Sunday, 31 December 2017

2017, Conquered

As we finish up the last day of 2017, I'm surrounded by noise of flying nerf gun bullets, little feet  running and jumping, little voices squealing and laughing. It is the energy of being cooped up in the house for the last few days because the outside world is in the state of an icebox and our van battery stopped working. Despite the excited chaos I'm in a bit of a hazy oblivion. It's what I call a big feeling day. When I think about this year I get a sense of overwhelm, with all that has gone on. Not a bad overwhelm, just a dizzy attempt to sum it all up in a single thought or theme, or even in a single blog post. One year ago seems like an eternity and I feel like I've grown to become a different me inside.

A year ago I was in a very different state of mind than today. I had little good to say about 2016 and you could probably say the same thing about how I felt about myself. My depression had hit a new low, and anxiety had recently introduced itself to me, pitting in for the long haul. I retreated within, as the thought of leaving my house, even my bed at times, was overbearing. We almost skipped the family Christmas because of an argument centred around my state of emotion. It was then that I realized the impact this was having on my family, which lead me to reach out to a friend for help one January day, and spurred into a series of revelations about ways I was getting in my own way of being happy. In the beginning I had no idea of the amplitude of what was in store. In the following months, through conversations with friends, books, music, therapy, inner dialogue, art and writing, my insight snowballed into and ongoing project of inner reconstruction of self-worth.

It turns out there's no handbook for learning to love yourself, facing your fears or overcoming perfectionism. Everybody's journey is different, mine is no exception, one I have to figure out for my own. It became a frustrating ride of ups and downs like I'd never experienced before. Progress and regression, forward and backward. I felt lost in my inability to see an end, and knowing I couldn't go back to that familiar place that I started, I felt as if I was floating in the complex uncertainty of a new identity, immersed in the vulnerability of exploring my truth creating an ever-present feeling of being out of control, and thus anxiety. For someone who knew all four corners of her security blanket well, I was so far out of the comfort of what was familiar. I wanted to give in many times and go back to somewhere safe. But it seemed this path chose me and I had no choice but to just press on with my best effort.

What I thought would take weeks, turned into months, and eventually a year of intense inner work, and I came to the realization that this journey has no end, only checkpoints, and perhaps the biggest challenge is in learning accept who and what I am where I am. Only in the last couple months had I finally felt I like had landed and for the first time, feeling grounded enough to finally settle in the place I was in for a while and take a rest, knowing well I still have a long way to go, but for the first time confident that I was headed in the right direction. Peace of mind.

I can say with conviction that 2017 was the most challenging year of my life. I faced an ongoing battle with depression and anxiety, opened myself to new emotions at an intensity I've never felt before, dove into unfamiliar waters of self-discovery, faced a loss of a loved one greater than I have ever known (to name a few) all while facing the daily challenges of raising three children full-time at home. Being so inwardly focused has taken a toll on many of my relationships, as I have had less to offer the world outside of myself. But in the midst of these challenges, I've been granted many rewards: deeper connections with friends, emotional resilience, self-understanding and validation, stronger bonds with my children, and a newfound friend in myself. I am still hit with regular bouts of doubt, frustration, self-criticism, fear, regression and depression, but they come with less impact and don't stay as long as they used to. I'm starting to come to a clarity that will allow me to share my challenges and growth with others and hopefully bring a sense of belonging or comfort for others though this offering. Looking back, as I map out this journey I've been on I feel pretty good about my year, feeling a pretty big sense of accomplishment in my progress and a renewed optomism in my ability to handle whatever the future throws my way.

Friday, 29 December 2017

January 2nd

It's the time of year where traditionally I would gather a collection of little gifts to send to my sister for her birthday. I would include a few gifts from me, some homemade and some bought especially for her. I would include some second hand stuff that I figured she could use and I would include something my daughters made. I would throw in some photos of my family as well. I would collect from mom and anyone else who wanted to send anything. Sometimes I would include a video of all the nieces and nephews, or messages from family members. And I would package it all into one box and mail it to her, hoping it arrives in time for her birthday. Usually I would address it to whatever facility she is staying in, as it was almost always a given she would be in the hospital this time of year. I'd send it knowing well that there was a good chance she wouldn't keep it...she was notorious for eventually losing, breaking, disposing of or giving away most of her possessions. It became more about the thought of the gift. The satisfaction it would bring her to receive this package. The excitement that would bring out the child in her. This thought would bring me back to our childhood days and how the anticipation of opening presents at Christmas was just too much, so she would carefully unwrap or poke a hole in the gift to sneak a peak and then cleverly wrap it back up so that no one would know.

This year I have no parcel to send, nowhere to send it, no sister to send it to. This notion creates a void filled only with pain. A tradition of giving I have no choice but to give up. At least, I tell myself, we are no longer ridden of the worry that accompanies this time of year, aware of her suffering or anticipating the news of her landing in the hospital after a traumatic schizophrenic episode. Her pain is no longer hers, it is now ours as we - her loved ones - carry it in the burden of her absence, her suffering dispersed amongst each one of us to hold. We no longer worry, but we cry for our loss instead. The thought that there will be no phone call on her birthday, expressing her appreciation for the gifts or wishing me to wish her a happy birthday, strikes grief. I can no longer picture her opening this package, sharing it with her hospital family, and receiving the message that she is being thought of, she is important, she is loved.  All we have left behind are the few things she held onto from last year's gift, the photos from the memories of our time together, the paintings she created throughout the years. These things help us to appreciate all she was, but they will never replace what we've lost.

January 2nd marks her 38th birthday. I anticipate this to be a difficult day for me & my family. This will no longer be the day she calls, it has now become the anniversary of our last conversation. The last time I saw her was six months prior to that, and during that period I had been holding onto some resentment which had resulted from a tense conversation left unresolved from our visit last summer. I felt frustrated in her refusal to accept me for who I am, my beliefs, my practices, my parenting, as I felt all I ever did was support her unconditionally. When she called me on her birthday she was very manic and emotional and, as our phone conversations usually went, I could hardly get a word in. She became very expressive. She apologetically brought up the conversation and I was able to confront the reason behind my frustrations. Despite her state, I felt heard and validated, and I was able to let go of the resentment I had been holding onto. This was liberating. She told me that all I ever do is love and accept others unconditionally and expressed how pure my love is. This was a part of myself I struggled to show the world, but she somehow saw it anyway. She always had a way to find another's beauty, no matter how hard they tried to hide it. She told me that she knew I was a very spiritual person, something I am only recently starting to discover, but she knew it then. This conversation left me feeling a lot of things, but the one I remember the most after hanging up the phone, is that I felt understood. This was such a rare feeling for me.

This Christmas my mother crocheted a doll modelled after my sister and gave it to my daughter. This is my most favourite Christmas gift of all, even if it wasn't for me. She wears a nose ring and comes with a frog and the same hat & hair Niki wore when the two of us stayed with her in Kamloops. Scarlett seems to understand how special it is. I've noticed she handles it very differently than her other toys, cradling it carefully as she carries it and gently sets it down with care as if it were alive. Scarlett perhaps is the luckiest of us. Her memories include only good stuff from their time together: Niki's kindness, her inner child, her gentle soul, their shared connection with one another and with nature. These are the memories that she carries around so preciously through this doll.

As I notice the care Scarlett takes in carrying her memory doll from room to room, it occurs to me there is something I can take from this. Perhaps that feeling of being understood that resulted from my final conversation with my sister is a memory worth placing ever so carefully in the crook of my arm and carrying it with me to all the places I go.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

A Teachable Moment

Do you ever have those parenting moment so when your child says something that stops you mid-discussion & makes you realize that you don't really know what the hell you are doing? I know you do, we all do. Today I had one of those moments. In fact I've been having more & more of them as my children get older, they challenge me as a mom & my thinking in ways I never know they were capable of.

The girls have been fighting ALOT lately & I often find myself unsure of how to handle it, so I go to my automatic responses without really thinking about it, usually facing a sea self-doubt. It usually results in one of them coming to me, tattling on the other & me contemplating whether it is worth intervening & proceeding from there. Today Lucy came to me with a complaint that Scarlett pushed her & she fell & hit her head. I called Scarlett up to discuss, learnt the other side of the story& deemed them both guilty parties. So I concluded the fairest way to settle it would be by having them apologize to each other & move on. Sounds pretty simple, right? After Lucy's somewhat genuine apology, Scarlett snarled "I'm sorry" with that six-going-on-thirteen attitude that she's perfected as of late. I 'told' her to say it like she meant it, & she offered a half-hearted obligatory apology to suffice. Then she turned to me & said, "You shouldn't make someone say they are sorry." I felt my guard creep up and asked, "Oh? Why's that?" "Because it doesn't come from the heart." Floored. I knew she was right but all I could do to reply was mumble something about manners & how she should try harder to feel sorry then. I'm sure this could have been a great teaching moment. I'm sure there were a dozen or alternate responses that would have been better choices. My parenting abilities had been challenged by my six year old.  I took the  shame I felt for myself & redirected it towards her.  Not my proudest parenting moment.

So fast forward to the end of the day, the kids are in a deep sleep & the husband is on night shift. I find myself reflecting on this incident & feeling pretty crummy how it all went down. When confronted, I struggle with responding & find myself frozen in place when I don't know how to handle a situation. Looking for help, I turn to the internet for answers (my critical awareness goggles in tact) & am seeing some consistency in answers to my search: forcing your child apologize. Ok in retrospect, I realize this wording is going to lead to some one sided results, but I guess I was seeking some alternative solutions for my situation. The one that struck me most, & most fitting in the current direction I am striving toward as a parent, was to model apology for your children. I am coming to understand that the most important & effective way to raise our children is to model within ourselves the values we want to teach them. Or as Brene Brown writes in Daring Greatly (which, coincidently, I just finished reading today), 'to be the adults we want our children to grow up to be.'

So I'm still not really sure exactly how I should have responded to my child's statement but I think it has something to do with admitting that she was right & that I should have handled it differently (I guess I mean with an apology?) And perhaps involving the two of them in a brainstorming session about how we can do it differently in the future (empathy). Maybe this is a discussion to extend into tomorrow. As for today...I suppose this teachable moment was actually meant for me.


Wednesday, 12 April 2017


So I've been exploring the idea of self-compassion lately. It seems like such a simple concept & makes me wonder why it is something that I need to work at, since it fits in with the way I want to see the world. But I've been living a life somewhat contradictory to self-compassionate. This new venture started when I began to recognize ways my habits & perspective were getting in the way of my own happiness. Understanding that the constant criticism I put on myself was not making me strive to be better, but only knocking me over, again & again. I imagine this as an invisible wall that will only allow me to go so far in my potential. I can see past the wall but I can't seem to get through it.

This becomes pretty evident when I look back at my achievements. If I were to list them on paper, compared to average, they are pretty impressing. But in my head, this lingering sense of 'never good enough' clings to these accomplishments. And I realized that it didn't matter how successful I became in any area of life I never felt like it was enough, which would lead to a constant frustrated state, wondering if ever feeling good enough was even possible for me.

Motherhood has Really highlighted this attitude & how it affects me. In a conversation with a friend a couple months ago I was expressing my frustrations of my inability to handle the every day stuff, when I was told that I had been disregarding the life I had worked hard to build up to that point & was only focusing on what was going wrong. This perspective was clouding my judgement on myself as a mother, and it didn't seem to matter how many times I had been told I was an exceptional mother by my loved ones, I never could believe it for myself. I realized that this had less to do with my parenting abilities & more to do with the way I saw myself. I realized that it was me that had to change inside if I wanted to find a happier life. And it had something to do with self-love. This is where self-compassion comes in, something that  I've learnt is a very important factor in practicing self-love.

It was a concept I had started to form in my own mind, when I came across the works of Brene Brown, & through one of her books was led to a website called, which I have only just started to explore. It has meditations that have helped me to calm my mind on sleepless nights & inspiring videos explaining what self-compassion is & why it is important. It has become an important tool in my every day to recognizing how critical I can be with myself & how the negative self-talk affects my emotions, thoughts & behaviour.

This was put to a small test a couple days ago. Our oldest was at school & I was out running errands with my husband &  two youngest. After loading the groceries & the yelling baby into the van, my husband says "Oh yeah, we have to be home in time for Scarlett. What time is it." Instant regret & panic simultaneously rushed over me when I looked at my phone to see it was 3:48. To make matters worse, it was an early dismissal day, so Scarlett had been out of school for over an hour. She would have walked home from school to find the door locked & nobody home...

I immediately called the neighbours to see if she had gone next door, a plan we had made when she started walking home on her own. Thankfully she had, she was safe & in good hands. My inner-critic immediately went to shaming thoughts of 'I'm a terrible mother' & feelings of inadequacy. My husband, in the drivers seat beside me, who has not been 'blessed' with tendency towards perfectionism, was calmly contemplating whether she would be upset or not. And even though we were equally responsible for this mishap, I could tell he wasn't facing the same inner-battle as I had been so I decided to give his approach a shot. Instead of talking to myself about what a mistake I had made (which it was simply that, a mistake) I thought about how I would speak to a good friend if this happened to them (or what my friends might say to me) & started telling myself this is something that jus took about anyone could see themselves doing & everyone makes mistakes. I took it a notch further & started explaining out loud to my husband the inner struggle I was facing & how I was working on it. He pointed out that I did a great thing by talking to her about what to do in this situation in advance & she followed through. I went from being a terrible mom to a great mom in a mere five minutes. By the time we got home I was able to laugh about the situation. In fact I even  forgot about most of the day except when someone would crack a joke about it.  Had I not taken this approach I would probably still be beating myself up for it 3 days later. In the end, everyone was ok, intact, probably a little better for it.

Changing self-talk habits took a lot of energy at first, as I found myself circling back to old ways of self-sabitoge, but the more I practice, the more I see how effective it is & the more automatic it becomes. Most of all it has allowed me to let go of many the unrealistic expectations of the perfectionist in me & the pressure that comes with it. Although it takes a lot of deliberation, this 'I am good enough' state of mind feels quite liberating. Don't get me wrong, I still go back to those old habits, and I think it is pretty human to do so. And I'll even admit there is that little part of me that is afraid to let go of those expectations in the fear that I might settle for mediocracy. But what I do know is my old way of thinking was anything but liberating. So I am working at finding that balance between healthy expectations & reprieve, the most nurturing environment for self-compassion to thrive in.  I really do think being kind to oneself is so important in fulfillment, but in reality it can be a real challenge, especially in a culture that counteract the value of it in so many ways. Especially for those of us that have spent years being so critical of ourselves. But it takes mindfulness, intention & effort, which I believe will be totally worth it in the end.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Creativity, Revised

Art has always been a pretty significant part of my life. A bit of a family tradition, I became exposed torte practice at a young age & it became a regular part of my life. I developed a talent & passion for it.  I've always loved to draw & as I grew up my creativity expanded into many areas of my life. As an adult both photography & painting have taken a front seat.

I've dabbled in painting off & on in my adulthood, but never really took it on as a hobby until a few months ago. I talked about getting into it all the time, but like many things I want to do in life, lacked the courage to put both feet in. I would go to art markets & admire the artists putting their work out there, showing & selling. The idea made me want to do it, but also made me my way stood the fear of judgement & rejection.

Late last year something in me decided to stop dreaming about it & just start doing it. I started with sketches & surprised myself by this newfound ability to create characters from scratch. Most of my artwork consisted of copying photos or objects, I had a good eye, but never really saw myself as creative on a more fictional level. Inspired by this momentum I started, I dusted off the paints I had stashed in the back of the closet & picked up some cheap canvases from the dollar store. Time to practice. I picked one of my drawings & a tiny canvas, painted it slightly larger than the sketch & called it my first draft. I created another. And another. A collection of miniature works, first drafts. I started to show them, first nervously to my closest people, then expanded my audience to Faceboo friends. The feedback was all positive. In the back of my mind, 'Of course it is, these were my friends after all, they wouldn't tell me if they didn't like it.' But in myself, my greatest skeptic was always present. I stared at the art & picked at all the ways it could be better. I criticized my painting technique, after all I don't have any training, so I couldn't possible qualify as a real painter. In addition to criticism of my skills, I also yearned for a deeper meaning in my artwork, theme among them with a message that would contribute to a greater cause. The idea of making pretty decor to match the colour themes of someone's house just wasn't enough.

I felt like I needed to get better at painting to really call myself a painter. I told myself & others these were not worthy of selling or gifting because of their size & the quality of the products with which they were made & that someday I would be a real artist & then I would create sellable pieces. Around the same time I developed this goal to create enough 'sellable' masterpieces for a booth at Park Art, July 1. I broke it down to 2 per month. A couple months went by. Ok, I'm going to have to buck up for a couple months. I made excuses. When I have better paints. When I have something worthy of creating into a 'masterpiece.' When I'm ready I will start. But I just kept making my little drafts & sharing the ones I thought were worthy of exposure within my circle.

The praise I received from my (very supportive) friends were temporary fixes but I couldn't find it in myself to see my art as good enough. Then I got a message from a friend, someone whom I really look up to from a artistic, professional & personal standpoint, commending my skill & encouraging a pursuit in painting as a career. Forget Park Art, he said, let's talk galleries. He had presented a dream for me that was bigger than I had even considered possible. I was deeply moved by this gesture, but at the same time just couldn't see myself 'there.' And it bothered me that I couldn't see the potential in myself that he saw in me. I asked myself, what is it that I am missing? We talked a little more about it  & the advice he gave me was to stop putting so much weight on what other people think, to paint for myself. Study the artists that inspires me, immerse myself in that. To use my art as an expression of myself. Yes I understood this to a point, I've heard it before, but struggled to see how to apply it in my creative endeavour.

Shortly after this conversation I began to embark on an introspective journey, & I began to understand this concept & how it applies to me. The more I learned about myself, my personality & my emotional processes, the more I started to recognize an expression of my inner self emerge through my art, including the stuff I had created prior to this insight. I started to realize a theme between my paintings & sketches & each one came alive with its own personality, with its own story to tell. From this, stemmed new ideas & elements that could contribute to these stories. I was astonished by the idea that I could create art as an expression of things I hadn't yet learned about myself when I painted them. Things my conscious mind had not yet understood that my creativity had tapped into & emerged from some subliminal level into my painting. I've learned the power of the mind & art's incredible way of expressing that which we cannot put into words.

Along this journey I have begun to realize the importance of creativity in the process of personal growth & my purpose for creating art has changed significantly. Instead of producing to sell, painting has taken on a new meaning for me. Now, more than ever, art has a greater purpose in my life & much more of a priority. It has become about the process over the result. A therapeutic tool for personal growth. An outlet for emotional expression. A space for storytelling. And expression of authenticity. A venue for learning about myself. And a way to connect with others on a new level.

Sure the idea of selling my art or showing it in galleries is appealing to me, and I love the idea that something I create has the ability to offer something meaningful to the viewer. And evaluation from others will likely always play into what I decide to put out there when I do, but this purpose becomes secondary it my reason for art. So by releasing the result-oriented pressure I placed upon my art-making, I am finally allowing myself to paint for myself, for the sake of the experience, the process, the benefit it has to offer me. And for the first time I found the courage to get out my good canvas, my good paints & create something bigger. This shift in perspective provides a place for my creativity to flow freely, uninhibited by the fear of judgement & rejection (from myself included). It is in this space that I will create art that is most authentic to who I am.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Lesson From My 6 Year Old

Lost in my head, I was sitting on the living room floor while my 6 year old daughter sat across the carpet playing. She looked at me and gently ask "What are you thinking about, Mom?" I hesitated. Do I be honest with her or make something up? Do I filter it? How do I simplify it for a child to understand? But before I knew it I found myself explaining to her "I'm thinking about how hard it is for me right now to take care of you guys when I'm having a hard time dealing with all the thoughts in my head & all the things I feel inside." Without blinking she says, "So how can we fix this?" My heart started to fill up. "I don't' know, Scarlett, that's what I'm trying to figure out." "Well maybe I can help by taking care of Archer." The rest of my heart filled up & so did my tear ducts. Wow. In the midst of all the doubt & inadequacy I have been fighting with, this. Reassurance. We have created & shaped this little person with more compassion & empathy than you could ever imagine fitting into that body. Suggestion that maybe, just maybe, I am doing it right, nurturing her to become the best version of herself. Her capacity to carry strength for me in my moments of vulnerability astonishes me. Reaffirmation of the worthiness that I struggle to find in myself on a daily basis. A much needed reminder that I am doing enough, that I am enough.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

On the Brink of a Purge

I'm on the brink of a big purge. I can feel it. I need less stress, less decision-making, less mess. But not really sure where to start. I have trouble letting things go, there are too many what-ifs in my way. What if I regret giving it away down the road (which I do often)? What if Scarlett could use it in a couple years? What if I decide I need it in 6 months? What if someone I know could use it? But at the same time I struggle with messes. That's not to say I'm not messy. I am. I even rhyme with it. I think there's a natural tendency for the creative to lean that way, but there seems to be a fine line between organized mess & dysfunctional mess.

Organized mess: It may not look pretty but I generally know/remember where something was left. The visual of that object or a reference to where it belongs. Or a place, behind the scenes that may be cluttered (because I don't have the attention span to place them strategically) but at least they are in the place they belong.

Dysfunctional mess: Nothing frustrates me more than not being able to find something when I am limited for time. Or not being able to find something, period. And the random piles of things because they have no home :( Piles on top of the fridge (which I cannot see...obviously not put up there by me) piles on the countertop, or any top that we can find a space for. Piles of laundry on the floor, dirty mixed with clean. Stuff on the floor, that I constantly have to walk around or trip over. If you came to my house you might not believe me when I say this stuff actually does drive me crazy.

So clean it, right? I guess you could say there are times when the only thing I hate more than dysfunctional messes is the mundane task of cleaning & decision power out takes to organize it. Yuck. I start. But I lose interest quite quickly. Eventually we will plan to have company over & I will miraculously find the motivation to clean it up!

My solution. Less stuff. Less stress.

I go through a purge every couple seasons, trying to make the most of what I get rid of....wanting it to have a purpose in its journey to its next life. This may sound funny to some, but it's important to me that it will be appreciated by the next guy. I take joy in giving things away for free or cheap. I know I would appreciate the gesture, so I get satisfaction in knowing I have provided that sort of joy for someone else.

On the other hand, it would be nice to make a buck or two with the things I no longer make use of. I may regret it less if I got some money out of it. And frankly, I could use another buck or two.

Throw kids into the mix & purging becomes a little more complicated. Suddenly I am not only against the current of my own what-ifs, it is much stronger with the resistance of my girls, who have been blessed with the need to hang on to stuff as well.

My oldest, a concept logic, is quicker to let go of things.  She used to be more resistant, but one summer we had a garage sale & I promised one big purchase out of all the money we earned & she got herself a brand new bike. We also talked about the people who would receive her stuff, maybe people who wouldn't be able to afford this stuff new & would appreciate it as much as we did. Lucky for me, this concept has stuck with her & she typically on board with our purging phases.

The younger of the two, my emotional idealist, loves everything & resists letting it go with all her might. She has a fit every time I event suggest giving away or selling one of her toys. When she got her fur real unicorn for her birthday she said she never never never wants to sell it. This kid takes a lot more creative convincing, & the odd bribe. If I successfully catch her in a good mood, she often later goes back on her word & starts to pull things out of the sell box and we are back to square one. She's a challenger. I've got my work cut out, but I am determined to convert her to our side. Besides, where do you think she gets her stubbornness from?

I could go about liquidating toys without their approval, this seems more logical. But not very fair. Oh the guilt I would face when they realize a favourite toy (that week) was given away without their permission. Ok, so maybe I've created a monster. Or you could call it diplomacy. So be it, that's the way we do things in our house. The battle continues, we work on it & I think this work will pay off in the long run.

One of the decisions I have made is to only decorate my home with things that have sentimental value to them - things that belonged to my grandma, gifts given by loved ones (select ones will make this cut...) handmade by people in my life, personal art & photographs, things related to the experience of receiving them - these are the things that bring me much joy & I rarely get tired of. This is a good start & it has worked well for me, although my walls are a bit bare, it is a process that works well for me.

Where to go from here is a little confusing to me at this point. I am trying to adopt the 'things are replaceable' mentality but struggle with the need to save my money. Perhaps my closet? Or the spice cabinet? Baby toys? Maybe I'll watch that documentary on Netflix. Baby steps. I don't know if I will ever find that perfect balance, but I am convinced there is room for improvement.