Archives for category: happiness

dec 28Happiness is a muscle.

This is the thought that woke me at 5:22 this morning. The unintended wake -up call that made me jolt out of my slumber and sit up straight in bed. The message from the universe that seemed to shoot through the very darkness and point me back towards the light.

Happiness is a muscle.

So like any muscle, when you use it, it’s strength increases.

According to positive psychologist Miriam Akhtar, 40% of our happiness is under voluntary control – and that’s a lot to play for.

It means that the choices we make about our bodies, our spirits, our pursuits, and even the thoughts we focus on, have a monumental impact on our happiness levels.

It means, that in every single moment, I have a choice.

I can focus on the sources of my unhappiness, or I can flex my happiness muscles.

This is not news to me, it’s just that lately, I’ve been forgetting to work out.

No, I don’t mean I haven’t been hitting the gym enough (although I haven’t and that would probably be helpful), I’m referring to the fact that I’ve been forgetting to savour the moment, express my gratitude and practice the natural self-defense against depression, relentless optimism.

In the wake of some uncertainty surrounding my life’s meaning and purpose, instead of focusing on how much opportunity I have, I’ve only been able to see how lost I am.

And focusing on all that anxiety and fear has made me kind of miserable.

Thank goodness for 5:22am wake-up calls.

 

 

 

dec 16As I approach the end of my ‘Wunder Year’, I’ve started thinking about 2014 and beyond.

When I began writing last January, I assumed that by the time December 31st hit, I’d be a whole new person. Turns out, I didn’t need to become someone else, I just needed to learn to accept myself.

350 days in and I’m only just beginning to sort my sh*t out.

Yes, this life seems to be a series of quarter life crises and mental breakdowns. And I’m okay with it. Because the more things get shaken up, the more my fear and doubt and shame get broken apart, and the real me finds the space to break through.

Survival, as defined by dictionary.com, is “the act or fact of continuing to remain in existence, especially under adverse or unusual circumstances.” A survivor is then said to be “a person or thing that survives.” Or “a person who continues to function or prosper in spite of opposition, hardship, or setbacks.”

In this sense, we are all survivors. I’m fairly certain, that there isn’t a human being alive that hasn’t faced some sort of hardship, and against the odds, prospered. (Functioning is okay too I suppose, but I prefer to prosper).

Some of us have survived earthquakes and storms. Some of us have survived divorce, illness, or war. I have, and continue to, survive myself.

Now, I may very well have no idea what it takes to survive anything other than the war I’ve waged against myself, but whether my hardships were real or a figment of my own creation, the threat I posed to my own survival was (and occasionally still is) as deadly as any raging storm.

Survival is a promise I have to make to myself every day. I make it every time I take a breath, with every bite of food, every downward dog, every step forward, every step back. I make it every time I look in the mirror and choose to love the image I see. Even today I struggle to remind myself that having an extra bite of my sushi doesn’t mean I’m unworthy of living.

Survival may have begun with me, but it has taken an entire community. It has taken the help of my physicians and counselors, the understanding of my friends and family, and courage of other survivors who have shared their stories and given me hope.

Which is why the words I write here, are really the story of how I survived myself.

And I hope, when you read them, you can see that there is a survivor in you too.

 

oct 1Last night I made a conscious choice not to fulfill on my commitment of writing every day for a year.

The process of writing this blog has allowed me to discover what the word “balance” looks like for me. How do I juggle work, relationships, fun, exercise, creativity? What do I need to do to ensure that I keep all the balls in the air and still get to sleep at night?

What I’ve discovered, is that depending on the day, balance is a whole new ballgame.

Yesterday, after an eleven hour day at the office, I knew that in order to love my life, I needed to spend some time with J.

I’d been away all weekend and he l was leaving for a week-long trip early this morning, so last night was our one chance to connect and really be with each other. I wasn’t going to sacrifice that with going to workout or writing my blog or even unpacking my suitcase that was laying open in the hall.

But choosing to simply be present with him for a few hours wasn’t exactly an easy thing to do.

We live in a world that constantly tells us that we need to “do it all”. We’ve got to keep all the balls in the air while we run a marathon, cook our own meals, become the C.E.O, empty the dishwasher, publish our auto-biographies, save orphans in the third world, attend opening night galas, separate our recyclables and brush our hair.

Anything less than perfection equals a major fail.

For a moment, skipping my workout and choosing not to write felt like I’d just signed my life away to mediocrity.

That destructive voice whispered that if I were a better, smarter, stronger, more perfect person I could have managed to do it all.

Thankfully, over the course of this year, I’ve become far better at reading my inner voice’s bullshit meter. So I pushed away the guilt I was supposed to feel and spent a few blissful hours wrapped up in the arms of the man I love as we watched back to back episodes of 30 Rock.

And when I woke up this morning, I was no more or less “perfect” than I would have been if I had managed to do it all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

sept 19The more I run, the more it becomes clear that our disconnection from each other has become a social epidemic of unparalleled proportions.

I don’t know if I’d notice it if I ran with headphones, but I run to be fully in the here and now. Getting present with the pavement means I’ve started seeing certain things about the world.

On top of this fact, I have a very peculiar habit that makes it very obvious that we have lost the desire to connect with each other.

I am a smiler.

I didn’t realize this as being a-typical behaviour until recently, when a friend was running towards me on the seawall and before I had the chance to realize it was her in the distance, she witnessed me flashing a giant grin at each person I passed.

“Did you know you smile when you run?” she asked as if it were some sort of anti-social action.

“Of course I do. Don’t you?” She shook her head and said “No, but it’s nice that you do.”

Suddenly the strange sense of rejection I feel whilst running made perfect sense to me. People see me smiling and think there’s legitimately something wrong with me. Hence why they go out of their way to avoid eye contact.

Because in this city, anybody that skips, hums, whistles or smiles is immediately written off as bat shit crazy.

I suppose it only makes sense that I smile wherever I go. I learned it from my mother – and she’s the craziest person I know.

When I was young, my mother taught me to smile and make eye contact with servers, the people bagging our groceries, the woman making our hot chocolates and the men sitting with upturned hats on street corners. “Smile, she said, “Let each person you come across know that they are not invisible. Sometimes simply knowing that somebody sees you is worth more than anything in the world”

And so I smile. And I know I am one of the few, because I watch the people of this city sidestep bodies on the sidewalk without even glancing down. I watch their eyes find something more important to focus on than the human being sitting on the cold, hard ground.

I know because I’ve spent ten years taking orders and finding people the right pair of black stretchy pants and I’ve felt my fair share of being invisible.

I wonder if perhaps we are all just afraid of each other. Or perhaps our lives are so busy and important we don’t have time to smile. Or, perhaps we just don’t give a shit about each other anymore.

Some days when I’m out running, it almost breaks my heart. But then I remember that each morning on my way to work, I pass a man who sits atop an upturned yellow crate in front of the Macs. In his hands he holds an upturned baseball cap. He wears tattered black jeans and his beard rarely sees the edge of a razor. There are bags under his eyes and I know that life may not have always dealt him the easiest of cards. Yet every morning, rain or shine, he smiles at me and says “Howdy neighbour! Beautiful day today.” And I smile and say, “It sure is. Have a good one!”

To him, I am never invisible. And so I keep running, and I keep smiling, and the thought of this connection gives me hope.

 

 

sept 18Last night a friend sent me a story about a tribe in Africa. In this particular tribe, when a woman decides that she wishes to have a child, she goes off on her own to sit beneath a tree and listen. She listens until she can hear the song of the child that want’s her as its mother.

When she makes love to the man that will be the child’s father, she teaches him the song that she heard, and they sing it together.

Before the child is born, the mother teaches the midwives and the women of the village the song too. When the child emerges into the world, the first thing it hears it’s very own song. As the child grows, the whole village comes to know the song, and they sing it to the child to honour them on special occasions.

If at some point during their lifetime, they commit a crime, are acting out in aggression or experiencing unhappiness, the villagers form a circle around the child who is no longer a child and sings their song to them. They sing the song to them instead of punishing the child as they know that the child has lost their identity. They sing the song to remind the child of who they have always been.

And when the child has grown old and weary, the villagers gather once again, and they sing them their song, one last time.

The story that my friend sent me concluded by saying that whether we were raised in this tribe or not, we each have a song. We can hear it in the moments when our actions align with our purpose. When we stray from our true path,  the song grows faint. We must pick up our song again if we wish to find our way home.

What my friend didn’t know was that when she sent me this story, it was as if she were a villager, singing me my song at the moment I needed it most.

Somehow, in the past year, I have lost my song.

See I used to live for the hours when I would be left home alone. The second it was just me and the dog, I’d blast the music and start singing. I’d sing showtunes and ballads and old folk songs and country tunes. I would sing at the top of my lungs and yes, I’d usually use a brush as a microphone.

Later on, when I finally had the nerve to sing in public, it would take me some convincing to get up on stage, but once I was up there, you’d have to drag me off.

The friend that sent me the story has known me since the day I was born. We have grown up together – she is a part of my village, if you will. As I read the story about the villagers singing the child’s song, I heard her voice singing me home.

For if I know one thing to be true, its that when I stop singing, I am not living on purpose anymore. When I stop singing, I am merely chugging along.

I don’t have to sing well or for anyone to hear me, but in order to be my best in the world, I have to at least be singing my song as loudly and as proudly as I can.

sept 16Have you ever tried to pick a fight and the other person just isn’t willing to play along? It’s about the most frustrating situation one can imagine.

Yesterday I was hell-bent on raising hell and J just turned the other cheek as if to mock me. Of course, this only worked to fuel my rage and so I was forced to stomp around like a child. Still, even at my most petulant, he would not buy in.

I stormed about the apartment, threw things down with more force than necessary and sighed loudly for no apparent reason. And when I really wasn’t getting a reaction, I started yelling. Did you know that the first person to yell never wins?

Did you also know that the thing you pick the fight about is never actually the thing that’s wrong?

J and I don’t have a washer or dryer. When it comes time to do the laundry, I am forced to lug a week’s worth of bedding, towels, sweaty gym clothes and Wunder Unders down three flights of stairs and up a block to the local laundromat. Typically, I spend at least two hours a week hauling, washing, folding, hanging, and placing our laundry back into drawers.

J has set foot in the laundromat approximately two times in the fourteen months we’ve lived here. Which isn’t generally an issue because I don’t really trust him to know which items are dryer friendly and which are not. In his defense, over the course of the past fourteen months I’ve only set foot in the kitchen once.

I forget about this arrangement of ours every time I get upset about something else. I also forget that I can huff and puff as much as I’d like and it’s not going to change the fact that J will never be able to read my mind.

So, yesterday when I got all in a rage about having to do his laundry, he just continued on with his day and figured that I’d eventually calm down and tell him what I was really upset about.

You’d think I would have learned by now that the simplest course of action is to let him in on the truth behind my feelings. But nope, I have some sort of uncontrollable compulsion to get all up in arms.

The man truly is an anchor amidst my irrational storms.

After I realized that he really wasn’t going to take the bait on this one, I broke down and told him what was really on my mind.

Surprise, surprise, my temper tantrum didn’t have anything to do with the laundry. I don’t mind doing the laundry so long as I feel appreciated and valued. For me, feeling appreciated and valued means receiving acknowledgment of the work I’ve done. But how was he to know? I never told him.

Only once I spoke the truth and let him know what had been missing for me, did I give him the chance to really hear me. And in his ability to take in what I was saying, we created a course of communication that would not have otherwise been.

To think I wasted precious hours trying to get him to fight with me when all I had to say was, “I need you to see and hear me”.

 

 

 

jul 31Today I wished the world would stop spinning just for a moment or two.

I wished for more time to meet my deadlines, answer all those emails that have been piling up for months, empty my closet of old clothes, dust the floorboards and cut my toenails.

I looked for a pause button to press, but the world just spun madly on.

Sometimes I feel like I’m on a train that’s going so fast I can’t make out where I’ve been, where I am or where I’m going.

Sometimes I lose total sight of who I am.

Sometimes I pray for the silence and the stillness of the pouring rain.

Nearly four years ago I packed my life into the back of a station wagon and headed west. I left my hometown with nothing but a broken heart, my favourite books, and a suitcase (or three) of clothes. I was hellbent on reinventing myself and figured that the easiest route to get there was in the shedding of my old self.

I thought that by the time I reached the Pacific I’d have figured everything out.

I thought that the rain would wash away all the hurt, sadness and confusion of my past and I would be left with a sense of total clarity. I thought I would finally get to be with myself.

And it worked for a while. I spent those first few weeks before beginning work exploring the rain-covered streets of my new city and marveled at just how unfamiliar everything was. I let myself get lost in dark alleys and discovered an independence and a resilience I had never known.

I sat in coffee shops for hours and hours and watched the parade of umbrellas pass by the foggy windows. I took a notebook with me everywhere I went and when inspiration would strike – which it did frequently – I would write and write until the shops closed up.

At twenty three years old, I was, for the first time in my life, alone. For a while, the freedom of having no ties to anyone or anything fueled my happiness and creativity.

It was weeks before I began to feel the weight of emptiness press down.

When the loneliness hit me me, I began to fill it with the only cure for emptiness that I’d ever known.

My eating disorder became my constant companion then.

I remember standing on the scale in my aunt’s bathroom, believing that the lower the numbers went, the more meaning my life took on.

Years later, I’ve learned to stay away from the scale, but I’m still not sure I’ve learned to simply be with myself. I fill my life with other things to ensure that I’m never truly alone enough to let the emptiness creep back in.

Which is perhaps why I feel like I’m on a speeding train that’s headed for a breakdown.

Life is busy and my inbox, my closets and my floorboards aren’t going to clear themselves. But I’ve been obsessing about them in the same way I’ve obsessed about every possible pound I’ve gained since the day I swore I was never going to obsess about my weight again.

The train I’m on? As I write these words, I’m beginning to see that it exists purely in my mind. Time is ticking away at the same rate it’s always done. I am not farther or nearer from myself than I’ve ever been. My life has no more or less meaning than it did yesterday or will tomorrow.

I am no more or less empty than I was at 10, or 19, or 27, or will be at 53 or 89.

I don’t need the rain, or the Pacific, or a new dress, or a parade of umbrellas to remind me that I have always been and always will be, exactly where I’m at and as I am.

 

 

 

jul 8The best part about pooping your pants in public is that after suffering through the humiliation of that experience, there is hardly any shame-inducing scenario that one could dream of that could ever elicit that level of embarrassment again.

In other words, since accidentally shitting myself yesterday – and then choosing to tell the whole internet – I feel a sense of freedom unlike any scope of liberation I’ve experienced.

Failure, rejection, imperfection – they all pale in comparison to the feeling of your own feces dripping out the bottom of your shorts and slowly running down your legs.

Seriously; I feel unstoppable.

See for most of my life, what other people think of me has been the measuring stick I’ve used to determine whether or not I was worthy of love and belonging.

I always assumed that if I looked stupid or did something wrong, it would cost me my membership in the Normal, Acceptable Well-Adjusted Human-Being Club.

The problem with that kind of equation is that it has meant that I have spent a lifetime keeping up appearances. I have given up my own identity and my own opinions to ensure that I would always fit neatly into whichever box it was I that I thought I belonged. I have sacrificed countless opportunities to grow in both my professional and personal life because I was terrified that if I shone too brightly or took too big of risks, my membership to the aforementioned club would be rescinded.

Of course, on the inside I’ve always just been me – I just didn’t want anybody to find that out.

I’ve covered up my desire for romance, adventure and passion with an obsessive need for safety and control. There are a lot of roads I never traveled because I was afraid of the big, bad What If.

What if I fail? What if I succeed? What if nobody likes me? What if I’m not cool enough? What if I lose everything I already have? What if I shit myself in a Blendz bathroom and have to walk home with a scarf around my bare ass?

Now there are plenty of things I’ve done and many more I haven’t done that I’m not proud of. There are parts of me that before I began the process of recovering from major depression and an eating disorder that I thought rendered me completely un-lovable. But none of them were quite as awful as explosive diarrhea.

This morning I woke up to the realization that I just divulged the single most disgusting thing I’ve ever done to whoever happens to read it. And there is no going back.

At 6:30 this morning that thought was little intimidating. But as the day wore on and friends and strangers revealed to me that they too have experienced a similar situation, it dawned on me that we don’t have to be stuck (pardon the next reference) in our shit alone.

When we are able to tell our stories (whether to a trusted friend, counselor or a community of people who love and support us) we free ourselves from the lie we tell ourselves about needing to look good. We begin to understand that in standing in who we are – disgusting bits and all – we can remove the layers of shame, guilt and fear.

And in the sharing of those things about us that we are certain if anyone found out we’d be disowned, we move into a freedom of being that would not otherwise be possible.

So, Dear World, if you’d like to experience total and complete freedom from judgement, shame, and humiliation, I highly recommend shitting yourself.

 

 

jul 1As I sat on the boat’s stern and watched Gabriola Island fade slowly beyond the line of the horizon, I had a momentary urge to jump into the wake and make a break back to paradise.

Alas, reality beckoned and, as I discovered yesterday, the water’s of The Pacific North-West are a little cold for my liking.

So here I am, sitting in my sweltering apartment trying to drown out the sound of my neighbour’s yapping Chihuahua (or as my Dad refers to the breed, their “rat on a rope”) and rubbing aloe vera on my sunburnt shoulder’s every 15 minutes.

I don’t think I realized how desperately I had needed a vacation until I saw the Vancouver skyline reappear before me this afternoon. Because the moment we crossed under the Lion’s Gate, the knots of stress that three days of total relaxation had undone began to tie themselves back up into my shoulders, and stomach, and back again.

The deep line between my eyebrows that was smoothed by sunshine and seashells reemerged, my jaw clenched up, and I felt my breath – made easy by the salty air – become laboured once again.

Suddenly I am more away of what my body is telling me than I have ever been.

And if the headache and nausea I’m battling this evening are any indication, it’s high time I began to listen.

If I have any chance at pure and unadulterated happiness I have to give up being stressed out all the time.

I have to give up trying to do too much and feeling like I’m never enough.

Because in the reality I’ve created, nothing is ever good enough. And all the scarcity I’ve created has got my body in a panic all the time.

I never have enough time or money. I’m not pretty enough, smart enough, bold enough, funny enough. My work’s not good enough, my clothes aren’t nice enough, by entire life is two-steps behind. And in the race to catch up, I stress myself out trying to reach an ever moving finish line.

And I’m done. I’m tapping out. I surrender.

I cannot compete with myself anymore. I am so tired of making myself sub-par.

I am not sure what it is about being out in nature, but this weekend as I began to disconnect from the machinery and pressure that has become my life, I realized that all the stress I’m under is completely of my own design.

I watched a bald eagle flying over our boat yesterday. It is an incredible thing to witness it taking off from a treetop and spreading it’s wings to catch the air. As I watched it, it dawned on me that this magnificent creature likely never says to itself “I am just not good an enough at being an eagle.”

Because that would be ridiculous and completely detrimental to it’s continued survival.

No, an eagle doesn’t wax on about it’s right to take up space on this planet or whether it’s worthy of it’s prey; an eagle just spreads it’s wings and soars.

I may not be an eagle, but I am enough.

I may not have it all or be able to do it all, but if I’m going to fly as free as a bird, it must be enough to just be me.

 

 

 

 

jun 18I remember being 17 and thinking that 27 seemed kind of old. I figured by the time I was blowing out 27 candles I would be married to Heath Ledger, living in a Parisian loft and polishing my first Oscar.

As I sit sweating in my tiny Canadian apartment with my lovely boyfriend (who is not a now-deceased movie star) and no sign of an Oscar, I can’t help but wonder where it was that all my plans for the future hit the rails.

How did I envision that life and end up here?

I’m unmarried, unfamous, unsuccessful by society’s standards, and still in the midst of figuring it all out and barely scraping by.

So why do I still feel like a movie star?

In the past I’ve used my birthday as a time to take inventory on all the things I did wrong. With every year that passed I’d become even more conscious of all the ways I never measured up to my own expectations. Each extra candle on my cake symbolized another year I wasted living in fear.

This year, I’m celebrating the fact that even though my life is drastically different from the one I envisioned, I am so incredibly thankful that I’m here.

Because I’ve got something that’s a whole lot cooler than making the A-list or marrying a movie star. I’ve got a life that is so abundant in awesomeness it’s almost unbelievable.

I’m not sure what Birthdays are really supposed to celebrate, but this year I’m declaring that all 27 candles on my cake are a symbol of how my life is filled with incredible people.

People who make loving where I’m at simple. People who hold my accountable to my greatness, help me to see the wonder in failure and teach me that living a life I’m madly in love with is possible.

If you’re reading these words, you’re one of those people.

And if I was holed up in Parisian loft having hot sex with a celebrity and staring into the eyes of a fake gold statue, I wouldn’t have had the chance to get to know you.