my mom was a boss lady before that was a thing

mom head shot

I want to tell you about what an amazing corporate bad ass my mom was in the 1980s and 90s. When I was young, my mom worked 60 or 70 hours a week downtown in a big advertising firm in Vancouver. My brother and I used to visit her at her office and when we arrived, it was like we were royalty. They rolled out the red carpet for us. The first time we got there, I really didn’t understand what a big deal my mom was. But when I saw her office, I understood. She had a huge corner office that overlooked the Pacific Ocean and mountains across the water in North Vancouver. I couldn’t believe how massive it was, like bigger than our living room at home. My mom was the Don Draper of her office, the Vice President and Director of Creative Services. When I was a little girl, I didn’t really get what this meant except that she was the boss and people listened to what she had to say. It was incredible to watch as people came in, asked her advice, gave her things for approval and then treated her with so much respect. She treated everyone like family, like they were one of her own. She was kind, warm, empathetic. She cared deeply about the people who worked with her. They called her Mama Cass for a reason.

I didn’t understand how influential she was in her industry until after she died and the BC Marketing Association named an award in her honour. I got to present the award for the first time in 1995 and I was so proud to be there for her. Over the years, I have seen that her work lives on, in the ads that she created for the BC Tourism, first in support of Expo’86 but then it became much bigger than that. Anyone from BC remember the, “Super, Natural, British Columbia” ads? Yup, that was my mom. She had her faults but being a bad ass boss was one of her greatest strengths. She was one of the first women in a leadership position in the advertising agency world in Vancouver and I can’t imagine what a toll that took on her. When she was first diagnosed with cancer in 1990, she had to stop working downtown, it was just too much pressure, too demanding given how sick she became. I never stopped being incredibly proud of her, of what she had accomplished. Not just what she accomplished but also how she accomplished it. By being kind, caring and loving towards the people who worked with, and for, her. I take my job as a leader really seriously, probably too seriously some days. But I really care about the people I work with, I learned it from my mom. xo Janet

new year’s eve 1985ish

There’s a story in my family that my dad loves to tell about me when I was 6 or 7 years old. It happened on New Year’s Eve when my parents had a huge party. My parents loved to entertain, we had a great house for it. My job at my parents’ parties was two-fold: coat check and bartender. I could make a mean scotch and water at 6 years old. The trick is to measure the scotch with two fingers. I was mixing drinks before I was old enough to reach the scotch on my own. I just used the stool that was in our family room.

So new year’s eve 1984 or ’85 rolls around and my parents are throwing a huge party, a rager really. I had been on bartending duty and then I guess one of my parents, probably my mom, told me to go to bed at some point. My bedroom was right above the living room where the party was going strong at midnight. I wasn’t able to sleep and I was pissed off. Then, I heard it. Music blasting from downstairs. And not just any music, my brand new Tina Turner Private Dancer record. My parents had a record player in our family room but there was a huge speaker in the living room. I was so mad that a) my parents were partying and I couldn’t sleep and 2) they were playing my record without having asked my permission first. This was unforgivable to me and I remember so clearly being mad about it. So I decided I was going to do something about it. I put on my house coat and slippers ( remember house coats?!) and I went downstairs to the entrance of the living room. There were all of these people, completely drunk, partying in the living room. The music was blaring. All of a sudden, my dad notices me just standing there looking at them and says, what’s going on? I put my hands on my little hips and said loudly, “turn that music off and get these people out of my house!” Immediately, my dad started laughing. Then the whole room was laughing. He then told me to go back to bed. I didn’t understand why they weren’t taking me seriously.

That was an early, and very vivid lesson about how my parents would respond to what I needed, especially when they were drinking or drunk. When you’re a kid growing up in a family run by alcoholics, what you want really doesn’t register as important. That new year’s eve was the first lesson in that, my sleep, my things, didn’t matter. My feelings didn’t matter. What I wanted didn’t matter. That’s what I learned that night. That story is a bit of lore in my family, my dad still tells it and laughs. It burns me to hear him tell it, I can feel the anger in my throat every time. But telling these stories here makes them mine and I feel a little less like a raging mad six year old when I do. xo Janet

slow burn

So here’s the thing that they don’t tell you about becoming a woman in middle age: it’s both a blessing and a curse. Moving into my 40s helped me leave the self loathing of my 30s and the utter chaos of my 20s but it also signaled a new kind of disruption: the mid life crisis. Mine started about three years ago, right on schedule.

Now when you think of mid life crises I bet you’re picturing a balding, middle aged man driving a convertible with a young pretty woman in the passenger seat, right? Well where are the middle aged women’s stereotypes? Is all we get menopause? Forget that.

I have this theory about women going through their 40s and I want to share it with you. Women don’t implode their lives in middle age like some men do when they’re in crisis, our crises are slow burns. We simmer our angst, rage, disappointment and restlessness. We simmer and we wait. Women, especially those of us with children, are far too practical to just walk away from our entire lives.

My sense is we do other things like self medicate with food, drugs, alcohol, shopping, affairs, over exercising, numb with TV or movies or just check out from ourselves, our relationships, our lives. We dial it in. We yell at our kids and our partners, we get depressed. Eventually maybe we even get sick. This is my theory of the slow burning mid life crisis, it just sort of lasts a long time unless you deal with it. Unless you get real and say I want something different, something better for myself. I don’t want a life that just simmers, I’m trying to create a life of joy, engagement and love. That’s what I want for myself and for you too because we all deserve it. xo Janet

my head hurts

Hey there. I’ve been so happy this past week writing this blog, what an outlet! It’s brought me a lot of connection to people I really care about and admire. It brought me a big hug in real life yesterday at work and that was the best! I’m loving this platform for sharing my stories with you and I’m so grateful that you’re all reading it and hopefully you’re enjoying reading it as much as I’m enjoying writing it.

Having said that, I have a huge vulnerability hangover this morning, especially from yesterday’s post. That’s the most honest I’ve ever been about my mental health challenges and it is scary. I’m scared people will judge me or think less of me. I feel like my honesty is going to lead some people to put brackets around who I am or what I can do. I guess I’ll just deal with that if it happens.

The truth is, if you’d asked me a year ago if I’d be writing such an honest blog I would have said sure and then promptly done nothing about it. I just wasn’t ready to be here. But I am now. I feel unrestricted in being this honest for the first time in my entire life. I’ve been hiding and lying about my parents and all the problems my family had for as long as I can remember. That’s what shame does to a kid, it locks them in a tower of dishonesty and fear they didn’t create. But I don’t feel ashamed anymore, because I know that what happened to me as a kid and young adult wasn’t my fault. Growing up with really dysfunctional parents is hard in lots of ways but when everyone on the outside thinks your family is amazing, that can really do a number on a person. Especially a person like me who has always been the one in my family calling everyone else on their bullshit. Even as a little kid I was that person. It makes for funny anecdotes (will tell you the NYE story from when I was 6 years old some other time), but it made me very unpopular with my parents who really resented their daughter telling them that their drinking was screwing up her life. Even then I knew. No idea how, I just knew that their behaviour was wrong. As the years went on it became harder and harder to fight the really negative effects this had on my mental and physical well-being.

So there it is, I’m a little hungover from all the sharing. But it feels good nonetheless. I’m going to blog Monday to Friday and take break on the weekends. If there’s something you’d like to know or would like me to write about, let me know! Comment below or send me a message. xo Janet

seeming normal most of the time

So here’s the thing about me that most people don’t know: it is a lot of work being me. Like, a lot of work, both physically and emotionally. I’ve learned over my life (see little miss perfect post) to hide my true feelings and anything that seems like the struggle that is being me. I’m so good at covering up how hard being me is sometimes that I often forget how hard it is, until something happens and I’m derailed emotionally or can’t sleep or cry a lot.

I came out as a lesbian in 1999 and that was a lot easier than coming out as someone with a mental illness. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in 2001 and I’ve been hiding it, for fear of the stigma, more or less, ever since. Some people who are close to me know that I have struggled, a lot, over the years. Meg certainly has seen the worst of it. But I finally feel, at 42, like I don’t need to hide anymore. And it’s not just about my age, I think we’re in a moment in time when a lot of people are taking about their mental health.

I am coming out of the mental health challenges closet I’ve been hiding in for the last 20 years and it feels good. I have more tools and resources to help myself now like: a great therapist, the right medications, a form of exercise I adore (come through Wheelhouse!), meditation and a lot of love and support. I also have a belief in my ability to manage my chronic illness whereas before, I wasn’t sure it was possible. I know that it is for me and I’m sure it is for you too. Come on out here into the light with me, it’s scary but feels good. xo Janet

suffering used to be my thing

Here’s the thing I know about living in chronic pain: it will ruin your life if you allow it to. In July 2015 I woke up one morning and couldn’t move. I had so much pain in my low back and left leg that getting out of bed felt like the worst thing ever. I had no idea what was happening or what I should do. So instead of going to the hospital, like a normal person, I did nothing. I suffered. I cried and wailed with pain. I took Advil and put ice on my back. And that did nothing. It would be like treating a stab wound victim with a band aid.

Two days of extreme suffering later, and the pain getting worse, I went to see my doctor. He did a quick assessment and gave me muscle relaxants believing that it was muscular. I, knowing in my heart that it was not, said nothing but gratefully accepted the muscle relaxants. I went home. I cried and cried and cried. And yet, I still did nothing. And then, because at that point I was so terrible at taking care of myself and putting what I need first, I went back to work. And I stayed at work, in terrible pain, for another 6 months. I was in so much pain that I would go home at the end of every day and cry. I could barely walk. People who knew me then would ask me what was wrong with my back because I was hunched forward in pain. I looked like I was in pain all the time, and I was.

I only got an MRI after about 9 months of this hell. The MRI showed I had a large herniation in one of the discs in my lower back. It took another two years, 2 MRIs, three cortisone injections in my spine and hundreds of hours of physiotherapy before I had surgery to repair my back in 2018.

Please, don’t be like me and make suffering your thing too. Work is work. It’s always going to be there, whether you’re there or not. Take care of yourself first or you’ll end up like me, hunched over in a stairwell crying because you can’t manage to walk up a flight of stairs to your next meeting. xo Janet