come to live in the hotel and as she told me years later, “He was so handsome.” He was 35. They moved to a rental duplex in a community that stayed stuck in the depression until the 1960s. They had 3 children. There was no running water, the electricity was spotty and dangerous. Winters were cold, they used old army jackets as blankets and someone (usually my grandmother) had to stay up to keep the wood stove burning. My grandfather travelled a lot. He was a carpenter and worked on construction crews that took him all over the province. Life was difficult from beginning to end for her and as I flipped through the photos spanning her lifetime I fought a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.

Tomorrow I have a photographer coming to take photos of the kids and I. Since it’s just the three of us, we don’t have many photos of us together that aren’t selfies. I hired him to take candid, photojournalism type shots of us doing things together that we enjoy. Reading, making art, cooking, going for walks, that sort of thing. Right now it’s just us against the world and I really want a record of this time. When they still need me and before the teenage angst seeps into our lives. I want them to have photos of us to look at and remember what I look like, how I carry myself, how I fold my hands in my lap and cross my legs. I want them to have memories of what our life is like and see the happiness I feel in being their mother. No moodiness. No depression or anxiety. Just love, hope and joy.

3 Awesome Things

When I left my ex-husband and moved into an apartment with my 6 year old son and 4 year old daughter, I was struggling to keep us all grateful and positive. Tensions got high and we forgot how to speak to each other with love and respect sometimes. Everyone’s emotions were shaken and I was carrying the load of three. My confidence was low, any kind of disruption made me worry that I couldn’t handle things on my own. Sometimes the kids could tell I was uncertain and that added to their stress. I became very good at shielding them from my emotions and grown up troubles. And you know, we made it through that transition to our new normal and things run so smoothly now it’s incredible.

One of the things I started doing that helped us through that transition time was invent a game called 3 Awesome Things. Here’s how it works: Someone starts and they say 3 awesome things about <insert name>! And then you name 3 positive things about the person, it could be something they’re good at or something you appreciate about them, some nice thing they did or obstacle they overcame. The game is over when each person has said 3 awesome things about everyone else. And the best part is, everyone wins!

We still play the game sometimes when we’re getting under each other’s skin. It helps to remind the person hearing the compliments that they’re loved and gives them a boost of confidence. It also encourages the people naming the awesome things to think about the positive qualities and why we love each other.

A Love Letter

Why didn’t you stay?

You and I both know that this is so rare it’s only ever been written about by poets and painted on the walls of ancient temples. When we are together we become one. Moving in the same direction and at the same speed, uniting as an unbreakable force. Our thoughts connect and when we speak, it’s unnecessary to use words. When we look into each other’s eyes, it’s not the physical attraction or the nostalgia, but relief. Being together isn’t supernatural or surreal but steady and calm and balanced. There is unparalleled freedom in being with someone who allows me to be me and I’m forever grateful.

Why didn’t I go?

I could have come to you. I could have followed you on your journeys of exploration and made us sandwiches for the trip. I was overcome by fear and I am so sorry. I wanted more than anything to be brave and adventurous and be with you.

But despite all of the ways that we are alike, we are different in the ways that will continue to keep us apart.

That song plays and I cry every time. The first few notes quiet the cacophony of the world and I know I’m going to cry. I miss singing with you and how we harmonize together. Our voices fit together like a jigsaw puzzle with only two parts.

I don’t want to, do you?

As beautiful as it is, it’s never been tested. Not really. We have never had enough time together. When I think about how sacred this feels, I fear that permanence or the monotony of real life will destroy it. We should have held hands more. I don’t have a single picture of us together and it breaks my heart. I should have let you kiss me last time. Why didn’t you kiss me? Every parting feels like we’re being ripped apart because it always feels like the final goodbye. I will always have time for you. I will always keep space for you. You are eternally on my list of things that don’t suck.

This is Therapy, Right?

What if I subconsciously always get involved in relationships that won’t work because I don’t want to let anyone get to know me? What if I’m worried they’ll find out the real me and be disappointed? What if I am unable to be enough for a long term relationship with someone? I have been in relationships (romantic, familial and friendship) where I’ve tried my absolute fucking hardest but the other person was still disappointed in me. Wanted me to do better/try better/be better all while they became more critical or held affection over my head, just out of reach.

Sometimes I think I never pushed hard with that one person because deep down I don’t want to see it fizzle out. If it stays in stasis until the end of time, there’s no chance of him getting bored and leaving. Or us becoming incompatible, which is the mould that usually infects relationships lasting past their best before date. And the real comedic tragedy of this whole thing is that no one else has ever made me feel like he does. Engaged, important, respected and loved. There are no games, wordplay, inhibitions or feelings of vulnerability.

I’ve been accused twice recently of not being a good listener and it is taking all of my being to remind myself that there is an equal responsibility on behalf of the speaker for communication to work. I have learned in the last few years to use very direct questions and statements and to be upfront about my inability to understand nuances or implications. Part of me wonders if some people perceive poor communication if they don’t hear the answer they want. It is becoming more and more difficult to believe that anyone deserves my time and how is that fair to anyone who might have good intentions about getting closer?

Happy now?

I recently caught up with an old friend. We walked along the waterfront, sat on a bench overlooking the water and had very inspiring and enthusiastic conversation. He asked what I thought would be the key to winning at life. I had to think a bit. I gave a convoluted, half thought out answer. How can one be expected to answer that right away? We made guesses and tried saying some options out loud but I’ve been thinking about it for days.

In my experience, life is made of three unequal parts:

5% Good (Excitement/Interesting/Thrills)

90% Neutral (Mundane/Regular/Normal)

5% Bad (Disappointment/Pain/Tragedy)

Everyone wants the Good part. The Good part is exciting. Positive life changing events like new relationships, trips to far off places, winning the lottery, promotion at work or having a child. Nobody wants the Bad part. The Bad part is hell. It’s despair over losing a loved one, suddenly finding yourself unemployed or dealing with a terrible injury/illness. These two parts of life involve big things that don’t happen often but leave a lasting effect. Here’s the thing, most people live most of their lives in the Neutral part. The day in, day out regular ongoing cycle of responsibilities and habits. It’s the routine getting up at the same time each morning, drinking your coffee and going to work. It’s the ebb and flow of existing in a world that relies on consistency and reliability.

I know people who are constantly chasing the Good part. Trying to catch their next big win, addicted to the high they get from a taste of adventure or excitement and they are always trying to get back there. I also know people who are so fearful of the Bad part that they never really take risks or allow themselves to enjoy living. I’m not sure that either of these efforts are healthy or fruitful.

Maybe the trick to winning at life is finding contentment and happiness in the Neutral part? That 90% is a large opportunity to find happy moments in our daily lives. To take note of the beauty in small events and celebrate the joy of just being in this world. It’s a slice of Nannie’s apple pie, hearing your favourite song on the radio or unexpectedly meeting an old friend on the street. Focusing on the precious moments within the monotony changes our perception of how happy and fulfilling our lives are.

Concentrating on the positive is something I’ve been working on personally. Finding the bright spot in a grey day and allowing myself to see that as an accomplishment. Exercising my ability to see happiness is hard, repetitive work like going to the gym every day. Celebrating each gain no matter how small it may seem. Winning at life isn’t an end goal, it’s a lifelong process that hopefully gets easier with practice.