ON REALIZING THERE’S ONLY ONE WAY: FORWARD

I’ve finally figured out how to describe what it feels like to go from who you were before to the vivid, sparkling present. It kinda feels like a form of…grieving?

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I couldn’t find a photo I liked for the header so please enjoy this photo of me from Grade 7 when I still had a unibrow but didn’t really know *how* to pluck it and only wore black t-shirts because I always had sweat stains. Simpler times.

I’ve always had a habit of talking about who I used to be. Especially when I would go on  dates, which, as my counsellor has pointed out to me, isn’t really relevant to who I am now.

It’s no secret. I have a lot of regrets and pain in my past which is why it’s such a *subject* for me. I mean, I’m writing a book about some of the stories FFS.

I’ve spent WAY too long ruminating it and letting things that happened years ago dictate how I would feel about myself on a day to day basis. I’ve allowed regret to make me feel like a Bad Person. I don’t know when, but at a certain point I have accepted and fundamentally acknowledged that my past is a part of me, but it isn’t *me* anymore.

So I asked myself the other day, at what point does the past intersect with the present?

When does the ‘before’ become the ‘who I am now’?

And how do you know when you’re internally shifting from one to the other? How do you know when it’s over?

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I only have a handful of photos from when I was a teenager because I didn’t have Facebook until I graduated high school. I almost completely erased them all or lost them over the years. This one is from 2008. In most of the pictures of myself from this time I am drunk, and if I recall correctly, this photo is no exception. I couldn’t bear for many years to look back and reflect on this time I spent struggling, feeling misunderstood and trying to fit in. It would always bring back a flood of memories about eating disorder recovery, depression, therapy, pain, binge eating, drinking till I blacked out, heartbreak and academics. Even typing this I still remember sitting in a bathroom stall scratching the skin off my knuckles till they bled. I remember shutting my parents out. I remember having my first panic attack. I remember believing that I was only in university classes in high school because I knew how to work hard, not because I was smart. But I also remember wearing a hoodie with a tall collar to cover up hickies, winning an award for having the highest grades, setting the carpet on fire in the drama room, making out with boys in forests and under bridges, fighting with my one of my best friend’s and making up in a food court (thank god @jocelynhummelt ), getting an underage drinking ticket, writing a 30-page screenplay, giving people who tried to cheat off me the wrong answers and being an unpaid production assistant on sets 😂 I haven’t always been able to look at photos like this one and remember both sides of the same period of my life. The parts that make me laugh and the parts that hurt my heart. I know it’s the magic of hindsight, but also I’ve learned that you can’t have one without the other. I still have both sides in me and that’s ok. I was messy, deep, loud, raunchy, creative, all over the map and over the top then, and I still am now. I wouldn’t change any of it.✨☺️✌️#10yearchallenge #throwbackthursday #tbt #teenagerposts

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Grief is associated with death. Which totally makes sense. But I think it also can be a way to describe the natural response loss or perceived loss, not just of someone or something you loved, but of anything. I’ll give credit where credit is due – I started thinking about grief differently when I read chapter seven of Rising Strong by Brené Brown.

I think this is the best way I’ve found so far to describe the internal shift between the before to the vivid, sparkling present. It kinda feels like a form of grieving.

Now, I won’t say that what I’ve felt is anything like losing a loved one who was close to me. I wouldn’t ever make that comparison. But I do find it interesting that the emotional process of moving through grief has been similar.

By the way, if you aren’t familiar with the stages of grief and loss below is a briefing:

  1. Denial and isolation;
  2. Anger;
  3. Bargaining;
  4. Depression;
  5. Acceptance.

People who are grieving do not necessarily go through the stages in the same order or experience all of them.

I think it clicked when Brené explained in Rising Strong that change that is perceived as loss can spark grief.

I guess 2019 has been sort of a weird grieving process for me. A confusing, emotional, slow, weird sobering process letting my past go. A movement between the ‘before’ to the ‘who I am now.’ I’ve written about on my blog while I was in the early stages of it, but I’ve always struggled on how to express what this whole thing has felt like now that I can get my head around it.

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Sometimes our past has the ability to confront and/or overwhelm us. When triggered we tend to lose perspective and begin to act from a place of insecurity, fear, and hurt (rather than awareness and authenticity). When being faced with our past, it’s important to remain aware, engage in a dialogue with ourselves, identify our needs, and seek perspective or support (if needed). •• • • • #selfawareness #awareness #reflection #relationships #boundaries #triggers #mentalhealthtips #selfesteem #mentalhealth #psychology #psychotherapy #counseling #therapist #selfdiscovery #selfcare #selflove #lifetransitions #identity #authenticity #emotion #privatepractice #onlinetherapy #onlinecounseling #millennialtherapist #mentalhealthawareness #mentalhealthmatters #past

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It’s a confusing process to release your past self and way of life. It’s that moment where you deeply realize everything is different and there’s absolutely no way to go backward. It’s only forward from here on out.

For some people this might feel more like one chapter ending and another beginning, or a subtle slow shift until one day you realize you deal with things so differently you barely recognize yourself.

But once I read Rising Strong, I realized it’s felt a lot like grief. Which is kind of upsetting in itself, because who am I to compare losing someone to leaving behind a part of myself? But it’s a loss. I held onto it so goddam tight. But now that I’ve forgiven myself and come to terms with almost every part of it, it’s feeling like getting out of bed in the morning and not knowing what to do with yourself. It’s having nostalgia about the past, while knowing you can never go back. 

It’s saying goodbye to the story I’ve always believed to be true about myself.

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My past self still haunts me. Not always, but sometimes. Slipping in when she finds an opening. She is a spectre. Not quite a memory — a way of being. Coming back to remind me that at one time I was a different person who set fire to everything just to watch it burn. I can’t see her when she visits me but I know she’s there. I can feel her replaying old memories on a projector onto the back of my mind. The full body sensation of shame that puts you right back there in that moment when your world revolved around whatever was happening. I feel my spine tingle, and I know I’m not safe here. I plant my feet and observe that everything keeps moving even if I stop. I can’t go back to that place and time where she was thriving and making me believe that destruction was the only option. I remind myself she’s a spectre. Gone but never forgotten. Her lessons and scorched earth are part of who I am today. She left me with almost nothing so as an act of survival, and mercy, I left her behind so I could start over. I was built from a new blueprint on the rubble she left behind. #realtalk #poemsofinstagram Photo by @mskanishaszekely

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I can say “I’m different,” all I want, but it really appears in the smallest of moments.

Walking home through downtown late at night totally sober and passing groups of people on the street searching for where to go next. Hearing slurred voices cheering and yelling and conversing while I’m on my balcony. Feeling the twinge of desire to participate but knowing that’s not my path anymore. Finding my way in this new way of life. Smiling to myself and sleeping soundly. 

Being so fully present that I can’t ignore things anymore. Learning how to tell people when I’m hurt and tackling conflict head on. Accepting that my “cut and run” mentality has kept me emotionally protected but not connected for far too long, and knowing it isn’t brave. Coming face to face with my people pleasing tendencies. Looking around and realizing the people I love most are imperfect and worthy of love, and so am I.

Having those dates where you return home and walk in the door and either a) smile to yourself as you hang your keys up and brush your teeth because it felt GREAT b) come home and yell WHAT THE FUCK MAN to yourself in your apartment and go straight for the carbs because you are seriously questioning your own judgement or c) come home, let out a big sigh and text your friends asking “why do I do this shit again?” Trying very hard to not overthink shit, but also not ignoring the obvious. Yenno?

Laughing. Laughing so much. For me, laughing at when shit goes wrong and knowing it’s not the end of the world and it doesn’t mean I’m a Bad Person. It just means shit happens. Being able (for the first time in my life maybe) to not take everything so seriously!!!!!

Sitting with the moments where it occurs to me I’m not living my values and feeling the bodily sensations come over me. Feeling the shame story cloud my brain. Sensing the alarm bells go off in my head to drown the feelings – peanut butter, Netflix, anything – because they are seriously uncomfortable. Resisting the screaming urge to turn away from myself in that moment. Sometimes I’m successful, sometimes I’m not. Finding the courage to get curious. Exploring ways forward that are within my integrity.

Realizing my tendency to worry endlessly. Realizing my tendency to overload myself even though time and time again it sucks the life out of me. Realizing my codependent tendencies. Owning my tendencies and accepting it all. In some cases, admitting that if I can’t find a solution on my own, maybe a therapist can help. 

Being truly, truly happy in a way that I don’t think I could really feel before.

Catching myself hustling for the approval of people who will never understand me, love me or respect me. Finding out that connection really has to begin with how you feel about yourself. Knowing, deeply, that you cannot plant a flower in concrete and expect it to grow. 

Letting go of the sense of certainty about my future I clung to so tightly. Deciding to uproot myself for a while (fall 2019) because it feels right. No clue what I’ll come home to or how I’ll feel on the other end of the extended trip I’m planning. Dealing with the fear related to that.

Crying so fucking much. Because there have been many times where I can’t keep it together during these confusing times where my past tendencies push up against who I want to be now. Releasing because my body can’t keep things packed down anymore after years of doing that.

Forgiving myself for what I cannot change and allowing it to make me better. Because as I’ve figured out the hard way, there are no other options or shortcuts past this part.

“…When I talk of forgiveness, I mean the belief that you can come out the other side a better person. A better person than the one being consumed by anger and hatred.”

The Book of Forgiving

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As I write this, I’m sitting on my balcony listening to Beyoncé’s Homecoming album drinking a non-alcoholic beer thinking about every summer before this one. I’ve never felt this different. Maybe it’s because for the first time ever, summer doesn’t really represent what it once did for me. It doesn’t hold the same kind of reckless promise, but I’m realizing that’s for the best. Summer doesn’t mean I start worrying about wearing shorts or preoccupying myself with the grand question if this is the summer I will *finally* grow a thigh gap. The answer is no. It will always be no, and that’s a-fucking-ok with me. Hotter weather just means I continue to wear what’s comfortable and makes me feel like…me. The idea of an open afternoon conjures bigger plans then sitting outside getting sunburnt while drinking pitcher of sangria followed by a nap to sleep it off (only to wake up in the evening hungover). It might mean I get up early to go for a hike or read a chapter of a book on some good grass somewhere. It definitely means no hangovers. Summer doesn’t mean I feel heightened expectations or weird irresponsible urges to have a fling. Be impulsive because of the heat and beer. Avoid tough conversations because they aren’t “good vibes only.” Summer just means I’m gonna keep doing me, loving the absolutely shit out of the people in my life and being honest with myself and others about what’s working and what isn’t. I don’t need to go wild to feel alive anymore. The start of this summer feels wayyyy different than every single previous one, and I’m just gonna tip my head back, feel the sun on my face and take it all in 🌞 P.s. The day after a breakup I was trying to distract myself so I ended up spending like $200 on decor in Marshall’s and bought this stone squirrel. Her name is Spinelli 🐿 #sobercurious #summer #livingoutloud #wholehearted

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It’s quite simple: I was always worthy of love and belonging but I never believed it, so I never acted in ways that aligned with those beliefs. Even now I struggle to believe it half the time but half the time is better than no time. I am still in it, this process. Progress over perfection and what not.

I suppose I am grieving the part of my life where I did not love myself. Where everything was a sign I was a Bad Person. Where there was very little questioning and a whole lot of self-destruction. Where I only directed criticism at myself and not kindness. Where I so badly and deeply wanted connection but was too scared to show up authentically in order to really let it happen.

It’s weird…because I thought at many points in my life I did this work already.

I thought I had done it. But I know better now. Even as I write this I’m still not done, but I know there’s a difference between this process and maturing.

Maybe there were some token moments of accepting that I couldn’t change the past, but they weren’t coupled with a healthy dose of compassion and forgiveness. There was an attempt to own my story and who it has made me into, but no execution. I wasn’t ready to accept my story.

I know it’s different now because there’s only one way forward.

Which is what my favourite movie scene is all about and I will endlessly repeat this quote because it’s too perfect:

I was a slut. There will always be a part of me that is dirty and sloppy, but I like that, just like all the other parts of myself. I can forgive. Can you say the same for yourself, fucker? Can you forgive? Are you any good at that?

Silver Linings Playbook

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ON LOVING THE ORDINARY

When winter takes a toll, and our routines feel repetitive, why do we feel a little bit dead inside?

It’s usually mid-winter for me when I really start feeling like I have to drag myself out of the house and that daily deja-vu sets in.

For the first time, I took a vacation in late January, which I thought was supposed to prevent that feeling????? In my case, I came back during the coldest snap of our entire winter and promptly got sick and went right back to business as usual — watching Grey’s Anatomy in my bed.

In case you missed the memo, I live in Winnipeg, Manitoba where it’s winter (aka brutally cold) at least half the year, making it feel like an eternity.

Winter exasperates that rinse and repeat routine feeling. But I’d also argue that no matter what time of the year it is, slipping into a predictable day-to-day routine makes me feel a certain way, and I know I can’t be the only one who feels this way.

*Before I go any further, I think it’s important to recognize that it’s a privilege to experience the kind of routine I’m talking about. I acknowledge that a lot of people without stable income or consistent shelter/food want this predictability. Privilege plays a big part in someone’s level of comfort in society and I never want to lose sight of that fact.

Even though my baseline of happiness is a lot better than it used to be ever since I took some steps to manage my burnout, I still found myself feeling REALLY emotionally flat and generally withdrawn the past few weeks. A little “dead behind the eyes,” as my friend Amie would say.

But why?

Winter has a shopping list of effects on our bodies and brains — so that’s important to keep in mind. Also, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is very very real. Don’t even get me started on Valentine’s Day.

Those are all valid answers, but there’s one more thing that occurred to me recently:

We unconsciously expect extraordinary, always, so when life is everything but that, we get bummed out.

As usual, I will credit Brené Brown for enlightening me on this idea.

The idea that we live in a culture of scarcity shouldn’t be a surprise — feeling like we don’t have enough, or aren’t enough, is practically background noise to us at this point. Especially when, for the most part, we are exposed to extraordinary day-in and day-out on social media and the other media we consume.

So when you combine that background noise of NOT ENOUGH with the disheartening effects of winter, it’s…not good.

Seeing vacation pictures in the dead of winter is the perfect example of this (in my humble opinion).

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The weird, and the wonderful. This trip makes me think back to the first time I was alone in Halifax for a few days and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I remember circling a block three times trying to get the courage to walk into a busy cocktail bar I wanted to try but I couldn’t make myself go in and sit by myself for fear of being judged. I remember in Switzerland being too scared to ride a bike for fear of getting hit or lost and here I’ve biked almost everywhere. That fear is completely and utterly gone. I guess you could say I got better at travelling too, but I really believe it’s the confidence to do it on my own that’s changed completely. Truth is, people question you less when you’re not questioning yourself. #solotravel #nola #neworleans

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I remember exactly how I felt when I was sitting at my desk last February with an electric heater pointed at my feet seeing tropical vacation pics on social media. But I think the problem isn’t necessarily the photos themselves, it’s how they make us feel.

Maybe it’s a little bit of classic jealousy, but I believe it goes a looOooOooT deeper…it’s a micro-dose of resentment and anger toward our own wintery boredom and ordinary-ness. At least, looking back, that’s how I felt.

And in my opinion, our habits and patterns during winter can get kinda boring and blah if we don’t put the effort in (laying around, eating comfort food, not having as much sex, not being as social…the list goes on), so we are especially vulnerable to feel this way.

It’s easy to lust and look forward to spring and that feeling of renewal. Looking forward to things is healthy, but doesn’t how you feel along the way matter? I would argue it does, especially since I have a feeling it’s going to be a while till we see grass.

I didn’t like the book The Subtle Art of not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson, but the chapter titled ‘You are not Special‘ is interesting. I agree with him when he says, “being ‘average’ has become the new standard of failure.” He also says “the vast majority of your life will be boring and not noteworthy, and that’s ok,” and I think that applies here.

“Once you accept the premise that a life is worthwhile only if it is truly notable and great, then you basically accept the fact that most of the human population (including yourself) sucks and is worthless. And this mindset can quickly turn dangerous…” – The Subtle Art of not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson (paperback, page 61).

Brown and Manson essentially say the same thing in two very difference ways: it comes back to gratitude for the ordinary, and self-acceptance. We need to believe that what we have right now is enough, and acknowledge and appreciate it in all it’s ordinary glory. It’s also believing that WE are enough, unconditionally.

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The idea for this blog post came to me when I was cleaning up and purging my apartment using the KonMari method a few days ago.

I was doing some long-overdue work on my laptop when I spilled tea on the trackpad and it started glitching. So, I booked an appointment at the Apple store, but the soonest they could fit me in was a few days from then. I was already feeling crappy because I feel like I haven’t been very productive lately (this is the first blog post I’ve put out in…a while) and the fact that I couldn’t use my laptop to work just made my productivity-related guilt even worse. So I logically decided to make the most of the time. I had been watching Marie Kondo’s show on Netflix, and deep cleaning is something you’d never catch me doing if it was warm outside.

So after I thanked my clothes for their time in my closet, I got around to doing books and papers which is the next stage of cleaning according to The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. After reading my old journals, which was just a recipe for a casserole of tears (spoiler: they are not happy), I decided to put on Oprah’s Supersoul podcast episodes with Brené Brown. 

I was sorting through old pictures and tossing old paper documents when Brown said: “in a culture of scarcity, we are always chasing extraordinary.” I stopped and wrote what she said down.

I was in the middle of looking at the evidence of the very ordinary life I have lived, on a very normal Tuesday morning in the dead of winter, and I felt joyful! Marie Kondo’s method is all about expressing a shit ton of GRATITUDE and wow, does it work.

It was an ‘aha’ moment I guess you could say.

It made me realize I was feeling a little dead inside in the dead of winter because I was swimming in the feeling of inadequacy around my ordinary routine instead of cultivating gratitude for it. Why? Well, the easy answer is that NOT being grateful is the path of least resistance. I’ve also been a little aimless, and the “you are not enough” monsters were looming over me. The perfect storm.

Life doesn’t need to be extraordinary to be meaningful, but we do have to make effort to find the joy in the ordinary.

I don’t know about you, but when I think about the best moments from the last month it’s nothing flashy or wild. I think part of what made them so good is that I was fully present and open to appreciating what was happening: laughing with my friends, eating Thai food with my mom, bouncing around in boxing class, making a scrapbook of my memories…the list goes on.

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Me and my friend Sarah at boxing.

Make a list of your favourite moments from the last month. Let’s learn to embrace ourselves and our ordinary, especially when we want to hibernate.

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