No Mo November (On Surviving a Shitty Month)

I thought I was dying this November.

I realize that’s a dramatic statement, but when you’ve been around cancer as much as I have, the slightest ailment is a cause for panic. I was EXHAUSTED, so much so that I demanded a full blood panel from my doc. I’ve been anemic before, and was certain this was the case. Otherwise, it was the Big C, because that’s how rational I am. I wasn’t anemic. Nor was my thyroid out of whack. All of my blood looked fine. So, what the hell?

November and I have a long-standing, love/hate relationship. (Here’s another November post, if you like this trip down memory lane.) Two people who I adore died during this particular month, and I think you can guess how. This sorrow seems to live in my cells, filling me with a non-specific melancholy that most people experience in February in this part of the world. The gray feels grayer, the cold feels colder. I can count on one hand the number of times I leave the neighborhood in a week. Maybe this grief is what had me dragging my butt.

Life has been stressful. Relationship stress. Financial stress. Work stress. This is enough to make most people want to stay in bed. Maybe the tired feeling was on account of these old demons rearing their heads? Thing are on the up now, thanks for asking.

hands and wedding bands

I officiated the wedding of my Aunt Gigi and her partner Bob this November, from his hospital bed. This occasion marked a bit upswing in my mood.

I spend a lot of time on my ass, at my desk, working away. I’ve grossly neglected my exercise routine. I’ve slipped from the nutritional choices that make me feel best. This could be what was making me exhausted.

An average-sized five-year-old often ends up in my queen sized bed, wedged between daddy and I. Sometimes he thrashes about like he’s being chased by a Ticklemonster. He’s become an ace at falling asleep on his own, in his own room. We haven’t quite nailed the staying there part. My family doctor suggested installing a baby gate to keep him contained. I found this horrifying. No judgement on those of you who have employed similar methods, but my doctor has obviously never seen a five year old take on a baby gate. Anyway, there’s another reason to feel exhausted. No sane woman could sleep in the company of a little boy who flails about and a man who snores like a demon.

So, what am I doing?

Taking vitamins, as regularly as I can. I don’t always remember, particularly on weekends, when our routine varies.

Saying NO. Holy shit, I’m bad at this, but I’m trying. I’ve had to say no to something very special to me because the mental drain was giving me anxiety. That was a tough one.

Holing Up. I’d love to spend time being social, but until that stops feeling like work, I’ll continue on this hermit-like path. You’ll occasionally see me at writing group meetings, and to drop my kids off at rehearsals. I suppose I’ll have to do some holiday shopping soon. I used to go crazy if I didn’t get out of the house and connect with other humans at least once a day. I used to appear before hundreds of people in my underwear about every other month. This homebody thing is still relatively new for me, and it’s novel. So are yoga pants. I’m a legit suburban mom with a mini van now. Most days, I’m okay with this.

Exercising. There’s just no way around this one. If I don’t move, I feel like crap. I get down on my body, I lose my drive (yes, all of it) and I feel spacey as hell. I’ve started walking for 30-45 minutes after dropping the littles at the bus stop. (Ew, that’s not a euphemism). The key to staying motivated is a good audio book. I only allow myself to listen when I’m walking. It’s working for now. I intend to keep going, even when the snow starts. Please send me your book recommendations.

Self-care. This is a difficult concept. It doesn’t mean pedicures and hair appointments, though it could. I think self-care is about doing things that make you feel good. For me, that’s putting a full stop on work after 5 pm so that I can cook for my family, or help my little dude create a book about dinosaurs. It means reading a novel for pleasure, and not because I’m getting paid to read it. It means tea and chocolate and doing absolutely nothing for ten minutes. A little bit of self-care each day seems to be helping to battle the melancholy.

Listening to my body. If want to sleep, I sleep. Even if I’m in the middle of the workday. Twenty minutes with my eyes closed, and I can easily see a difference in productivity.

So, I’m finally seeing a difference. I realize that it’s also December, which has more than a little to do with this shift in energy. Wednesdays are my favorite day of the week, because I take the mornings ‘off’ to meet with my writing buddies. These women keep me focused on my passion, and they offer the most amazing encouragement, and validation. If you’re a creator, find your people and make them a regular part of your life. Weekends are spent caring for my family and decking our halls. I love Christmas, and Yuletide, and everything connected to staying cozy and bright. I intend to carry this forward until the Spring.

Is it just me, or are there certain months of the year that consistently suck? November is mine, but I’ve survived another one. A big thanks to chocolate, and novels, and my ever-patient family.

Resistance Is Fertile

There’s a thing I do in relationships which has been making relationships of all kinds incredibly difficult for most of my life. I take everything very, very personally. I can’t hear emotional criticism without falling deep into a black hole of self loathing, where the only thing that makes sense is leaving the relationship to spare everyone the awful reality of me. As I type this, from a well-rested, un-triggered and objective perspective this sentiment is totally ridiculous, but in those bleak moments it feels very, very real. On Tuesday, therapy day, I arrived at a new reality where I finally learned that resistance is fertile.

I sat in our therapist’s office with both of my partners and listened to feedback directly linked to my parenting shortcomings and for the first time I was able to talk myself down from the ledge. As I teetered on the lip of that black well of self loathing my inner voice said “hey, don’t do that. You’ve made some mistakes, some big ones, but you’re working really hard, and growing and all of the wonderful change you are making will be bigger and more memorable than any pain you’ve caused because you’re waking up now, and that is awesome.”

It wasn’t easy. I don’t want to mislead anyone here. As I realized my inner narrative was shifting, sounding so cheerily unlike me, my gut was to scoff at this, to dismiss it as cheesy and foolish but somehow I pushed through. I don’t know how I did it. I resisted the urge to go to that bleak place, and a bounty of open listening and present attention was waiting. Instead of having a shitty post-therapy day I enjoyed a yummy lunch with my partners at our favorite Mexican restaurant, and then got some good work done.

Here’s what I’ve been doing, and I think my success is thanks to these combined efforts:

Taking my vitamins regularly

Making careful, less carb-intense food choices and ‘treating’ myself with fruit and good chocolate instead of whatever crap I can grab from the candy shelf. (In our new house, the candy shelf will be eliminated.)

Exercising every day with at least twenty minutes of yoga

Going to bed earlier to make sure I can get eight hours of sleep and still wake up at 5:30 for my quiet, meditative yoga time

Tackling home organizing projects

Approaching work and money with care and organization

Taking self-imposed time outs when I need to, adjusting plans to reflect my level of anxiety (I love you, and I’ll see you soon, when I am more able to be present in your company!)

My internal/emotional process is finally slowing down, especially when I am triggered. There is time and space to be objective, and more empathetic. I can take better care of myself, and those around me. I’m resisting the old normal, and even in the moments when I slip, when I can’t catch myself before falling into negative behavior, I can bounce back more quickly and make apologies and amends with humility and grace.

I am good. I am a child of the Universe. I can change and grow and be deserving of the abundance of love in my life, and so can you.


How Being Fluid Got Me Off My Ass

Happy Monday Lovers!

Today I want to chat about how being fluid got me off my ass this weekend.

It’s time for another true confession. I’m a control freak. This is one of the big issues I try to recognize and move through every single day. There was a time when my need to have everything go exactly the way I wanted it to was so all-encompassing that it would fill me with frustration and anxiety when even the tiniest of things would fall out of place. I’m sure you can imagine how fun I was to be around, especially with the added unpredictability of my newly acquired young step daughters.

Now, when a wrench gets thrown into the works, which is actually a daily occurrence in my world, I am able to pause, breathe and relax into the change, redirecting and re-evaluating what my needs and the needs of the day require. Most of the time.

For example, Sarah cut my hair at home. She’s done incredible work on the kids’ heads, but I will freely admit I’m a hair diva. I bond for life with a good hair dresser, but I want to be as frugal as we can be now. I wasn’t sure I was up for the risks involved with letting someone I love, who has learned hair dressing on the internet, come at me with a pair of scissors, but I finally relented and let her have a go. I have very thick, weirdly wavy hair. It’s kind of a beast to tame, but I think Sarah’s first go was pretty darned good. It wasn’t salon perfect though, and I could see the difference, which drove me nuts. And subsequently drove other people nuts because I wouldn’t stop talking about it. We tried to fix it, but it still wasn’t right. What did I do? Saturday night, two tequila in, I tried to fix it myself. Secretly, in the bathroom. No surprise, it didn’t work. What happened was a huge lesson in ‘leave well enough alone’. Now, drastic measures would be required to repair the damage I’d done.

Past me would have cried. I would have been furious with myself for being so impulsive and stupid. I would have tried to blame Sarah for not getting the hair cut right in the first place. (See? I told you I could be an asshole!) Instead, I laughed, had a shower and then when Nekky came to bed, I shared the disaster of my hair with him and prepared him for the reality of my pending short hair. Then I turned to You Tube and found an amazing tutorial of the hair cut I would need to fix my lid. In the morning, I dragged Sarah upstairs, (after she’d had breakfast of course) and asked her to help. We took it slow, we followed directions, we made a few modifications because I currently have bangs. It was fun, and even when I feared we had cut too much bang, and that I looked like a medieval squire, I continued to breathe. Then I dried and styled my hair, and it was just fine. It’s better than fine, even. Sarah is a fiercely talented lady. I’m still not convinced that my bangs aren’t a bit too gigantic, but I’m going to stop obsessing about it, because there are more important things in the world than my hair.

My need to control my physical body has been illuminated through this hair saga. From where I stand now, I can see why I need to exert myself so extremely sometimes – everything from hair obsession all the way to the need to conquer my anxiety and depression by feeding myself shitty food that I’m convinced makes me feel better. This need for control is likely attached to the trauma I’m working through. I can do something to my body that has an immediate and gratifying effect. I do feel better. But then I feel worse. Not just physically worse, either. Guilt and shame come flooding in, regret over too many cookies. Yesterday, rather than sitting and ruminating, I engaged in physical actions that made me feel good. I was already in a great mood, and the weather was glorious, so I’m sure that helped shift from staying in my head to being in my body and pushing through. It’s not always easy to put things in motion, so I’m going to make a little list of those activities to refer to them when I need them again. You can use them too if you like!

Physical Activities that I Can Immediately Access to Feel Better

Housekeeping – major spring organizing and purging, and major elbow-grease required scrubbing

Shifting plans to spend more time with the kids

An hour long walk in the woods with Noah

Pretty decent food choices all day long

A DIY manicure – I never do this kind of thing, but it felt so nice to just focus on making my hands look good

Yoga – though it became more like Aussie Rules Yoga as Noah tried to climb on me and turn me into both a bridge and a tunnel

Early bed time – not sure this would have been a choice, but I was so sleepy from all the fresh air and exercise that I tucked in with Noah and was asleep before I could even consider some bed time reading

Early wake up for more Yoga – I’m feeling really tired now, but I’m hoping I can adjust to this because I love how much time it leaves me with in the morning.

Why this particular rambling today? I guess I’m trying to let you know that if you can relax through change, try to hold on to the positive, and just keep breathing, you’ll see at least one great lesson. On the surface, I thought the lesson was “Don’t try to cut your own hair after drinking tequila” which is not without merit, but I see now that there was a deeper opportunity there. I could connect to a bigger issue and actually experience the ways I could make changes.

What hiccup in your current life has thrown you for a loop? What is the surface lesson there? What do you think the deeper lesson(s) could be? How can you do something today to embrace that lesson and make at lest one positive change?

Let us know your own physical tricks for dealing with your own little idiosyncrasies in the comments below.

Oh, and here are the hair tutorials Sarah followed:

There’s A Whole In The Bucket

I have to confess something to all of you. I am a fraud. I’ve been writing about my life here for years now, and a few of you have taken time to let me know that you have been inspired, that you find my writing hopeful and positive. Guess what? It’s a sham. When I write hopeful things here, 99% of the time it’s not because I’m feeling it, it’s because I need to feel it and I’m hoping that writing from a positive perspective will make it so. Usually it works. Today it won’t.

I suppose I can’t consider it a total waste if I make it to 40 and realize I’ve been doing it all wrong. You might think I’ve got a lot of stuff figured out. You may think I’m a great mom, and an awesome partner. That’s a lie too. I’m not. The sum of my life experiences has made me hard and angry. I respond to stress and conflict by going on the offensive, or shutting down and walking away to avoid going on the offensive. I perceive everyone as out to hurt me, and then I try to hurt them worse so they will back off. I’ve been mean and cold, and harsh and unsympathetic with everyone in my life who I love. Everyone, except Noah.

My son is the first piece of me that I can look at and feel nothing but love, even in the most challenging moments. Noah is my catalyst, who has taught me that the only way I can ever hope to soften and change is to learn to look at all of the other pieces of myself with that same unconditional love. Nothing in my entire life has been harder to do than this, and I am trying like hell to change. To soften. To sit in my vulnerability and share it without anger and blame. You could ask me to become fluent in Mandarin overnight and I swear it would be easier than the changes I am trying to make.

The changing part wasn’t actually the hardest, not after I realized how much of my rage and self-protection (some people call this defensive or offensive behavior) were tied to a traumatic event from my childhood. This illuminated nearly every single behavior that I hated, it contextualized and explained it. It allowed me to see myself stuck as that seven-year-old, stuck in that place of terror, and love the hell out of my little girl self. Once I could do that, it was like a switch was flicked and I was able to empathize better with everyone around me. By loving myself better, I could love others better too.

But here’s the hard part. None of the people around you can see what’s happening inside, and when you’ve been the kind of difficult-to-live with, angry asshole that I have been, they continue to see you as such. You keep trying, and they keep treating you as though the same kinds of negative behaviors are happening, even when they are not. They get stuck, because they are afraid of those behaviors, and their fear makes them blind to anything good that might be happening. I am trying so hard to be better, but it’s not landing, and sometimes it’s a spectacular fail.

To make matters worse, I’m trying to evolve while living with my in-laws. A lot of in-laws. There is often up to eleven people under our roof! Multiple witnesses who have seen every parent and partner failure I have made in the last two years. They are good people. They are wonderful people, and I love them, but I don’t really know them that well. I need privacy. I need a safe space where we can heal, where I can try to flex these new muscles, where I can organically grow, or fall flat on my face as the case may be, and not have so many witnesses. I need safety.

I’m trying to fill the bucket, but the bucket has a hole. Nekky put that quite eloquently this morning, and it struck me as very true indeed. There’s a hole in the bucket. A big one. And I’m so very, very tired of trying to fill it up with good only to watch the good fall through the hole. I feel like I am constantly failing.

Of course I want to heal my relationship with my daughters. What flows freely with my biological child has been an excruciatingly painful contrast to my many shortcomings where my daughters are concerned. I have some serious lost time to make up for, time that consists in equal parts of a total lack of understanding about how children ‘work’ and so much misdirected pain and hardness from my past.

It would be nice to have a healthier relationship with my partners, though I’m at the precipice of deciding that romantic relationships aren’t really intended for people like me. Those relationships need to be a two way street, and I just seem to suck the life out of everyone and give very little back. At the very least, it would be nice to heal some shit so we can at least be awesome friends and parents.

I just don’t know how to keep filling the bucket when there’s a goddamned hole. As always, I turn to the Internet for answers, hopeful that the lyrics to the old folk song will have a happy ending.

From Wikipedia:

There’s a Hole in My Bucket” (or “…in the Bucket“) is a children’s song, along the same lines as “Found a Peanut”. The song is based on a dialogue about a leaky bucket between two characters, called Henry and Liza. The song describes a deadlock situation: Henry has got a leaky bucket, and Liza tells him to repair it. But to fix the leaky bucket, he needs straw. To cut the straw, he needs a knife. To sharpen the knife, he needs to wet the sharpening stone. To wet the stone, he needs water. However, when Henry asks how to get the water, Liza’s answer is “in a bucket”. It is implied that only one bucket is available – the leaky one, which, if it could carry water, would not need repairing in the first place.

As I’m reading this, feeling more and more despair, I glance at the title of this post. I’ve spelled “hole” “whole”, quite by accident, but maybe that’s it? Maybe I just keep pouring myself into the bucket, all of me, every last inch no matter how big the hole gets. Put the whole in the bucket, even if it gushes out onto the ground. It’s going to go somewhere, all of that bucket-filling stuff, and if that particular bucket can never be filled, at least I can say I tried. Really tried. Not like I tried with my failed marriage. Not like I tried with countless careers that I gave up on. Not like I tried so many times before until it hurt too much to keep trying. There is no epidural for life. It hurts sometimes, and maybe it’s in pushing through the pain that we are reborn, truly reborn.

I don’t feel better. I don’t feel happier or more positive at the end of this post. I’m not going to lie, I am aching and tired and I feel like giving up, but at least I have a little direction. If I can’t fill the fucking bucket, at least I can water the grass.

How I’ve Coped With Winter

Can you smell spring in the air the way I can? I’m not going to kid myself, I know we live in the great white north, and it’s unlikely that we’ll get rid of all the snow any time before May, but I’m clinging to the hope of warmer temperatures and the slow but inevitable return of green. Here’s how I’ve coped with winter.

Christmas was a manic episode. I even went out and got a job to fill my compulsive need to overspend and make Christmas a huge debacle for our family. We weren’t hosting this year, traveling somewhere warm wasn’t in the cards, and I needed to fill a big ‘ole hole of sadness. I filled it with so much junk the kids didn’t need, most of which sits largely untouched in their bedrooms. After gazing around numbly at the faces of the people I loved on Christmas day while we put forth our best effort to make merry, I realized that no about of tinsel or gaily wrapped junk could replace what our family has lost. One of the truest, most soul-satisfying moments of the season was volunteering as a family to sort food donations. Another was seeing the fort my daughter and her girlfriend built out of fallen branches in our forest. Big lessons learned.

This bitter cold months have been some of the darkest. I’m dealing with a depression the likes of which I’ve never known. The effects of this have pervaded every corner of my life, as depression will. I can’t watch the news right now, I can’t be around big crowds or lots of noise. I can’t be in busy places. My choice of treatment has been vitamins, an attempt to get a bit more exercise, and therapy instead of pharmaceuticals for now. I’ve been spotty with items one and two and dedicated to number three. I think if I can get all of those working in concert, I’ll be just fine. I know I’ll be fine. I’m feeling better each day, and can feel the gradual shift happening.

I miss my friends terribly, but I have isolated myself because it’s hard to see people and bring something positive to them when I am just not up for feeling light. It leaves me with little to talk about most of the time, and I feel like I have to step into a role just to function outside of the house.

This depression has made it hard to write here. I feel overly indulgent. Narcissistic. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to read my ramblings. I don’t know what to share. If you’re a reader, it would mean a great deal to hear from you with some suggestions about meaningful topics. I miss this place, this practice. I want to get active here because in the midst of this bleak winter some really great things have been happening and I want to share these things with you.

In November, I took on the National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO) challenge. I failed at getting 40,000 words hammered out, but I carried on the writing momentum and I’m hard at work at a first draft of my first novel. Any of you writerly types will know how slow this process can be. Doubly so if you have children and other jobs. The novel is loosely based on my experiences in burlesque, and I’m having so much fun with it. The story centers around a cirque cabaret troupe which is actually a front for an elite team of female mercenaries. I met some very awesome women working in burlesque.

I need to carve out more time to write, and I continue to fantasize about stealing a weekend away here or there to bang out an entire draft in total seclusion. If you need an apartment sitter, I’m your girl. The plan is to get a polished draft, and then shop it around to agents before I decided to self-publish instead. Either way, I’m getting it out there. It would be ideal to have an agent to worry about all of the details on my behalf, but I’ve worn a lot of hats before, I can do it again.

Somehow I’ve made time again for reading, which is something that I missed more than I realized. Escaping into all of these stories has been a balm for the difficult material swirling around my head. Book recommendations are always welcome, and I’m trying to focus on Thrillers, Spy Novels, and Female Fiction these days because it feeds nicely into the work I’m creating.

As I’m typing, a tiny army of toddlers in tiny pink snow suits is ambling into the building. I’m at York University campus today, I guess this must be their daycare out for a walk. What joy I get from watching my own little toddler growing and taking on the world. He fills me with so much love, it can melt through even the bleakest moments. My girls are also growing so quickly, so gracefully most of the time. It’s been harder for them to understand what I’ve been going through, and I’m never sure how much to share with a child. I’ve been working on a letter for them, so they can have a little more perspective about what’s happening with me. I would hate for them to assume any responsibility for my state.

I stepped away from my brief job in the retail sector. Instead, I am commuting a couple of days a week into the city with Sarah, to make her drive more bearable. With another human in the car, she can take the HOV lane and shave significant time off her commute. I’m also working to help her grow her photography business, and I’m working at growing our other family business at with my decent grasp of social media. Most days feel like they are wrapped in a fog, but that fog seems to be thinning.

I’m dreaming of my family in our own modest home somewhere in the country. We are yearning for that independence again, and working hard at lining up our ducks so they march in that direction. I’m longing to get this book out of my head, and into the hands of readers. I’m fantasizing about our other businesses growing so we can live with more joy and freedom. I’m trying to carve out joy wherever I can in the ‘right here and now’.

Tell me how you’re coping with the winter? You’re all so wonderfully clever, I’m sure you can inspire us with a few new tricks to help with the next couple of months of slush and snow. Send me news of your lives. Tell me what the winter has taught you.