30 posts!

I started this blog about a month ago, sort of on a whim. I told myself that I would do it for a month and see how it went. Yesterday, I had 60 visitors, the most since I started! I can’t believe it, thank you all so much for reading this blog over the last month, I can’t tell you how appreciative I am. I have shared some really difficult stories with you and every time you have been gracious and loving. It’s been magic and I’m really looking forward to writing more.

Yesterday was a heavy day on the blog but let me say, irl, I felt good. I felt light. I felt a longing for my mom, because I miss her, but I didn’t feel sad. I felt proud of myself for writing and sharing something difficult with you and having that land in a way that was ok. I hope your day yesterday was good too. I’m thinking about you all and holding you in my heart. Happy Tuesday. xo Janet

my mom died the day I graduated from high school

This is going to be hard to write, I don’t often tell this story. The week before I graduated from high school in 1995, my mom, who had been dying from liver cancer, was rushed to palliative care in an ambulance. She was so weak when she went into the hospital the paramedics had to carry her out of our house on a stretcher. She spent a week in palliative care, fading in and out of consciousness. By the time my graduation day arrived, June 17th, she was unconscious. I vividly remember telling her that morning that I would back to show her pictures of the ceremony. The nurse told me that it was good I was talking to her even though she couldn’t hear me. The senses are the last to go before death arrives.

My brother and dad stayed behind with my mom and I went ahead to the ceremony with our family friends who had very kindly offered to drive me and keep me company on what was about to become the worst day of my life. The ceremony began at 2pm. We were at this beautiful theatre in downtown Vancouver, all of my friends and classmates up on the stage, ready to start our adult lives. I noticed that my dad and brother were late getting there but didn’t think much of it. We got our high school diplomas and everyone cheered. I won an award for resilience. My friends cheered so loudly for me I almost cried on the stage but didn’t. I got off the stage and started to walk up to the lobby of the hotel, riding high on having won two awards and getting my diploma. My dad came up behind me and whispered in my ear, “she went at 2 o’clock”. I almost fainted at those words and then everything became very blurry. I started to fall backwards and my friend was behind me, catching me from hitting the floor. All I remember was shock and tears and having to sit down. It was simultaneously the very best and worst day of my life. June 17th.

So, today, I’m honouring that girl who almost fainted from the shock of hearing the news that her mother had died and she wasn’t there. I have felt for many years an incredible amount of guilt for not having been there. For being at my graduation instead, for being to be there happy and proud of myself. My mom would have wanted me to be there, but part of me wanted to be with her and part of me wanted to run as fast and as far away from that hospital room as I could. These are all of the contradictions and conflict that come with watching a parent die. Wanting to be there, wanting to run away. I have felt this conflict for so many years and now, finally, with time and space and therapy, I realize that all of those feelings are ok, they’re normal. I did the best I could as an 18 year old. I am doing the best I can now as a 42 year old. I miss her every day and I find myself asking questions that only she could have answered. But the more questions I ask about who she was and what she wanted for her life, the more answers I find about myself and what I want for mine. xo Janet

when self care looks like judgement

credit: @thecut

I want to take just a minute of your time to talk about this picture. I love me some Oprah, don’t get me wrong. This isn’t about O. This is about the Cut and then Arianna Huffington’s Instragram posts. This photo is about “self care” apparently, about getting 8 hours of sleep a night, getting your inbox to zero (wtf is that concept?) and having healthy relationships. This post is clearly targeting a female demo. What then happens when women, like me, don’t or can’t get 8 hours of sleep a night, have some pretty dysfunctional relationships with people and have about 5,000 emails in my inbox at work? Should I be striving to make these #goals?

I believe that we want the best for each other as women, I do. I also believe that we want the best for the men in our lives too. I don’t think these #goals apply to men as well, do they? Should they? I think it would be interesting to see if a men’s magazine like GQ talked about summer goals it would be more about getting a ripped 6 pack and finding the perfect whisky stones. Am I wrong? Anybody?

All I’m saying here is that when you’re a woman, even self care comes with judgement which is total bullshit and I’m sure, in some way, a design of patriarchal capitalism. But that’s just a guess. I think if we really want to be free of the shit that makes us want to throw our phones in the toilet because we’ll never live up to these impossible standards, we should all spend less time on Instagram (and I’m talking to myself here) and more time talking to each other about how we really feel. I’m here to tell you how I feel and I hope, if you’re comfortable, you’ll comment or share this with others who might be feeling the same way. Happy Friday y’all. xo Janet

sleepless in Ottawa

Sleepless in Seattle was a great movie but not as great as When Harry Met Sally

In the summer of 2015 I stopped sleeping. It happened almost overnight, literally. I went to bed one night and slept. Probably not well, but I slept. The next night, I couldn’t fall asleep. I tossed and turned and lay away until the sun rose. I got up and remembered thinking, “wow that was a bad night. Hope that doesn’t happen again tonight”. And then it did. And so on for next six months.

When you develop insomnia, the world feels impossible and on fire, like nothing makes sense anymore. Your brain has turned against you, refusing to do the most basic of bodily functions – stop thinking. Stop working. Stop the neurons from firing. When you have insomnia, you seemingly can’t make it rest, you just lie there night after night thinking, this is how I’m going to die. Wide awake.

So, when I was about four months into my insomnia nightmare, pun intended, I started to do some reading about cognitive behavioural therapy and its applicability to sleep. There is actually a lot of great research being done out there on CBT for sleep and sleep hygiene in general. A lot of what you’re going to read on the internet about how to help you sleep is total crap. And can be dangerous. Sleep “medications” are the worst. They are highly addictive and don’t help. They create dependence and an inability to sleep properly. They have been peddled by the pharmaceutical industry like oxy – it sounds tempting when your doctor suggests it, but please don’t fall for it. Trust me, been there, done that, doesn’t work.

So, if you or someone you know, is suffering from insomnia or disordered sleeping (yes these two things are different, here’s a primer to help) then I have a few suggestions for you:

  1. There is an amazing researcher from Toronto doing CBT for sleep work and her book saved my sleep. I sleep amazingly well now.
  2. Find a good therapist who is trained to do CBT for sleep, that can really help.
  3. Don’t worry about it. Literally, stop thinking about not sleeping. This is THE hardest thing to do when you’re not sleeping. But, I can tell you, that those thoughts of worry about not being able to sleep are probably what’s keeping you from falling asleep.
  4. Exercise
  5. Use a mindfulness app like Headspace to do fully body relaxation exercises. These really helped me when I was struggling and have used the sleep meditation with my 8 year old daughter for 2 years to help her relax into sleep and it has really helped her at nighttime.

You’ll be fine, I promise. If you put some basic sleep hygiene in place and work on your thoughts about sleep and then about other things that may be keeping you awake (see post on anxiety and what I did to deal with it from yesterday), you’ll sleep again. xo Janet

#bossypants

I’ve been called every name in the book for bossy: opinionated, strident, loud, overbearing, full of vinegar, pushy and domineering. This started a long time ago, when I was in elementary school. I was smart and bossy, really good at telling everyone what to do and how to do it. I was so unsure of myself and with everything going on at home, I didn’t really know how to make or keep friends. I really wanted people to like me though, I knew that much as a little girl. I wanted to be popular, I knew that too. And I never was. Not in elementary school or high school (I think we’ve covered that already if you’ve been reading this blog for a bit – see high school was hell). It’s a big part of the reason why I loved Tina Fey’s book, Bossy Pants.

This is on a card that my boss has in her office and it’s totally a boss move to have this card. Wish I knew where it was from.

I realize now that I really just wanted attention and I was so anxious as a kid that I used being smart as a way of getting praise. As I got older, this need to be the smartest and hardest working made me put incredible pressure on myself and drive myself pretty hard to achieve. As I got older, my bossiness was dampened by bullying and exclusion but it reared its head again in university. I became singularly focused on achievement again, drowning my grief and anxiety in my work. After undergrad, I went to graduate school where once again I worked myself to the bone trying to get the carrots that were in front of me: scholarships, internships, a spot in a coveted Ph.D. program.

It wasn’t until I really got into the world of work that I started to see myself as a leader, as someone who could helpfully guide and leverage the strengths of others in service of a common goal. This is genuinely what I love about leading: working with a team of people who are all talented and focused. I’m lucky that I get to lead, it’s a privilege many take for granted. xo Janet

Anatomy of a nervous breakdown

So let’s go back to the summer of 2015. This is when the wheels really started coming off the train that was my life. I was not dealing with anything well. Work was insanely busy. I was working at 150% per usual, not taking breaks, not coping well. I couldn’t slow down. So my poor, tired, overworked brain decided to do it for me. I stopped being able to sleep. I developed insomnia so quickly that I didn’t understand what was happening. I would lay awake for hours thinking I was going insane. This went on every night for six months.

There’s a reason that sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. It is hell on earth. You think you’re going insane or at least that the world has ceased to make any sense. My brain was so overwhelmed, so anxious, so undone by my thoughts, that it stopped being able to sleep. This was a sign that things had really gotten bad. Then my mood plummeted. I couldn’t stave off the depression that had been lingering in the shadow the entire time just waiting to come on. I couldn’t stop crying. I spent most days in bed in tears desperately hoping for sleep. It got so bad that by November, I almost ended up in the hospital. I’m lucky I didn’t end up in hospital. Not sure if you’ve ever been to an emergency room with a mental health or psychiatric condition? It’s not a fun place to be. They don’t treat you well. They don’t take good care of you and ensure that you feel like you’re going to get help. They don’t treat you like you’re actually a human being with rights and choices and feelings.

So there I was almost needing to be hospitalized, not sleeping, barely eating and crying all the time. Sounds fun right? I found a clinic in Ottawa that did cognitive behavioural therapy and made an appointment for an intake. The clinical director heard my story of crisis (both on that day and historical) and got me in almost immediately to see the woman who is still my therapist, Dr. Jill Firestone. I could write several posts dedicated to how amazing Jill is but I’ll save that for another day. I’ll just put it this way: Jill saved my life. In no uncertain terms. Without her expert care and guidance, I would not be here today. So, I’m very grateful to have had access to her care, to have a job and medical benefits that allowed me to pay for it because it was not cheap. Good help costs money and many people in Canada struggling with mental health issues can’t afford to see someone. I am so fortunate and grateful to have found Jill and to continue to work with her. She is the most skilled psychologist I’ve ever met. When you find someone who really works for you, who really shows you that improvement is possible and doable, hold on to that helper until that you feel you don’t need them anymore.

I am doing much better after four years of seeing Jill, regularly exercising (ref: yesterday’s post about Wheelhouse Cycle), eating healthy foods, trying to limit my alcohol (some weeks I do better than others), trying to sleep at least 7 hours a night and taking breaks from work. I have an amazingly loving partner, wonderful children and a supportive boss. I take my medication and vitamins. I do self care stuff. I work at it. Every. Single. Day. It is not easy recovering from your life bottoming out. But it is possible. xo Janet

i found my wheelhouse

Wheelhouse Cycle’s Instagram account is fire.  Special shout out to Managing Partner Laura Moran!

I have had a very hard week and part of why it has been so hard is that I haven’t been able to go to one of my happy places Wheelhouse Cycle. I have been spinning at WH since last July and I’m at almost 80 rides. I’m super proud of this for a whole bunch of reasons, mostly because when I started, I was so overweight and out of shape I could barely complete a 45 minute class.

Now, when I miss my Wednesday night class with Christine like I did this week, I’m not myself. I love going, it’s my safe space, and I really like that I feel like I’m a member of a community. It’s hard to describe it if you haven’t been to a class, but it’s like Soul Cycle, only better. These folks really care about being inclusive and kind, treating everybody and every body with respect and appreciation. I missed my Centretown people this week but I’ll see you Sunday morning. I’ve found my Wheelhouse. What’s yours? xo Janet