“I’m allergic to B’s…”

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“I’m allergic to B’s.”  I still remember my mom telling me that over the phone and it hurt.

I was in my first year of university and honestly, even though I was a straight-A student coming out of high school, I was still finding my subjects difficult.  To top it all off, I was unprepared for being away from home, having to make new friends, making sure I had enough money for tuition, rent, and food, and the list of responsibilities went on….

Essentially, I had to grow up.

To be honest, I totally understood where my mother was coming from.  As immigrants, my brother and I knew the value of hard work.  Coming to Canada meant that if we worked hard, we can help my mom make a better life for us here.  Not only that, our older sister, Sofy, had worked so hard to bring us over… so failure was not an option. We had no choice but to work hard.  At any rate, I did graduate with honors and passed the qualifying exam on my first try.

But still….to this day, Peter still talks about the first time he actually saw me cry.

Anyway, this week brought this memory back.  Olivia had decided to do the International Baccalaureate (IB) program and for those who are familiar with this program, it is a doozy.  Olivia had such a tough two weeks with all her evaluations and tests, along with her other extracurricular responsibilities.  The final straw was her math test this past Friday where she said that it was so hard that some students started crying during the test since they had no clue how to answer it.  Some students even said that they cannot tell their parents about this.  One of her teachers called it “mathematical treachery.”

At any rate, I definitely am not following in my mother’s footsteps….

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Peter is the tough one since he always wants to figure out what went wrong.

                    Did Olivia study enough?

       Did she have enough Omega 3s to improve her memory? 

 Did she get enough sleep?

And his checklist goes on….Meh, he means well. Truly.

As for me…..

 I know the power of a comforting hug and shoulder to cry on.

So, really, parents have different ways of trying to make things better for our kids but one thing is for sure, all parents want their kids to succeed.

But as parents, sometimes we forget that our kids are just that…KIDS.  Their brains are still under construction as I wrote in my blog How to Survive Middle School: My Mindfulness Guide  (see point #4) ).  We may resort to threatening them, saying that they are not doing enough, or that they border on being useless, but we take the risk of that backfiring…BADLY.  These kids are already under so much pressure that they don’t need additional grief from us.  Would you agree?

Anyway, here’s hoping that Olivia’s weeks get better…and “No, I’m NOT allergic to B’s…”

Have a good week ahead, everyone!

Debbie.

“Under construction…”

I hit a raised maintenance cover today. You know the one that is almost always spray painted orange?   The road to the train station is under construction and being repaved…

It actually gave me a quite a jolt.

My first thought was “Dang, I hope I didn’t ruin the car.”

My second thought was “Where did that come from?! I didn’t see it..!”

My third thought was “I wasn’t really paying attention, was I?!”

My last thought gave me a shocking revelation…I was not fully present when I hit it head on. I don’t even recall what I was thinking at that moment…

I remember a story my first mindfulness teacher once told…you would be driving along and you don’t really realize how you got from point A to point B until you get there. But even then, you are already on the next item on your mental list…

That’s the tough part, isn’t it?

It’s hard enough to stay present…but to be present ALL THE TIME…is almost impossible (well, for me it feels insurmountable!)

The “old” me would have berated and admonished myself to nauseam such that my whole day would have been shot. The words of the day would have been “fail, fail, fail.”

The “newer” me did something that would have given the “old” me an ulcer….I gave myself a break. The words of the day were, “this is not a big deal.”

…and you know what?  It really is not a big deal.

Sharon Salzburg (she is a mindfulness teacher who focuses on how we can practice loving kindness–and no, it’s not the mushy kind of stuff!  Google her. She is awesome! ) says give yourself a break. Be kind to yourself. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

So, there you have it. My secret weapon. I have learned to give myself a break.

I also realized that I will probably be “under construction” for a long time…things ultimately will break down and I would have to rebuild…

Come to think of it, I like “under construction” better than “work in progress” since some days, I don’t feel as if I’m progressing at all…but I’ll save that for another blog…

Have a great week, everyone!

Debbie

It is a sad day…

I shouldn’t have gone to work today. I was off kilter, off balance, off centre…just off.

I went to bed the night before with the voice of my husband echoing in my mind’s eye…

“Deb, if I were American, I would vote for Hillary but I believe Trump will win because we should not underestimate the power of the blue collar….we are not all doctors, lawyers or accountants, or read the New York Times, or have an education past high school.”

I recall that I actually wanted to retort back and say…

“Nope…

…Hillary will win. She is the better candidate.

…History will be made.  Madame President.

….Remember when Justin Trudeau (our Canadian prime minister) said “Because it’s 2015″ when someone asked him why his cabinet has an equal number of men and women?

…It’s 2016 and we have LGBT washrooms, same sex marriage, women’s rights have made great strides;

…there is no room for someone like Trump who will set our American friends south of our borders back 100 years….”

Yet, it seems the American people were not in the same wavelength as I was. Along with the rest of the world, I turned out to be wrong and my husband was proven right…partially.

Trump did win but not because of the blue collar vote but because of the “white” vote. “White-lash” against a changing country, against a black president…63 percent of white men and 53 percent of white women voted for Trump.

Wow…the words “racists, “white supremists”, and “bigots” came to mind when I saw this statistic…

On the way to work, I was in a daze ( I even let in a familiar looking white Honda Fit into my lane –read my previous blog please).

I got on the train and started texting friends and family trying to figure out..WTF?!?

Some snippets of conversation during the ride to work echo the fear and panic (my comments in blue):


Even though I am Canadian, I don’t think we will escape unscathed…

I even fear for my visible minority friends living in the US:


My mindfulness practice was tested today as I went back and forth between disbelief and anger. My mediation session was difficult…chaotic thoughts of how people could have voted for a bully, a con man, a sexual predator, a liar, and the list went on and on and on…WTF?!?

One positive thought did somehow manage to squeeze through all the negativity…

Impermanence.

Don’t despair, my American friends…four years is not forever.

Today may be a sad day but I’m hoping tomorrow and the day after will be better.

Have a good rest of the week, everyone!

Debbie.

They come in all shapes and sizes…

School is out and so my daughter is now off for the summer. This is also the time that she looks back over the past school year and how it went.

She doesn’t talk much about marks or the classes. She knows she was excellent in that front. Instead, one lazy afternoon, over a plate of paleo cookies and milk, she talked about how some of her classmates were trying to bully her and how she dealt with it.

Actually, this gave me pause since I knew she was going through a rough time with some kids ever since she told the principal that one of the kids (let’s call him JD) was saying nasty things and throwing things at another (let’s call him AD). AD was in tears but JD was on a roll and everyone just stood by laughing..that is until my daughter decided to call the principal to break it up. My daughter knew she could not handle JD on her own so she called someone who could.

The backlash for what she did was immediate.

Who she thought were her friends went up to her and asked why she called the principal over and got JD in trouble. They called her a “snitch”, that they would never trust her again, that she would never survive high school, that she was just trying to get attention, and that she is a teacher’s pet.

Whatever name she was called, my daughter stood her ground.  She asked her accusers what they would do if it was their sister or brother that was being bullied.  Would they just stand by?  Or what if they saw a murder happening, what would they just keep it to themselves?

Not sure how the battle of wills ended but as she was telling me this story, I could see the steely look of conviction in her eyes and it was then and there that I realized that my daughter is STRONG. Somehow, somewhere, she learned to stand strong for what she believes in.

….and then she said “I’m sure bullies come in all shapes and sizes. They are all around us and we just have to deal with them.”

Interesting.

I think I agree. I would think that bullies are not isolated to the playground…they could happen in the workplace as well.

The difficult part of workplace bullying may be recognizing that you are being bullied!

Let’s think about that for a minute….

Imagine this….

Your supervisors yells and accuses you of not doing your job, for leaving early, or showing up late and other insidious deeds you are apparently guilty of. Your supervisor’s angry voice is interspersed with profanities and for added effect, papers are thrown around on the desk.

You know the accusations are without merit and will not stand up in court in the event you are wrongfully dismissed.

Would this be workplace bullying?

Perhaps.  Perhaps not.

I guess if this has only happened once, then I would probably chalk it up to heat of the moment, a momentary lapse of judgement or maybe low blood sugar…

Now consider this….

What if….say, in addition to the above case and on a regular basis, the supervisor makes you feel stupid in public, says profanities to attendees during meetings, or talks about people behind their backs, or will give you work that sets you up for failure so you would leave, or coerces you to put favourable insights in employee satisfaction survey.

Would this be workplace bullying…? or just normal office politics gone crazy?

Whatever name you put on this, this supervisor is definitely not someone you want to work for.

Even if you wanted to report these incidences, I don’t believe there would be an appetite for such confrontation…especially when  you have bills to pay.

The sad part about workplace bullying is that the backlash would likely not be immediate but rather very slow and painful….and the stress of dealing with such a roller coaster at work will likely take a toll over your health, both mentally and physically.

I feel for those  who are unfortunate enough to be in this position since the feeling of hopelessness AND helplessness must seem insurmountable. Anxiety and depression may become constant companions much like unwanted visitors who have overstayed their welcome.

Fear is probably the main factor behind one’s inability to act in these circumstances….fear of losing one’s job, fear of not getting another job, fear of looking like a failure, fear of what people are going to say, fear of going out of one’s comfort zone, fear of the uncertainty and the unknown.

I must admit, that is a lot of fear to carry around inside your head.

So, what would you do?

My daughter’s way is face it head on and damn the consequences.  As for me, I am not sure how I would deal with bullying in the office (or anywhere for that matter!) but I certainly wish for all of her courage if and when I find myself in such a dire situation.

As she finished her milk and brushed away the crumbs,  I could not help but be proud that she is growing up to be an admirable young lady….

I also thought that maybe we should have more cookies with milk over this summer….

Debbie

 

 

 

 

 

A little change goes a long way…

I took down our Christmas tree on New Years Day. I actually felt a little sad.

No.

“Sad” is not quite the right word.

I think it touched on a more basic instinct…

More like FEAR.

Well, brand new year, clean slate, new expectations…you know the drill.

I feared that 2016 will be more of the same 2015 crap. I knew I was not keeping in the moment but I could not help it.

Yes, I enjoyed the little break between Christmas and New Years…went down south to get a break from the cold, got a nice tan, went snorkelling, had some tequilas.

However, there always seemed to be an undercurrent of unease that when I go back to reality, it’s as if I never left. Work will still be work, family life will always be family life, winter days will turn to warmer spring days, then the heat  of summer will be replaced by cooler autumn breezes, then before I know it, I will be setting up the Christmas tree again.

Of course, accusing thoughts that I should be more grateful rushed up…..”At least you have a job; at least you have a family who loves you, at least you can enjoy the passing of the seasons…AT LEAST YOU ARE ALIVE!!”

I am grateful, yes, but I had this nagging feeling that I needed a change…something different, something new.

I went to get a haircut.

As I saw my long hair fall to the floor, I realized, yes, this is good. This feels good.

Went from below the shoulder length to a boy-cut in a matter of 5 minutes.

My daughter said I look like Katy Perry in her “Part of Me” video.

Well, that’s not so bad…

…or perhaps she was just being kind.

No matter.

I like it. I love it.

I realized then that one simple thing as a haircut can change one’s perspective.

Yes, the undercurrent of unease is still there and when I went back to the office after the Christmas break, and sure enough, it went into overdrive. Many changes are expected to happen this year and we are all bracing for it.

At any rate, I keep reminding myself that it is out of my control and that things will work out. Somehow.

So, if you feel that perhaps you are in need of a change, get a haircut. At least, if you don’t end up looking like Katy Perry, you have the rest of the year to grow it back….

Here’s to 2016, everyone!

Debbie.

A Lesson on “Distribution Lists”…

Yes, I have gone back to work. I have been back for two weeks, in fact.

“How am I?” you must be wondering ….

It is good to be part of the working population again.

Yet…

Also not so good to be back with the working population again.

I was telling a good friend and colleague of mine that this time, I came back a little more  jaded compared to when I first went offline a few years ago.  I was reminded that when I came back after being diagnosed with anxiety back in 2012, I came back to work full of enthusiasm and energy.  I had all these ideas on how to make work more enjoyable, less stressful, more fun.  I looked forward to going to work; I was quicker to forgive and make concessions and excuses when something or someone pushes too hard.  I felt connected and optimistic that things will be ok.  It’s all uphill from here on in, I used to say….

“It’s ok, she is just having a bad morning”…or “he does that to everyone so don’t feel too bad..” or ” Let it go, it’s not such a big deal…”

However, I realize now that these little things, these little concessions here and there, were  silently and relentlessly chipping away at my enthusiasm.  It’s like waves crashing on the shore…mental and emotional erosion.

In my first week, I resolved to integrate slowly and stick to the plan.  Come in, turn on my computer, change my shoes, walk to the washroom and wash my hands, say hello to everyone I see, and come back and start my work day, taking little breaks here and there.  Good safe plan.

Catching up was easy as I was not gone that long and all the issues that may have come my way had already been dealt with.  The team I work with is comprised with very smart people…our little world continues even when you go offline.

I thought I was doing okay…well, until someone from another team came to my cubicle and “scolded” me sending out an innocuous email and including someone who he thought did not need to be copied.  “Scolded” does not seem to capture the moment.  I knew he was upset as his posh corner office was on the other side of the building and he actually took the time to walk to where I was sitting.

My brain was reeling.  “Upset over the distribution list?!!? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!!”

He talked to me through gritted teeth…a passerby would have mistaken it for a smile but the tone was clear “Don’t mess with me, I’m more senior than you.”  However, with an open concept office, voices travel and people hear.  They knew that something was off and were curious.

At any rate, I recall that my cheeks started to burn for holding up my forced sunny smile while my lesson in choosing my distribution list continued.  All I could say was “Noted”. It took a Herculean effort not to add “JERK”.

He was gone as quickly as he had come.  I had to shake the negativity off.  I felt dirty to have seen such rage over such a petty thing.  Good thing it happened on a Friday afternoon and the idea of going home was like a lifeline.  I had to tell my boss what happened as some people heard and may have been drawing their own conclusions.  I sent a quick email saying I had to leave before I do anything stupid…like copying his boss. Shock-horror!!

On the train home, the concessions started….my practice on compassion and loving kindness came to the fore as I searched my brain for my mantra when people irritate me (although, it did have a rocky start)…

“May this JERK be safe, be happy, be healthy, and his daily life be at ease”.

Ok, try again.

“May this silly person be safe, be happy, be healthy, and his daily life be at ease…”

Again?

“May he be safe, be happy, be healthy, and his daily life be at ease…”

Better….

I repeated this mantra several times and by the end of my train ride, I was feeling ok.  It was the weekend, anyway.

What stayed with me throughout the weekend was not that I should be mindful of who I copy (that’s garbage…I’m smart, I know who I should or should not copy to get things moving!), but rather that I felt I had given a small concession once again.  My boss used to tell me if someone was rude to me, to be rude back.  Dish it all back.  Sigh.  Perhaps I need a lesson on Confrontation.  I just find it so hard.

No.  Can’t quite bring myself to be like that.  I would probably botch the confrontation anyway and end up in more of a mess than when it started….

So, I resolve to build thicker and higher walls so I can slow the erosion.  I will have to.  My field of expertise is full of people like that…full of overinflated egos and insecurities and I have to learn how to walk through the minefield, taking care not to blow myself up.   I think it is the same in all other professions.  We just have different ways of dealing with our own erosions…. That’s just how it is, I guess.  My first mindfulness teacher would say, “Accept.  It is what it is.”

But, this episode has hardened me.  I feel it.  I came out jaded.  I broke my rose coloured glasses.  It was probably a good thing.  A good reality check that however hard you try, you cannot control everything…people, most of all.

Anyway, I had a good break from the stresses of the world.  I am grateful for this little respite.  I wish everyone had this opportunity….I guess that is what vacations are for….of course, without visits to the doctors office.

Have a good weekend, everyone.

Debbie.

Paintings over the years…

I finished a painting yesterday and I realized as I cleaned my brushes that I seem to always come up with a painting when I have one of my major anxiety attacks and relapses.  I reset.  I paint.

So, here are some of my paintings that I have accumulated over the years (yes…YEARS…sad but true).

2012

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“Blue”

30×30 Acrylic on canvas

This is one of my favourite pieces.  I remember agonizing over whether I had too much blue…it seemed so cold, so sad.  I was planning to paint a daisy…something with yellow, something that whispers of sunshine and happy days ahead…instead, my hand seemed to gravitate toward BLUE.  So, here is it…no yellow in sight.

2013

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“Eyes Closed”

30×40 Acrylic on canvas

2013 also had a relapse…and a painting.  So, back I went to the art store and purchased a bigger canvas.  I was determined to have something that I could look at and say, “Yes, that brightens up my day and everything is going to be OK.” Instead, I again seemed to gravitate to darker colors and darker moods.  I remember it was the middle of summer and I just wanted to crawl into my proverbial cave and close my eyes and hoped I would feel better when I do open them.  I wished it was winter.  At any rate, here it is.  Eyes closed and a scarf to keep me warm.  Still no yellow in sight.

2014

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“A Million Suns”

60×60 acrylic paint on canvas

This is the biggest piece I have ever done. My husband actually had to make this canvas for me since they don’t sell this size in your normal art store. This was a painting inspired by an accountant turned artist, Jonah Calinawan ( incidentally, also my brother!).  His work discovers the endless possibilities of choice, destiny, and identity using a 19th century printing process called cyanotype–which gives his images a deep blue color.   You can check out his work at  amillionsuns.com.  As I was doing this piece, I was thinking that life is not really black and white, that we have a choice in making our lives happier, that our outlook in life can be more positive… if we want it to be. I used to scoff at these sayings like “choose happiness”. Very cliche and I roll my eyes. But you know what, there was something to be said for making that choice that “Hey, I can do this.  I choose to be happy, I choose to have a more positive perspective.”  Of course, there were days when it just seemed so hard to get out of bed when I felt storm clouds in my head and I did not want to move a muscle for fear of letting all my inner demons come out and dance in the rain. (Laugh).  I found this was when my mindfulness practice helped me the most. In this painting, I finally had to courage to use Yellow!

So, perhaps, this is why this recent setback has really shaken my resolve.  I was on a roll and I was doing fine (or so I thought), then boom!  Episode in the stairway (see my previous post “May 21, 2015“).

2015

 image“A Reminder”

24 x 36 acrylic on canvas

This is my most recent painting and from  looks of it, I am getting more comfortable with using more “happier” colors.  This set back has been brief ….maybe because I just needed a quick little reminder  to “pause”.  Oh, I forgot to mention that I have gone back to work this past week…slowly integrating back…a few hours a day.

I will leave that story for another time.

At any rate, I look at my paintings over the years and while they were made during difficult times,  I am glad I made something beautiful out of it (or so I think anyway!) .

 I am also realizing that at the rate I’m going, I will be running out of wall space pretty soon!

Debbie.

Today…

I woke up angry today.  Mental forecast–stormy and threat of thunderstorms….

Not sure why exactly.  Just angry.

Angry at how cold I felt even though I was under the blanket all night; angry because it was already morning and I still felt exhausted; angry at not being able to go to work like the rest of the world; angry because I did not know what I was going to do today.

I felt lost. Lost.

I did not know what I was supposed to do to help myself.  Even after a week, I was still struggling to find some peace or at least some eureka moment that would propel me to feeling better.

This past week has been a roller coaster ride for me.  I meant what I said about not losing hope.  From my mindfulness journey, I know I will get better….I painted, I visited my best friend, I gardened, I meditated…but somehow it does not feel enough.  Not this time.

I wanted to lash out.  I have always considered myself to be a “good girl”.  I read all the instruction manuals before I put things together, I always tried to follow the speed limits or at least the speed of traffic, I always returned the carts when I go shopping, I am always polite, I watch what I eat, I exercise, etc….

So, today, I rebelled.  I did not meditate.  I ate a jumbo size Snickers bar for breakfast, bowls of chips for lunch, had 2 glasses of wine  at dinner instead of my usual one glass, I sat in front of the TV and watched Netflix episodes of “Lost”.

I knew I was not in a good place. I knew I was sulking. My family knew I was not in a good mood.  However, I could not help but feel sorry for myself.  I have not felt like this in a long time and I did not know how to cope.  I just want to crawl into a cave and never see the light of day.

It’s past midnight and I am off to bed again.   As I settle in for another night, I have a stomach ache, a headache, and worst of all, heart ache.  Being angry and feeling helpless takes a toll, physically and emotionally.

However, I realize that today was not such a total waste.  I realize that I don’t want to spend another day like today–angry, helpless and feeling like a disappointment. Definitely not me.

So, tomorrow is another day.  Tomorrow, I will go back to my usual routine…meditate, exercise, eat right, be mindful, be patient, etc…Perhaps, tomorrow, I will feel better.

Let’s hope that the forecast is sunny and optimistic…..

Debbie.

May 21, 2015.

Thursday, May 21. It was 10:30 am.

I was on my way to another meeting on the 4th floor. 

Took the stairs from the 7th floor and between the 6th floor and the 5th, I fell apart.

Again.

It had been almost 3 years since my first huge anxiety attack and I had learned then that I was not perfect, vulnerable, different.  I learned then how to be more mindful, stay present, meditate to keep the edge at bay.  I’ve had mini attacks since then but I always got over it, talked myself down from the edge and all was well again.

This was not part of the plan.  This was not how it should be.

I did all the right things.  I meditated everyday, I tried to be mindful everyday.  I tried to let go of petty stuff everyday.  Each day was a new beginning.

So, what went wrong?

I saw my doctor on Friday.  I was glad to get an appointment so soon as she was always booked up. She would know what to do. She would help me make this right. 

As she said “hello”, my tears started falling. Uncontrollable.  “I failed”, I whispered.  She looked at me questioningly. “I fell apart again.” 

“But, Debbie, you were trying to BEAT IT and that you cannot do.  You have to ACCEPT IT. Make peace with the fact that THIS is part of you.”

That gave me pause. 

It made sense.  Somehow it made sense. 

So what now?

How do I accept?  Make peace?

For those questions, she could not help me. I must find that out for myself. She wrote me a doctor’s note for work granting me some time off. 

“This patient is unfit for work…”

Unfit for work…my thoughts were rebelling.  

“But there’s so much to do!  How about the accounting course that your team is hosting that is coming up in a few weeks? How about the countries you are responsible for? Am I going to be fired for this? Who is going to water my office plants when I am away?  Was there any food stuffs on my desk that is going to stink? Any leftover coffee?…and on and on it went. 

I pleaded that I really just need a few days off. I just need to get some good quality sleep and I should be ok. 

She gave me two weeks and then we reassess. 

In the meantime, I have to write, paint, garden, spend time with family, have coffee with my best friend, do yoga, meditate, read. BREATHE. 

She called it “Adjusting my sails.”

I am skeptical. I have done all those.

 I am just lost. 

…but I am patient. I have adjusted my sails this past week. 

Let’s see where it takes me…

Debbie.