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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.

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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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Doing better after divorce

I have been divorced from my ex-husband for 5 years (separated for 6). I remember when we first split, I felt very confident that we would be one of the couples who would be able to manage our emotions and stay united for our kids. In fact, I thought we were going to rock the divorce game. I knew we would have challenges, of course, but I was certain that we would be able to rise above them. I imagined, somewhat naively, that we would enjoy healthy communication, shared holidays, and group photos with our new blended families. I pictured support, handshakes, and maybe even hugs. I just knew it would all be okay. After all, we were both adults. Adults that had been through a lot together. We had spent 9 years together, most of it decent. We had raised babies, grieved the loss of our parents, and shared a lot of laughter and love together. This is someone who had been my best friend, and I was not going to forget that.

Now, I can recognize that part of my ‘pollyanna perspective’ was due to the fact that I was the one to end my marriage. It is easy to look on the bright side when you are the one making the decisions. But looking back, it is both shocking and devastating to see how wrong I was. I won’t go into the details of our divorce out of respect for both my ex-husband and our children but I will say, in regards to co-parenting, the past 6 years have been indescribably challenging. For me. For him. And worst of all, for our children.

My post-marriage fantasy of laughter and unity has been anything but. In fact, I think that both my ex-husband and I would agree that it has been an absolute nightmare. Complete with contempt, vicious words, and quite frankly, child-like behaviour.

I want to be clear that I am not placing blame here. As the saying goes, it takes two to tango and as much as it pains me to admit it, I have very much been a part of the erosion in our relationship. It becomes easy to point fingers at the other party and point out how difficult or uncooperative they are, but the truth is, we have both played a role. When divorce happens, all of the disagreements, the annoyances, and the differences in parenting get that much louder, that much harder to ignore. Bitterness creeps in if one party thrives while another struggles, or if one moves on while another takes more time to grieve. And I am embarrassed to say that we let all of it get the better of us.

I am embarrassed to say that we didn’t do better.

What I have realized now is that it doesn’t matter how reasonable or kind a person is, hurt feelings and resentment can turn them into someone you barely recognize. Whether it is your ex-spouse, or yourself. And as much as it is important to offer everyone a little grace, when there are kids involved, it is much more important to pull your head out of your ass and put them first.

As I ride this secondary wave of grief realizing my ex-husband and I will never have the friendship that I wanted us to, I have become even more resolute in my determination to move forward from here in a different way. We may never sit around the same table celebrating an engagement or a new grandchild, but we can still do better. And if I have learned anything over the past 6 years, it is that the only actions and reactions I can control are my own.

I don’t know what the future holds for our broken family. Likely lots of biting our tongues, firm boundaries, and very limited communication. And even though that isn’t ideal, it is still okay. Not every divorce story needs to be a hallmark movie, as long as the kids come first. Even when we are angry. Even when we are hurt. Even when it’s hard.

To my babies, I’m sorry. Mama’s going to do better.

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On Little Dog Syndrome and Boundaries

The other day I was out and about and decided to pop in to see a prospective client and say hello. Now this client is a fairly new prospect so I don’t know them well and as I walked into the store, I was pleased to see two little dogs running up to greet me. I am a huge dog fan so I was completely taken by surprise when, as I reached down to greet the little furballs, one of them bit me.

It wasn’t a big bite by any means but it was enough to break the skin and although the nip took me by surprise, what was even more shocking was my reaction to the whole thing, which was … nothing. I did nothing.

Okay, that isn’t entirely correct. I DID comment on how cute the little bugger was and had a quick chat with the owner, all while hiding my hand behind my back so she wouldn’t see the blood.

That’s right, I hid my hand so she wouldn’t see that her dog had bit me.

When I got home later that evening, I told my fiance what happened.

“Why didn’t you say anything?!“, he said.

I don’t know. I didn’t want to upset her, I guess.”

“That is weird, Christine. Who cares if she got upset? Her dog bites. What if he does that to a kid?!”

And that’s when it really hit me – he was right. It is weird. Not only is it weird but it speaks (loudly) to something I have struggled with my whole life – speaking up for myself and holding boundaries.

Now obviously, I could have reacted to the little nip in a variety of different ways. I could have yelled, stormed out, kicked the dog, or I could have done the most reasonable thing which would have been to say, “Your dog just gave me a little nip. Not a huge deal, but I did want to let you know since you have him in your business.”

But for some crazy reason, the idea of saying something like that makes me feel like my skin is going to crawl right off my body. And apparently, I would rather hide my bloodied hand behind my back than potentially inconvenience someone by telling them their dog has a case of the ‘bites’.

What. The. Hell.

Although this incident was super minor, it marks how much I still struggle when it comes to speaking up for myself. This is something I have worked hard on for years and whether it was as simple as saying “No, I can’t lend you money.’ or something as big as “No, I don’t want to have sex.“, putting my needs, desires, or feelings above other’s has been something I have always battled.


I know I am not alone in this problem and that women in particular are taught to keep quiet and be nice, no matter what. But I’ve got to say, this really pisses me off!

I think part of my problem is that despite the fact that I have been working on establishing healthy boundaries for years, I have also been determined to do so gracefully. It is quite common for people who have struggled with establishing boundaries their whole life to take things a little too far when they first start and I have been hellbent on NOT becoming one of those people who ‘speaks their truth’ ALL THE TIME.

(Come on, you all had someone pop into mind, didn’t you?!)

Establishing boundaries is scary, especially at first, and sometimes it feels easier to come at it guns a’blazin’ and with teeth bared. Much like the little dog that bit me.

Essentially, people who are new to establishing healthy boundaries are much like dogs with ‘Little Dog Syndrome’. They are scared and insecure and often display an unnecessary level of fiest when trying to establish a perimeter which is not to be crossed.

This is something I wanted to bypass completely. I wanted to go straight from doormat to having confidence and self-assurance without having to experience the annoying lapdog learning curve.

Maybe I was out to lunch thinking I could avoid this stage or maybe my learning process will just take a little longer this way. More likely though, I just need to cut myself some slack. Confidence and self-assuredness are not static and neither is our ability to effectively hold and communicate healthy boundaries. We will have good days and we will have bad days. We will have little dog syndrome days and Doberman days. But one thing I know for sure is, I’m committed to this process. I am committed to taking deep breaths and treating myself with as much respect as I do others. And that includes being gentle with myself when I mess it up.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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life, Uncategorized

Happiness – create it your damn self

Fall has always been one of my favorite seasons. Whether it is the mild weather, the fact that fall fashion really works for me, or that it is the season in which I was born, I just feel good in the Fall. It always feels like a fresh start to me, a second ‘New Years’ of sorts. I find that I start hibernating a little more, getting more contemplative, and setting goals for myself.

This year’s contemplations and goals are focused much more around my mental health and outlook than they have been in the past. Perhaps this is a normal part of maturing, or maybe it is a result of the current events we have been facing, but I find that I am much more focused on my ‘happiness’ now than I have been in previous years.

Of course, happiness has always been on my radar. Everyone wants to be ‘happy’. All you see on social media is people #livingtheirbestlife. But my focus lately has been finding and creating happiness in my life NOW, rather than promising myself I will be content when …

  • I finally get in shape
  • I start making more money
  • My book is complete
  • I get into my dream house
  • etc., etc., etc.

Now there is nothing wrong with having goals. In fact, they are crucial. The problem is that so many of us rate our satisfaction in life with how close we are to reaching our goals.

I think we all ‘know’ that happiness isn’t something that you can buy but we still seem to get trapped in that loop that says ‘As soon as I get/have/accomplish …., then I will be happy.”. In the meantime, we shuffle along, feeling ‘semi-content’ with our lives but with our sights laser-focused on an end goal (the house, the partner, the body, the promotion). An end goal that never really seems to come, because if/when we achieve it, it isn’t enough. There is always another goalpost.

We view happiness as a destination, one which we will arrive at when we have achieved enough, accumulated enough. And while accomplishments and milestones do bring a wave of happiness, they tend to be short lived, with genuine happiness being found in the connection and the small moments of day-to-day life.

Now, I do believe that money and the feeling of mastery (feeling as though we are good at or doing well at something) can contribute to mental wellbeing. Afterall, if our basic needs aren’t met, it becomes a lot more difficult to pursue or perceive happiness in our lives. As per Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (see below), food and shelter trump everything. But I do think that beyond that, it is relative.

I think we can all think of someone who seemingly ‘has it all’ yet is as crusty as they come – always griping about what they lack or striving for the next best thing. Similarly, I think we can all think of someone who may not have a lot, yet seems to relish in the small moments of life.

The bottom line is, we create our own happiness. Nothing outside of ourselves, good or bad, has the ability to have a long term effect on our happiness, unless we let it.

“Happiness is an inside job.” – William Arthur Ward

So, what gives? How do we balance having goals and striving towards them while not letting them dictate how satisfied we are day-to-day? How do we find the ever-elusive happiness that we seek?

Well, I am no happiness expert. In fact, I’m not sure I am an anything expert. But this is something that I have been working on, on and off, for years now and I do have a few tricks that I find really helpful when it comes to finding happiness. ***Hint: You don’t find it. You create it your damn self.***

Here goes …

#1 – Stop numbing everything. I know, I know, I am about to get super lame here and tell you to lay off the ol’ wobbly pops. Trust me, no one was more resistant to this idea then me. J’adore le vin! Buuuut, one cannot guzzle copious amounts of a depressant every Friday night and then wonder why they aren’t feeling 100% in the mental health department, you know? Although touted as a tonne of fun and the answer to all things, alcohol is not good for us mentally or physically and giving myself a little break from it has been a game changer in terms of my outlook and general happiness. I am not saying we should never indulge in a drink with friends, but I am saying that we should be aware of how often we do it, and why. When I really examined when and why I was drinking, I found that the answers were ‘anytime’ and ‘for any reason’. I was using alcohol to cope, grieve, celebrate, soothe, entertain, excite … let’s be honest, I used it for anything. Taking a step back from booze has allowed me to actually feel and process my feelings. My mind is more clear, I have more energy, and my mood and sleep are better. I am not numbing anymore. Am I still going to enjoy drinks with friends? Of course! But I am going to be more mindful about it. Besides, no one looks back on their fabulous life and says, “You know, my only regret is that I didn’t drink more.

#2 – Get Connected. For real. And not electronically. Connection is one of the most important factors when it comes to happiness. So much so that it ranks pretty highly on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Feeling supported, desired, loved, and cared for literally has the ability to support not only our mental health, but our physical health too. I’m not talking about being around a lot of people, or even conversing with them. A person can be in a room full of people and still be the loneliest person in the world. Connection is about vulnerability. It is about sharing all the little bits of yourself, even the shadowy parts, and feeling that someone still has your back. It is having someone to cry with or phone at 4am. Social media and electronics have been both a blessing and a curse in this department as they have made it easier to interact with people … but that doesn’t necessarily equal connection. Your funny meme or cute selfie might get a lot of ‘likes’ and make you feel good but it tends to be short lived and doesn’t fill your happiness cup in any sustainable way. So put down the phone and spend time with people who love you. Share the embarrassing childhood story. Talk about your worries and your fears. Laugh. It will light you up in a way that lasts way longer than how many followers you have on Insta. Promise.

#3 – Practice Gratitude. I remember when I was around 6 or 7 years old, I went through a stage where, every day, I would choose one thing that I was excited about. Every morning, I would sit my tiny butt down and consider what my ‘one thing’ would be for that day. I clearly remember looking down at my hand and seeing one of those chintzy little rings that you get from the dentist for being good and deciding that that was going to be my ‘one thing to be excited about’. Some days it was getting to go to a restaurant with my mom or staying up past my bedtime, and other days it was getting to have a playdate with a friend. It was always simple (after all, I was only 7), and it always made me feel good. At the time, I had no idea that I was actually practicing gratitude. I would reflect on my day and consciously focus on what I liked or what went well. I was, without knowing it, training my brain to seek out the positive and appreciate the little things.

Gratitude is still something I practice every day and in my opinion, one of the keys to creating happiness in our lives.

My advice – do it every night before bed and get specific. It becomes easy to rattle off “I am grateful for my house, food, air .…” and although it is important to be grateful for those things, the real magic is in the details. Take a few moments and really reflect upon your day. What happened that you are grateful for? Did someone let you into traffic? Did your co-worker buy you a coffee? Did your partner do the dishes? It doesn’t have to be grand. And I promise you that when you start listing things, more and more things will start popping to mind. I also do this whenever I am in a bad mood. I instantly start mentally creating a gratitude list and while it may start out feeling difficult, once I get going, it just flows. And my mood instantly lifts.

Also, pay attention to your perspective. Here is the deal, what comes out of our mouths can be an excellent indicator as to what is going on in our heads. If you find yourself bitching and complaining a lot, chances are your mind is not a very happy place. The good news is, you can change it. Just like gratitude, we can literally ‘practice’ looking at things through a positive lens, and eventually it will become a habit. We can train our brains for positivity. That is not to say we need to be ‘Positive Pollyanna’ all the time, it is okay to get ticked off from time to time. But if you notice that you are feeling ticked off more often than not, chances are the world isn’t crapping on you and … you are the problem. Whenever I notice myself bitching and complaining non-stop, I try to slow things down, give myself a breather, and consciously focus on changing my outlook.

The bottom line is, happiness is really quite simple and much more often than we realize, it is a choice. It isn’t a result of getting more money or finally getting the big promotion. It doesn’t come ‘when the kids get past this stage’ and it is not found at the bottom of a bottle. It is in the little moments that we often overlook. It is connection, appreciation, and sometimes, even chintzy little rings from the dentist.