Taking Life Advice from a Magic 8 Ball

So here’s the thing, dear reader: grown-up decisions are hard. They are so hard that this week, I actually consulted a Magic 8 Ball for career advice. And I listened to it!  I have put my family’s financial security and my own happiness in the hands of a Magic 8 Ball.

I have a background in journalism and social work. By twists of fate and connections to wonderful mentors, I ended up working for many years in government – both as a public servant, and as a political advisor. I’ve always been lucky to have interesting work, and opportunities to do things that, I believed, would improve people’s lives.

What I never had, though, was a career. I never started out at Point A, with a view to moving to Point B, and then retiring. I started out at Point A, ran away from it, had an anxiety attack and skipped over Point B, ended up bewildered at Point C, ran away from it, fell into Points D&E, got distracted by shiny Point F, came to a dead end, and tried to reinvent myself into Point G. Which is where I am today, although it’s actually more like Point OMG. Like, “OMG, what the hell am I actually doing?”Read More »

Always something there to remind me.

My 13 year-old daughter decided to clean her bedroom last weekend. Yes, this happens so seldom that it’s worth writing about.

For a year or so, her room has reflected her own internal transformation: artifacts of little girl fantasy bumping up against young teen reality. Tinkerbell and Barbie coexisting uneasily with algebra tests and bras.

I’d been telling her for months that she needed to clean her room. I’d intended only that she straighten things up. It was her own decision to do such a radical purge. (I like to see this as a successful change management strategy: I got her to think it was her idea, and she fully embraced it). She wanted to make space for the new parts of her life, and to hide the immature remnants that embarrass her now. She wasn’t just cleaning a room. She was curating an identity; translating the changes she’s been navigating as a middle schooler into her own surroundings.

She grabbed boxes and recycling bags and got ready to purge. I sat on the edge of her bed and got ready to save.Read More »

Motherhood through the Kaleidoscope

One of my favourite things about expecting a baby was the daydreaming – imagining not only what your child might be like, but also what kind of mother you’d be. Oh, I had a vision — I’d be efficient, nurturing, a great cook, creative, and a role model of  a strong woman. I crafted myself a sort of idealized job description for motherhood. And when my kids were babies, I somehow managed to do things exactly as I’d imagined. I made organic baby food. I used cloth diapers. I breastfed for a long time. We co-slept. I kept my house clean. I knitted. I wrote a master’s thesis while on maternity leave. If I met that young mother now, I’d find her really annoying, frankly.

The image of the mother I thought I’d be began to diverge from reality sometime around when my kids started moving and speaking and having opinions of their own. The vision was still there, but it got dimmer as life got busier. I became less concerned about organic food and living up to an image of motherhood, and more concerned with just trying to survive what motherhood was throwing at me.

For over 13 years now, I’ve been in the thick of being a mother, and haven’t ever stopped to think about who I am as a mother. With Mother’s Day approaching, and my own mother quite fragile this year, I’m thinking more about motherhood as part of a woman’s identity. I am more than Puck and Daisy’s mother, certainly, but that’s a crucial part of who I am. My mother is, well, my mother, but it’s taken me over 40 years to realize that’s only one part of who she is, and there are aspects of her personality that are not part of her ‘mother’ identity. We are all so much more than someone’s mother, someone’s sister, someone’s partner. For women, ’mother’ is just one colourful filter that’s been layered over all the other identities and expectations in our lives, and our dreams of who we might have been or could become.Read More »

Mental Health Week (or, “At least you’re not really sick…”)

This blog is still in its infancy, but people are asking me why I’m doing this. Why am I putting my family out on public display, even with thinly-veiled identities? Am I brave, or irresponsible, or in need of therapy?

(Well, ‘yes’ to all of those.)

But really. I can tell you why I’m doing this: stigma. I have spent decades of my life pinned down by the stigma of living with anxiety and of having recovered from an eating disorder. I have felt invisible and fake, and convinced that people wouldn’t like me if they knew who I really was.

Enough of that bullshit. This is who I am. I am not perfect. I am not particularly strong, or brave, or smart. I am flawed but surviving, and I can do that better if I tell the truth about my life. Our society, in general, will do better if we all tell the truth, and smash through the stigma that comes from living with mental illness. Mental illness is isolating enough without having more isolation imposed on you by society’s stigma. I don’t want Puck to feel the isolation I’ve felt. I am committed to working for change.

Things are better than when I was Puck’s age, for sure. Somedays, though, the stigma shows up where it’s least expected.Read More »

Red

In one of my favourite baby pictures, my mother holds me, just a few months old, on her lap. She has huge, wild, technicolour red curls, and is wearing a turquoise and purple paisley dress. She looks more like a movie star than a mother of three. She is showing off her (clearly adorable) baby, but the real centre of attention in this photo is her hair.

85467052-SLD-001-0015

My mother’s hair has always been a feature that set her apart. Even now, at age 80, the few streaks of white in her hair have only managed to turn down the volume from vibrant auburn to a muted copper. Growing up, I didn’t know anyone else with hair like that. My friends’ mothers did not have hair like that, nor did the other women at our church. The only people I’d seen with hair that red were Anne of Green Gables, or Endora from Bewitched.  Real people did not have that hair. So in many ways (deduced my childish mind), my mother wasn’t a real person.

Read More »

Talking to Kids About Anxiety (or, how to destroy The Clam)

When Puck was diagnosed with anxiety a few years ago, he drew a dark but beautiful picture to show what it felt like. The picture shows a dark, stormy world, and little Puck off to the side, trying to get to the safety of his home. It looked scary, and I felt sad when I looked at.  One thing I’ve learned about mental illness, though, is that what looks sad sometimes isn’t. And what looks funny and entertaining is sometimes scarier than you can imagine.

Recently, I asked him if it still felt like that for him. He thought about it for a minute.

“No,” he said. “It feels like I’m The Clam.”

“The Clam?”

“Yeah. The Clam costume,” he explained. “I feel like I’m in it all the time. I hate it. But I have no choice because that’s part of being at school. I’m trapped inside something I hate, but it’s all anyone can see and they think it’s who I am. I can’t wait to get it off and never see it again, but I’m trapped.”

At Puck’s school, the kids put on elaborate plays each year — plays they create themselves. They write the scripts, make the props, and choreograph the musical numbers. It falls to the parents, alas, to create the costumes for the sometimes odd characters the students develop. One year, Puck’s role in the play was The Clam.fullsizeoutput_27f

The Clam costume was a triumph of my glue gun and some craft foam. I was so proud to have created something that actually resembled a clam. Puck, however, was not thrilled. Being in a play was anxiety-inducing enough. Having to wear a costume in which he felt ridiculous made it worse. He wore it because he had to, but he was miserable. To this day, he despises any reference to The Clam. So when he said he felt like he was trapped as The Clam, I knew he has been feeling very miserable, indeed.Read More »

Spring, Starting Over & a Dog’s Love

Today, the sun is shining  in Nova Scotia and it’s a long weekend – a holiday about rebirth, second chances, and faith in the good that you can’t always see. That’s an increasingly important thing, in this world of ours.

Yesterday morning, I took my dog, Pippa, for one of our long daily walks, and I met a man who I haven’t seen in a few months now. It was a moment of renewal, as we re-connected and welcomed the spring together.

I wrote about this man on my Facebook page last November — a week after the US election. The story seemed to strike a chord with people, so I thought I’d share it again here, in the spirt of whatever holiday you might be celebrating this weekend.  I hope it shines a spotlight on a small part of the pain refugees experience. People fleeing war and persecution do it to be safe, and to have a better life than the turmoil in their country can offer. Canadians have welcomed thousands of Syrian refugees this past year, but maybe we don’t stop to think about the lives they’ve left behind — the careers, the friends, the homes, the treasured objects…and the beloved pets. Read More »