Sunday, February 3, 2019

No worry.

I stayed relatively silent on the big corporate day.

There was no particular reason - I was busy, distracted, working. Bell does wonderful things with the money from Let's Talk Day (as evidenced in the recent investment into Right Here, Right Now). I also have my own axes to grind as a former Bell employee, but I digress.

Yet, for a few days I have been seething on a tweet I saw from someone who I follow. I cannot recall the exact wording but, in a nutshell, it said that anxiety is not an illness as we are all a little "worried;" that we need to realize worrying is not a disorder and maybe we should just go outside.

*grinds teeth*

I have fought my brain for a while now. It is a weird realization that you are often at war with a part of yourself, and understanding the effects this battle can have on your day-to-day doings.

The first time I heard the word "anxiety" used in a medical sense was in my first year of university. I still remember how my first "anxiety attack" manifested itself.

I was sitting in the backseat of my friend's car as we drove down Old Placentia Road. Suddenly, my left arm was overtaken by a shooting pain. I couldn't breathe. Any breath made it hurt more and I tried stretching. Nope. Nothing. Shallow breaths got me through the night, eventually the pain subsided and I made a doctor's appointment for three days down the road.

When I explained to my then-doctor what I had felt, and had continued to feel as the same shooting pain had come and gone over the last few days, only then did I hear that word for the first time.

"Well, you're away from home. It's a big move. I think you've had an anxiety attack."

What? This guy was a quack. I didn't have a worry in the world. I was independent, free, happy, embarking on my academic career and my biggest worry was my alarm not going off and missing an English 1080 class.

I walked away with a prescription and no more understanding than when I had walked in.

Over the years since (holy shit, 19 years), I have been accustomed to "panic attacks" occurring less and less, but I am cognizant that they are there.

I went a decade without one. The first reoccurrence happened a few years ago when I could not sleep, would wake up wired, and was exhausted as a result. When I asked my doctor what was happening he suggested stress. Then he used that damn A word.

I will be the first to admit I do not take medication, but I support those who do. One person's cure is not another's solution. I have had my stints with medications that left me without an appetite and feeling worse than I did without them. Sometimes I wish there was a magic happy pill for me. There is not. I am so happy for those of you who have found it.

I am a worrier.

And I do not trust. It takes a lot to break in and get to a point where I trust at all. Always the skeptic.

I accept it, I explain it to those who are close to me, and I try to put into words what goes through my head at times that might seem irrational to some.

I am a self defeatist, perfectionist, hater of failure, dreader of impending doom.

Say the wrong words and my heart rate surges, I overthink and all of a sudden I'm a narcoleptic because my body's response is usually to sleep. It is actually a strange phenomenon - my brain goes into overdrive and everything else says, "Nah fam, we sleep now."

That is just who I am. I expect and see the worst. And try to sleep it off.

When things are going well I will often wake up with my brain screaming, "JUST WAIT FOR IT ALL TO GO TO SHIT AND IT WILL BE YOUR FAULT!"

In those 19 years since Dr. Button introduced me to the A word, there have been times I have been frozen for no reason, heart rate above 160, the noose tightening and having to just walk away. Shallow breaths. No trigger, no reason.

No worry.

I am thankful that these times have been less and less over the years and yes, I am sure my activity level has helped. But, going outside or being active is an assistant, not a cure. It, like anything else, works for some but not for everyone. I will not tell you to go for a run and you will find the oracle of happiness somewhere along the trails of Long Pond.

Anxiety, however, is not only "worry," it is also not a series of panic attacks that manifest themselves from the mental to the physical. Every person experiences different things, and mine just happen to drill doubt in everything I do.

There are a few choice words the brain likes to channel down into the nerve endings, ones that often make me feel undeserving of things, that I have failed, I disappoint, I am less.

And no amount of reassurance, no words or messages, no hugs or "don't be so foolish"es change the narrative.

This is how mine manifests itself.

While writing comes easy, verbalizing this to those closest is often a challenge for me. Yet, I try to explain as there are undoubtedly times when self doubt and self loathing kick in and it is hard to comprehend for those outside.

I withdraw.
I make excuses.
I wake in the middle of the night and overthink things.
I think that when people get to know me they will not want to be around me.
I thank myself every day for the people around me but sometimes feel like a burden.
I accomplish things then reflect on how I could have accomplished more.
I do something and then play it over and over and over while pegging what I could have done differently, better.
I cannot order a coffee without wondering if maybe I sounded rude.

And the list continues.

No, my brain does not cripple me. I have friends who are betrayed by their brains on a daily basis and their strength astounds me.

Yet, I felt the need to address the common misconception that anxiety is worry, and that those who are branded with the scarlet A should just go for a walk and stop dwelling on petty things.

In the grand scheme of things I am very lucky. I know this. My brain likes to tell me differently and there are days when I can tell it to fuck off, move forward and carry on with daily tasks.

But there are also days when my brain wins, and those are okay too. God knows last year it did a JOB on me. Those are the days that I walk away from feeling stronger and like I've won by simply getting through.

Sometimes I just accept that I am a scared little girl at times.

To be honest, I am probably in my happiest place right now. Things are happy and good. But there are tough and questionable moments, the ones that say, "Too good for you."

My damn brain is like that.

If you feel like you are struggling, no matter how mildly or how severe, please do not hesitate to reach out to those who can help. We are all, as a friend of mine said, "more than five sessions fucked up." We are all in this mess together.

Mine is different than yours, but it does not make one more important than the other.

And anxiety is not worry.

Maybe those who need to go outside are the ones who make blanket judgements on everyone else's struggles.

Monday, January 28, 2019

37.

"The evening sun touched gently on the eyes of Lucy Jordan..."

37.

Just like that.

Another day come and gone, another trip around the sun, and blah blah blah more adages and cliches and bullshit.

You know, the lustre of birthdays wore off decades ago, and I am unsure if the shininess went with the Pass-the-Parcel parties or if it went with realizing each year's exercise in planning grandeur ideas was one of futility.

Turn your plate over! See if you've won a prize.

No cakes, no party hats, no balloons. Pack that noise.

36 was hard, man. I think I will wear those scars for a long time, and I hardened under much of what came down. I often wondered if I would see the other side of it all but here I am, on the other side and flipping off those and what I have left behind.

I like it over here.

As I sit here, embarking on another year, on my Lucy Jordan birthday, I will try a new exercise. Last year I lamented on how I seem to always spend this day setting myself up for failure with hopes and dreams of what I will accomplish in the year approaching. I will not do that this year. Often times the forces we need to accomplish what we put our hearts and souls into are out of our control.

Instead, I will try to annotate some of the lessons I have learned this year.

1. Never be afraid to believe things happen for a reason, no matter how hard or cruel they may be. Sometimes the hardest lessons we learn give us skills to navigate through other times; and sometimes those hard times - the cruelty, heartbreak, mistreatment by those who you trusted - bring you on new paths, and bring others into your life who are sincere and true. Things often do not make sense while they are happening, but one day you will sit and realize that if all of the hurt and bullshit did not happen the way it did, you would not be sitting where you are and with who you are. Every single decision and step is like one of those cheesy "Choose Your Own Adventure" books from those elementary Scholastic book orders. Maybe you needed to choose the snake pit to end up at the castle.

2. Advocacy is hard. We work in arenas where our hearts and souls go into everything we do, and often times we fall into the lion pits where we find ourselves eating our own. The heart, the brain and the psyche grow tired. There are days when we ask why we do what we do, if a difference is made or is to be made, and if we are constantly just clawing at quicksand. Find yourself a "raft of bitches" and remember we are so much stronger together, rather than tearing each other down or stepping on the heads of others to propel our own agendas and careers. Nothing built on the oppression of others will last. Just keep true to your goals and dreams for our communities, our groups, each other. Keep working your ass off. Oh, and division helps no one only those on the other side who want to see us fragmented and divided.

3. Rupi Kaur taught me a lot about selfish people. Selfish people will use you and hurt you for their own gain, simply because you are something they did not want to miss out on. "They gamble entire souls, entire beings, to please their own." Rid your life of those people. Do not let them consume you and remember, "Your existence meant that little next to their curiosity of you." Let them create their narratives. Go on with your life knowing your armour is stronger because of it and you have learned lessons on human nature, and how to not be. And sometimes, as a wise woman told me, what might seem like trying to get by is actually you dodging bullets better than Neo in The Matrix.

4. It's okay to not be okay. Take the opportunity when someone offers you an ear to use it. Talk. Even those who do not have advice are offering you priceless things - their ability to listen and their friendship. Those people are the ones you need in your life. Good people are damn hard to come by. Surround yourself with those who offer you their friendship and remember, as a good friend said, "Everyone is more than five sessions worth of fucked up." We're all a little broken and there is zero shame in that. Those who perpetuate perfection are likely the most broken of all. Do not let them make you feel wrong or ashamed for all of your broken pieces.

5. Chin up, woman. Things could be a lot better but they could also be a lot worse. You have wonderful people in your life, cuddly pups, and work that you love. There will always be those who throw the banana from their Mario Kart. Just fly on past. Do not let speedbumps, hazards or someone else's pathetic behaviours and insecurities hamper your goals, get in the way of what you do, who you are or where you are going. Feed on it and use it as fuel to be a whole damn fire.

6. Of all the things in your life to be thankful of, appreciate the people who stick with you the most. Make sure they know how important they are, return the favour when you can, and never take them for granted. And there will also be people you need to leave behind, scorch the earth behind you and salt it as you go. You'll be better off. Someone told me you make the most meaningful relationships later in life, and if that hasn't proven true this year, buddy, I'll eat my #gongernation hats.

7. And trust that intuition now. I have a sneaking suspicion you might have found where you are supposed to be. This just might be it.

At 17 I drunkenly said I would not be Lucy Jordan.

I'm not, but maybe we have some things in common. That's not always a bad thing.

Here's to 37.

And hey, I'm now at the age where buying that new Roomba was pretty exciting. If anyone needs entertainment I'll be charging admission to the event where it squares off with my robot dinosaur because, you know, I'm an adult.

BATTLEBOTS!

I think I'll go have a glass of wine, pack my bags to hop on that plane tomorrow. Though I spent this post reflecting on lessons learned, now I start to look forward to all that is to come instead of looking back at all that went wrong.

"So she let the phone keep ringing as she sat there softly singing pretty nursery rhymes she'd memorised in her daddy's easy chair..."

Friday, January 11, 2019

My Lucy Jordan Birthday

Ray Sawyer died this year. How fitting on this, the year of my Lucy Jordan birthday. I'm still 17 days away, but it is coming.

For those of you who have never heard "The Ballad of Lucy Jordan," this post probably will not make sense, but I will include a link for your listening pleasure.

My Lucy Jordan birthday has been a milestone for 20 years now.

It all stems from a night in 1999. I was 17. Friends and I had gone to one of their family cabins at Princeton Pond for a night of debauchery. When we arrived, his parents were there and his dad was half cut, strumming away on a guitar.

As the night progressed we headed to a bonfire away from the cabin, spent a night with friends that culminated in the usual night for me in my abusive relationship where I was, to spare you details, dragged through a gravel pit. We went back to the cabin.

The girls and I sat at a picnic table outside the cabin as I licked my wounds. All of a sudden, Gord started slowly strumming and singing "The Ballad of Lucy Jordan." I was no stranger to Dr. Hook. I adored Ray Sawyer.

Sipping on a bit too much Smirnoff, I stood on the picnic table seat and exclaimed to Krista, Kirsten and Crystal, "When I'm 37 I will not be a Lucy Jordan!"

And we sang.

"At the age of 37 she realized she'd never ride through Paris, in a sports car, with the warm wind in her hair..."

In 2002 I stood in a field with the rain pissing down, the crowd sparse because of weather, as Ray Sawyer belted out Lucy Jordan's plight in front of me at Salmon Festival. I remember leaning over and whispering to my friend Eugene, "I'm not going to be Lucy Jordan." He just kind of looked at me funny.

And here I am, 37 approaching, and the song I've held dear has taught me lessons on the passage of time, how quickly 20 years fly by, and how naive we are at 17 when our minds have grandeur ideas of how our lives will be when we leave our little towns for something bigger.

While I am not the protagonist in Lucy Jordan's suburban housewife life, no husband to go off to work or kids to go off to school, 36 was a hard year for me. I questioned myself personally and professionally, and maybe came a bit too close to figuratively being "on the rooftop where she'd climbed when all the laughter grew too loud."*

*There is still debate whether or not she jumped or if she was carried away. Either/or.

But, like Lucy, I had not made it to Paris. I likely never will. Paris stands for so much here, and I think that is the biggest lesson. Where we see ourselves at 37, when we are 17 and our eyes are dinner plates looking into the future, is often a much different reality when compared to what 37 really is.

Where did 20 years go?

A shoutout to my coworker here who I shared this with and who brought me a keychain from Paris last year. Rol, you're a doll, and you get it.

My upcoming Lucy Jordan birthday has made me reflect on how we prioritize progress and goals in life.

How important getting to Paris was to that little girl.

Paris is just a place.

How close and attainable Paris seems when you are 17 at Princeton Pond with your whole life ahead of you.

My Lucy Jordan birthday comes in 17 days. For those of you who have read here for a while you know I have never really done well with birthdays. I reflect a bit too much and I overthink the losses instead of the gains.

This year has started out positively, and I am hopeful; I am probably feeling better than I have for as long as I can remember. I have such amazing people in my life. You are all my Paris.

Maybe this year, on that day, I will reflect on it as one where "she let that phone keep ringin' as she sat there softly singin' pretty nursery rhymes she'd memorised in her daddy's easy chair."

Who knows?

All I know is that time moves fast; 20 years pass by like 20 days, and I can so vividly remember that night in Princeton Pond and how hopeful my 17 year old self felt that by 37 I would be invincible.

I don't know about that anymore. I feel pretty mortal.

But at 37 I know I will conquer and I will make inroads to continuing to carve out my place in this messy life and world.

And maybe it will be done "with the warm wind in her hair." For Lucy.

Have a listen: https://youtu.be/FDS2hSmokQ0

And Dr. Hook > Marianne Faithfull.