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Recovering Chameleon

I have always been a people pleaser. And a pretty darn good one, too. Like, if there was ever a ‘People Pleaser Olympics’, I would definitely have a shot at taking home a medal.

It is a skill I learned very early on – be what people want you to be and you will never be left. Simple.

I was raised an only child and have some pretty significant abandonment and daddy issues so I developed an innate ability to not only worm my way into people’s lives, but to make sure I stayed there. I craved belonging, and became the ultimate shapeshifter.

Oh, you like country music? I don’t mind it either.”

“Scary movies? Me too!

** Note, both scary movies and country music make me want to cry. But there is no way in hell I would ever risk rocking that boat so I spent much of my youth with bleeding ears and terrible nightmares.**

I was the funny kid, the sweet kid, the energetic kid, the charming kid. I was whatever was required of me in the moment.

Even as I got older and became a little more rebellious (read: a teenaged nightmare), I remained likeable. And it was a title I wore with pride.

My friends, parents, teachers, and employers all tolerated even my most rascally behaviour, because I was … agreeable.

Christine, such a nice girl.

My people pleasing nature went beyond just pretending to like the twang of a steel guitar to slightly meatier issues. From not sharing important opinions at work or biting my tongue when someone hurt me to nervously laughing at inappropriate jokes or tolerating abuse so that I wouldn’t be ‘rejected’.

I can’t remember how old I was when I realized that there was a downside to my ‘please everyone at all costs‘ approach to life, but I am guessing it was my late 20’s, a fairly typical age for women to get tired of bullshit.

I think I was getting exhausted. Exhausted from having to be a chameleon in order to feel safe in my relationships. Exhausted from pretending to like or dislike things I didn’t. Exhausted from not feeling confident enough in myself to show up in the way I wanted.

I was fed up and shit had to change.

And it did. Or … it is. Let’s just say, it’s been a s-l-o-w recovery. You don’t go your entire life making sure everyone else is happy to confidently ruffling feathers overnight, it takes time and is a bit of a process.

I have had to literally train myself that I can share my opinions without worrying about being left. I have had to get used to the super uncomfortable feeling in my stomach when I tell someone they have hurt me or I don’t agree with them.

It is like everything in my body is screaming at me, “No, don’t do it! There will be conflict. We hate conflict! What if they leave us? We will be all alone.”

But here is what I have learned, although there is a bit of a learning curve on both sides (it is an adjustment in any relationship when you drop the people-pleasing routine), and you might lose a few along the way, the people of value in your life will actually appreciate the change. Turns out, people like authenticity. Go figure.

Like anything, it is a bit of a ‘two steps forward, one step back’ process, and I stumble along the way. A lot. I have had to learn to take things slow, to let people adjust with me, and that being a people-pleaser is NOT the same thing as being ‘easy going’.

But I am working on it. And I am committed to myself and to that little girl who thought she wasn’t enough.

So for now, I say, “Hi, I’m Christine. I am a recovering chameleon.”

Are you a recovering chameleon? Drop me a comment if you can relate. Also, feel free to share using the super-easy share buttons below!

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Running in the sand while being chased by a bear? Nahh, just anxiety

I said I wasn’t going to write about the virus again. Mostly because I am just tired of hearing about it. The death toll, the fears, the protesters, and now the conspiracy theories that ‘Big Pharma’ is trying to control us all … I am just over it.

But as the province prepares for the gradual re-open starting next week and everyone, albeit apprehensively, looks forward to a shift back towards normalcy, I have noticed that my anxiety is worse than ever. I have been fairly open with my anxiety in my social circle but have yet to really touch on it in my blog so I will give the coles notes version.

I have struggled with anxiety for most of my life. Like many mental illnesses, it gets better at times and worse at others. For the most part, I am able to manage it well, but there are times (such as last spring) when it gets unmanageable and I have to take medication.

** For some reason, even though I know better, I have always felt some shame around needing medication … which, quite frankly, I am DONE with. When you speak to shame (or in this case, write), you take away it’s power so there you have it. #medicated #noshame #endthestigma

Anyway, when Covid-19 initially hit, everyone braced themselves. There was talk of how we were experiencing a trauma response, of how we were thrust into flight, fright, or freeze as we grappled with the panic, uncertainty, and sudden restrictions. Even my doctor cautiously called me, “Christine, how are you doing? I just wanted to check up on you and make sure you were coping okay”.

Oddly, and much to my surprise, I was okay. Generally speaking, my anxiety level was very manageable. Yes, it could be argued that I seemed to do well due to the fact that I was proactive with my mental health. Or that I was not in a demographic that was highly affected by the virus (ie: I am not living in a high-risk area, a small business owner, immunocompromised, a frontline worker, etc) but still, when there is a pandemic sweeping the globe causing mass panic and economic crisis, it would certainly not be surprising to find ones anxiety a little higher than normal.

I mean, of course, I went a bit stir-crazy. I definitely had my days. But for the most part, and particularly as things went on, my mental health actually seemed to improve. In fact, I almost felt guilty about it. Seriously, Christine. You get anxious about going into a department store to get shoes but a global pandemic has you feeling all “I got this”. It didn’t make sense.

Then again, mental illness rarely does.

But, a few days ago, things shifted. As the community and my social circle started to buzz excitedly about the glimmer of hope that we might see a ‘normal’ summer, as workplaces started to get ready to ramp up for business again, as my kids expressed their hope that even schools might re-open, the only thing I felt was dread.

Okay, seriously. You have got to be kidding me.

I felt even more ashamed.

I reached out to a friend. “Of course, you are feeling anxious Christine. There is still so much uncertainty. We don’t know what is going to happen. Just be gentle with yourself.”

Although excellent advice, that wasn’t it. At least that wasn’t all of it. These past 6 weeks have been filled with uncertainty, nothing has changed on that front. I think the thing that has been causing my angst is the inevitable increase in speed that we are all going to experience. Back to the hustle.

I have realized that the reason my anxiety seemed more manageable during these last few weeks is due to the slower pace of life. I realize that I thrive in a slow, predictable routine. And the very thought of things speeding up again, has my stomach in knots.

Don’t get me wrong, I cannot wait to sit on a restaurant patio again, sipping a drink with my friends. I miss my people and I can’t wait to hug them ALL. But the idea of the work grind, the rushing, and the weekends jam packed with socializing and plans makes it feel like I can’t breathe.

We live in a world where ‘the hustle’ is not only glorified, but celebrated. And rest is considered ‘for the weak’. (Another bullshit stigma.) But one of the many things this pandemic has taught me is how badly I need downtime.

One of the things about anxiety is it always has you feeling like you are running in sand. Rush, rush, rush. Panic, panic, panic. Not getting anywhere.

The ability to slow down and convince my nervous system that we are not, in fact, being chased by a grizzly bear has been an absolute blessing.

Things are going to speed up again, there is no doubt about that. And in all reality, it would be terrible if they didn’t. After all, we need an economy. But I don’t want them to go back to full-tilt again. Not for me.

These next few months are going to be filled with a lot of learning, change, and of course, more uncertainty. But I think my main focus needs to be balance. I’ve learned what I need, and now I need to learn how to incorporate that into this new normal. How to give myself time to reset and recharge. How to recognize that when it feels like I am being chased by a bear, I need to rest, not run.