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It REALLY Is A Happy New Year

It is the middle of the afternoon on December 30th 2020. I am actually enjoying a relatively quiet household. My husband has made a trip down to his business to check on things and my teen spawn is hunkered down in his room. We are now in our second lockdown since the Covid pandemic started a bazillion years ago.

Each year around this time, social media lights up with the New Year’s posts. This year, we have already started with all of the, “this year cannot end soon enough,” type jargon. It will be difficult to attempt to pull out any positives from the year 2020.

What are some of my positives? So glad you asked.

Well, as a family we did manage to survive the toilet paper Armageddon. I got anxious once. To know me is to understand I always have many rolls stockpiled. I believe it was around May when I felt the twinge of panic as we dwindled down to our last four rolls. My daughter saved us, as she found an extra package hidden away on the shelves of a grocery store in the sleepy little town where she resides. This is a positive.

Nobody in our immediate family became infected with this virus and died. Let me make one thing clear. As a family, we take all of this very seriously. We have close family who live in long-term homes. We have dear friends and family who work on the front lines each day. We work around the vulnerable and had to watch as they fell apart. There were close calls. Friends who tested positive. We held our breath. Yet with one day left in this year, we have all made it out the other side, and for that, I will forever be thankful. This is a positive.

With this being our second lockdown, I can say with conviction…..I cannot cut hair. I promise my teen spawn and husband to put the scissors and clippers down. Even if they have to return to our barber in pigtails, I will never again attempt haircuts. I bow down to all who have proper training in this field. You are all super human.

We received news of family member with cancer this year. We struggled during zoom calls watching the deterioration. Phone calls as he was sent back and forth to hospital. Multiple surgeries, treatments and uncertainty. Yet, just a few days before Christmas, we were able to hear his bright and cheery voice over the phone telling us he is cancer free. Our hearts exploded with love and relief. This is a positive.

As I sit here and really reflect, I cannot help but realize how much I have spent this year on me. This was not intentional. It actually has always made me uncomfortable having to go back in order to move forward. I am aware it is necessary; I just thought I was done. I was turned back to that direction unfortunately, so I have spent most of my 2020 re-evaluating what serves me and what DE serves me. (thanks bff <3)

As exhausting, traumatizing, difficult and angry parts of this have made me, I am so grateful. It needed to happen. We truly can stay stuck. We can remain blinded by what we have been told. We can remain in toxic places out of guilt. We can surround ourselves with people who are not good for us because society and generations before us say so.

Breaking the mold is lonely. You are constantly judged and questioned. I choose to be silent and not defend my choices, but instead just live the life I want. I refuse to waste even one more second on toxic. I refuse to waste one more second on negative. I DE serve happy. I DE serve joy. I DE serve love without condition. We all do.

I guess you could say that this is what I have taken most from this pandemic. The toxic and negative environment that can swirl around us can seem uncontrollable. Step back. Re-evaluate. Do you need to participate in it? Can you just continue to live the life you want despite it? Of course you can. Choose that. The rest will fall into place.

To all of those who have lost family, or are ill, I am sending all the love and support I can. I do hope we can support each other with hugs again soon.

Much love ❤

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Growth Is Painful And Rewarding

It has been a while. I have been actively avoiding writing for quite some time now. Let me rephrase that. I have written plenty, none of which is suitable for eyes other than my own. We will call it a form of therapy. I have always found it to be a huge emotional dumping. Just let it all fall out of me and tumble onto the paper. Better out than in, as some might say.

What exactly has been going on in my life? Growth.

Growth is always painful. It is also rewarding if you can hang on long enough. I am just coming up on about a year of some really serious growing pains. Due to some personal upheaval in my own world, I jumped back into therapy, (every great therapist has a great therapist) and began to peel back some layers.

I lost and I gained. I had to put my own career on hold while all of this took place. I am a hard-core perfectionist and having to admit that I needed a step back almost broke me. There were months of deep soul searching. Long trips back to reflect on what had been and what will be.

What did I learn with the help of many?

Let’s begin with the technical side of things. We all know how I feel about labels, but there can be times that they help people muddle through why they feel or act the way they do. I am okay with that as long as they use that information to move forward.

Many years ago, I was diagnosed with PTSD. This is a reaction to a threatening event. Usually this single event happens for a brief duration. After much discussion with my own therapist, it seems I fall into the category of complex PTSD or C-PTSD.

This occurs when a person experiences multiple or ongoing trauma that lasts for a long time. While PTSD typically causes disturbances—such as flashbacks, avoidance of locations or situations that remind a person of the event, or chronic fear and depression—to the traumatic event, C-PTSD is more likely to cause identity and personality disturbances in addition to the symptoms of traditional PTSD. This is because people exposed to prolonged trauma may begin to view the trauma as a core part of their identity or as something they caused.

C-PTSD has many of the same symptoms as PTSD, including intrusive memories or flashbacks, depression, anxiety, avoidance, and changes in personality. However, people with C-PTSD also experience symptoms that people with PTSD don’t normally have. These include:

  • Chronic fear of abandonment. Many people with C-PTSD are diagnosed with an attachment disorder, and neediness, fear of abandonment, and even regression during times of stress are common in C-PTSD.
  • My two cents on this one, you will likely always fear losing those you love but often won’t express it to anyone. In fact, the opposite is true. Until you work through your issues, you will continue to test them and push them away even though you don’t really want to be alone forever.
  • Difficulty controlling emotions or changes in personality.
  • Truth, until my forties I would change my personality to suit anyone in my life willing to show me love. I ran hot or cold with no in between.
  • Disturbances in self-perception and persistent feelings of shame.
  • I have eliminated those in my life who made me feel less than. I continue to work on shame every day. What people like me need to be mindful of is how we treat others. We can appear cold when we are not communicating.
  • Obsession with the perpetrator and frequently changing perceptions of the perpetrator. A sexual abuse survivor, for example, might go back and forth between viewing the abuser as evil and loving, and might continue an unhealthy entanglement with that person.
  • There are not enough pages for me to explain this one. I kept secrets to protect an entire family empire. I wanted the love of all of them. Teach your children that secrets destroy lives, especially their own. Always be their protector. As an adult, know that you are enough and you do not owe loyalty to any individual who has hurt you.
  • Emotional flashbacks: Rather than intrusively remembering the traumatic event, a person with C-PTSD might instead simply get emotionally overwhelmed and re-experience the emotions he or she felt during the traumatic event without ever actually recalling or thinking about the traumatic event. This is particularly common during periods of stress. A person might, for example, begin sobbing or feel terrified during a minor disagreement with their partner.
  • The absolute story of my life. Once I got a hold on the flashbacks, I was so frustrated why I would just cry for no reason or always feel unsettled and guarded. I continue to do the work and realize the role I play in my journey. I will continue to heal so my future is healthy and happy. I will continue to heal so I don’t hurt those I love.

If you have read this and felt you can relate but feel overwhelmed, take a breath. I am proof all is not lost. I always tell my friends, family and clients that if you want to heal, if you want to change, you can. It is not easy, but it will be the most rewarding work you do.

What are some of the things necessary to cope?

A stage based treatment approach that includes the following phases:

  1. Establishing safety and helping find ways to feel safe in your environment or eliminate dangers in the environment. This is your life now. You are safe. Be mindful of that. Your body, your choice. Always make your home or space feel peaceful and welcoming. A place you can go when you need to re-center.
  2. Teaching basic self-regulation skills. If you were not taught how to keep your emotions in check as a child, do yourself the favour and do it now. If you feel yourself on the verge of tears, or ready to punch someone easily, PAY ATTENTION to that. You are now an adult and you are responsible for your reactions. Listen to your body. Your increased heart rate, sweaty palms. That is your cue to take a walk, get some water, and calm down. Reset, Restore, Redo. The more often you do this, the easier it will be.
  3. Encouraging information processing that builds introspection. This means that it is your responsibility to keep your own self in check. You cannot expect the people in your world to hold this for you. They can love you, protect you and laugh with you, but not read your mind or emotions. It is your job to heal.
  4. Encouraging healthy relationships and engagement. There is no moving forward in this life if you mingle with toxic or unhealthy relationships. I spent YEARS swirling around in others drama to avoid my own. The second a person in my life asked about me, I would shut them down cold. Keep your circle filled with love, respect and kindness. Keep up your end of that as well. Be kind, be loving and be respectful.
  5. Reduce distress and increase positive affect. Seems so easy right? Eliminating distress from my life this last year was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Increasing positivity is something I have to remind myself every day. The point is, you have to want the change. No more sitting back and blaming the world. Shit happened, time to show them what we are made of.

So what has all of this taught me? Sitting screen to screen with my therapist, you know virtual therapy and all. First, I am glad that we have been able to make sense of my random brain scrambles. 🙂 Second, I am loving this part of my journey regardless of how exhausting some of it can be. Third, always remember that your trauma is never a license to be a dick. Period. I am not proud of how I have treated some people in the past, but I am damn proud of how I treat everyone today.

Finally, I am proud of me. I never felt like I knew who I was. Fitting into unrealistic expectations set out for me by my past. Never feeling quite good enough. Here I am, allowing my heart and head to lead the way into the happiest I have ever felt. Do yourself the favour, heal those wounds and do the same.

Much love ❤

The Perpetual Hamster Wheel

I know most people would describe life lately like a hamster wheel. Continuous bad news one day after the next. We all know it has been a really tough year.

What about those of you who have felt this way since coming out of the womb? Exaggeration? Maybe, but hear me out. Tucked away in our own corner of this planet is a group of us who are very familiar with this way of life. Some of us may describe it as “always waiting for the bottom to fall out.” Other’s have said it feels like “bad news is always lurking around the corner.”

I am a writer, so I, while working on a recent book described it like this.

I am tired of swimming. I love the water, it calms me, but I am so tired of swimming. I am not talking about those soul soothing trips to the beach when you can just float. I love to float. Gaze up at the clouds as they streak across the blue sky. Feel the warmth of the sun against my face. That is calm. No, I am tired of swimming up stream. Those crashing waves that repeatedly slam me back against the shore. Getting my head above water, just to see the next one coming. I want to float. I miss the calm.

I wrote this a year after losing my sister, when I felt the world had spun out and turned against me yet again.

Why do some of us live in a perpetual state and other’s do not?

Studies have proven this can be linked to childhood trauma. Children make meaning out of the events they witness and the things that happen to them, and they create an internal map of how the world is. This is what helps them cope. However, if these children are not shown how to create a new internal map as they grow, these problems will follow them into their adult life.

These are the four main ways that childhood trauma can affect us as adults:

The False Self

As children, we want our parents to love us and take care of us. When our parents don’t do this, or are unable, we try to become the kind of child we think they’ll love. Burying feelings that might get in the way of us getting our needs met, we create a false self—the person we present to the world.

When we bury our emotions, we lose touch with who we really are, because our feelings are an integral part of us. We live our lives terrified that if we let the mask drop, we’ll no longer be cared for, loved, or accepted.

The best way to uncover the authentic you underneath the false self is by reconnecting with your feelings and expressing your emotions. It is important to do this in a way that makes you feel safe and whole. This is a process and takes time. You are so worth it.

Victimhood Thinking

What we think and believe about ourselves drives our self-talk. The way we talk to ourselves can empower or deflate us. Negative self-talk deflates us and makes us feel like we have no control over our lives—like victims. We may have been victimized as children, but we don’t have to remain victims as adults.

Even in circumstances where we think we don’t have a choice, we always have a choice, even if it’s just the power to choose how we think about our life. We have little to no control over our environments and our lives when we’re children, but we are adults now. It’s likely we are more capable of changing our situation than we believe.

Instead of thinking of ourselves as victims, we can think of ourselves as survivors. The next time you feel trapped and choice-less, remind yourself that you’re more capable and in control than you think.

Passive-Aggressiveness

When children grow up in households where there are only unhealthy expressions of anger, they grow up believing that anger is unacceptable. If you witnessed anger expressed violently, then as an adult, you might think that anger is a violent emotion and therefore must be suppressed. Or, if you grew up in a family that suppressed anger and your parents taught you that anger is on a list of emotions you aren’t supposed to feel, you suppress it, even as an adult who could really benefit from getting all that aggression out.

What happens if you can’t express your anger? If you’re someone who suppresses your upset feelings, you likely already know the answer: Nothing. You still feel angry—after all, anger is a natural, healthy emotion we all experience—but instead of the resolution that comes with acknowledging your anger and resolving what triggered it, you just stay angry. You don’t express your feelings straightforwardly, but since you can’t truly suppress anger, you express your feelings through passive-aggressiveness.

All emotions are valid and have a place. Remember that.

Passivity

If you were neglected as a child, or abandoned by your caretakers, you may have buried your anger and fear in the hope that it would mean no one will ever abandon or neglect you again. What happens when children do this, though, is that we end up abandoning ourselves. We hold ourselves back when we don’t feel our feelings. We end up passive, and we don’t live up to our potential. The passive person says to him or herself, “I know what I need to do but I don’t do it.”

When we bury our feelings, we bury who we are.  Read that again.

Because of childhood emotional trauma, we may have learned to hide parts of ourselves. At the time, that may have helped us. However, as adults, we need our feelings to tell us who we are and what we want, and to guide us toward becoming the people we want to be.

During the first forty years of my life, I was guilty on all counts. Hid my emotions, adapted my personality to fit the lives of others. You name it; all of my coping skills were in full swing. These changes do not happen overnight, and the battle back is exhausting. What I always try to tell others though is this. It is far more exhausting hiding your true self. You deserve authenticity. You deserve love. Keep fighting for it.

Much love ❤

Empathy Through A Screen

It has been quite some time since I posted a blog. The truth is I have been struggling to write at all. You see, even therapists find themselves in a slump.

As I swiped that word across the screen just now “slump”, I fought to call it what it was.

I am a therapist who has been fighting to get out from under my own dark cloud. Depression and grief have paid me one hell of a visit. We all know how hard society has been fighting to squash the stigma of mental health. Let me tell you just how hard that can be when you are a professional with that title.

People visit you day after day. They sit across from you and open up their most fragile souls. You sit with them in it. I consider this an honour. We map out solutions that work and it is a painful process.

When they leave your space, it is not over. Their stories resonate with you. Their pain stays with you. You struggle to find peace for them. You work into the night to find better. You pour over notes in hopes of making those souls whole once again. Remember, I consider this an honour.

There are times I forget to eat. There are times I give up sleep. I can be found stress cleaning. Then there are those clients who stories mirror your own. Don’t worry; you are trained for this right? It is not always that easy.

Every great therapist has a therapist. Remember that, because there have been many times I have forgotten. Midnight messages to my best friend have saved me on many occasions, as we remind each other that our sanity and health are just as important as those we see.

Others have told me in my field that this will get easier the longer I do it. That my emotions will become numb. That I will seldom look up, and I will spend much less time becoming invested. I am not built that way. I already know this about myself.

Our society is still smack dab in the middle of a pandemic. There have been highs and lows. Those depend on whom you ask on any given day. Toilet paper shortages, shorter line-ups at grocery stores, mandated masks, fewer deaths.

In my profession, the impact has felt like an earthquake. More than half of my clients are in the medical field. In the beginning, they were too busy to reach out. All hands on deck. Then, they began to filter in. Virtual therapy sessions began. I now had to figure out how to show empathy through a screen. Seeing fear and grief in the eyes of my clients was something I still cannot explain. Childlike, simply wanting someone to tell them they would be okay. Wrap your arms around me and keep me safe. Help me understand what this is. Each day, more requests. They were burning out. I was burning out.

Here I am, six months later. A mental health professional who is still mentally drained. I am waving the white flag. I am speaking out for any one else out there who can’t yet. There is a massive wave mounting behind me. Our eyes are strained from virtual therapy. They are sore from the tears we shed once we end the session. Our hearts and souls are aching for us and for all of those we want and need to help.

To all of my friends, clients and those who have read this still fighting the fight. Thank you for every single day you are out there. I think you are all amazing humans. For those super tough days, remember it is not just okay to ask for help, it is vital. I don’t know what that looks like for you. A hug, a text, a hot bath, a long drive, a vacation day, a good long scream. You have earned whatever you need. Always remember that. Ignore the nonsense and do what you need.

I appreciate you every second of the day.

To everyone else, thank you for reading. How can you help? Be kind. Save all of your judgement, it is not needed during this time. Reach out even to those who seem to be doing great because remember, even the strongest make time to help when they are struggling.

Much Love ❤

730 Days Without My Sister

Two years without you. Seven hundred and thirty days. A lifetime. That was the last photo we ever took together. Family trip to Mexico. Yes, she is grabbing my boob. Yes, she is trying to lick my face. She will forever be the most amazing sister that walked this earth.

The first years of losing someone can be a complete fog. For me, that was so true. I will often tell people that the second year can feel even more painful for this reason. We simply struggle to survive that first year. During the second and subsequent years, we are able to feel. This second year was a struggle because I missed my sister’s physical presence in my regular life constantly. I promised myself that after the first year I would be more mindful of my feelings. I would allow myself the time to heal. It is a work in progress.

I thought if I sat in my backyard, with the sun shining and birds chirping, it would somehow be easier to write this. I would be calm and in a better space.

I first tried writing in my living room, but each time I glanced up, I could see you sitting across the room in my armchair. We would have been sipping our Tim Horton’s tea. We drank it exactly the same way. We would be discussing how great you slept because my spare bed is so “squishy.” We would be convincing my husband how great his crepes were, before he agreed to make us breakfast. You would have complained about the long drive you had back home and I would have rolled my eyes and told you that you were exaggerating. I have made that trip a dozen times since and yes, you were right, that drive sucks ass.

Suffice to say, I can’t concentrate so I head for the yard. I spend the next twenty minutes in flashback mode here as well. When I first moved in, you walked the entire perimeter with me. I have zero knowledge of plants, bushes, trees, or nature at all. You took the time to tell me which trees or bushes I should get rid of and which would be great to keep. I am sitting back here now realizing yes, you were right about the awful bush. I should have dug it out three years ago. Lilacs were one of the few flowers you tolerated. My lilac tree bloomed one week after you left us. I am staring at it anxiously awaiting that time. When I look at the monster of a maple tree, I remember you bringing your new pup over and him shitting right there! Your answer? “Grab a bag and clean it up, it’s practice for when you think you want a dog.” Laughing and wheezing as only you could.

I guess what I have learned in the two years since you have left this earth is this. It doesn’t matter where I go, you are always with me. It doesn’t matter how much time passes, you are always with me. Lastly, it doesn’t matter where you are, you will appreciate VERY much, me admitting that you were right and I was wrong.

One last thing before I go. I am glad you missed this pandemic. You would have drove me absolutely freaking crazy with your conspiracy theories! Thank you for keeping us safe and semi sane. Love you more than palm trees.

Your big sis for life. ❤