Unmothered on Mother’s Day

I wanted to write this last weekend and didn’t. Every year on Mother’s Day I feel my mom’s absence, not because I remember how her voice sounded, or what she smelled like, or what her skin felt like. I don’t remember any of these things after 25 years. I only remember that I miss being mothered, even at 43. I think part of the reason why I feel her loss every year is because I am a mom myself and want to celebrate Mother’s Day just as a mom. And yet, every year my grief sneaks up on me and creates irritability and distraction.

My mental health is affected on these days, and while I know it’s to be expected, it bothers me nonetheless. I’m irritable and then feel guilty for feeling irritable, for not simply being grateful. Grateful for my family, my children and for my safety during a global pandemic. And I am grateful. But I’m also longing, longing to be mothered by own mom. Even in her all of her imperfections, all of her mistakes, all of her misfortune, I still have this longing for her. I doubt it will ever go away completely, it just continues to fade as the years go by.

My mom’s headshot, one of my favourites of her. Circa 1990

Perhaps if I’m lucky enough to live past 49, I will see my daughters graduate from high school, start their adult lives, support them in their education, value their choices, encourage them, help them to keep themselves safe and healthy. Things I didn’t have. I hope that when these days come, I will remember that supporting them is a privilege, that I don’t try to force what I want on them instead of listening to what they want. I hope that next Mother’s Day, my longing is a little less. xo Janet


Dear daughter, know your worth: a letter I wish my mom had written

There are so many conversations I wish I had had with my mom but never got the chance to. I wish she had told me to know my worth and not settle for being undervalued or overlooked. I have struggled with feelings of low self esteem since I was young and unfortunately, as life takes it punches, that didn’t get better until a few years ago. My mom never told me to know my worth, perhaps because she never knew hers. She was a beautiful writer and for people who knew her, she had the most amazing penmanship. Here is the letter I wish she had written to me:

Dear Jan,

I want you to know you are worth so much despite what life may throw at you. People will reject you and you may take this personally – don’t. Remember at these times, that you are amazing and wonderful and strong. That people can be cruel but also loving and kind. You may suffer set backs and failures, these too are a part of life and shouldn’t be taken as some sort of reflection on your character. You may feel inadequate as a parent or spouse but this too is normal. Women are asked to do far more than their fair share, and we have to remember to take care of ourselves above all else. Women like you will have a lot of pressure put on them because you’re smart and capable. Don’t mistake this for needing to be perfect. No one is perfect nor should we try to be. Perfectionism is the enemy of greatness.

Daughter, I am so proud of who you are, not just what you’ve accomplished or will accomplish. Remember that what we do is not a substitute for being a healthy and whole person. Our achievements are always only a reflection of what really matters: our health, well-being, values and principles, family, friends but most of all, knowing that we are enough just as we are. I love you my daughter, my only girl. You are everything I knew you would become, wholly unique, always be yourself, ok? xo Mom

Dear Daughter: I’m going to make mistakes

It’s been 25 year since my Mom passed away, a quarter of a century.  It’s been such a long time that I almost can’t make sense of it intellectually: in the context of my life, she was alive for less time than she’s been gone.  Bizarre.  This is true for many people including some of you reading this who have lost one or both of your parents.  If that’s the case, I understand.  I get the feelings of loss, displacement, of feeling unmoored.  I like the idea of writing letters because a) it’s a lost art form and b) it’s a way for me to process my grief.  I don’t have her to write me notes or cards anymore (something she was amazing at, with the most perfect handwriting), but I can write them for myself. And for my girls too.

Xo Janet

Dear Daughter,
I’m going to make mistakes, in fact, I’ve already made a bunch.  The thing about being a parent is that no one tells you what to do or how to do it well.  No one tells you that it’s going to be the hardest job of your life.  No one really prepares you for the complexities of it, the intensity, the triggers, the grief that is awakened when you hit certain milestones.  For me, this is a moment now that you’re 9.  I’m sure that when your sister turns 9, I’ll have similar moments.  Nine was a really painful year for me, lots of difficult and upsetting things happened. It was 1986 and things were crazy in Vancouver, Expo 86 was on and it was as if the entire world had arrived at our little doorstep.  We had a lot of out-of-town visitors that year, friends from the East, and that was fun.  But the rest of that year was genuinely terrible.

I’m having a lot of flashbacks to being 9 now that I see you – beautiful, full of questions, silly, nerdy, wearing your I Love Math t-shirt proudly and wanting to ride horses. I see you in your lankiness wondering about things you see and hear, asking good questions, bothering your sister and being bothered by her.  All hallmarks of a happy childhood.  I’m encouraged by these things and saddened that I don’t remember having any of that myself.  Maybe I did.  I honestly have no memory of it. I remember a lot of really difficult stuff from that time, a lot of tears and fear.  A lot of yelling and my parents drinking.  A lot of fights.  A near death experience in a car.  A lot of wishing I was somewhere else, anywhere else but at home. 

It’s hard to describe what parenting you means to me, it’s full of difficult emotions to process. I have a lot of unpacking of these emotions left to do, to find compassion for my parents and myself.  For their mistakes and mine.  It’s not an easy undertaking, but I’ll do it because I know that the road that’s difficult is the right one.  Remember that ok? If it’s easy, it’s probably not worth it.  Hard work, especially on yourself, is almost always the best way.  I say almost always because who knows what’s right for you? Only you will know. 
Xo Mama

Middle-aged lady files: part 1

The average life expectancy of a woman in Canada just hit 84 years. I just turned 43 so that makes me solidly middle aged. I have this vision of what a middle aged woman looks like and it’s pretty outdated: a woman with a short hair cut wearing mom jeans, big oversized sweaters, boat shoes and big glasses, looking frazzled, tired and generally overworked. In short, my mom in her 40s.

And then I look in the mirror and I don’t see that at all. I have Warby Parker rose gold glasses. I wear stylish clothes and have invested in good makeup. I spin with 20 year olds and kick ass. I have grey hairs that under normal circumstances I have coloured diligently. I have lines and bags under my eyes because I’m tired. But I don’t feel dated or uncool. So what the does it mean to be a middle aged woman in 2020?

There are thousands of different answers to that question but I get the feeling that women my age are feeling somewhat similar things and struggling with similar issues. Raising kids (or not), being in a long term relationship (or not), bodies changing, faces changing while beauty norms stay the same and get harder and harder to meet (see Instagram face).

I wanted to start writing this blog again because at 43, I’m now only one year younger than my mom was when she was diagnosed with breast cancer the first time and six years younger than when she died. I’ve spent the last 20 years being pretty freaked out about hitting my 40s. But now I’m here and on good days I feel pretty good about myself. On other days, not so much. My self esteem is still a work in progress.

So I really want to know from the women reading this – how’s middle age for you? What do you expect? What are you experiencing? What have you learned? What’s different than you expected? What’s the same? Hope to hear from you! Xo Janet

Dragging my ass

So when you have a mood disorder like me, there are good times of year and bad. Or good times of year and less good. Fall is less good for me. I’m slower, less focused, more worried, don’t sleep as well and generally have a hard time motivating myself to get out of bed. I knew when I started this blog that fall was really going to be a challenge – getting up at 5am to write is almost an impossibility at this point.

The problem for me is that even though this happens every year, like clockwork, I always beat myself up about it. I always feel crappy, like I’m not doing what I should or could because I’m more tired than usual. And despite my best efforts to remind myself that I’m doing my best and that this is what for me living with a mood disorder looks like, I still wind up feeling like I don’t measure up somehow. And I apologize for my lack of organization and try not to feel overwhelmed.

The thing is, I love writing this blog, and I love being connected to the people who read it. I just can’t do it the way I normally have. So I’ll write on my commute or take a break at lunch. Or write on the weekends and post later.

I know that by the time December rolls around and the days start getting longer again I’ll stop dragging my ass out of bed every morning and get some of my energy back. Until then, I’ll do my best, try to cut myself some slack and remember that even on the days I don’t feel great, I’m still doing pretty well. And so are you. Xo Janet

Getting (back) on the bike

Credit: @sham.it

I hit a 100 rides yesterday at Wheelhouse and that to me is a huge deal. It’s a special achievement for those of us who ride and I’ve been counting down the rides for awhile now. I was so lit up last night in that room, getting to the end, pushing myself to dig deeper, that it felt amazing to get that recognition from my instructor and peers who know how hard it is sometimes to keep showing up even when you’re tired or don’t feel like it or your body just hurts.

It’s an old adage about getting back in the saddle when you’ve been knocked down. But it’s a lot harder than it looks for some of us. I went through a really dark period in 2015 when nothing seemed possible. My brain chemistry was so out of balance that even getting out of bed seemed like a monumental task. Brushing my hair felt like a waste of time because I couldn’t sleep. Eating properly became secondary to not crying all day. This is the devastating power of depression over a person’s life. There is no miracle to turning things around – I taught myself how to fall asleep again with cognitive behavioural therapy and good sleep hygiene. I tried a new medication after several rounds of others stopped working. I saw my therapist every two weeks. I dug in. And I’d love to tell you it’s because I knew that it would get better, that something had to change. I didn’t. I did it because I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want my kids and Meg to be without me. So I didn’t do anything drastic, put one foot in front of the other each day, and tried to slowly get a little bit better. There’s no magic cure, no silver bullet. It’s about finding what helps you, what gives you care, what meets your needs. It’s not selfish, it’s self-preservation.

I recently learned the term mindful self-compassion and it resonating with me so much because when I’m stressed or anxious, I turn on myself almost immediately, it’s like I can’t help it. Mindfulness is a life-long struggle for me but I realized that when I was in that dark room 100 times over the last year, that’s what I was doing, enabling mindfulness, being self-aware about what I was telling myself about my own limits. Our instructors always tell us that our bodies will be the last thing to quit on the bike, it’s always our minds that tell us it’s too hard, I can’t do this, I can’t push harder. The same is true of depression. It is the stories we tell ourselves about what we’re capable of, what we’re not going to be able to do, that limits our self-expression. By showing up for ourselves and the people we love, we experiment with challenging those narratives of limitation and doubt. We prove the hypothesis wrong. And with time, the narrative disappears and is replaced with self-confidence and pride. And in my case, I kick ass water bottle that I will proudly use from now on. xo Janet

The seasons they are a changin’

Ontario’s fall colours are amazing, it’s one of the things that I love the best about living here.

I had a great summer, probably the best summer I’ve had in years. We had a wonderful family trip, I took an extra week off for back to school which was probably the best decision I’ve made in a long time and I got to do a photo shoot for Wheelhouse, a place I love. I had my picture taken in a sports bra which for me, with the number of body issues I have, is a big deal.

Fall, on the other hand, hasn’t historically been my friend. I have seasonal affect disorder, which if you live north of the 49th parallel, is definitely a thing for a lot of us. So with my normal brain chemistry being what it is, the change of season is even harder. Shorter days, less sunlight, colder temperatures all combine to make me feel a lot more sluggish than normal. I’ve noticed as well that my thoughts trend negative, and all the weak spots become really glaring.

But I think the difference this year is that I’m aware of the thoughts, I see them and I’m trying not to buy in. Not to take the bait. Not to dive down the rabbit hole. I see the perfectionism, see the insecurities floating and am trying to remember that it’s just my brain chemistry levels fluctuating in the same way they normally do at this time of year.

I don’t know what you do with your thoughts of I’m terrible at this, or I look so old, or I feel so tired, or maybe you never had these thoughts which in that case, bravo – but for me, I had a day yesterday where I felt like crap. And I realized half way through the day I was being really hard on myself. No one else was giving me feedback that sounded negative or told me I looked exhausted. So I put my thoughts in check and took mental note of what feedback I did have. I distracted myself with work, I dove into conversations as best I could given how tired I felt and it was overall ok. What makes these days tough is the thinking that I’m not “doing well enough”, that I’m not perfect enough, that I’m making mistakes. But the only thing I can try to do is go easy on myself, rest on my laurels a bit, remember that I invest a lot in my relationships with people so that they’ll cut me some slack when I’m not at my best. I have to cut me some slack too, that’s the hard part. What do you do when you’re not at your best? Do you make excuses? Do you avoid those thoughts? Do you lean into them and try to look at them objectively? If you suffer from SAD like me, how do you manage it? I’m here with you friends. xo Janet

Fight or flight?

I avoid feeling afraid, it’s what drives my anxiety, always has. As a kid, I had a lot of things to be afraid of but had no way of managing them. I had no outlet, I just shoved them as far down as I possibly could. And now my older daughter is the age I was when my fear and anxiety were probably their worst. It’s triggering a lot of difficult feelings for me and I’m not sure I’m managing them all that well.

I fear her fear. I fear her inability to cope with her fear. It triggers way too many feelings of insecurity and being out of control. I rarely do things that make me feel afraid, it’s an emotion that really stirs up very painful memories. And now that she is that age and struggling with her own transition from being a little girl to a pre-teen where independence is king, I feel for her so much. And yet, at the same time, I struggle with finding the empathy that’s required to get to patience.

I think this is where an inability to understand fear really damages us, both as children and as adults. Fear is the body’s response to external stimuli – fight or flight. It’s biological, instinctual, where the body reacts because we used to be chase by lions. But in 2019, fear can cripple. It can turn inwards, becoming anxiety or depression. If left unchecked, the inability to manage fear can turn into a lifetime of running from challenging situations. I lack some pretty fundamental skills for helping my daughter – I don’t understand how most people manage their fears, and by extension, help their children manage theirs.

This is something that’s going to require extra attention. Her fear makes me angry, upset, impatient. Some people pray on problems, others meditate. Some drink their fear, shop their fear, lash out, make excuses. I talk mine out. How do you manage fear? How do you help your children with theirs? xo Janet