The Big Five

I think at some point in their lives most people have had some kind of encounter with a therapist / counsellor / psychologist / psychiatrist. There are a lot of stories of bad encounters out there, which makes me all the more grateful that I was lucky enough to finally find someone who was able to work with me in exactly the way I needed.

From our first meeting, we seemed to have a shorthand between us, we just clicked, and over our six sessions together she guided me with warmth and purposefulness to many life-changing aha moments, many key learnings. Here are the big five, which I will carry with me for the rest of my life:

1. I can and should trust myself. I already know what I want, what I need, and how I’m feeling. I don’t need to second-guess myself. I can trust it to be true.

2. The only relationships worth having and investing in are those in which I feel safe, authentic, and comfortable.

3. Compromising and compromising myself are two very different things.

4. It’s ok to have a pity party once in a while. I just have to pre-determine an end time, pre-arrange for someone to check in on me at that time, and make sure I enjoy every last minute of the wallowing. I will be ok.

5. That inner voice of my critical parent telling me to try harder and that I’m not good enough, that voice is NOT on my side and does NOT have my best interests at heart. It’s a bully and I should never believe what it says to be true. I also have my own inner voice of a loving, nurturing parent. That one can always be trusted, and it can stand up to the bully and win every time.

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Sometimes it’s OK to Run Away From Your Problems

If you’re sitting at home inhaling one chocolate after another until you’re surrounded by empty wrappers, lamenting how much work it’s going to be to get up and get a garbage bag from all the way over there…

Or, if you’re drowning your sorrows in one bottle after another, hoping nobody stops by your house before you’ve had a chance to clear out the towers of empties…

It’s time to put on your shoes and start running away from your problems. Seriously. Put on your shoes and go!

I started running just over two months ago. Why? Because I was doing all of the above, daily (and more). I didn’t think I’d actually be able to run, but anything had to be better than sitting around the house wallowing. Even if running meant that I would look like an uncoordinated walrus lopping down the sidewalk, it would still be better than being the chocolate-covered, teary-eyed, all-day-pyjama-wearing mess I was at home.

So one day I threw on some running shoes, left the house under the cover of darkness (to avoid reports of walrus sightings), and started running. I didn’t get very far those first few times but I did immediately notice that every time I came back from running, I felt better than I had before I left. Even more surprising was that when I left the house feeling especially bad, my runs were even better – faster, longer, easier. I  realized: I was literally running away from my problems! Every thought of anger or frustration or dissatisfaction was propelling me forward until I arrived at home panting, then stretching, then wondering why I had been feeling so miserable earlier.

As the weeks went on and I strove for faster and longer runs, I found myself wishing something would upset me so that I could better my run time that day. How crazy is that? I had gone from wallowing in misery every day to seeking out problems to try to feel sad or angry about. Now that’s the kind of crazy life magic people tell you about but you don’t believe until you see for yourself that it’s really real.

So today, after a couple of difficult short runs to get back into shape after the holidays, I am celebrating running my first 5k of 2013. I’m back, baby! What had I been feeling so sad about for the last two weeks? I can’t even remember. Somewhere along those five kilometres I ran tonight lie invisible scraps of all the problems I left behind. This year is going to be my year. 10k here I come!

Where have all the manners gone?

I don’t know if I’m just getting grumpy in my ‘old age’ (late thirties) or if I was raised with unrealistic expectations of how people should treat each other, but I am becoming increasingly appalled by the lack of manners people exhibit on a daily basis. As if it’s not bad enough that people don’t say “please” and “thank you” regularly anymore, or that people interrupt each other constantly jockeying for position in conversations, this latest exchange below actually happened at my workplace yesterday.

To set the scene, it was 2 minutes before staff meeting. I was at my desk in the front office. My volunteer was standing behind me at the filing cabinet. I was speaking on the phone with a client when a coworker stepped into my office and started a lengthy conversation with the volunteer loudly enough that I couldn’t hear my own conversation on the phone anymore. I turned around and signalled for them to quiet down.

This already is bad enough. Shouldn’t it be understood that if you’re entering someone’s office and they’re on the phone, you should speak quietly to avoid disrupting their conversation? But that’s not even what sent me into a murderous rage. It gets better (meaning, worse). After I hung up, this exchange followed:

Volunteer: Sorry we were loud.

Co-worker: I’m not sorry.

Me: (Pause in shock) Maybe you should be.

Co-worker: I know I should be, but I’m not. I just feel like being bad today.

Really?! Really. Is this how we are treating each other now? Is this what the progress of civilization looks and sounds like? Because if it is, then I want absolutely no part of it. If we can’t treat each other with mutual respect and consideration and extend the most basic manners to one another, then I see little hope for this world to ever achieve a state of peace and harmony.

Please, folks, can we try to be a little kinder to each other? It takes so little effort, and really makes such a big difference. Please?

The Unspeakable Unfairness of Life

In the last month, I have been reminded time and again of the unspeakable unfairness of life as the grief of others has skirted me, overwhelmingly reminding me of the universe’s limitless capacity to inflict pain on those within it.

It began with JH, initials representing two people. First, a sad man who died alone in his apartment following a lifetime of battling addictions and depression, destroying countless relationships along the way. Second, his grieving son, mourning the loss of a relationship he never had, yet identifying so strongly with his genetic heritage that he began resigning himself to following in his father’s footsteps, slipping increasingly into his own addiction and isolation. Two generations directly impacted by our society’s inability (or unwillingness) to step up and take responsibility for supporting those who need a stronger, more proactive approach than just a paycheque and a handshake. Two generations directly impacted by our inability (or unwillingess) to protect children from growing up in homes where they are hurt instead of loved.

Next, JB. A beautiful and shy two year old boy who loved to sit in the pink fuzzy chair at my workplace’s childcare centre, who mischievously enjoyed pressing the tap on the water cooler until water spilled over the catch tray and onto the carpet, who grinned his widest grin as we spun him around in a tall office chair. His mother had recently finally decided to leave her abusive husband and was just starting to feel that her life had sunnier days ahead when suddenly JB became sick and died in hospital three days later. Just three days for her only son to go from a sniffly nose to a coffin.

Finally, OW. A healthy five year old girl who fell sick just before Christmas, went to sleep on Christmas Day and never woke up. Today, her visitation, with a special request to wear our most colourful, sparkliest clothing. As I approached her mother in her glittery purple dress and frilly headband, we fell into each other’s arms, sobbing. I told her she was beautiful, her most sparkliest self. She sobbed in reply, “I did my best for her.”

Helen Keller once said “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” It’s true. I am constantly amazed by the overcoming of pain and the strength of those around me, but right now I don’t understand why there has to be so much pain in the world. We are a species that can fly to the moon, that has devised ways to kill millions of people in the blink of an eye, and invented technology that puts the furthest corners of the world within reach of each other. Why aren’t we able to prevent the deaths of our healthy children? Why aren’t we able to protect innocent souls from abuse? Why can’t we commit to helping those struggling with mental health issues? I just don’t understand.