Grief and Acceptance

20 years ago I lost my mother to a long battle of cancer. From the age of three to eleven I had to understand what exactly was happening to her and didn’t fully grasp it until I saw an episode of Charlie Brown called “Why, Charlie Brown, Why?”.why charlie brown why

When I approached my mother after the show tears welled up as I asked “do you have cancer?” the room fell silent as she nodded yes. I tried my best to be hopeful, knowing that within the episode the character survived her cancer. My mother beat it once; there was no reason for me to believe it couldn’t happen again.

Not long afterward she passed away. I remember being angry for the longest time – I didn’t know how to access my emotions properly and became reclusive as the depression sank in. I felt so incredibly alone even though I lived with my adoptive father. We never had the best relationship, and we handled our grief entirely differently. He went through the five stages of grief within a year whereas I was stuck in the fourth stage, depression, for too long. It probably didn’t help that I had other stressors in life and I would always think that if only she would still be here, things would have gone differently.

Recently I read “The Subtle Art of not giving a F*ck,” and a chapter on grief hit me hard. How I reacted to my mother’s death was my own choice.

Pain of one sort or another is inevitable for all of us, but we get to choose what it means to and for us.

It was my choice to wallow in my grief, and I know now that it wasn’t healthy for me. I didn’t choose how my life unfolded, but I was capable of choosing HOW to live with it. It took a long time to accept that my mother wouldn’t physically be around anymore. I would always think about my life adventures that she would miss out on – graduations, marriage, kids, etc. Sometimes I would have to stay home from work on this date just to make sure I wouldn’t show my “ugly cry” to others.

20 years later and this date still brings a tear to my eye. I don’t think my sadness will ever entirely go away, but I can make a choice – to celebrate the woman that she was and all of the positive influences that she brought to me. Her unconditional love made my heart full, and I cannot wait to share that once I have kids.

In the past couple of months, I inherited some pieces of vinyl from my Aunt that belonged to my mother. She signed the cover of her Beatles and Supremes LP’s, and I’m so thankful to call them a part of my collection. As well, My husband came home with Candy Buttons during Christmas. I was elated to tell him that it was my mother’s favorite. I’ve been saving it for a special occasion, and I know today is that day.IMG_3160

I will be spending the remainder of the day unplugged from social media and just focusing on how much my mother meant to me.

If you have any wonderful memories of Reesa Stein, please leave them in the comments

Social Anxiety

I’m not going to lie; I’ve had a difficult past couple of months. I won’t delve into my issues but recently it started to get better, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Usually, when I have rough months my anxiety kicks into full gear, and it’s still a daily struggle to get out of my element. So when my best friend in Montreal decided to host an event for her book launch, I was determined to show up for support. The only thing is, how was I going to deal with a crowd? If you know me personally, you most likely know that it takes a lot for me to show up at a party where I know no one. I decided I needed to break through my rough patch and support her.

When my husband and I arrived, I immediately walked into the venue and assessed where the exits were. Only one, so I hugged the side of the walls closest to the door. People started to show up in large groups and blocked the only entrance/exit, and my heart started to race. social anxiety
My best friend was rushing around but somehow found the time to come up to mention “why are you all alone?!” and then introduced me to one of her friends. I extended my hand for a greeting, but in all honesty, my heart rate elevated, my mouth suddenly lost all moisture, and I got an overwhelming sensation that I was too awkward because of my trembling hands. My husband noticed and ushered us into the larger part of the venue where vendors were set up, and the air was blasting. Getting the rush of cold air helped me calm down as I started to concentrate on my breathing. Soon enough a close friend of the family (Whom I refer to as my Aunt) stopped by and took my mind off of what was battling in my head. Keeping me engaged in a conversation took my mind off of the crowd becoming larger in our space and grounded me (Thank you!!)

I spent a solid two hours at this event alongside some acquaintances and was extremely proud that I didn’t bolt out immediately. If this happened several years ago, I never would have thought of coming out. One of the things that I learned in therapy was that I need to expose myself to situations that frighten me, that’s the only way that I’ll grow as a person. Overcoming my social anxiety wasn’t an easy task, but with the right CBT therapies, it can get better over time (take baby steps!!)
I’m thankful that I didn’t miss out on my friend’s success and I’m so proud of her accomplishment “Thrive Through Self-Care.”

Highly Sensitive

For the longest time, people mention that I take things too personally or that I’m too sensitive. Hearing it for years and from different groups of people, I started to look in on myself and ask: is there something more to this?

Last year I decided to research this aspect of my personality as I started to believe that there was more to me just being “emotionally sensitive.”
On top of being emotional, I know I get easily overstimulated by
a) Noises (One Example: When my husband sharpens the knives I cannot be in the same room)
b) Lights (One Example: Some concerts I have to lower my head to withdraw from the strobes)
c) Smells (One Example: Old Spice triggers me)
d) People (One Example: Feeling others emotions all too well)

All signs were leading to me being a “Highly Sensitive Person” (HSP for short). I couldn’t believe it! When I was a kid all of my peers called me “shy” or “quiet,” but I was mislabeled. Since I was highly sensitive, I often felt overwhelmed in most aspects of my life that would make me clam up and withdraw from others. Especially when people subject emotions around me on a daily basis. Through being highly sensitive, I’m more susceptible to anxiety through this absorption.

MIND. BLOWN.

It also affects the way that I think, since I have a more creative and active imagination, it can become more challenging to remain calm or convince myself there’s nothing to worry about since I deep dive into negative ‘fantasies.’ It usually feels like there is nothing that I can do to lessen the intensity.

AHHH what do I do?!

Well, first things first – You need to learn how to stop allowing emotions from invading your mind and protect yourself. Easier said than done, right? In all honesty, you just need to find the willingness to react differently if you don’t want to be overwhelmed.

  • Learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of getting overwhelmed: for me; it’s usually dry mouth and a racing heart. Being in the present will help you overcome your situation.
  • Focus on yourself: If you’re anything like me, you tend to put everyone over and above yourself. Well, STOP. Self-care is imperative to recharge yourself and to boost your self-confidence.
  • Get mindful: you cannot control what others are going to do so live in the now, breathe deeply and try relaxation techniques. I cannot emphasize enough how important exercise is to burn off the adrenaline coursing through your system
  • Set Boundaries: Avoid the sources of your fear but don’t run away. The more you understand about your boundaries you’ll be able to prepare ahead of time to avoid or adjust your day to reduce the effect on you. I don’t like to avoid things as I feel it sometimes makes my anxiety worse, so I adjust.
  • Remember that it’s not the “end of the world” all of the thoughts racing through your brain is part of your imagination – let them go!

Curious to know if you’re an HSP, too?
Take this test to find out

Focus on how you’ll feel

One of the biggest complications that anyone has with anxiety is ‘staying in the moment.’ When our body rushes with an emotion we tend to focus on the present. You need to remember that feelings are fluid and they will inevitably change. One thing that my psychotherapist mentioned over and over again was to write my expectations on how I’ll feel once my anxious thoughts pass:

“I am feeling nervous/anxious about my presentation at work but I expect to feel calm and collected once it’s over”

I would get into writing these out almost every session with her until it became a habit. Writing out how you expect your feelings to improve and recognizing your first indication of anxiety has a calming effect. If you feel you cannot express yourself properly during these incidents don’t get discouraged. It took me a year to be able to – try small at first. Ask yourself “What am I feeling right now?” and if “Anger” is the only thing that pops into your mind, either say it out loud or write it down.

Being unaware or suppressing our feelings can lead to feeling numb and exhausted. You need to remember that whatever you DO feel is neither right nor wrong, they just simply exist. Stop ignoring or withholding them as it can lead to physical ailments such as tension in muscles, headaches and can go to extremes of ulcers and cardiac problems
Feelings do shift

If you are in touch with your feelings and can express them, you will feel more energetic (I promise!).
Eventually, I was able to stop myself mid-thought and acknowledge my anxiety but focus on how my feelings will change. Just remember: feelings shift!

It’s not you; it’s them

This topic has been weighing on me for a couple of years now as I’ve started to realize that our relationships with people affect us immensely. Most of my anxiety was brought on by toxic relationships, and unfortunately, I found this out too little too late.

I’ve compiled a short list of tell-all signs of a toxic relationship:

(1) Who puts in the effort?

Who calls who? Do they pick up the phone first or is it you? It seems as if it’s their way or no way. They won’t bend their schedule to accommodate the need to get together or just catch up.

“The mind of an enlightened human being is flexible and adaptable. The mind of the ignorant person is conditioned and fixed.” – Ajahn Sumedho

Once one person isn’t as invested as you, it can become toxic quickly. It feels as if your demanding too much of their time even if it’s so incredibly minimal. They’re too stuck up to deal with you and your issues. However, they have no issues taking advantage of your generosity. God forbid you ask them for the same.

 (2) It’s always about them

The worst is when they start to compare to you these other friends, too. ‘Oh Sarah is way more fun on the weekends, and Jessica drinks way more whiskey than you!’ Why Are you even hearing this??

Yap Yap Yap! Are they done yet?? Whenever you call or text to talk about your day you never get a chance to put in one word. They tend to drag you into their drama-filled day describing how awful or amazing it was but once the subject hits you, they always find a way to bring it back to them. Even worse, they can leave the conversation immediately with 1,000 reasons why they cannot give you any talk time.

“Don’t deal with sometime-ish people. Life is too short for inconsistency.” — Rayaleradin

(3) They’re blunt and lie

What happens when being frank turns into resentment and harshness? You come to them for advice, but their words sting and their advice leaves you feeling small and embarrassed. They don’t care how YOU feel about the situation and just pass judgment based on their own experiences. They’re ALWAYS right and will not hear anything otherwise. If they think that you’ve wronged them, they will never forget and will throw mean-spirited shots at you and your ego. They use your emotions to attack you and its draining. It’s almost as if they WANT to start a fight, so the both of you are conflicted.
No wonder you feel awful – they’re projecting on you to feel better about themselves.
They mention that you need to change but when it comes to them, no way. They see no need to recognize their inadequacies. The lack of faith and belittling makes you think that “if only I changed, things would be different.” Pointing the finger and blaming you, regularly, is not OK. It’s is a two-way street!

(4) They’re unpredictable, and you’re cautious.

When it’s good is great but when its bad, WATCH OUT. You can no longer predict what mood they’ll be in, and this causes you to worry how they’ll act with you. This rollercoaster of emotion leaves you feeling worried, scared and sometimes uncomfortable. They do not feel your pain and take advantage of this, bringing you down with them. Knowing that you cannot please them, you make yourself scarce thinking that YOU are the reason for this roller coaster of emotions.

“You can never win an argument with a negative person they only hear what suits them and listen only to respond.” — Michael P. Watson

At a certain point, your friendship changed. They rip apart everything that you say, and you feel as if you’re walking on eggshells. You avoid saying anything to set them off in their pessimistic ways.

“As iron is eaten away by rust, so the envious are consumed by their own passion.” — Greek Philosopher

(5) You’re no longer the person you were

This is a big one. You are starting to feel weird as the stress of this relationship affects your body. You begin to feel anxious, getting unknown stomach problems and feel overall lethargic. Stress can lead to higher blood pressure, IBS, lowered immunity, depression, anxiety… etc. This list can go on and on, unfortunately. Friends are supposed to ADD to your life, not take away from it.

Accept the truth and stop wasting time on people

Finding someone in your life who consistently makes you feel wrong about things, and leaving you confused as to why chances are they are projecting their insecurities on you. They are trying to bring you down to their level, so they feel better about themselves. Most people lack the courage to let go of these relationships, but once you realize the extent of their toxicity, it’s best to break loose. Keep those beautiful memories but move on! Your health is most important

 

 

5 Ways to Reduce Anxiety

Over the break, I went out for lunch with one of my best friends, and we started talking about Anxiety. She mentioned that she loved reading my experiences but couldn’t relate to most of it since she doesn’t experience it as often as me. My immediate thought was LUCKY but, it’s unfair of me to think so. Anxiety can creep on us at any moment, can be big/small and have a significant impact on us and others.

When she asked what alleviates my anxiety, I immediately thought of my side passions: Writing, Reading & Music. Determining what you love and taking action is a big part of reducing stress and anxiety.
I like getting lost in music and stories, keeping my mind occupied undoubtedly keeps me away from my worries. Writing in itself is cathartic, and sometimes when my mind is jumbled, it’s great to get these thoughts out.

Do you need help or lack motivation? One of my enormous hurdles over the past couple of years was acceptance. Anxiety doesn’t go away – it will never disappear. Once I accepted this, it oddly reduced my anxiety.

Here are five ways to help reduce Anxiety:

  • Meditation: This will take a little bit of practice, but once you get the hang of meditating you’ll start to notice the calming effect it has on you. I use the app CALM for this purpose but start gradually. Don’t beat yourself up if you cannot do a full session right away.
  • Get Healthy: Physical health is so incredibly vital to anyone’s mental health. Once I started to eat healthier, I noticed a huge difference in my energy and sleep patterns. Working out a few days a week is also very useful at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and at enhancing your cognitive function
  • Follow a Routine: Creating a daily ritual for yourself can reduce your anxiety by its predictability. Bring your passions into play! I like to write out my ideas for this blog or my novel, read a book by one of my favorite authors Linwood Barclay or just getting lost for the 1092846th time in Pink Floyds Dark Side of the Moon
  • Stretch your comfort zone: One of my prominent accomplishments was doing something once a week that took me out of my comfort zone. Don’t forget to take SMALL STEPS though – beating your anxiety takes time so don’t jump into something too drastic right away
  • Laughing: Remember to smile and laugh at yourself. Laughter is one of the best medicines, and the positivity is always best

Laughing at myself

I took the day off yesterday, and I don’t feel terrible about it.

After working throughout the holidays and even dragging my ass out of bed on Boxing Day I know I needed it.

Yes, I woke up extra early on December 26th riddled with anxiety. I was taking over a co-workers responsibility that I’ve never done before, so I wanted to make sure I got in earlier. I Filled up my tank with the gas card I got in my stocking in -29 weather (Thanks, Mum!), caffeinated my tired body & sat at my desk for a full 40 minutes before I checked the holiday schedule… ARE YOU KIDDING ME I CAN BE IN BED RIGHT NOW??

It’s taken me a long time to laugh at myself in these situations, but I did:

Status

I have my therapy to thank for this. When seeing my psychotherapist at TS Medical Centre, we went through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT for short) which encourages you to become aware of the connections between your thoughts and behaviors. It was hard at first to re-wire my brain, but ‘Automatic Thoughts’ have now become ingrained.
When I realized that I came into the office for no reason, my heart rate increased. Before allowing my anxiety to take over (again), I stopped my thought process.

“Why is your heart racing, Andrea? What’s triggering this? You didn’t do anything wrong!”
“You’re right! You did NOTHING wrong, mistakes happen!”

I packed up my bag and bolted straight home but not before I shared my experience with friends.

If this were to happen to me years ago, I probably would have gotten frustrated with myself and fill my head with negative nonsense. I wouldn’t have told people what happened at the sheer thought of them laughing at my mistakes. Being hard on yourself continually is not healthy, and I’m glad that I realized what I was doing before I went spiraling down.
I’m glad that my ‘silly’ has come back in full force and that I can laugh at my imperfections – I hope you can too!