life, mental health, Uncategorized

7 things my mental health struggles have taught me

I have spent much of my life trying to figure out how to work with the intricacies of my brain. The first twenty years were spent trying to figure out what was wrong with it, while the next twenty were tasked with trying to fix it.

Turns out, what is ‘wrong’ with it is ADHD and anxiety and trying to manage and medicate these two conditions over the past couple of decades has been hard. It has consisted of creating (and failing) daily practices, implementing structure and routine, managing stressors, and trying a variety of medications.

I have taken escitalopram, fluoxetine, venlafaxine, methylphenidate, and lisdexamfetamine to name a few. I have tried mindfulness, meditation, yoga, exercise, EMDR, and cognitive behavioral therapy. I have played around with micro-dosing, seen naturopaths, energy workers, and more. I have taken CBD, THC, GABA, L-theanine, and a host of other supplements.

Some of these things have worked quite well or offered a bit of relief, while others made no difference or actually made things worse. (I’m looking at you THC)

I have self-medicated, self-harmed, and self-deprecated. I have hated my anxiety and ADHD and I have had moments of being grateful for them. My anxiety has made me difficult to be around and tormented me with intrusive thoughts but it is also the reason my doctor found very early stage skin cancer. My ADHD made school difficult and has caused hurdles in terms of jobs but it also makes me creative, spontaneous, and fun to be around.

I have moments of wondering (with doctors and therapists) if my anxiety was just causing lack of focus. Or, if my ADHD was causing me to feel anxious (a common symptom). I have grappled with ADHD meds increasing my anxiety while also improving my focus and having to choose the lesser of the two evils.

Fun fact – ADHD can cause impulsivity and spontaneity while anxiety requires routine. So while my brain wants to run in a million different directions at any given time, it also needs predictability and structure in order to cope.

I have tried embracing these conditions, and I have tried denying them.

And here I am, at 40 years old, still trying to figure it all out. And while I still do not have things dialed in, and while I still struggle daily with these issues, I have learned a few things …

1 – This will likely be a lifelong journey and although that sucks, it is also okay. The reality is I may never be anxiety-free. I may need to be on meds for the rest of my life. I spent decades waiting for it to pass, or hoping I would be ‘cured’. Accepting that there is no finish line has helped reduce the pressure I have felt to be ‘normal’.

2 -Although I have always prescribed to an ‘it could always be worse’ and ‘have an attitude of gratitude’ outlook, it is okay to be really fucking frustrated sometimes.

3 -Talk to your kids. For many years, I was not open with my children about my struggles, particularly in regards to my anxiety. I didn’t want them to struggle like me and for some reason I thought that if I didn’t talk to them about it, they wouldn’t ‘catch it’ from me. (Weird line of thought, I know.) Talking about it openly with them not only would have given them a better (age appropriate) understanding of what I was experiencing, but it would have also shown them that when you are struggling, you don’t need to do it alone. And it is not some sort of shameful secret. Further to that, just like anything – the attitudes, understanding, and conversations we have around mental health issues start in the home.

4 – I am not alone. And neither are you. As discussions around mental health have become more prevalent, I have realized that I am sitting in these trenches alongside many other brilliant individuals. In fact, I am actually in pretty good company.

5 – You can have a mental health diagnosis and still be wildly successful and have an amazing life. Seriously. You can still find success in your careers, your relationships, your finances, your hobbies, your passions, and more.

6 – Be cautious of self-medicating. Rebound anxiety is real. I am an anxious mofo. (I’m sure you’ve gathered that if you’ve made it this far LOL). But after two glasses of wine, I am as cool as a cucumber. Life is rosy and I am feeling good … Until the next day when my anxiety is 10 times worse. Alcohol, pot, and many other substances appear to help in the moment but tend to make things way worse long term. Self-medicating can also lead to addiction issues. Now if you know me, you know that I enjoy wine. I am not saying you need to commit to sobriety but it is important to be aware of how it affects you and take note of any negative patterns that may occur.

7 – Lastly, there is hope. My darkest days have always passed and although this ride can be a bit of a rollercoaster, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and I think that society’s shifting attitude towards mental health disorders (albeit slow) is evidence of that.

I write this today as I start on yet another medication. Writing has always been cathartic for me and I suppose I needed to work out my feelings around this all. It has been a rough few months and I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t exhausted. But I also feel hopeful. And most importantly, I feel supported. I have people on my team who are there to help me, and if they can’t help me, they are there to listen.

And that, is something to be grateful for.

life, Uncategorized

I’ll sit with you

Failure is one of those things that is easy to write about when you have overcome it. Sharing a story of how we persevered through life’s challenges and came out the other side is not only cathartic, it is inspirational. Everyone loves a story of triumph.

But what about when you are in the thick of it? What do you do when you are mid-collapse, or feel like you’re drowning? How or what do you write about then?

As a writer, I have spent much of my career sharing my personal stories. From battles fought and won, to lessons learned and relearned, I have always tried to be honest with my audience. I believe in vulnerability and in authenticity and sharing my life’s challenges and imperfections has been a big part of my writing. But lately I have been struggling. A year that started out with the launch of a book and goals to begin coaching, quickly turned into one of the biggest mental health crises that I have had in years.

Everything became a struggle. My anxiety became unmanageable, my self-care plummeted, my work and relationships suffered, and my interest in anything, even my beloved writing, became non-existent.

But it wasn’t just the lack of interest that held me back from writing (although that was a big part of it), it was the fear around speaking vulnerably, while being at my most vulnerable.

Although I have built my career on honesty, it has always been in more of an ‘after the fact‘, ‘let’s add some humour in and laugh at how hard life can be‘ kind of way. I have always kept it light-hearted, and I have always kept from talking about my battles until I was out of the trenches.

One of the biggest hang-ups that ‘helpers’ face in moments of crisis is asking themselves, ‘How can I help/inspire others when I can’t even help or inspire myself?!

But what if the greatest help you can give someone is not to offer ‘after the fact’ advice or light-hearted humour … what if the greatest help you can offer someone is just to let them know that they are not alone? What if the biggest gift you can give someone is the knowledge that there is someone else in the trenches too, fighting alongside them?

This too, shall pass. Of that much, I am sure. And in the meantime, I am going to keep fighting, and I am going to keep sharing my story, whether I have found triumph or not.

If you are in the trenches right now, know that you aren’t alone. And I can promise you this … I am not going to say ‘We’ve got this!“, because even though we likely do ‘got this’, hearing that right now is not helpful.

I’ll just be there, sitting alongside you.

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Forty lessons for forty years – advice to my younger self

Something I have heard time and time again from my older friends is that, no matter what age they are, they still feel young. When I was in my 20’s and early 30’s, this was difficult for me to understand. I mean let’s face it, it is often hard for us to comprehend something that we haven’t experienced yet. But now that I am approaching 40, I am beginning to grasp what they were talking about. I don’t feel 40. Even though I am a grown up who owns a house and RRSP’s, even though I have a child that will be starting college next fall, and even though I have somehow navigated my way through adulthood (albeit, clumsily at times), I still often feel like I am just getting started. Like a kid who very much still needs their mom.

Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely bits of me that scream, “I’m 40!” – the laugh lines that are now permanently embedded in my skin, the strands of tinsel in my hair that have become difficult to hide without the help of my hairdresser, and the fact that a late night out means I am home by 11 and need two days to recover. But the most notable change that has come with this new decade is confidence, a knowing that I no longer need to rely on the advice of other’s in order to know what to do, I can trust myself. I have realized, over these past 20 years, that I can tap into my own wisdom when faced with life’s many hurdles.

Now I use the term ‘wisdom’ loosely of course. As I said, I still often feel like a kid who doesn’t have a clue half the time. But there are definitely a lot of things I have learned along the way throughout this journey to 40. So, in honour of this milestone birthday, I decided to compile a list of things I wish I could tell my younger self. Little nuggets that would have made her life so much easier. And because I am a sucker for patterns, there are 40 of them.

40 lessons for 40 years.

Let’s do this.

1. Your life will not turn out how think it will and, for the most part, this is a gift.

2. Your body will change. This is normal and to be expected. Fun fact: You will be 25lbs heavier at 40 than you are now but you will also be way more confident in your own skin.

3. Following that, stop hating your body. Please, just stop.

4. Wear sunscreen. Don’t forget to apply to the back of your hands.

5. You are far stronger than you realize. Also, your perception of what it means to ‘be strong’ is going to change vastly over the years.

6. Courage does not equal fearlessness. It is possible to be terrified and courageous at the same time and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

7. If you have to beg or change who you are in order to be accepted, it is 100% not worth it.

8. Be accountable for your mistakes. Everyone makes them, it is okay, but no one likes someone who hides behind excuses or blames others.

9. You are going to tap into some feistiness as you get older. Roll with it, it’s kind of cool.

10. You cannot trick someone into loving you with your vagina. Stop trying, you will just end up feeling used and heartbroken. They are just not that into you and that’s okay, someone else will be. Promise.

11. Always take time to talk to your mom. You don’t see it yet but she is wise beyond measure.

12. You are enough. I repeat, you are enough. Just the way you are.

13. It is true what they say, raising kids goes so fast. Hug them every second you can.

14. Trust your gut, it is usually right. But also, it doesn’t hurt to sleep on big decisions. Your gut will still be there in the morning.

15. Say ‘no’ more often. To phone calls you don’t want to take, drinks you don’t want to have, or social gatherings you don’t want to attend. Also, ‘No.’ is a complete sentence.

16. You are going to fuck up. And that’s okay. (Please reference number 8 and 12).

17. Sometimes taking the ‘easy road’ ends up being a lot more work in the long run. Look for what is right, not what is easy.

18. Tell people you love them. All of the time.

19. Try not to stress so much. Most stuff really isn’t that big of a deal, I promise.

20. Stop dating losers. If it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t. And you are worth more than that. (Please see #7 and #10)

21. Whenever possible, get out of your comfort zone. All of the good stuff happens there.

22. As much as you intend on being a ‘cool mom’, I regret to inform you that this is not your reality at 40. You will be ‘mediocre cool’ at best. Sadder yet, you will find yourself quite content with this label.

23. Always try new foods.

24. Also, re-try old foods. Tastes change. Believe it or not, you grow to really love olives.

25. Stop worrying so much about what other people think of you. No offence, but no one is spending that much time thinking about you. They are too busy worrying about what everyone else is thinking of them. Just be true to your values and mind your own business.

26. Take the meds. There is no medal for white-knuckling your way through life while dealing with crippling anxiety. Take the meds, trust me.

27. Buying good hair products is worth it. Start now.

28. Never underestimate the power of a good nights sleep.

29. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. You don’t always have to ‘laugh it off’ or ‘suck it up’.

30. Success really is the best revenge.

31. You can’t please everyone. In fact, it is impossible. Stop getting bent out of shape over every single person’s opinion. Choose the ones that matter.

32. Start writing. It becomes a bit of a thing for you later.

33. Stop saving things for a “special occasion”. Wear the damn lace undies. Put on your favorite pants. It is okay to feel good on a ‘regular day’ too.

34. Speaking of clothes, if you don’t absolutely love it, don’t buy it. It will just end up sitting in your closet otherwise.

35. For the love of God, stop trying to be someone you aren’t. You are actually pretty loveable just how you are so be yourself and be unapologetic about it.

36. Don’t make assumptions about people. You don’t know everyone’s story and assuming you do based on how they act or how they present themselves is dangerous.

37. Remember to listen, even when it’s uncomfortable. You are a helper through and through but sometimes the most helpful thing you can do for someone is just listen to them.

38. Be open-minded to other people’s point of view. You can learn so much from others.

39. Start investing money now. Even if it’s just a little bit each month. Don’t tell me you can’t afford it, I know some of the bullshit you spend money on. 40 sneaks up quickly so I can only imagine 60 does too. Let’s get planning for retirement, shall we?

40. Lastly, you don’t see it now but I am here to tell you that you are smart. And talented. You will accomplish goals and chase your dreams. And although it is often hard to believe right now, you will be proud of the woman you become.

Uncategorized

On shame, turning 40, and turning inward.

It is the summer before my 40th birthday and I am sitting at my kitchen table trying for the life of me to pinpoint the exact moment that I first felt ashamed of who I was. I can’t remember a precise moment per se but I do know that I was young. Very young. Likely partially inherited (my mom was no stranger to shame) and partially learned, shame is something I have carried with me for as long as I can remember. And as I sit here with my laptop at the age of 39 and 3/4’s, I shudder to realize how much of it I still carry with me.

Although less frequent now, the waves of remorse and embarrassment still hit from time to time, usually initiated by my being too loud, too obnoxious … too much.

My too muchness was something I learned about early and although I wasn’t always successful, it is something I worked hard to contain. I strived to be petite, polite, blonde, and quiet. Although laughable now, my first writings as a young girl was where I got to be anything I wanted – anything but me. In real life, petite is the only one I pulled off, but my energy always made up for that. And my ‘too muchness’ always found its way out, usually in loud desperate bursts.

At my core I can recognize that I really just wanted to feel accepted. To feel loved. But in each eager attempt to gain approval and connection, I only reaffirmed the truth I was trying to escape – that I didn’t quite fit. My search for belonging led me down some dark paths. I self-medicated, I gave away my body, I loathed every piece of who I was. And, as is so often the case, my behaviour and the resulting consequences only reinforced the narrative that I had adopted as a young child – that who I was wasn’t good enough.

It wasn’t until I became a mother that I was forced to relook at things and make some changes. If I couldn’t love myself for myself, then I was going to love myself for the little being growing inside me. Fake it ’til you make it, as they say. And although things certainly improved and I managed to stop my self-destructive behavior for the sake of my child, I still struggled to fully accept, love, and embrace who I was.

At some point along my journey, directly or indirectly, I learned that I was not good enough. And I believed it. I learned that I could not trust myself so I had to turn to others to tell me who to be, how to act, how to look, and how worthy I am.

And although it is normal to seek approval from others, and adapt our behaviour and our appearance to please our community, it is important that we tap into our own knowing first. That little voice deep inside that tells us when we are being true to ourselves, and when we are not.

Looking back, I can’t help but wonder if that shame that I felt all of those years wasn’t so much a result of not fitting in, but of betraying myself. That deep down I knew that I was abandoning who I was and with each step I took in the other direction, with each poison I ingested, and with every abuse I willingly endured, I became immersed in more shame and self-loathing. And the more I sought answers outside of myself, the more lost I became.

Now, sitting here in my kitchen, I can see that one of the biggest things worth celebrating as I approach this next birthday is my return to me. My commitment to trusting myself first, before others. And making a promise to myself that when I feel the flood of unease wash over me, it is not a sign to scramble or to please, but one to turn inward. To the knowing that has been there all along.

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Let’s talk about meds

Well, the title of this blog certainly doesn’t leave much to the imagination but sometimes you have to cut through the fluff and get straight to the point. I have shared a bit about my struggle with anxiety before but have yet to really dive into the medication end of things. Maybe I haven’t shared much because I still hold some embarrassment or shame around it. After all, despite all of the work we have done, there is still a huge stigma around mental health issues. Or maybe I haven’t shared as it just didn’t seem relevant until recently. Either way, I’m doing it now. Because the reality is, that tiny pill that I take every day enables me to function in a more effective way, be a more present parent and partner, and live beyond the panic that consumed me for so long. And if that doesn’t warrant a little spotlight, I don’t know what does.

Despite the fact that anxiety has plagued me for as long as I can remember, I haven’t always treated it with medication. In fact, most of my life, I have ‘toughed it out’, white-knuckling my way through, riding the waves on my own, without the help of a serotonin reuptake inhibitor. There were periods that my ‘white-knuckle’ approach was effective and I managed to cope quite well, and there have been times where I have not been so successful in managing. Times such as during my pregnancies when I was struck with crippling perinatal anxiety, or after the loss of my parents when everything seemed too much. Or times like two years ago when there was no momentous occasion or trauma, but anxiety brought me to my knees anyway. In spite of what we are led to believe, mental health issues do not need a ‘reason’ to pop up.

These periods of my life seem to come in peaks and valleys and are marked by symptoms such as irritability/anger, sleep disturbances, fatigue, difficulty concentrating/brain fog, uncontrollable worry, feelings of dread, and the most disruptive … dissociation and intrusive thoughts. Anxiety has gotten in my way of being a connected and present parent, it has affected my career, and it has taken a toll on my physical health.

I remember when I viewed my refusal to take medication as a badge of honour. A testimony of my strength and determination. I was eager to try anything but – from positive thinking and exercise, to essential oils and dietary supplements, but I saw medication as weakness, as giving up. I was also scared of side effects, and of judgement. I can see the irony now. In refusing to take meds during pregnancy or breastfeeding in order to ‘protect my kids from chemicals’, I ended up subjecting them to a very anxious and disengaged mother. And in avoiding pharmaceuticals in the name of health, I caused years of undue stress on my body. I write this now with nothing but a tonne of empathy for this younger version of myself, I was only doing what I thought was right. I was coping the best that I could at the time. And, I share this story now not because I think I have all the answers, but because we need to talk about it. We need to make saying, “I think I am struggling with depression.” as normal as, “I think I did something to my back, it hurts.

We need to share our stories.

I don’t know how long I will need to be on medication. It might be a year, it might be a lifelong thing. I do know that right now it is a part of my treatment plan, a small but crucial piece of the puzzle at this time. Among the other pieces – exercise, diet, sleep, social support, meditation, and, at times, therapy. Similarly to if I were on medication for high blood pressure, I need to make sure I am caring for myself in all areas of my life. One cannot just throw a pill at it and keep eating McDonalds.

I also know that medication makes me no less a good writer, a successful marketing exec, a loving mother, or a sarcastic, fun-loving friend with flawless dance moves. In fact, right now, medication makes me better in all of those areas because when my anxiety is under control, I am more present, more engaged, more focused and more patient. And all areas of my life deserve my very best. I deserve that too.

If I am being honest, I do hope that one day in the not too distant future, I will be able to go off of my medication and manage my symptoms with diet, exercise, sleep, etc. Time will tell but in the meantime, I am going to stay the course. Just as I wouldn’t deny myself medical treatment for a physical ailment, I won’t deny myself this either. I deserve to be well. And although life will always have ups and downs, peaks and valleys, I am committed to never white-knuckling it again.

Uncategorized

What are you looking for? Cause that’s what you’ll find.

I don’t know about y’all but I really struggle with winter. The dreary weather, the short days, the amount of clothing we have to put on just to ensure that we don’t die going outside … Seriously, I cannot figure out what there is to like about it.

But Christine, you should try skiing, you will love ….’

Let me just stop you right there. No, I will not love it. I will not love it because I have made up my mind not to love it. I have made up my mind that winter sports are too cold, too dangerous, too expensive, and just plain stupid. Just like winter – stupid.

Okay, I am being dramatic. But sharing my ridiculous opinion of one of nature’s most magical seasons is a great example of the power of our perspective. Because in actuality, the only thing wrong with winter is my attitude towards it.

Our ability to choose our perspective or the lens through which we view the world is one of the most powerful gifts we possess. And, in my humble opinion, one of the most overlooked components of personal development.

If I told you that you have the power to control how your day goes, just by paying attention to how you choose to perceive it, you would likely scoff at me. But it’s true. And yes, it is very much a choice. The problem lies in the fact that many of us are so entrenched in a negative pattern of perception that we are often completely unaware that it is even happening.

We all know people who are perpetually negative. The ones who are always complaining about the traffic, their annoying neighbour, or how much dog hair gets on the couch when their sister-in-law brings her dog over … the people who love to highlight what is going wrong with their day. These people are usually kind-hearted, functional members of society but likely just unaware that they are looking at the world through gross, smudged up, fingerprinted glasses. And the real kicker is, if you pointed out how negative they are, you would likely get a response like, “I am not! I just hate it when she brings her dog over!”

Biologically-speaking, negativity is actually very normal as the human brain is wired to hang out on the more negative side of things. We have what is called a ‘negative bias’ meaning that our brains remember and react more strongly towards negative situations than positive ones.

We are literally born negative, winter-hating cranky pants which means we need to work a little harder to train our brains for positivity. Simply becoming aware of what ‘lens’ we are looking through or practicing gratitude through finding one positive for every complaint (ex: noting the joy on sister-in-law’s face when she looks at her dog) can be a great place to start in terms of shifting things toward a more positive outlook.

Sometimes however, things can be a little more complicated. Sometimes our negative patterns stem from old wounds and fears that we have not addressed yet. My disdain for winter doesn’t come from a childhood wound, that is just my choosing to be miserable when the temperature drops below 10 degrees. But my perception of relationships that I carried for many years, which was that I was always overlooked and undervalued, was very much related to childhood pain.

Overcoming past trauma and holding ourselves accountable for our lives is something that I have written about before. They are topics that I feel very passionately about, mostly because I have spent the last several years working on them. If you had told me 15 years ago that I was choosing to view my relationships through a lens of self-pity and victimhood, I likely would have lashed out at you. I felt incredibly justified in my hurt and anger, and to be honest, I had some very valid reasons behind it. The problem was that by not dealing with the pain and fear I had experienced as a child, I carried it with me into all of my future relationships, projecting it onto situations where quite frankly, it didn’t belong.

The lens that I viewed family relationships through was tainted and it skewed my view of things to support the negative belief that I held in my head, which was that I was not enough, and that I was not valued. Essentially, what I saw in my relationships is exactly what I went looking for. I ended up only seeing the evidence that supported my negative story. It was like my brain put a giant spotlight on anything and everything that would reinforce this belief that I was clutching so hard to. The crummy part is that it also seemed to overlook anything to the contrary. Any person or circumstance that made me feel valued was often brushed aside, or followed by a ‘Yea but ….“.

I responded to relationships from a place of pain and even though that pain was valid, in order to change my relationships, and my perspective of them, I had to heal it.

Becoming aware of my patterns and admitting that I was responsible for much of what I had previously blamed on others, was painful. As was confronting the wounds that lay underneath. But man, was it worth it.

Now when I catch myself in a pattern or telling the same story over and over again, I ask myself, “Is this true? Or is this an old wound talking?“. This doesn’t mean that any conflict or hurt I experience is all my fault but by examining my perspective, and being willing to look at the role that I might play, I give myself the power to make change. Either by dealing with an underlying wound, setting a firm boundary, or choosing a new lens to view the situation through.

Shit happens, there is no doubt about that. And we are allowed to have bad moods, bad days, and emotional reactions to things that piss us off. We are also allowed to have boundaries and hold others accountable when they hurt us. But, if there is a pattern popping up in your life, whether it is a disdain for a particular season or repeated conflict with a family member, don’t be afraid to take a step back and ask yourself, “what is really happening here? What role might I play?”

It is important to examine what we are looking for because whether it is reasons to be annoyed or reasons to feel blessed, nine times out of ten, that is exactly what we will find.

PS. I’m still find lots about winter that I don’t like, but I’m working on it. It is okay to be a work in progress too.

life, Uncategorized

Let’s resolve resolutions, once and for all.

It’s January! That special time of year when we all dive headfirst into completely overwhelming and unattainable goals only to completely give up shortly thereafter and close out the month by stewing in a pile of self-loathing and disappointment!

It’s a real hoot.

No wonder January is the most depressing month of the year …

Okay, maybe some of you guys can pull off your resolutions but I know for a fact that you are the minority. A minority that I am definitely not a part of.

I am a part of the ‘start a strict diet only to blow it after two weeks and punish myself with a box of cookies’ club.

I have just never been able to get behind the whole resolution thing. It is odd because goals are something I have always been very passionate about. I love setting them, achieving them, writing about them, and I even coined my very own buzzword – goal-stepping! But despite all of my passion for goals, the ‘New Year, New You’ trend has never been my jam. Maybe it is that I am always so drained from the holidays or maybe is is that all the cookies and wine I ingested in the weeks prior have bogged me down. Either way, this year, I decided to say ‘Screw it’, save myself the disappointment, and not even hop on the resolution bandwagon.

Well … sort of. Instead of making a resolution, this year I decided to devote my energy into dissecting why so many resolutions fail, and what we might be able to do about it. (I’ve always been an inquisitive mofo).

When I actually looked at my relationship with New Years goals, I found that quite frankly, I didn’t give a shit about them. I wasn’t creating a goal because I felt passionate about it. I was creating a goal because it is just ‘what people do’ on Dec 31st. I have written about the importance of determination vs. desire before (read here) and I found that when it came to my resolutions, it seems as though I had very little of either. My New Years goals were made quickly, with very little thought, and usually punitive in nature – focused on rectifying all of the ‘bad’ behaviour I had exhibited over the holidays.

Not exactly a recipe for success.

Now I want to be clear, there is nothing wrong with setting health-based goals. But it is important that it is something you actually want and it is imperative that it not be rooted in shame or punishment.

I also discovered something else … when going after a goal of any sort, it is crucial that we examine why we want to achieve it. When I look back at my resolutions that have failed, I can see that I was completely disconnected from them.

The concept of ‘find your why‘ is something that I have heard bounced around a lot over recent years and to be honest, it has always annoyed the crap out of me. If you have followed my writing or know me personally, you know that buzz phrases drive me up the wall and I had just thrown ‘find your why‘ into the box of other phrases that I hate such as ‘holding space‘ and ‘speaking my truth’. (eyeroll)

BUT, when I actually gave it some thought, annoying buzz phrase aside, there is some truth to what all of these coaches have been saying for years. In order to achieve a goal, we have to understand what is driving it. We have to connect to the emotion that the goal represents.

Most goals represent a feeling that we want, and in order to reach them, we need to be aware of what that feeling is. Then we can make sure we are actually taking the right steps to get there.

If my goal is to lose 10 pounds and I ask myself why … the answer will likely be to feel healthier or more confident.

If my goal is to double my income, I am likely after a feeling of security and freedom.

When we can connect with what our goals represent, we can get a lot more clear on the steps we need to take to get there. It also takes away the idea that there is some sort of finish line that we need to cross and that if we don’t, we have somehow lost or failed.

I know first hand that losing 10 pounds does not necessarily mean I am healthier. And it sure as hell doesn’t equal confidence. I have been my most unhealthy and lacked the most confidence when I was at my thinnest (#partydays). Understanding that lets me drop the 10 pound goal post with a win or lose outcome, and allows me to take steps every day to support the feeling that I want to cultivate – health and confidence. I can choose to drink more water, get 30 minutes of exercise, and wear outfits that make me feel amazing!

Sometimes, when we really dig into what is behind a goal, we might find that our ‘why’ isn’t coming from a healthy place. If I feel great, but I want to lose 10 pounds because I know my boyfriend wants me to … Well then, in the words of my brilliant friend Julia, you might want to consider holding on to the 10 but getting rid of the other 180 lbs that is dragging you down.

Understanding why we want to achieve our goals and what they represent is imperative when it comes to actually reaching them. Cultivating more health and confidence in 2021 is a great goal, and losing 10 pounds has actually very little to do with that. I might drop a pound or two as I focus more on supporting my health every day. If so, great. If not, that is okay too. Being able to track and measure our goals is important but I want to measure my success based on how I feel and what my body can do rather than a number on the scale. I want my goals to come from a place of enrichment, not punishment.

So maybe we don’t stop making resolutions. But maybe we start making our resolutions more about the feelings we want to cultivate rather than a finish line we need to cross. And, when we surrender the outcome we think we need or want, we open ourselves up to the other possibilities that we may have otherwise overlooked.

Whether you are looking for more health, confidence, security, or love, take away the goal post. Ask yourself what you can do today to support the feeling or experience you are trying to cultivate. Do something that makes you feel amazing, drink the damn water, and give yourself a little bit of more love today.

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

Be the change you want to see in your world. You might just find that it doesn’t come from a number on the scale or an amount in your bank account. You might find that what you are after is closer than you think.

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Uncategorized

A is for anger. And also anxiety.

**Disclaimer: The below blog is probably one of my most vulnerable ones to date. But, I think it is worth it. Perhaps someone reading this will feel a little less alone or find the courage to reach out for help. When we share our stories and silence our shame, we encourage others to do the same and if there is one thing I wish for you all, it is that you carry less shame.**

I remember the first time I really lost it on my kids. I’m not talking about getting a bit snappy with them, yelling a little, or having a ‘mommy meltdown’, I’m talking about full blown RAGE. The kind of anger that overtakes you like a tsunami, taking your breath away and leaving you gasping, sobbing, and absolutely exhausted. It was, of course, completely undeserved and although I tried to repair the damage I had done through apologies and gentle hugs, the guilt and shame I felt that day rocked me to my core. I chalked it up to a bad day and tried to carry on but then, it happened again.

Although thankfully not common, these anger outbursts occurred sporadically over the years and each time, I was left feeling more guilty, more exhausted, and more confused than the time before. I couldn’t understand what was happening. I mean, yes, each time there was some sort of trigger or stressor but they were always minor, nothing warranting a blowup of that magnitude. And stranger yet, it always seemed to come out of nowhere. Just like a tsunami, the wave would strike out of the blue and we (myself included) all just had to hold on to whatever we could and wait for it to pass. In those moments, I felt completely out of control.

Jekyll and Hyde.

It wasn’t until nearly a decade later that I finally began to gain some insight into these bursts of rage and was able to start to heal things a little bit. I was sitting in my counselor’s office, unpacking my shame around having put my children through yet another outburst when my counselor gently interrupted me, “Christine, when this happens, you aren’t a monster or a terrible mother. You are having a panic attack.”

I burst into tears.

As she went on to explain the correlation between anger, anxiety, and trauma, I found myself relieved, scared, and confused all at once. I knew that I had struggled with anxiety for much of my life and I considered myself fairly well-versed in mental illness. I had plenty of friends in the field, had access to lots of resources and mental health professionals, and had even taken psychology courses in college, yet I had been completely oblivious to the fact that bouts of rage could be a symptom of unmanaged anxiety and trauma. In fact, prior to that appointment, I would have told you that although I struggled with anxiety, I was lucky enough to have never experienced a panic attack. I thought that panic attacks were the classic heart-racing, clammy, hyperventilating that you see portrayed in movies and on tv. I had no idea anger could be present.

Realizing that I was not just a terrible mother allowed me to let go of some of the shame I had been carrying. But it also empowered me. Through therapy, meditation, and at some points, medication, I have learned the cues my body gives me to let me know I am on edge (turns out, there are a lot of signs). I have learned what is happening in my brain in those moments of panic (fight, flight, freeze), and the steps I can take to try to intercept it. I have learned the importance of decompressing, knowing my limits, and taking space when I need it. I have learned to tune in, even when it is uncomfortable, and to communicate with my family when I am struggling. I am now able to offer myself some grace and compassion while also holding myself accountable for managing my anxiety disorder.

If I were to guess, I would bet that anxiety will always be a part of my story. But now, I get to choose how it gets written. And I want my story to be one of vulnerability, healing, and hope. I can’t take back any of the mistakes I made in the past but if my kids learn anything from me, I want it to be that we are not defined by our mistakes … we are defined by what we choose to do with them. I want them to know that we may not be able to choose all that afflicts us, but we can choose how we manage it.

life, Uncategorized

The shine in our shadows

“Your life will be transformed when you make peace with your shadow.” – Debbie Ford

For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in personal development. When I was a teenager my Uncle introduced me to the work of Tony Robbins and, although ol’ Tony wasn’t quite my cup of tea, I quickly realized that the world of self-help definitely was. I loved learning how the human brain worked, what made us tick, and most of all, I liked the idea that I could change all the little bits of myself that I didn’t like. I loved that, with a little help, I could be different. Someone better.

Now I know that there likely isn’t a person on the planet who hasn’t struggled with self-acceptance at some point. In fact, I think it is normal for anyone, at any age, to have a personality trait or characteristic that they don’t love about themselves. Perhaps we feel as though we are too opinionated, too strong-willed, too quiet, or too boring. For me, this characteristic has always been my energy level and hyperactive nature (ie. I can be a little too much). I have always been exceptionally enthusiastic and energetic and, as charming as that quality can be, it tends to be best tolerated in small doses. Kind of like blue cheese or kalamata olives.

As a kid, my mom was always telling me to ‘bring it down a notch’ and commenting that I ‘never stopped talking’. (which is true, by the way.) I used to drive teachers up the wall with my chatty, distracting nature. And at times, my excitability could cross the line into rudeness.

Growing up, I became embarrassed and ashamed of my spirited tendencies. Although I had a lot of people delight in my energetic nature, I also knew that I drove a lot of people nuts and I often wished I could reel it in a bit. Tone it down, if you will.

As a young adult, this is something I worked hard on. I often tried to imitate the poised, professional manner that I so admired in my colleagues. I would try to present myself as even-keeled, stoic, level headed, and organized. (I can literally feel anyone I have ever worked with rolling their eyes right now.) Just because I tried, does not mean I was successful.

The thing is, it never worked. The more I tried to deny or hide my excitable nature, the more it would find a way to come out. And often, in even more obnoxious ways than usual. I would get excited and interrupt a client, burst into my boss’s office while they were in a meeting, or drop an enthusiastic F-bomb at the most inopportune times (such as during a moment of silence at a funeral).

It was never pretty and it was always followed by intense feelings of shame. (Gawd, Christine, you are so annoying! WTH?! Pull it together). 

What I have since realized is that my problem has never been my excitable nature. The problem has been my attitude towards it.

I was in my late 20’s when I first watched the docu-drama ‘The Shadow Effect’ by Debbie Ford and learned the importance of not only accepting the ‘shadowy’ bits of ourselves, but to find the gifts within them. And that when we fight or deny these traits that are an innate part of who we are, they will find a way to come out anyway, often causing us more grief in the process.

When I reflected on my earlier years, I was able to see that this is exactly what I had been doing: Holding shame around a particular characteristic, trying to hide or ‘fix’ it, and then having it blow up in my face in obnoxious ways. And, when I finally started to accept my energetic nature, and explore it a little bit, I was able to see that it actually holds a lot of gifts. It is part of what makes me good at sales. It helps my writing. I can be lots of fun to be around. And if I had pursued a career in cheerleading, I think I would have done really well. The bottom line is, there are a lot of good points to having the energy of a ferret that is high on methamphetamines. And as it turns out, when kept in check, my energy is one of the things my friends and family love the most about me.

Embracing our shadow isn’t an excuse to be a jerk. I don’t get to run around interrupting people and dropping F-bombs at funerals because I am excitable and hyper. I still need to hold myself accountable and act appropriately. But when I accept all of who I am, and stop pretending to be something I’m not (ie: organized and even-keeled), I open up space for the light to shine in.

Whether our shadowy side is that we are bitchy, opinionated, lazy, or quiet, there are benefits to those traits. But when we deny those bits of ourselves, we miss out on the positive aspects and make the negative ones so much louder.

Self-acceptance isn’t just about accepting the fluffy, easy to manage parts of ourselves. It is accepting the prickly bits, too. And, when we do, we might find that they aren’t so prickly after all. Maybe ‘bitchy’ turns into ‘fierce’, or ‘opinionated’ turns into ‘passionate’. Just like the two sides to a coin, there are two sides to every trait and even the most ‘positive’ attribute can have negative impacts if not kept in check.

Personal development is fantastic and I will likely forever be a self-help junkie. But the very premise of personal development is not to change who we are, but to utilize our unique gifts to the best of our ability. To grow, to expand, to nurture, and to step into our light.

life, Uncategorized

Those problems you have … it might just be you.

I turned 39 a few days ago (holy Eff!) and in honour of the big day, I wrote a Facebook post reflecting on all that has changed over the past couple of decades. Birthdays tend to bring out my naturally contemplative nature and this year was no exception. The post was basically about how drastically things have shifted in my life, and how extremely grateful I am that they have. (Twenty year old Christine wasn’t exactly fast-tracked for success).

When I look back and examine what changed, I found something interesting. Now aside from just growing up and naturally maturing, I was blessed with some amazing people in my life. They picked me up, dusted me off, and sometimes dragged me kicking and screaming along the way. (I am exceptionally grateful for the people who have had my back and supported me over the years.) But there is another piece to the puzzle, one that played a pivotal role in my turnaround. It seems that somewhere along the way, I finally started to see myself as a participant in my own life. Someone who was not just a poor down-trodden victim, but who had choices and accountability.

(mind blown)

I may seem flippant right now but I am dead serious. I was someone who made terrible choices, very rarely took responsibility for them, and hid behind excuses, blame, and self-pity. I viewed life as something that was happening to me. And if I am being completely honest, these patterns are something I still have to be mindful of as they can pop up from time to time.

Now I am not trying to beat the crap out of myself here. I was also always a really good kid. I was caring, generous, and empathetic but like many people, I was the product of a tumultuous childhood and struggled deeply with abandonment issues. As a result, I ended up creating a story in my head that I became very attached too. A story that served me in some way at the time.

Or so I thought.

Since my story was rooted in trauma and shame, I would actively seek out people or experiences that reinforced my feelings. I made poor choices, and put myself in situations that would support my beliefs – which were that I was worthless, undervalued, and always getting ‘shit on’.

So, how did that serve me? Well it didn’t. But looking back, I can see that I received attention and sympathy which is something I craved as a child. Also, as no one expected much of me, I had a bit of a ‘get out of jail free card’. But I was oblivious to all of this at the time. In fact, I was completely unaware that any of that was my choice. I just thought I was a big ol’ loser with terrible luck. Little did I know that none of that was true at all. No one was shitting on me. In all reality, I was running around looking for piles of shit, rolling in them myself, and then feeling sorry for myself cause I smelled so bad.

I was, quite literally, my own worst enemy.

I’m not going to lie, realizing that many aspects of my crappy life were my own doing didn’t exactly inspire feelings of warmth and hope. I definitely rocked a shame spiral for awhile there. And pulling myself out of it didn’t exactly happen overnight either. Accountability is hard, as is self-forgiveness. And looking at my life and realizing that much of it was my own doing definitely required forgiveness. Taking ownership sucks. It was so much easier to blame other people or make excuses for my circumstances. BUT, when I did start taking responsibility for my life, and finally decided to sit in the driver’s seat, it was amazing how many opportunities opened up for me.

Now, I want to clarify, I am not saying that really hard things don’t happen. We experience loss, sudden change, trauma, and pain. Some of us much more than others. Life will throw curveballs and we are entitled to have emotional reactions to them. But what I am saying is that oftentimes, there is still an element of choice. We may not be able to control everything that comes our way, but we can choose how we manage it and how much of it we make our story.

One of my dearest friends Rebecca was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 9 years old. It is an autoimmune disease that causes pain, joint disfiguration, and affects mobility. This was obviously devastating not only for Rebecca, but her family too. She dealt with extreme physical and emotional pain as she tried to navigate her teenage and young adult years managing a disease that very few people her age could relate to. Rebecca had every reason to feel angry, sorry for herself, and hide behind excuses but when she was 29 years old, she decided that that was not going to be her story anymore. She still deals with extreme physical pain every day but she gets up and chooses to hold herself accountable for the life that she wants. Rheumatoid arthritis is still a part of her story, but it isn’t the headlining act anymore. She is not ‘Rebecca – the woman who struggles with arthritis‘, she is ‘Rebecca – the Entrepreneur, Life coach, Published author, Public speaker, and creator of the Ignite Women’s Conferences‘. She is my hero and I think of her every time I get caught up in my own head.

We all have stories and not all of them are negative but it is imperative to be aware of them. We need to remember that we have choice and that if something isn’t serving us anymore, we can choose differently. If you find yourself experiencing the same conflict or problem over and over again, whether it is in your marriage, job, or friendships, I can promise you that 99% of the time, the problem is YOU. You are likely subconsciously seeking evidence, situations, or people that support a negative narrative in your head. And for that to change, you have to be willing to heal it and let it go.

Letting go of an identity we have been holding onto for years can be scary, and it can be painful. Don’t be afraid to access help if you need it. (Seriously, reach out to Rebecca!)

If you find yourself becoming aware of a particular pattern in your life, explore where it might be coming from and how it might have been serving you. The first step is awareness. Also, don’t forget to be gentle and forgiving of yourself. I really struggled when I looked around my mess of a life and realized that I was the only one to blame. We are all just doing our best and offering ourselves some compassion and understanding for how we got where we are is a sure way to fast track getting over it. Lastly, you may find pieces of your story still pop up from time to time. Even years after you think you have dealt with it. I still find piles of shit to roll in sometimes. And I still fall into the pattern of blaming other people. This is not a linear journey and it can often be ‘one step forward, two steps back’. But keep calling yourself on your crap. Keep holding yourself accountable. And hold the people in your life accountable too. They will thank you later.

Remember, this is YOUR story, you hold the pen, and you can re-write the chapters anytime you like.

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