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.

A To-Do List For A Difficult Day

Anyone who knows me knows about my love/hate relationship with November. This year, I seem to have gone darker and deeper into the grey than ever before. I need vitamin B, or iron. I need a week off. There’s never enough sleep, never enough time. The leaves are hanging on longer because even they seem to know that I need the added brightness of their outrageous colours. The good news is, it’s nearly over.

Here’s a to-do list for today. It will likely be extended to tomorrow as well. These are big days for me, these two. Big enough that without such a list, I might just sit here and stare out the window and not get anything done at all. Feel free to borrow this list, any time you need to. You’re guaranteed to feel at least 3% better if you use it.

Today I will…

  1. Eat an entire bar of chocolate. Well, almost. But, it’s fair trade and sugar free. Plus it’s dark, 70% even, so I’m okay with this.
  2. Cry over nothing.
  3. Cry over some really big things.
  4. Write.
  5. Try to work. Mostly suck at this.
  6. Make an entire thermos of tea and sip it slowly all afternoon.
  7. Listen to Leonard Cohen.
  8. Miss my kids.
  9. Colour.
  10. Read for pleasure.
  11. Eat soup for dinner.
  12. Wear my slippers at work because I need the extra cozy.
  13. Wear lipstick, or something else that makes me feel better.
  14. Finish all my work so I can do whatever I want all weekend.
  15. Send lovey emojis to my cousin-sister.
  16. Call my mom.
  17. Hug my kids after school.
  18. Go for a walk.
  19. Try not to cry in front of people who barely know me.
  20. Avoid the news, because sometimes I have to.
  21. Sing.
  22. Have a glass of wine, but only one.
  23. Make a fire in the fireplace.
  24. Add some frankincense to the diffuser.
  25. Watch a funny Christmas movie.
  26. Eat popcorn.
  27. Light a candle.
  28. Remember the spectacular depth and breadth of love.

Autumn and Grief

Today’s post is a guest contribution by one of our Elite Club members, Psychotherapist Allison Villa. Like many of you, the Fall is a time of great loss and sorrow in my family. I asked Allison to create a piece about Autumn and grief, and she wrote this beautiful essay that I’m honored to share. I hope it brings you some comfort if you too find this time of year particularly poignant.

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Time Away

cheerfulsnow

November is over. I’m very happy about that because it’s my least favourite month, and this year November was particularly dark. In fact, autumn in general has been coloured with so much loss and sorrow this year that I’m beginning to wonder if there is something about the shifting seasons that compels death not only in nature, but also in us inhabitants of mother earth.

You’ll have noticed that it’s been ages since I’ve written. I apologize if the posts you may have looked forward to haven’t been there, but I needed to withdraw and turn myself inside out a little bit. Since late August I’ve witnessed a remarkable amount of sorrow, loss, and grief and rather than sit before a computer screen, I’ve been compelled to spend more time with my children and my partners. I’ve just started to really miss writing here, and so my heart seems to be telling me that it’s time to return to writing.

Our dear friends lost their baby at seven months pregnant. I suppose I was foolish to think that such a shocking, staggering loss could never touch my inner circle. We have no such control over these things, do we? My heart was utterly broken by this, and these brave parents have been nothing but inspiring in the way they are moving through this life-changing event.

Those of you with pets will know that saying goodbye to a companion animal can be just as difficult as losing a human who you love and care for. My dear friends lost their sweet and noble dog, who had been their small creature to care for and nurture for years and years – I feel like this wonderful dog has been in their family all the time I’ve known them. They gave her such a wonderful life, and they adored her so completely.

My dear aunt Carmen, my fairy godmother, the cool, hip aunt that I idolized in my youth reached the end of her journey through cancer. She is my third aunt to die from this stupid disease and my mother’s fourth sibling to die from cancer. She too was incredibly brave, and positive, and like the dear friends mentioned above she was somehow able to find some light in such a dark turn of fate. My daughters and my Sarah and I sang at her exquisite memorial, at her request, and my heart found so much solace in the beauty of harmonizing with my beloved girls, and witnessing how their cherubic voices touched so many strangers. To live my life in the hopes of being remembered so passionately and beautifully by my friends and colleagues is now my goal.

Fate grips us and tears things apart just as much as it fills us and gives us such abundance. If these difficult lessons in feeling real gratitude and savouring each blessed moment weren’t enough, the universe sent some cruel irony my way in the form of the news of a somewhat distant colleague from the performing world. She chose to end her own life quite suddenly only a week ago.

The idea of suicide was one that filled me with scorn and contempt not long ago. It was hard to find compassion after watching so many people suffer because lives were ended/ing too soon. My older, more humble self shudders to imagine a day-to-day reality so painful that one must snuff out their own light to escape the bleakness of their lives.

It’s so fragile. We are so fragile.

All I can think to do in this landscape of so much love and so much light and so much loss is to gingerly make my way through each day. My sage therapist urges me to create the memories I want to have when I look back on my life, and I’m trying so hard to do this every day.

Please dear friends, take a moment, right now and breathe. Feel what it is to have the chance to draw breath, to move through space, to think and feel and hunger and love. Think of the challenges and hardships you face, and think of how many blessings you have to balance that.

This year, consider what you are giving rather than getting. We’re changing things up this year and trying to help the children value time and experience more than toys. Our plan is to spend Christmas on a beach somewhere, healing our hearts and indulging in the company of our little darlings. I hope you too can find meaningful ways to spend the season….

Falling

firstdayofschool

It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?

So many things have happened since I was last here, things both profound and perplexing. I’ve been aching to write down my thoughts, but too compelled to just stay in each moment to put my fingers to the keys.

Last month I had a teacher appear who helped me learn how much I’ve grown. At first, I thought this teacher was cruel and immature, but then a wise woman reminded me that everyone we encounter has a role in our lives. It was clear to me that this person had crossed my path to illuminate how strong I am in my family, and in my circle. How secure and happy I feel in this life. After four years of navigating this very alternative relationship, I’ve largely been met with acceptance and love. One small moment of rudeness has nothing on that. Thank you teacher, for helping me discover this.

The universe wove another lesson while I was away. This next one was a random, and deeply painful lesson in our own vulnerability and fragility. It was the kind of lesson that serves as a reminder of how we have no control over where our paths will ultimately lead. To me, that truth is both terrifying and revealing – it forces me to see only the next steps ahead and to savor each crunch of earth beneath my feet, and each little breath my children breathe. My heart won’t heal from this lesson, it’s going to be one that remains for the rest of my days here. To watch people you love experience such grief is humbling and it strikes you with an absolute feeling of helplessness – both in relieving their pain, and shielding yourself from tragedy. This lesson in savoring each precious moment has been repeated again and again in my life, and I cannot help but wonder at that.

Each day here is crisp and fresh as we begin to watch the seasons shift. We’ve started our little school this week, and though we are only on day four, I am certain that teaching my children will be the best thing that I’ve ever done. Are you living the life you want? Do you have everything you need? What steps can you take to bring yourself closer to telling your own great story?