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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

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

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

Don’t we all just want to know what we’re worth?

So many of the conversations we’re having these days are really just about what we’re worth. Too often, those conversations centre around why others don’t value us the way we think we should we valued (bosses, spouses, friends, children, etc) but really, it is a conversation about how we feel about our own value. The truth is, many of us don’t value ourselves enough. We wait and hope for others to do it for us, to tell us what we’re worth. We look for our worth in our salaries, our work, our status, our homes, our children, our marriages, our stuff. None of this is going to do us any good.

The only thing I’ve learned in recovery is that our self worth belongs to only us. We may not have gotten any help from our parents with building our self worth but we’re the only ones who can dig in and figure out what we’re made of. The truth is, our worth isn’t contingent on external factors despite what our culture tells us. Our worth isn’t contingent on how good our children are, or how much we make. Our worth is our inner strength, our character, our resilience, our humanity. We are worthy because we exist. We’re worthy because we have thoughts, feelings, aspirations, goals, challenges, just for ourselves. This isn’t meant to sound narcissistic or ego driven. It’s a battle cry for self esteem, self love, self appreciation. So many of us put our worth into things we can’t control and when those things aren’t available anymore, we spiral down. Or accept less than what we want. Or make excuses for bad behaviour, ours and others. When we don’t love and accept ourselves for who we are, the good, bad and the ugly, how we will do that for others? For our children? For our partners or friends?

I stopped making excuses for myself only recently but I also stopped accepting the lie that I was somehow defective, broken, unsalvageable. I am broken and battered, physically worn down, sometimes unable to manage feelings of burnout. But that’s me. And I’m fine with that because I know what I’m worth, without the job or title or house or family. I’m just fine because I’m me. My self worth is a work in progress, it probably will be for the rest of my life. But I know that I’m on much more stable ground now that I was even two years ago because I don’t need the approval of others to know what I’m worth. And I hope you do too. xo Janet

Is there a higher power?

I had a really interesting conversation recently with someone who told me that they had found their spirituality through recovery. I admire the resolve, the belief that there are higher powers. I’m not a believer in a higher power, never have been. I just don’t get it. It’s a difficult thing to admit but I’ve been agnostic for so long that I’m not even sure what I believe anymore. Sometimes I think believing in a higher power would be helpful, particularly in the difficult times. But I just can’t get there, I’m not even sure if I’m motivated to.

I know people who have gone through recovery and found a higher power, a deeper meaning of life. I feel like this is a real challenge for me, a mystery. I wasn’t raised in a religious household and frankly for this, I’m grateful. I know that if I had been coming out would have been so much harder. I think being a spiritual person is a real gift for so many and I’m certainly envious. Maybe I’ll get there eventually; I’m more concerned with the here and now – my children, my family, my work.

I don’t dispute the faith of others, I don’t underestimate the value that belief in a higher power can have in their lives. I’ve just never had any reason to suspend my brain long enough to have a spiritual experience. Growing up, on Sunday, my family went to the church of the NFL and that was fine with me.

Maybe this is the point of meditation. But even in that I use it as a way of slowing down my thoughts, quieting the anxiousness I feel most days. I haven’t meditated in awhile, maybe it’s time to start again. xo Janet

Back to school

Me around age four or five.

Well it’s the first day of school for us and we’re all nerves. Our youngest is starting school this year and I’m a bit in shock that she’s school age. When people say that time flies when your children are young it’s true. I always loved going to back to school. It was my favourite time of year. I have the best memories of getting back to school supplies and clothes. I felt really special and full of possibility.

School was always my safe place, the place I went I went to feel the best about myself. That’s the problem with needing external validation, I put all of my self worth into getting the best grades. If I didn’t get the best grades I beat myself up about it and then lashed myself to try harder. It was a very self destructive cycle that culminated in a lot of burnout.

I was lucky, I had great teachers (except for one, I see you grade 4) and lived in neighbourhoods that had amazing schools. I had the opportunity to go to a private high school. I think we’ve covered how the social aspects of that high school weren’t great for me. But the academic life of that school was my life line, it kept me sane when everything else around me was crumbling. I used school and achievement as an emotional salve and intellectual buoy, keeping me afloat emotionally.

I think a lot of kids do this, use achievement to stave off anxiety or depression. The problem with this is that it ends up creating more anxiety, more fear. The hamster wheel gets going, achieve, work harder, achieve more, worker harder. The problem with this is that once that formula doesn’t work anymore and if the achievement isn’t possible anymore, the bottom falls out. When you have no sense of self outside of achievement, you have no sense of self. No identity. No compass. No direction. Without achievement, I had no idea who I was or what I was worth. It took me almost twenty years to disentangle my sense of self and worth from “getting ahead”. It was the most painful lesson I had to learn. I had to completely unlearn everything I thought I knew about myself and rebuild my sense of self worth from nothing. It was excruciating. This I hope is something I can share with parents as we send our kids back to school today. Striving to work hard is great, to apply oneself, to do well. But not at the expense of your kid’s sense of self, please. xo Janet

Good people are what’s important

A favourite card our house. From @jvnstudios

I stole this line from Girls, full disclosure. I’ve been binge-watching the series because I didn’t watch it when it first came out. It’s cheesy but quite poignant.

But good people are what’s important. We’ve had a stressful week trying to get our house sold and we’ve had great friends who’ve helped us enormously. And for that I’m really grateful. And it really underscores for me that good people are what’s important because when things are tough, good people are what keep you afloat.

I’ve had so many good people in my life, I’m really lucky. But I’ve also lost many friends because of anger, resentment, competitiveness, selfishness and apathy. It’s been hard losing those friends and I have many regrets about not treating them with more kindness and love. It’s hard to treat others with kindness and love when you loathe yourself. It’s not an excuse, it just is. I have perspective of twenty years and I can see that I just had no clue how to be a good friend. I thought I did but honestly had no clue.

I think this is one of the greatest things I’ve learned over the last twenty years. I know what it means to show up for people, especially the good people who are important. I really appreciate those people and know how to show genuine appreciation. It’s taken me a long time to figure it out but here we are. I’d rather know this now and be ok with having only a few, really good friends, then be super popular with tons of friends and have no real idea what a friend means. xo Janet