Don’t Feed the Reaper

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I used to think about dying a lot. I could say, “more than most people,” but I have no idea how often most people think about dying. “How often do you think about dying?” is not typically one of my go-to “get to know you” questions. I did ask it once at a speed dating event. Just kidding. It’s pretty much a given that the only thing people are thinking about at speed dating events is, “How on earth did I get to this place in my life?”

But, I digress.

One of the results of always thinking out dying – about me dying and my friends dying and my family dying – and working myself into a giant, weepy, anxious, insomnia-inducing mess – was that I was constantly telling myself that I “shouldn’t take life for granted” and I should “live in the moment” and “life is short” so I should “live it to its fullest.”

I’d always had a hard time doing all those things. Ever since I was a kid I struggled with enjoying what was happening because I was always trying so hard to ENJOY WHAT WAS HAPPENING. If I hadn’t slept the night before, all I could focus on during the brief visit with an aunt and cousin who I rarely see was how I’d ruined this potentially magical day by being tired. Every time my grandparents came to visit, my thoughts would be focused on the fact that this might be the last time I see them before they die. Every time I went home for Christmas, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t enjoy our fun, family traditions because, in the back of my mind, I was always wondering if it would be our last one together.

Not only did I ruin every moment by thinking about the shitty things that could happen or how it could be better, but I also extra ruined it by constantly telling myself to stop thinking those thoughts, and then beating myself up when I couldn’t. By the time the moment was over, I was exhausted.

The good news is, I rarely think about death like that anymore and, when I do, I have enough tricks in my toolbox to divert my thoughts elsewhere. Looking back on when I was a kid, I can now see that self-sabotaging in times when I should have been enjoying things came from anxiety and depression, both of which I have since learned to manage. I mean, I’m no Eckhart Tolle, but I have learned to, for the most part, really experience happy times for what they are.  Mostly because I’m not thinking, “THIS IS A HAPPY TIME! WHY AREN’T YOU ENJOYING IT?” over and over again.  Who knew?

My desperate need to constantly LIVE LIFE TO ITS FULLEST, however, took a bit longer to figure out. It took finally realizing what living life to its fullest actually means. To ME. And understanding that what it does mean and what I thought it should mean are different things. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t mean being in my forties and binge drinking and partying until 3am.

Stay tuned.

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The Hapiness Project Continues

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You can read part 1 here.

The first day was hard.  The first MONTH was hard. I started every day telling myself it was going to be great and that I wouldn’t let outside circumstances affect my state of mind.

But every day wasn’t great. Every day was still shitty. I was often close to tears, and when I lay in bed at the end of each day and tried to pick out things that made me happy, more often than not, the only things I could think of were TV, pajamas, and bedtime. Every day ended with a peppy, “Today was not great, but you got through it without being an asshole, good job.” Except sometimes I was still an asshole.

I kept trying. I pushed through. And it was exhausting.  But, at least pretending to be happy gave me a pretend better attitude and I started feeling like part of the team at work again.

And then one day one of my colleagues made me laugh. Like, actually laugh, not my usual “I feel like you want me to laugh here so I’ll laugh” laugh. I hadn’t really laughed like that in a long time. It had been SO long, in fact, that I really noticed it. Like, I took a breath, just for a minute, and there was a small space where a piece of anger no longer existed. That night I had something else to add to my list.

A few days later, the same colleague made me laugh again. MORE THAN ONCE. And it came easier this time. With each laugh, I could actually feel the anger and exhaustion and sadness start lifting, bit by bit.

And then one night, as I began my ritualistic pep talk, I realized that I had had a really great day. For reals. And, no, I didn’t win the lottery or get a promotion or see Taye Diggs without his shirt on, nothing great actually happened, I had just really enjoyed the day. And then I enjoyed the next day. And then the one after that.

Somewhere along the way, I had stopped pretending.  At some point, my happiness had become real. It still is real. And, while I still have bad days, or bad weeks even, when a friend who I hadn’t seen for a while recently asked how my life was going, I said, “Great!” and I meant it.  Just to give a small piece of context here: I have NEVER meant it.

Now, I’m not saying “act the way you want to feel” is the magic bullet that is saving my sanity single-handedly. There are a lot of things I have started doing differently which I plan to expand on at some point –  meditation, self-care, and living life to its fullest my own damn way, to name a few – but, for me, it was a really good start.

I’m a firm believer in the idea that energy spreads and you get back the energy you give. I’ve seen the physical deflation that occurs when a once happy person unexpectedly wanders into a negative conversation. I’ve been the person who punctures their happy balloon. I’ve also been the person who unexpectedly had their spirits lifted by a kind word or a silly dance. I don’t want to be the person who, every time I open my mouth I’m looked at like everyone expects a complaint to fall out. I want to be the person who solves the problems and lifts the spirits.  I want to be the dancer.

Dancing, however, does not come easy for me, both metaphorically and literally. I often describe myself as a “cynical realist”, and a friend once likened my dancing to “pretending to be an airplane.” But, something I’ve also recently realized is that I’m happier when I have a purpose; a goal to work towards; a challenge.

I will just add this one to the list.

 

My Happiness Project**

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*Note – I blatantly stole the title of this post from Gretchen Ruben who wrote the book The Happiness Project, as well as many other great books, and hosts, along with her sister, one of my favorite podcasts (Happier). While my project isn’t like hers at all, nor is it even a project, she was my inspiration; so this is my way of paying a small tribute to a person who will never read this or know about it.

*Also note – this post (or any other post that follows) is in no way meant to diminish depression and those who are depressed. I have struggled with anxiety and depression for almost my whole life and, full disclosure, have sought out many forms of therapy and medications over the past many years. This is not a post on how to get over being depressed by BEING HAPPIER or LETTING THINGS GO or THINKING POSITIVE THOUGHTS because telling someone who is depressed to do those things is probably the worst advice you can give. The posts that I’m going to write are about me changing my shitty attitude and trying to create more joy in my life. And, if I’m keeping it real, growing up.

Let’s begin.

Oh, wait, speaking of depression, here’s a good podcast about how to talk to people who are depressed. It’s short so there is no excuse for not listening to it.

Ok, for reals, let’s begin.

I’ve always been an anxious person. I’ve recently realized that if someone was writing my biography and went through all my half-finished journals, they would probably discover that one of the greatest sources of my anxiety was my endless quest for happiness.

I didn’t quite know what the happiness I was searching for looked like, but I figured it must just be the opposite of what I often felt: unhappy. I knew what “unhappy” looked like; it looked like tired and irritable and lonely and sad. I didn’t like feeling those things, so I did my best to look for ways to not feel them.

I drank. A lot. And that helped for a short time. Until I woke up the next day feeling like death and spending the next week or so hating myself for things I may or may not have remembered.

I read books on how to be happier. All the books. I tried all the things. And each time I tried something and I felt better I thought, “THIS IS IT! I’ve finally cracked the code. I am now going to be happy forever!” But then I wasn’t. I had failed again. I closed my gratitude journal for the final time and put it with the others.

I changed jobs. A lot. “People spend the majority of their life working,” I thought. “Why would I do something that I don’t enjoy? Why would I go somewhere every day that makes my stomach hurt?” And every time I went somewhere new and felt better I thought, “THIS IS IT! I’ve finally found the job I was meant to do. I am now going to be happy forever!” But then I wasn’t. I had failed again. I turned my LinkedIn alerts back on and updated my resume. Again.

I planned trips and adventures and joined groups and forced myself to meet new people, all in an effort to LIVE LIFE TO ITS FULLEST. I emailed resumes and went to interviews and got my hopes up and then got depressed. I was angry and resentful and lonely and frustrated and exhausted. NOTHING IS WORKING! None of this is working.

None of this is working.

For the past year or so I’ve been listening to the Happier Podcast with Gretchen Ruben and, because I liked it so much, I started to read one of her books “The Happiness Project”. One of the things she mentions in the book and in the podcast from time to time is “Act how you want to feel.” If you want to feel like you have a lot of energy, act like you have a lot of energy. If you want to feel happy and more positive, act like you’re happy and positive.

I thought it was stupid. Why would I PRETEND I was happy? I don’t want to be fake. I want to be actually happy. My authentic self is angry and miserable so isn’t that how I should be until I solve the happiness mystery and all the anger and misery magically goes away?

But I tried it anyway. Begrudgingly. Because I knew I had to do something. One, because I was tired of being miserable and two, because I was pretty sure I was close to being fired because of my craptacular attitude.

To be continued…..

Did I do it?! Am I happy?! Did I get fired?! Stay tuned to find out!

I Will Rise but I Will Not Shine

bell-2591582_1920I loved my apartment in Toronto. It was on the top floor of a beautiful, four-story house and from my roof-top balcony, I could look out over the top of the thick canopy of trees that spread throughout the neighborhood. The neighborhood was old and quiet and full of organic-food-eating young families, walking around with their giant strollers, poking their heads into cool shops and cafes while their dogs drank the water in the dishes that were put out for them on every corner. It sounds pretentious – and it totally was – but it was also great.

Every weekend I’d walk down the main street and find a new place to shop or eat. I lived two blocks from the beach and, while I only went to the beach to do beach things once in two years, I often went running on the boardwalk and would stop and stare at the vast expanse of water and wonder how I got so lucky to be living so close to such great energy and beauty.

The best thing about my apartment was that it was big enough for me but small enough that I could clean the entire thing in an hour. The worst thing about my apartment was that it was only big enough for me. When people came to visit, which happened infrequently, it was a tight fit. And, because I lived directly above my landlord, in a house that was not soundproof, I was constantly worried about making too much noise.

Of course, my parents would come to visit. And I would let them sleep in my bed and I would sleep on the couch because I’m not an asshole. My bedroom was actually pretty big, comparatively.  It took up almost half the apartment and had a huge window that looked onto the neighborhood below.

During one particular summertime visit, my mom brought up the concern that I didn’t have a digital clock in my room and, not that she was complaining, but she really liked to see the time at night. So, my dad downloaded a digital clock app, set up his tablet on the windowsill and everyone settled down into their respective beds and couches and drifted off into a satisfied sleep.

Well, I didn’t. Mostly because I have problems sleeping in my own bed let alone a couch, but also because my beautiful rooftop patio was also the preferred nighttime hangout of a family of six raccoons. And they were LOUD, my friends. Basically, when I wasn’t lying awake because of the noise, I was lying awake wondering why they were so quiet and trying to figure out how on earth they managed to shit right on top of my two ornamental pigs almost every night. Like, how in the hell do they actually get on them in a way that is comfortable enough to squat?

This is one thing I regret never knowing.

I probably drifted off to sleep about 3:00 am.  And then I was dreaming. I was at church. And there were church bells.

(BONG, BONG, BONG, BONG)

No, wait. I wasn’t at church. There must be a church by my place. Man, those church bells are loud.

(BONG, BONG, BONG, BONG)

I don’t remember a church being by my place. Weird.

And then I’m awake. And it’s 5:00 am. And my dad is standing there in his pajamas looking terrified and yelling, “WHAT IS THAT?”

(BONG, BONG, BONG, BONG)

“CHURCH BELLS!” I yell back.

“FROM WHERE?!”

“THE CHURCH!”

(BONG, BONG, BONG, BONG)

“WHAT CHURCH?!”

“I DON’T KNOW!”

Turns out, it was the alarm from the digital clock app that he downloaded onto his tablet. Going off for ten minutes. At full blast. While facing out my open window.

Surprisingly, I never heard anything from my landlord about the 5:00 am wakeup call, nor did I hear anything from my neighbors. Also surprisingly, my mom didn’t move the entire time, like whatever was going on was just a perfectly normal situation for her.

“Ugh. This is why I don’t like Toronto,” I picture her thinking. And then just rolling over and going back to sleep.

Here’s an Idea

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I don’t like buzzwords.

This may make me a disrupter because I’m not aligned with the new normal, but to unpack this any other way would be inauthentic. I hope downloading this doesn’t upset anyone in my tribe.

One buzzword that is trending (last one, I promise) these days, in its various forms, is “innovation”.  The internet tells me why brainstorming is bad for innovation and podcasts tell me why procrastination is good. It’s implied that you need to be an innovator to be a success. You need to have ideas. And those ideas need to be big and unique and entrepreneurial. And then one day, you will have the mother of all big, unique, entrepreneurial ideas and you will make a lot of money and your life’s goal will be complete.

“Where are all of MY innovative ideas?” I would wonder. I procrastinate. I often don’t pay attention in brainstorming meetings, doesn’t that count? Maybe I need to put up a mood board or block some creative thinking time in my calendar or take part in more walking meetings.  Or maybe – oh god, don’t say it – I’m just not an innovator.

That’s not to say I’m not ambitious, I am. I’m driven, I’m a hard worker and I’m good at what I do. Sometimes I’m even passionate about things. I’ve just never wanted to have the next big idea or create the next big thing or work towards eventually running my own business.

But that’s OK. Because we can’t all be innovators. If everyone was an innovator, nothing would get done. All the great ideas and big new things would just sit on pieces of paper or float around in heads. Innovators need people like me to help make their ideas into reality.

I still create things. I write. I come up with ideas for events and things my friends and I can do. I read and listen and learn and make mistakes and get better and will always be reinventing myself in different ways, but I will likely never reinvent something on a scale that could be qualified as innovation.

I’m good at planning. I’m good at managing projects. Give me a budget and a deadline and I’ll do my best to make that happen. In all the many, many jobs I’ve had in my life, managing projects well is the one skill that ties them all together.

And I can be proud of that. I can be proud that, even though I may not be the person who comes up with the idea for the next big thing, I could very well be part of the team behind the scenes that helped it come alive.

Which is why I think non-innovators are kind of being given the short end of the stick.  We don’t all have to be innovators.  We CAN’T all be innovators. So why aren’t there more articles and podcasts out there on how to be more effective behind the scenes? It shouldn’t all be about the people in the spotlight. That shouldn’t be everyone’s goal. The people you don’t see are just as important, even if they do tend to keep their contributions to themselves.

I want to hear a Ted Talk about how to motivate people to sit back and listen. I want to listen to a podcast that speaks to the importance of people who don’t spend their time thinking up the next big idea, but do the best job supporting those who do.  If I see an article titled, “Why project deadlines aren’t just suggestions,” I will read it immediately and share the crap out of it.

Of course, innovators are very important. But so are those people who are not. You don’t have to be one to be a success.

Non-innovators unite! But keep it to yourselves.

The Handy Man Can

handy manAs you may know, if you’ve read my other posts, there are few things I dislike about being single. Like, I could count them on one hand. If I had three fingers.

There are a great many things that I can do for myself, but there are certain things that I just can’t.  No, this is not going where you think it is going.

What you might not know, unless you know me in person, is that I am not handy. At all. And I own a condo. Which I purchased, move-in ready, for the very reason that I didn’t want to have to fix or change anything after I moved in.

In the five years that I’ve lived here, I’ve managed to put up a garbage can on my kitchen cupboard door after drilling six more holes than needed; put up a new toilet paper holder using screws that are long enough they poke halfway through my bathroom cupboard; and put up a new shower curtain rod, not in any way masking the four screw holes around each end from the previous shower curtain rod. I could have hidden them if I would have put up the larger, nicer curtain rod, but I couldn’t figure it out, and I fell into the tub twice, so I took it back.  I’ve also tried to change out my thermostat and a dimmer switch but gave up when I got scared I was going to electrocute myself.  Oh wait, I have actually replaced a few pot lights, but that was after I figured out I didn’t have to take the whole light fixture out of the ceiling and made a mess out of the paint job.

In any case, I detest not being able to do things for myself, especially things that are “typical man” type things like fixing stuff up around the house. So, I keep trying.  And I keep failing.

This weekend I tried for about 2 hours to fix my bathroom door that wouldn’t close all the way. The result is that it still doesn’t close and there is now a hideous, holey mess hidden behind the door plate. I also pulled something in my right glute somehow.

But, that didn’t stop me.

I then spent 4 hours trying to unclog my kitchen sink. I did this by taking apart all the pipes underneath the sink, as well as the one that runs through my cupboard, creating a plumbing snake with two hangers and some Swiffer dusting cloths, cleaning it out, and putting everything back together.

And, man, I was so proud of myself. I took a picture and posted it on Facebook and let everyone know that I didn’t need no stinking man. I AM AN INDEPENDENT WOMAN!

Shortly thereafter, my sink plugged up again. And, not only that, the pipes that I so ingeniously put together, started leaking. Everywhere.

So, I tried to fix it. But I couldn’t get them apart again. And I couldn’t tighten them any more.  And then I gave up. And called a plumber.  Who, after four hours, still hasn’t gotten back to me to say when or if he’s coming today.

Depending on people is the worst.

In theory, if I wasn’t single, my boyfriend or husband would be handy and just fix all this crap. Or, at least, help me deal with it. I hate feeling so helpless and at the mercy of a wandering plumber.

And shouldn’t I be getting the hang of it by now?  I try hard. I give it my best. I took the door off and climbed into my cupboard for fuck sakes.

And I can’t afford to call a plumber or an electrician everytime something breaks or I want something done.

Maybe I’ll put an ad up on Kijiji. “Wanted: Part-time boyfriend needed to fix things and kill the odd bug. Other tasks TBD. Must go home when I tell him to.”

I think I’m on to something.

My Lonely Valentine

heart-1244507_1920Studies show that loneliness is the new smoking.  Except I think sitting is now supposed to be the new smoking.  So, I guess loneliness is the new sitting.  Which doesn’t really sound as bleak.

But it is.  Loneliness is bleak, my friends.  Social contact, real social contact not Facebook, is now said to be essential to longevity.  According to research, “social isolation is on a par with high blood pressure, obesity, lack of exercise or smoking as a risk factor for illness and early death.”

Fuck me, right?

But wait, single people.  Before you start madly swiping on Tinder and accepting date requests from dudes whose profile pictures are solid shots of their chests, I’d like to throw you some good news.

Romantic relationships are not the be all and end all of social connection. If you’re not sleeping beside your one true love every night, that doesn’t automatically make you another lonely sucker who will die before hitting 60.

As I’ve mentioned, I’m single.  I’ve been single for over a decade.  But I am rarely lonely.

Every Valentine’s Day, my Facebook feed is full of either my couple friends professing their love for one another or my single friends bemoaning the fact that they’re spending the night alone on the couch watching TV.

First of all, spending the night alone on the couch watching TV is my absolute favourite thing to do, so I don’t feel sorry for you and, second of all, I like to use Valentine’s Day to celebrate the relationships I do have and the love I feel for all the awesome family and friends I have in my life.

Who says Valentine’s Day has to be about romance?!  Well, everyone, but NOT ME!

Part of my self-reinvention is going to be focusing on and strengthening the relationships I currently have with friends and family and making an effort to create new ones rather than pining away for an idea of something that may never exist.

I spent Valentine’s Day evening with a good friend and had a great time.  I’m starting a club for friends so we can connect in real time with real people.  Social media just isn’t doing it for me anymore. I want to make real connections, with words and sentences and facial expressions.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I still really like my alone time. I like my alone time a lot. But just because I’m single, doesn’t mean I’m alone.

Everyone I needed was right here all along.