To think about

To think about

The name of the blog

"It was never just an affair" needs to be in quotations, because it was something my ex-husband said to me early on in the break-up. I guess he thought it might make me feel better to know it wasn't just a fling per say, it was real love? It didn't make me feel better. Him ending the affair and being willing to work on the marriage would have made me feel better.

Monday, 22 December 2014

The Melancholy of an Existential Crisis

I have been graced by the loving touch of God, this I know. 

I had a near death experience and now I believe in a higher power with all I have. 

I lost control of my sports car the other night on the highway in very heavy rain at a speed of around 110 kilometres per hour. I was driving far too fast for the road conditions because I was late for dinner with a friend. I was in the fast lane accelerating so I could pass a car and cross two lanes because my exit was upcoming. As soon as I started changing lanes my wheels caught a rut full of water and I started hydroplaning.

As my back end kicked out first one way and then the other, and the car smoothly swerved this way and that across the three lanes hydroplaning, I had this detached thought of "fuck I have lost control of my car and this is how I am going to die".

The song that was playing was Don't You Worry Child by Swedish House Mafia. The lines were "don't you worry, don't you worry child, see heavens got a plan for you." That freaked me out and I will never forget hearing that so clearly. 

Then my car was facing the wrong way in the traffic and going into the ditch. And I thought, “the car is going to flip soon and start rolling, but it won't hurt too much. You are going to be okay.” I spun around and around going up and down the berm, and then the car stopped. The car had stopped perfectly aligned within the space of the shoulder of the highway, facing the correct direction. The car never flipped or rolled, which is a blessing unto itself because I drive a soft-top convertible and it surely would have killed me had the car rolled. 

My car

I sat there for a minute really stunned trying to figure out if I was actually alive and it was over. At no point in those preceding few seconds had I been scared despite thinking I was going to die, nor had my life flashed before my eyes. It was over so fast, and I am not even sure what happened in those few seconds between when it started and when I thought I was going to flip. I think my mind lost a few seconds of the event.

My car started, so once my hands stopped shaking I carried on to my dinner, crying and thanking God for sparing me. 

I do not imagine I will ever understand how I walked away from that single car accident, and how my car is essentially unscathed, other than to submit to the idea of a miracle, or divine intervention.

I cried on and off for the rest of the evening I was so shaken up, so grateful to be alive, and so thankful I didn't hit anyone else when there were cars all around me. I was/am so incredibly grateful that I have another chance to hear my sons voice, to love, and to experience all that living has to offer.

For the rest of the night I kept thinking about my thought that it wasn’t going to hurt, I was going to be okay. Immediately after the accident I told my girlfriend that because I had thought I was going to die, I was telling myself it would be quick and I wouldn’t suffer. Yet on reflection I was so calm, I did seem to believe I was going to be okay despite how it probably looked from the outside. Today I wonder if that was even my organic thought or was that God speaking to me? If I believe that the Universe or my soul will speak to me by putting a thought into my mind in response to a question, why would God not be able to put a thought into my head? 

During the 36 hours before the accident I had been a restless and cranky bitch over the never ending legal divorce bullshit I am dealing with, money, the delays with my kitchen, and my frustrations at finding a job. None of those frustrations matter though when you believe your life has been spared from death. 

Earlier during the day of the accident I had forced myself to go for a walk to try to break that pissy mood. During the walk I had a talk with the Universe/Soul about my frustrations and the answer came back instantly and clearly: patience. Nothing ever goes away until it teaches you what you need to learn. I acknowledged I needed to learn to be more patient, more accepting of things that are out of my control, and I needed to believe more strongly that everything would happen when it was meant to happen. I have made baby steps in those directions in the last couple of years, but I have a long way to go to be the blissed out, laid back yogi I want to be. 

And then just an hour and a half later I was getting so impatient while driving, my conversation with the Universe already forgotten. Everyone was driving really slowly because of the heavy rain, poor visibility, and flooding roads. By the time I had cleared the back roads and got on the highway I was fully agitated, and late. Moments before I lost control of the car I was thinking to myself, as I sped past another slow driver, “it’s just rain asshole, it isn’t going to kill you.” 

I heard you loud and clear God. I have never heard anything more loudly and clearly in my life. Never before has anything been so explicitly clear to me. I snubbed you, and nature’s power, and you had had enough of my bullshit and put me in my place. 

I need to slow down, let go, be grateful, and exercise patience before I kill myself, whether it is through a stress induced illness or a car accident. Thank you for getting my attention. I am eternally grateful for another chance. 

I was so exhausted after my ordeal, and recounting the amazing story on Facebook and to my son and boyfriend, and then reassuring same that I was okay, that I assumed I would sleep deeply that night. Not so. There was an epic wind storm that raged until about 5 am shaking the house. At one point I wondered if heaven and hell were raging a battle over the soul that had just moved from one camp to the other. 

I didn’t sleep until about 5:30, and then got up at 7’ish to Skype with my boyfriend. Then back to bed for a few more hours of restless napping. And when I woke up today I was filled with melancholy. It was the strangest feeling. I guess I thought I would be overflowing with joy and gratitude at being spared any pain, suffering or consequences. My first thought upon waking for the last time that day was the usual mopey “what will I do with myself today," followed instantly by “you almost died yesterday”. And that set the tone for my mood for the next few hours. 

Here is the mental struggle I sat with uncomfortably the day after the accident: In my almost 43 years of living I have never believed in God, heaven or hell, sin, or any Western/Christian beliefs. In the last couple of years as I have developed spirituality, I have leant towards a bit of Buddhism, a bit of Hinduism, and a bit of Canadian Aboriginal spirituality; the closest I have come to acknowledging a higher power is to believe in the power of the Universe, of energy, of fate. I am comfortable with those ideas and that terminology.

I am not comfortable with the title of God, simply because of the packaging that comes with that title. I have long held the belief that organized religion is responsible for many of our woes in the world today. I have long believed that organized religion is responsible for millions of unnecessary deaths through holy wars or spreading homophobic messages. I cannot, and will likely never be able to, accept some of the practises of certain religions that celebrate God such as being pardoned for your sin because you said some Hail Mary’s after a confession. The baggage I associate to organized religion won’t easily let me feel comfortable in its home. 

I believe that a higher power saved my life yesterday and gave me a massive wake-up call. Do I call that presence God, the Universe, Fate? Therein lies some of my discomfort. 

My Balinese boyfriend at temple
It isn’t as though I despise religion or am intolerant of people who practise.  My son believes in God. My boyfriend believes in God and I loved going to temple with him in Bali and watching him pray. I found it comforting and beautiful even though I was a by-stander to his practise. I went through a cleansing ritual with him that involved me praying. He counselled me beforehand that I could talk to the Universe rather than God. My ex-husband believed in God, Heaven and Hell. One of my mentors is a Reverend and I have been to church to watch her give a sermon. Whenever she said God I substituted the word Universe. One of my best friends is religious. Point being that although I have never personally believed I did not discount other people’s right to believe what they want. I was comfortable with their beliefs and use of the word God.

The Healer Ketut and I, Ubud, Bali, April 2014
When I was in Bali in early May of this year, I saw the famous Healer Ketut, the same man featured in the Julia Roberts movie Eat, Pray, Love, based on the book of the same name by Elizabeth Gilbert. Ketut didn’t tell me a lot, but he did say that I would face a near death experience. He didn’t give me a time frame, so I figured it was far off in the future and would be a cancer battle or something similar. In the December prior to visiting Ketut I saw a local psychic who told me I had an incredibly unique life line because it splits in two, as though I die and am then reborn. At the time he said that was not suggestive of a physical death, it could be a metaphorical death. Was my scare on the highway what both of these intuits were seeing in my future? 

I dearly hope so; I do not particularly want to face my mortality quite so intimately again anytime soon. I hope to live a long and happy life full of adventures, which will give me plenty of time to integrate my new found belief into my lifestyle and find a comfortable way of addressing my higher power. Last night I prayed, hands clasped to my forehead, and I spoke to God for one of the first times in my life. I will be speaking to God/Universe on a more regular basis from here on in.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

More gratitude, less expectations - Part I, the Christmas Edition

Christmas is two weeks away as I write this, which means the hectic festivities most people seem to experience are well under way around me. This also means my melancholy would normally be well under way too. This year I am actively challenging my thoughts though, and I have only had one rough day of feeling sorry for myself and lonely. Which I acknowledge came during my monthly PMS week. This is a personal win for me over past years. I attribute this improvement in resilience, outlook on life, and self-control to two emerging mind-sets that I have been strengthening of late: more gratitude and less expectations. 

Practising gratitude daily falls into the top activities that I preach have saved my life and completely changed my perspective about any number of things during the last two and a half years. For well over a year I wrote in a gratitude journal daily at bedtime to help frame my state of mind as I rested. I no longer need to write in it daily, but I still reflect and offer thanks daily. No matter how bad a day has been, you and I can find things to be grateful for. Even when I was on my knees, I could still list: my eyesight, my ability to talk, my hearing, my ability to walk and have functioning limbs, my son, my ability to read and learn new information, my ability to write, my computer and the internet, my freedom to get into the car and go somewhere, and my pets. And just how strong has my ability to find the good in any situation become during my short time of practise? 

Here is the example I gave my son when speaking to him about how practising gratitude really can change your life: During my last vacation I got very sick. In the middle of the night, about five hours after the body wracking nausea had set in, I finally started throwing up. Something you need to know about me is how much I despise throwing up and what a baby I am about it. I will do anything in my power to avoid it and I always cry during and afterwards. Maybe it’s the same for everyone, I don’t know. This was one of the worst bouts of purging I have ever endured. And in the middle of that awful experience, I thanked my body for knowing how to heal itself and I actively thought of how lucky I was to be getting the poison out of my system. There is no way I could have felt blessed in that situation two years ago.

If I can find a way to feel blessed when vomiting, then surely it is easy to find ways to  practise gratitude even during a challenging holiday? It is, once you start actively looking for blessings. And like any exercise, the more you work that gratitude muscle the stronger is gets and the easier it becomes to feel grateful. The active challenge I have right now is confronting my expectations around Christmas and finding the reasons to be grateful. 

You might have a host of holiday expectations you aren’t even aware of based on traditions you experienced growing up. I think most of us in North America associate Christmas to having a tree, getting presents, maybe having a stocking on Christmas morning with some chocolate and an orange, family get togethers and a big turkey dinner; does that sound familiar? Here is where another of my top lifesaving activities comes in: mindfulness. I need to assess and recognize what expectations I hold from childhood or the past about Christmas and challenge their usefulness in my adult life now. I need to be mindful of the thoughts I allow to dwell in my sub-conscious. 

My natal family is/was quite dysfunctional. I think my mother was a bit of a martyr which was most evident during the holidays when she undoubtedly worked her ass off, but then yearly would blow up at the rest of us for how ungrateful we were. Which we were, I know. So Christmas Day, with the pretty tree and all the presents, yummy food, treats and all of those positive things, was also often fraught with crying and screaming, or the silent treatment. And as soon as my brother and I had both passed the age of 18, my mother became a Buddhist and Christmas ended in my family, because it truly was my mom doing all the work for the holiday.  

At the age of 20, as a newly single mom living on her own, I was suddenly left with no one to celebrate Christmas with, and a host of established anxiety around the season. For the next nine years as I raised my son alone, Christmas was a lonely time for me as I did my best to carry on the traditions I grew up with. Everyone else had family to eat with, friends to celebrate with, family that bought them gifts or called to wish them a Merry Christmas, and parties to go to. Not I though, which further perpetuated my negative association to the season. 

By the time I started living with M at the age of 30, my Christmas angst was all-consuming and started in November. I soldiered on every year really disliking the season and sent out cards to people who don’t send me cards, phoned my family to pre-emptively strike their lack of a phone call, ate dinner with his family who I strongly disliked, and so on. The first year we collectively boycotted Christmas was 2007 when we went to Hawaii. I thought being away would negate my seasonal sadness. It didn’t work; wherever I go, there I am. 

Last year, the first post break-up Christmas and the very first Christmas I lived entirely alone, I participated in the holiday minimally. I bought presents for about five people. I sent out fewer cards. I received one card in the mail. I didn’t put up a tree or decorate at all. It was probably the worst Christmas I have ever experienced. And that was the rock bottom I needed to hit to create change. 

This year I haven’t done any decorating yet, although I bought my son a poinsettia; coincidentally he bought me one the same day. I was so grateful for his thoughtfulness and that gift. I might put up the tree this year, although I haven’t done it yet. I have mailed out a total of six Christmas cards. I have offered to wrap anyone’s Christmas presents because I thoroughly enjoy that activity. No one has taken me up on it, but that is okay, because I am managing my expectations. I will probably get the same one card in the mail that I got last year from my financial advisor, and if that doesn’t come I will be okay.

My expectations about Christmas, rather than positive, are incredibly negative. I anticipate feeling lonely or ignored by my natal family. I am aware of the cultural expectations about the holiday, and because I don’t have that, I have always felt like I was missing out on something. Expectations can be overt or subliminal, positive or negative. The problem with expectations is pre-judging a situation and pre-establishing an outcome. 

The big difference to years past and this year is how I am managing my expectations for the season. My family isn’t going to change at this time in their life. They will never be what I want them to be and I have to work on accepting that and being grateful for any acknowledgement of Christmas I get from them. The marital family is gone and it is back to being my son and I. I am not the only person who will be away from their significant other during the holidays. None of that is what I long for, but accepting and enjoying what I do have, rather than moping about what I do not have, is the path to peace. 

We might all do well to focus on the positives rather than dwell on the negatives. I love my son more than anything, so I will be grateful to have time with him, no matter what we do or do not do on Christmas Day. I expect to get presents from no one, so if I get a gift, I will be grateful that someone thought about me and cared enough about me to part with some of their hard earned cash. Nobody owes me anything and I am not entitled to a certain number of cards or gifts or invitations; those childish expectations need to be challenged until they disappear. And I need to practise gratitude daily for the many blessings I do have during the holiday season and throughout the year. 

Is there a holiday expectation you have that is actually holding you back emotionally or mentally? Can you replace your expectation with thoughts of gratitude and blessings? 

An article specifically about your family and the holidays:

An article about gender expectations during the holiday season that I in no way agree with; I think the author is being a martyr:

An article about being the “ringmaster” of the “holiday circus”:

An article with suggestions if you are single this holiday season:

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Musical triggers

A month ago I was in Old Quebec City, awed by the charm of the cobble stone streets, art installations, funky store fronts, and the general use of colour, flowers and fauna. It was an enchanting place and I adored my time wandering around. I came within earshot of several street buskers as I strolled for hours exploring and photographing my surroundings. Not your average west coast buskers though, a higher class version of the busker if you will. These folks weren’t necessarily singing, and they weren’t playing guitars either. There were a number of rare instruments playing acoustic versions of mostly classical music, I think. One performer stopped me in my tracks though, and tears instantly sprung to my eyes as my heart swelled. It took a moment to place what the harpist was interpreting so beautifully, and what I was reacting too. The Winner Takes it All, by ABBA. Unexpected. As an ABBA fan since childhood, it only took a few seconds for the words to form and start scrolling through my mind. And that’s when I had to leave a few dollars in his purse and walk off, blinking hard to fight back the tears. 

“And someone way down here, loses someone dear.” That song, probably sung hundreds of times by me throughout my life, never hit me before like it did that day. The story in the song, losing a love to another woman, never resonated with me. Until that day, which was obviously the first time I had heard the song since the break-up. 

My ex and I listened to ABBA throughout our relationship, and it will forever be linked in my mind to the many hours we spent blasting music and singing on road trips. Those were good times in my life, I thought at the time. 

Memories can be triggered by so many things, and these events will always be unexpected. You simply cannot plan for every event because a long term relationship produces millions of triggers. I think for a lot of us, music might be the single greatest prompt for memories that exists. Scientists will tell you scent is the greatest producer of memories. I disagree, at least for myself. There are only a few scents that I would associate to my ex, and the most obvious is the cologne he sporadically wore. Which I can likely avoid. Music is everywhere, and I have no control over what I am exposed to once I leave my house. As music lovers, there are many songs I associate to my ex. 

I have a new counsellor and we had our second session last week. We talked about triggers in that session. How they can still take you aback years later. How one of his clients, years after a divorce and seemingly doing well with that event, was triggered when asked by hospital staff who would be picking her up after an operation, who was her next of kin? The focus of our next session will be on building my strengths to deal with situations as the come. I need to trust myself that I can handle the next phase, including the actual divorce proceedings. 

Fast forward the month and I am packing, preparing for yet another move. However, this is a very different situation from a year ago. I am very excited for this move. I am going back to a community I have lived in several times before that I enjoy, but most importantly, I am moving in with a beloved family member. I move in five days, and in true Rebecca form I have been procrastinating. I justify my behaviour by my busy time helping a girlfriend do a renovation, but that’s a story for another post. After farting around on Facebook for a few hours drinking coffee, I put on ABBA’s greatest hits album to motivate myself. An hour in, The Winner Takes it All came on and the floodgates opened.  

The song punched me in my gut: “I’ve played all my cards … nothing more to say”. I did my best and I failed and my ego hurts whenever I think about that. When my defence mechanisms go down far enough for me to be vulnerable and honest with myself, I miss him, and I miss being married: “I was in your arms, thinking I belonged there, I figured it made sense, building me a fence, building me a home, thinking I’d be strong there, but I was a fool, playing by the rules.” I am still grieving the many betrayals, although far less frequently than a year ago. I can smile when I write that and acknowledge how far I have come. I can also be honest with myself and know that I will likely be triggered in the years to come; how I react and how I handle those triggers is all I can work on. I can’t stop a memory from surfacing any more than I can dictate a buskers play list. 

Don’t get me wrong; I have learned enough and I am far enough removed now that I can accept the dichotomy of the situation: I hate him currently, but I loved him for many years; he is not who I thought he was and I miss a memory not a person; I would never take him back and have no interest in having any type of contact with him, but I still have sad moments. 

I am in love with another man and he is who I want my future linked too. “The game is on again, a lover or a friend, a big thing or a small”. I have never been a believer in backtracking; life moves forward, way leads on to way, but I have also learned you can’t push the river. Letting go, accepting, and moving on is a process no matter what anyone else tries to tell you. At least, in my opinion, doing it properly and really putting it to bed does because those acts require time and effort. 

Stand tall and face your triggers head on when they knock on your door, if you can. If you don’t let them in then, just like a telemarketer, they will come back, time and time again, until you disarm them with your acceptance. Invite your triggers in and listen to their stories. Look at the photos they want to show you. Ask them questions about their experience. Explore what emotions rise up in you, both positive and negative. Honour your memories, they are your story.  

Footnote - I shared this post with a friend, my boyfriend, and a mentor, another writer in Australia that I very much respect. His story is similar to mine, as are some of his challenges. I enjoyed his feedback so much that I want to share it with you for you to think about when you are faced with a negative trigger.

“Try writing this post again for yourself but replace every negative thought with a positive thought.  What music do you listen to that makes you happy, brings tears of joy to your eyes. If you can’t answer that find some new music. What happy memories have been triggered, have you even noticed them, if not why not, go out and search for triggers that bring back good memories. What have you learned in the last 12 months (not from your husband but from yourself) that made you better faster stronger braver.

Thoughts have power and written ones even more so, choose your thoughts and words with deliberation because they set the course of your future.” 

The ensuing three way conversation between my friends and I got me thinking on two psychological phenomena in the human condition that I think are at play when disarming triggers: the negativity bias -  the psychological phenomenon by which humans have a greater recall of unpleasant memories compared with positive memories. People are seen to be much more biased to the avoidance of negative experiences. They seem to behave in ways that will help them avoid these events. With this, humans are much more likely to recall and be influenced by the negative experiences of the past, (from Wikipedia), and the element of surprise - prior research has shown that surprise—along with its cousins novelty, unexpectedness, variety, uncertainty, and unpredictability—is associated with more intense and durable emotional reactions (from

My mentor is wise. Music is a gift that can empower, uplift, energize, and make your heart swell with love, joy, or compassion. There are as many positive emotions I can experience through music as negative. I could tell you about dozens of songs that create positivity in my life. Most recently, the two songs that have helped me stand a little straighter, get dancing, get out of my victim stance, and get court battle ready are: Black Widow by Iggy Azalea and Problem by Ariana Grande. Stronger by Kelly Clarkson is another great anthem for us ladies who have been dumped by jerks. And Pink’s Raise Your Glass always makes me smile and raise a middle finger salute to my imaginary foes. As for ABBA, Super Trouper brings me back to my childhood fantasies of being a pop star. That song gets me dancing, smiling, and belting those lyrics out at the top of my lungs every time: “lights are gonna find me, shining like the sun, smiling having fun, feeling like a number one”.  

Friday, 26 September 2014

Reprint of Story Takes Courage by Luke Davis

Story Takes Courage – Especially When the Story is Your Life


A friend of mine shared this Ted Talk; The power of vulnerability, on Facebook today, it’s a powerful story all by itself about vulnerability and connection with others, a very powerful presentation, but right in the middle of this Ted Talk Brenè defines the word courage. “To tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.” I am a writer and this definition sent shivers down my spine. I don’t think I have ever heard a definition of a word that has resonated so powerfully with me.

Courage (from latin: coeur): to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.

You see, as a writer, I know firsthand exactly what that definition means. When I write a story, an article, or a poem, a piece of me is invested into it. Whether it is from direct memory, beliefs, experience, or simply imagination set free, every single piece I pen is wholly and completely a part of me, put down in writing.

It’s as personal as it gets, even imaginary stories are your fantasies put to paper, and published for everyone to read. You are telling your story, or at least a part of it, with your heart. I don’t know a single author at The Good Men Project who doesn’t feel the hurt when a troll trashes their articles, who doesn’t bounce around the author’s forum with joy when their articles deeply touch someone, or who doesn’t feel almost unloved when no one reads their articles.

When I think about telling my whole story with my heart though I can understand what is meant by courageous.

As authors we only write little bits of our life and it can be hard enough as it is. We cut it down, change the language, edit the grammar and make it palatable for the public. As we do this the bits that came from our heart get reduced, cut and edited as well. How would we fare with a biography, not a biography of events, but a biography of our story from the heart? Once it made it through the publisher how much of this story would be left? Would it even be recognizable?

Could you tell your own story, even to yourself? Tell about the times you hated, loved, laughed, raged, and feared. Tell about nights with friends you wish would never end. Tell about events you wish you could wipe from your memory. Tell your deepest regrets both openly and honestly. Tell about girls you have fallen for and never told. Tell about stupid and dangerous things you have done. Tell about the times you were proud of your achievements, and disappointed with your failures. To tell all this with complete honesty and ownership, knowing you now judge yourself for your own intentions, actions, failures and accomplishments.

If you read an author’s work, and you can see it comes from their heart, take a moment to think about whether you would have the same courage.

What sort of person would someone capable of telling their whole story from the heart have to be? To be able to own every action deed and intention they have ever had and state openly that this was their life and they own it. What would they be capable of? I do know their self-worth and self-confidence would be unshakable. I think I would feel very small standing next to such a person. I think Marvel would need a new class of superhero as this person would make the present heroes seem week and paltry by comparison.

I see the articles written by The Good Men Project authors, I see the bits of their hearts invested in these pieces, and I see how courageous they are. Some have stories which are heartbreaking, coming from abuse, neglect, tragedy or accidents. It takes a strong person even to take that first step, to write that first article.

If you read an author’s work, and you can see it comes from their heart, take a moment to think about whether you would have the same courage. Would you have the courage to tell the world about one of your darkest moments in the hope of helping others? If you judge those same authors because you disagree with that piece of their life, would you even have the courage to admit you have had times where things haven’t been perfect either?

Originally published at The Good Men Project.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

What if you can't trust your mind?

Know when to call in the cavalry, whatever that looks like to you. For me, it meant a Saturday night trip to the emergency room and getting on anti-anxiety and sleeping meds. That was a very dark day for me, and in some ways I felt like I was admitting defeat, but I don’t doubt it saved my life that day. I don’t think the specific triggers of what prompted me to go to the hospital matter; it was my recognition that crying in a restaurant during a family dinner indicated I had lost all control over my emotions.

Despite my intentions, and the bravado of my last post about how I wanted to handle things if my ex didn’t pay me, when he actually failed to deposit money into my bank account my anxiety re-appeared with a vengeance. I did what I could to manage my emotions and behaviour, and cobbled together a few weeks of existing in a not great place. I cried, I was angry, and I acted out towards those I care about, but I was borderline coping with my fears about the future and life in general.

And then he chose not to pay me for a second time. One month with no income, little to no support or communication from my lawyers, and notification from my ex, via my lawyer, that he was getting a lawyer himself. I lost my shit metaphorically speaking. It seemed that he wanted to fight, and my fight or flight instinct engaged on cue. The rage that bubbled up inside me was hot lava with no outlet. I am a pretty pro-social person, so any radical ideas I had to let my rage loose wasn’t going to cut it. Instead, the anxiety that had been simmering for weeks took over my mind and sent haywire messages to my body.

Not only was my brain flooding my body with adrenalin which has all sorts of unpleasant side effects when not appropriately dispersed out of the body, but the 24 hour loop of negative self-talk was vicious. Other than the collective sadness felt around the world at the loss of a source of great joy, what was hardest for me about Robin Williams suicide was the fear it struck into me. The fear that one day it will be too much. The fear that I will continue to struggle and battle against myself and it will be for naught. The fear that one day, the love of my son won’t be enough of a grounder. There has been so much written about this great actors suicide that I won’t rehash it here, but I will say I read many, many articles about how others felt impacted by his early exit, and others who struggle with depression gave words to my feelings. Fear that this man, who seemingly had unlimited resources and a family, still could not hang on. My addled brain harped on me constantly that my efforts to get better and move on with my life were pointless. That is how anxiety affects my thinking processes.

A few days later, and very specifically sparked by Robin Williams suicide, I realized that my brain is public enemy number one and cannot be trusted. In The Wisdom Of Compassion by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Victor Chan, the Dalai Lama comments “although he is in his seventies and has accumulated countless hours of spiritual practise, he is constantly alert to the danger of not focusing his intentions in an appropriate direction. He is determined that he will hold only good thoughts in his mind and that he will be vigilant…”. That is essentially the opposite of my brain when anxiety strikes. The Canadian author Chan also acknowledges that mindfulness kept his “monkey mind at bay”. I am not alone in living with an entity in my mind that creates havoc and throws feces.

I understand that anxiety presents in a physically different manner for each individual. I have heard of the ice pick in the chest, dizziness, heart racing, clamminess of the skin, and shortness of breath. My anxiety is a ball of butterflies or snakes just below my sternum and above my stomach. Ironically, my anxiety is centred, essentially, where my adrenal gland is in my body; the very organ that releases hormones is reaction to stress, which includes adrenaline. From an eastern viewpoint, the chakra that is located at the area of my snake pit is governed by Manipura, and its key issues are personal power, fear, anxiety, opinion-formation, introversion, and transition from simple or base emotions to complex. Physically, Manipura governs digestion, mentally it governs personal power, emotionally it governs expansiveness, and spiritually, all matters of growth. The feeling there is like the nervousness you or I would get before we had to write an important test, or attend a panel job interview that we are highly invested in succeeding at. Multiplied by ten on a bad day. If not dealt with at this stage, the anxiety progresses to chest pain, general jumpiness and fear of loud noises, heart palpitations, shaking hands, and eventually panic attacks.

This is my third dance with anxiety in the last couple of years, and I am learning its go-to moves. It doesn’t much vary its rhythm for me. Which gives me the advantage of warding it off before it escalates too far. The first time anxiety hit, when I was struggling in my job two years ago, I didn’t know I was anxious. I thought, and then obsessed, with health issues. It truly never occurred to me pre-diagnosis, that I had anxiety. I recognized the depression I was struggling with at the time, but I actually thought the physical troubles were symptomatic of a heart condition or blood pressure problem. And when the first of many panic attacks struck, I thought I had a brain tumour, or I was having seizures.

Over the course of the few months it took to rule out these possibilities through medical testing, the panic attacks increased in frequency, as the depression deepened and my coping mechanisms fell apart. It wasn’t until I was off work and had seen my psychologist a few times that she diagnosed me with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, with anxiety and depression hanging out under that umbrella.

It is different this time. I believe, without consulting with my psychologist but after having a chat with my medical Doctor, that the anxiety rules all, and the symptoms of depression are a direct result from the damaging messages my brain sends me when I am struggling with anxiety. This time around I am not depressed; of this I am sure. I have suicidal thoughts, and very tearful down days, but I don’t want to die and I am very clear on that even on bad days. I just want to escape where I am. I don’t want to be in my life, or in my own skin, on certain days. Other days I am perfectly capable of getting out of bed and making plans and being active. Depressed persons simply cannot accomplish those tasks most days.

The second bout of anxiety hit when my husband disclosed that he was in love with someone else and the marriage, as I knew it, was over. That again was a slightly different animal than either the first boxing match or this rematch of my sympathetic nervous system. Ice ran through my veins for weeks. That I recognized as one of the four stages my body rapidly undergoes during a panic attack. Again, I believe that everyones version of a panic attack will look different.

My panic attacks probably take less than 10 seconds total and are always the same: I am overcome by a severe sensation of being nauseated, then a hot flush goes through my entire body head to toe, followed by ice running through my veins head to toe, followed by the urge to bawl my eyes out. The first panic attack I had I did cry heartily; it happened, as they almost always did, while I was driving, and I had to pull over. In subsequent attacks I could control whether or not I would cry. The resulting let down after such a pronounced rush of adrenalin in my system was complete exhaustion and nausea that lasted for hours. On the unfortunate days where I had more than one panic attack, I would be bed-ridden sleeping it off.

There were several curious aspects of the panic attacks. One was the aura I got a split second before I had one; I knew it was about to happen. Not only that, I could almost willing trigger one. I knew that if I focused in on the sirens I heard from an ambulance or police car, or if I watched their lights flashing red and blue, I would induce a panic attack. The other very odd thing about them was the internal conflict about the physical sensations they produced. The hot flush that happened second was akin to the sensation just before an orgasm and therefore, very pleasant. It unfortunately didn’t last long and was bookended by terrible feelings, but for a split second, in mid-crisis, there was a gloriously sexual sensation.

If you are in therapy for such a problem, know this please: although my psychologist and I never figured out why a car, driving, and/or normal aspects of everyday driving triggered my panic attacks almost exclusively, my psychologist was able to teach me the skills to manage my anxiety and I haven’t had an actual panic attack in almost two years. Even after my ex left me.

And therein lies the struggle with this bout of anxiety; none of the coping mechanism I have in place through therapy are working. I have been mediating daily for years now, exercising daily, reducing my caffeine and sugar intake (any stimulants), deep breathing, using thought stopping and positive self-talk techniques, sniffing a vial of lavender oil, having a bath, and talking about my feelings. In my case, I don’t know how it is for you, talking about what is upsetting me actually increases my anxiety more times than not. It is not in my best interest as a ruminator, to be encouraged to vent and focus on what has upset me. As the days have worn on, my brains loop of obsession with my anxiety has tuckered me out, while keying me up, and I have slept less and less, which I should know by the age of 42 spells disaster for me.

The night before I took myself to the hospital, I didn’t really sleep at all. I dozed in and out fitfully, tossing and turning, looking at the clock every 45 minutes. I was exhausted and sore, and pitifully out of tune with what my body was trying to tell me. I was quite unaware of the intense workout my brain had given my body. Live and learn I hope.

I rate my anxiety. I don’t know if others do this too, but I have a sneaking suspicion they do; it is a management technique, or the by-product of the minds obsession with anxiety. Which I have read recently is “normal” when one is suffering from a bout of anxiety. I use a scale of 0-10, zero being a normal state of existence, and 10 being a full blown crisis. I can manage on my own up until about a five, and by seven I am in acute physical discomfort and need medication. I was an unmedicated ten when I went to the hospital a week ago. The med’s, on a bad day, only get the anxiety down to around a five; I can mange, but the pit of snakes writing around in my guts is still there and I have chest pains.

Today there is almost zero anxiety. I have no idea why, and that is one of the frustrations of my current state of mind. It is an element of the torture within my anxiety. It is not completely predictable. My guess is that I am not bottling up my emotions today; today is a crying sort of day. The tears woke me from sleep at 6:30, and have carried on, on and off, for the last seven hours until I started writing. I have yet to learn why on some days the physical symptoms are either absent or so slight that they are easily ignored, usually until the evening when they make their presence known like a marching band would, and on other days it is a full-time job managing myself. The other difference this bout of anxiety features, more so than the other two which were couched within depression, is the god-awful hyper restless energy I have. I have woken up with restless legs more nights than not in the last six weeks. In the daytime, I don’t want to do anything because I can’t settle down. All I really want to do is run away.

It seems so unfair to me that when anxiety strikes I can only choose between a really down day where I cry a lot, or being so amped up on anxiety that I feel physically nauseous and have the restless energy that demands I run a marathon even though I am a completely out of shape, overweight, smoker.

And unfairness is a trigger for me, this I know. My other primary trigger for a bout of mental unwellness is my perception that I am out of control. I’ve got both going on in spades right now.

So, back to the psychologist I go, for I do not want to be medicated forever. I actually really dislike taking pills, and don’t have a whole lot of faith in western medicine, but I am learning my personal limitations. I see medication as a booster seat until I am big enough to sit safely in a car on my own.

In the meantime, I am reading Monkey Mind, by Daniel Smith, “a memoir of anxiety”. I am finding it helpful in several ways: not that one should compare themselves to others, but what I recognize of myself in his story illustrates that my anxiety is mild compared to the ongoing hell others live in, and also that my anxiety is not life-long as the authors is, mine is reactive to the stressors in my life over the last few years. I am reminded of what my psychologist has drummed into my head: your thoughts dictate your emotions, and your emotions drive your behaviour. While this is cyclical, there is clearly a beginning, and thus, an ending point to the loop of anxiety. Controlling my minds dialogue. Seems simple enough doesn’t it?

Other books I have on my shelf that I have yet to read include: Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapolsky, and A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook by Doctors Bob Stahl and Elisha Goldstein.

Monday, 25 August 2014

A list of articles I have found useful

It has been quite awhile since I have published a list of articles I found helpful in some way. I have tried to organize them into their various topical themes. Happy cutting and pasting; I hope you find something useful within.  






Saturday, 2 August 2014

Indifference is the opposite of hatred

Today I do not have to struggle. 

This mantra, from Louise Hay, popped up in my Facebook feed the other morning, and it was just what I needed to read. And repeat to myself, over and over. 

All I had done the day prior was struggle. I struggled within my current love relationship; I struggled with myself; I struggled with my friendships, but most of all I struggled with my past. It was the apex where those met that I fell apart as my insecurities and anger overwhelmed me. 

I have returned recently from a great four night girls trip to Vegas. The glorious parts of the trip were the time at the pool/beach, the spa time, the fun with my girlfriends, the laughter, and the holiday in general. 

The less than fabulous aspect of the trip was the constant rehashing of the past, and the way my ex kept sneaking into the conversation. 

Certainly I hold some responsibility for his daily appearance in conversation during that trip. Although I said on a few occasions I didn’t want to talk about him, I encouraged my friend to talk about her own frustrations or experiences within their friendship, foolishly thinking I could pretend it was anyone, and no one specific, she was talking about.

At the time, when I felt anger or frustration, I thought I had voiced it appropriately and then let it go. I certainly had all my escape mechanisms, both healthy and unhealthy, available to me to blunt my negative feelings. I was drinking and gambling, the negative self-medicators, but I also had the sun, spa, and friends with me to soothe me, the positive self-medicators. 

Once I was home and alone though, holy hell did my mind go to war on me. And before I knew it, I was wallowing in a pit of negativity, feeling sorry for myself, feeling unlovable, terrified of what my future held and how I was going to screw up my current relationship.

What happened? My single greatest trigger was present when listening and talking to my friend about my ex: unfairness. Nothing gets my goat faster than my perception of something being unfair. And good grief, from my side of the conversation, my ex was selling our mutual friend a story of woe that was quite unfair to me. And I let it bother me, no doubt about that.  

So I resorted to the behaviours I know well and am comfortable with: retreat, withdraw, emotionally shut down, and fight the urge to run away and delete everyone I know off of Facebook. Or at least everyone from my past that has any connection to him. 

These sorts of behaviours have got to be challenged and corrected by me as they are dubbed one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse in relationships by Dr. John Gottman. You can read more about stonewalling and the other three killers of intimacy at

Directly quoted from the website 

Dr. John Gottman of University of Washington, one of the foremost marriage researchers, claims he can predict with 90 percent accuracy if a couple will divorce. In his storied "love lab," Gottman studies how couples interact, particularly how they communicate with each other in heated moments. After 30 years of research, he has pinpointed four behaviours that seem to invariably spell disaster in any marriage. He ominously refers to them as "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse."

On that bad day of beating myself up and withdrawing, another girlfriend took me out and compassionately challenged me and reminded me of all I have to be grateful for. She validated the pain of finding out things I don’t need or want to know about my ex-husbands life. Both she, and my current boyfriend, were incredibly supportive and critical in helping me through those negative feelings and a couple of bad days. 

No sooner had I worked through that issue and calmed myself down and made peace with the reminder of the losses I had suffered, did I get a nasty email from my ex that threw me for a loop and set off a fresh round of fear and indignation about his unfair and callous behaviour.  

My struggles escalated quickly from anger, resentment, and grief into full blown rage; I was no longer struggling but had reverted back to being in a low grade panic attack for hours, similarly symptomatic of those first weeks after the disclosure. 

I was having to utilize every coping technique I have been taught in the last two years to combat the feelings of sickness, panic, fear, and rage. I breathed deeply, did a cardio class, went for a walk in nature, reached out and talked to multiple friends about my feelings, and positively self-talked all day.  At the end of the day I did a relaxation exercise and meditated before bed. And all those things did eventually calm me down but it took most of the day to get back to a place where I felt I would be okay regardless of what actions my ex decides to take. 

The next day was still an angry and tearful day, but it got better over the next five days to the point I continue writing this blog. I have reassured myself that once again, it is my expectations of fairness that have created the space for my mind to take over and wreak emotional havoc in my life. I cannot control what my ex will do, I can only control my reactions to him. 

This last bout with him has reinforced my suspicions that he has more than moved on, he is heartless when it comes to my emotional well-being. It is alarming to me now how silly I was continuing to trust a man to keep his word when he has done nothing but lie to me for years. That is for me to own. 

Another huge lesson in all of this is a message my mother continually drummed into my head growing up: never rely on a man to support you. I made the mistake of expecting my ex to financially support me and I allowed him to persuade me to thrown away my career.  I made the mistake of allowing myself to believe in the safety of a marriage and making choices and decisions that made me dependant and vulnerable. And now that is being used against me. 

It is tragic to me that when people inevitably change, it will not always be for the better. Inexplicably, some of us, as adults, seem to go backwards rather than upwards and onwards.

The takeaway lesson from this is to regain my financial independence sooner rather than later. To free myself from my ex completely and cut all tethers to him, as money is really the only thing left between us. 

In the meantime, as I work on the financial aspect of my life, I also need to address the root of my anger (fear for my future and the unfairness of how he has treated me), my stonewalling reactions, how my choices have left me vulnerable, and how I can get back to a place of release. 

I had been doing so well living a life that didn’t include him in my thoughts. A few conversations about him, finding out some information I didn’t want or need, and one email from him later, and he was dominating my life again and puppeteering my emotions. Which I allowed, thankfully only for a week. I have now regained equilibrium, and have made a few decisions along the way:

1) I did not answer his last email and engage him in a fight; I simply forwarded the email to my lawyer and asked them to deal with his financial threats. He will not hear me and it will only cause me more grief to engage him. 

2) I have decided that if he contacts me again, I will tell him to obtain a lawyer and have his lawyer speak to my lawyer; I am no longer willing to accept any communication from him. My peace is my priority.  

3) I have accepted that he might make good on his financial threats, and I cannot control his actions, only my emotional reaction to his actions. I will be safe regardless. 

4) I have stepped up my efforts to find a job and reduce my living expenses. I have a long-term plan to be financially independent of him. 

5) I have re-focused my efforts on moving forward on my path doing the things that truly make me happy, such as travelling and writing. 

6) I have assured myself that I will not starve or be homeless; his actions may alter the course or time-frame of my plans, but he cannot destroy my life and my future plans without me allowing him to. 

In the middle of this horrible emotional week I had, I vented to my adult son for the first time about his Dad. It wasn’t intentional per se, we had plans already in place to see each other and I was a wreck having only gotten the nasty email a few hours earlier. I couldn’t hide my tears and anger from him, no matter how hard I tried. A few days later my son told me he had texted his Dad and told him off. I cannot tell you how good that made me feel. It might be childish, immature, and putting my son in the middle of something he need not be in the middle of, but it was the first time in 13 months I felt stood up for by someone. 

The problem with having mature responsible friends who take the high road as I try to, is that no one has lashed out at my ex for what he has done, or held him accountable in any way that I know of, until now. I wonder if his son disowning him for his treatment of his mother will give my ex any pause to the reality of his behaviour? Sadly, I doubt it given his response to our sons anger was “there are two sides to every story”. My son challenged M’s victim stance by responding with “there would be no story if you hadn’t cheated”. My son, at 23 and having never married, has more emotional intelligence than my ex. 

A few minutes after I finished writing this piece I realized what the Universe was up to: the money was my last challenge, my last hurdle to clear. It was the only fear I had left in terms of the break-up. I am now having to face my last fear, and when I come out the other side, the letting go will be over. I believe I will have moved through and on and he will hold no presence or power in my life at all. I will be on my way to indifference, and thus, freedom. 

Friday, 11 July 2014

Love is a verb

Value is a word most commonly associated to commerce and goods, such as good value for your dollar, or accepting the price of a particular item is higher because it is deemed to be more valuable. However, I recently read an article about value in relationships that demanded I read it multiple times. Feeling slightly sick when the words punched me in the gut on the second read, by the third review I was feeling very sad. This article is still with me a week later and I feel compelled to write about it. I wasn’t upset because of poor grammar or punctuation, gender bashing, or anything else. I was upset because the writers point, about only staying where you feel valued, resonated with me and put a “face” to a nagging feeling I have had regularly that I haven’t been able to articulate well. I have many “friendships” and familial relationships where I do not feel valued a good deal of the time. In my 17 years with my previous employer I rarely felt valued for my contributions. 

In fact, when I look carefully at my life, there are very few relationships in which I do feel valued, which is sad to me. Most of the relationships in my life seem quite superficial, or are very conditional. As I become more discerning regarding who I direct my energies towards, and am choosing only to invest where I feel valued, my life has become more and more devoid of people. 

Gazillionaire, investment guru, and philanthropist Warren Buffet is credited with the following quote: “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” There is an inherent give and take built into that quote. I pay a price, and I get something in return for my investment of commerce. Now the question becomes, how much do I value what I have received relative to the price I paid? 

A truth I have come to understand about love and relationships over the last few months: love is a verb, an action word, love is a currency I can use to impart value. Love is demonstrating through your behaviour, day in and day out, that you value the person in front of you, be it family, friend, lover, business partner, or spouse. Acting lovingly is your investment into another person. Love is my boyfriend calling me at the end of a long day just so that my voice can be the last thing he hears before he goes to sleep. That action, when he is calling me internationally at a steep cost to him when money is precious, indicates to me that I am valued by him. My ex-husband used to make me coffee every morning; at the time, I felt loved by that action. 

Getting back to Warren Buffet’s quote, price implies the need for currency. And the currency you use could well be different for the various significant people in your life, as it should be based on the differing types of relationships. Relationships are an investment, and your time, words, affection, or commitment are the currency you use within that relationship. The actions we interpret as imparting our value is the price the other person is willing to “pay” for our time and attention because, theoretically, they are getting something of value from us, and vice versa. 

I am circling back around to The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman here. The “currency” I most easily recognize as someone utilizing in our relationship to impart my value to them, is time. If you aren’t spending time with me, either on the phone or in person, I don’t feel valued by you. For others, it can be physical touch, loving words, or gifts. Those other things are nice to me, but if you never call or spend time with me, and only send me a card at Christmas or on my birthday, I won’t feel very connected to you, because I won’t feel valued. At the very least I won’t feel like I rank very high in your life. We all know that time is precious and each of us has to prioritize our lives. Where I rank on your priority list is evident to me based on your actions. We are all inherently valuable as human beings; we all have worth. It is just whether or not the buyer prioritizes your value in their lives.  

I imagine that while different actions or words will resonate value differently to each of us, I think there is a baseline of good behaviour that we can all agree on. Someone not returning a text, phone call or email for days, weeks, or months indicates you are not valued by that person. Someone who does not initiate spending time with you is not valuing your presence in their life. We are careful with what we value; we don’t want to lose it or break it. Think of your most prized possession; how do you treat it? Is it carefully stored, insured, and protected in some way? That is an intimate object. Surely we ought to be treating the people in our lives better than an intimate object? If you have children, think of the investment you make in them. You value your children above all, I presume, so you invest heavily with your time, attention, money, loving words, hugs and kisses, etc. 

Yet, I don’t witness a lot of investment with many people in our lives. I cannot tell you how many friendships I have lost over my lifetime because when I approach someone with a difficult conversation about something they have done that has hurt me, I am completely shut out of their life. Avoidance does not parlay value. A person who only wants you around when it is fun and easy does not value you, they just want a play thing. A person who only wants you around when it is convenient to them is using you; they do not truly value what you are bringing to the table in that particular relationship. Those behavioural choices are about them and their ego, their issues, but it is still sad to face that truth.  

I think letting someone know you value them is letting go of your ego to a degree; being vulnerable to rejection, being open to the inherent challenges of inter-personal relationships and sometimes having difficult conversations. In my life, if I value you, I will listen to the uncomfortable truth you might need to tell me and hear your concerns. I will take responsibility for my actions, make amends, and do what I need to do to let you know how important you are to me. That is how I would demonstrate your value, your worth, to me. I would pay the price I needed to pay, in whatever currency I could muster, to keep you in my life, if I value you. 

For someone like myself who has finally identified, and now struggles against, an insecure attachment pattern from childhood, I am incredibly sensitive to rejection, and I am constantly battling inside my head not to react to perceived outside negative stimuli. The multi-tiered rejection that led to my divorce certainly has not improved my overall view of how valued I feel; however, it has forced me to begin addressing my personal issues, and theoretically, knowledge is power.

Here is a quick and easy way to gather some knowledge about your significant others without reading books, or spending hours online researching and reading. Ask someone you love, “What specific things can I do for you that will let you know how much I value our marriage (friendship, relationship, partnership etc.)?” Accept their answers as is, and do your best to implement those actions. I haven’t asked that question yet of the people in my life, but I think it is time for me to do so. 

I thoroughly recommend reading the full article Five Words That Will Change Your Life here: