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Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Sense of Belonging



Once again I am ruminating about the sense of belonging. It seems to me that I've spent a great deal of my life trying to really feel convinced that I belong. But what does that mean, really? As far as I can recall, it had to do with identifying with a group of people, and interacting with those people in a recognizable place. As someone who moved a lot, and as someone whose biological father was not present for the first 17 years, a sense of belonging was not something I had a firm grasp on. That's not to say I didn't ever feel that I belonged; it's just that it was enough of an issue to cause me some definite pain. Did I belong in Toronto with my mother's side of the family? Or out west, near my uncle and cousins and, eventually, my father and sisters? What about my friends? How did I carve out the substance of my identity? All of these questions (and more) generally went unanswered with any lasting measure of satisfaction.

I thought I could find that sense by getting married, having children, being part of a church, dressing a certain way, speaking a certain way, living a certain way. Sometimes I felt like maybe I was starting to get there, but if I looked at it too hard, it would slip out of my grasp. At times it felt like a real crisis. Of course, now I feel an unbelievably grounded sense of belonging with Warren, and I am eternally grateful for the connection and partnership that we've found. 

I don't know what I feel about this tribal yearning anymore. In fact, I am starting to consider that it doesn't actually exist in the way I have traditionally projected.

Our time on this planet is so cyclic and ephemeral. Still, I'm absolutely convinced that connection to our environment and to others around us is innnate and undeniable and something to be validated. There's a reason we miss our loved ones when we're far from them or when they die. There's a reason we keep using social networking sites, despite their foibles, to hear and to be heard. There's a reason we need to meet and to eat together and to laugh together and to feel...safe. Accepted. Valued. Seen. Heard. And that need for connection is more than just human, which is why we're so profoundly attached, to one degree or another, to our animal friends.

I'm thinking about all of this, in part, because I know I have to go back to Toronto soon to see Granny. It's a strange place for me (Toronto) because it is where I was born and raised, but I so much of my life has been lived away from it. The best friends have remained connected, thankfully, and some of my family as well. But the last time I lived there I was the most depressed I think I have ever been. In a way, I was so broken while I was there—likely living with something of a functional nervous breakdown—that I am almost ashamed of the person I was in those short couple of years. How I made it through that year and a half (post-separation) I really don't know, but I'm thankul that I stumbled out the other side into more joy than I've ever known.

Everything's changed. My grandfather's not alive anymore. The house that my grandparents lived in—the house I most identified as "home"— has been sold to new owners some time ago. My friends and family that live there are not used to me being somewhere else. My Granny isn't well enough to travel and visit us anymore. Things are changing constantly. Even here, on the west coast...my uncle is gone, my father is gone, my kids are getting older and are on the cusp of leaving the nest, right when I have the most happiness and stability I've ever had. I can't help but wish I'd been happier and more stable for their whole childhood. 

Recently, when we went to see "The Hobbit", the line that kicked me in the chest the hardest was when Bilbo said to the dwarves:  "I often think of Bag End. I miss my books, and my arm chair, and my garden. See, that's where I belong; that's home, and that's why I came cause you don't have one...a home. It was taken from you, but I will help you take it back if I can." And during Les Miserables earlier this week, my heart broke seeing Marius sing "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables", and moved me even more than "I Dreamed a Dream". The final scene, the very final scene, elicited the same response. Total yearning, and hot, achey tears. 

I am tempted to fear the eye-rolling of those who would read what I write here, because these are somewhat cynical times. But as much as I dislike this saying, all I can say in response is this: It is what it is.  

None of this is to complain or to whine or to elicit attention or pity. It's just something of a public exploration of what it means to feel a sense of belonging. I wonder, to what degree others that I know feel it? Just last night a friend shared with us their experience of not being heard or seen clearly by their family based on blinders and cultural and behavioural expectations. This person does not live a radically weird life at all; they just live differently than their immediate family would ideally endorse. I could see that this realization pained him and it pained me to see it, but I recognized something in what he was sharing.

There are limits of understanding between family members, friends, neighbours, coworkers, lovers, and spouses. Sometimes it's more vivid than others. Sometimes it's barely discernible. Sometimes there are periods where maybe I forget about it and simply live without checking to see if everything's okay with where I am and who I am with.

I think of the people in my life—the ones I've known for decades as well as the ones I've known for weeks and months—and the best answer I can come up with for making peace with the things that give me a sense of separateness or loneliness or misunderstanding or disconnection is to (a) make sure that I'm feeling as well as can be within myself on a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual level and (b) to simply appreciate others, keeping an outward focus, and (c) to see and hear and validate others the way I wish to be seen and heard and validated. To love. To operate in grace, transparency, patience, and gratitude.

Anyway, this wasn't so much meant to be an emo-type rant of any sort, and I do hope that anyone reading it doesn't take it as such. I'm writing this to get my thoughts straight. I'm sharing this because I really do want to reach out to the people I have contact with, be it virtual or long-distance or local, and say that you matter to me. And I think that I'm starting to feel at home in Victoria, as expensive and unfamiliar and, at times, unusual and imperfect as it is. 

I look forward to a new year of strengthening relationships, to learning, to making valuable contributions to my community, to make active memories with friends and family and other loved ones, and to ultimately feel more connected and relevant. Plant a garden once and for all. Maybe even share some of what I grow with friends and neighbours. 

What gives you a sense of belonging?

Sunday, September 30, 2012

One person's account of a darker side of weight loss.


Interesting article on another side of weight loss.

I'm in there.

Before I lose the thought I want to capture it here to remind me later. I want to lose this weight and have wanted to for 18 years now. How can that much time go by? And yet I recall the time before I had children, feeling just as insecure and inferior when I was in fact underweight. So many times in my life, countless times really, I felt compelled to "fix" myself, never feeling that I measured up. I did that when I was thin and I have done it for as long as I can recall.

The thought I wanted to capture was like this light bulb moment where I thought, I just don't want to be weighed down by this inertia and immobility anymore. I'm so sluggish and out of touch with my body and my self. I want to run and hike and bike and dance. I want to be free of envy and insecurity. I don't need to be perfect and have the whole world desire me, but I want to look in the mirror and recognize myself...myself as strong and grounded and present. Being enslaved to food and moods and anxiety has me trapped. If running and lifting weights and doing yoga and cycling and eating mindfully is the way for that strong, confident, powerful part of myself to emerge, then I'm willing to do the work to dig my way out from under everything that put the weight there all this time. It will suck for at least the first six weeks or so, said a new friend of mine, but I can accept that. I feel like I'm suffocating under my own psychic and emotional weight and that my own voice is being muffled out under it.

It can't be about wanting to  be "hot" or to look amazing. It's gotta be about me just wanting to feel strong, the strongest I've ever been. Taking my own body back and enjoying the unexplored terrain that I've always considered to be so out of reach.

Monday, September 24, 2012

SuperBetter Quest: Learning to Surf Stress, Part II - blogging it out.

Today I had one of those stupid moments that got away from me. Before it happened, I was all set up for a tumble. I woke up feeling lousy, didn't have the kind of breakfast that I wanted, didn't get the exercise I planned for, and then ultimately ended up getting really tense about something silly enough to sort of dismiss. Then, something else happened, and I got upset. It triggered a tantrum. Then I started ruminating in my emotions. Then I got anxious about it. Then I got mad. Then it fed itself and I blew up. Then I was exhausted for about an hour and had to force myself not to just go back to bed.

I spent the rest of the day beating myself up about it and apologizing to my loving husband, who was over it the minute after it happened. Still...it can be exhausting.

Playing with this SuperBetter app, it asked me what it would look like if I responded rather than reacted. First, "it" would look...quieter. More grounded. But if all of that chaos (heart racing, mind reeling, adrenaline pumping) could be transformed as useful energy, the only thing I can think of is that it would fuel physical exercise. That's really the most beneficial outcome I can think of. Funny how anxiety and depression is the main thing that has immobilized me for decades, and how it is the very thing that has packed on all of this weight. Well, maybe now that I'm freelancing, I can make sure to always be dressed in running gear so that I can just get up and shuffle myself out the door at a moment's notice instead of totally emoting like a petulant three-year-old and then hating myself for the next thirteen hours after it's blown over for everyone else.

Anyway. Here I go to drag my ass out for a semblance of a walk before bed. It's not as much as I aspire to (or know that I need), but at least it's better than nothing.

Monday, August 06, 2012

On cheery cancer culture in the media

In an online conversation today with a few friends regarding the file Pink Ribbons Inc.,  I responded with a comment long enough to be a blog post. Thought it worth posting here:

I have lost a few people very close to me to cancer and I can say that they displayed total humanity and vulnerability while going through it. They died but there was no failure in that. It is what it is, it's painful and raw and sad and not pretty, but it's life and death and all that comes with it. We are so oriented to want comfort, beauty, convenience, and safety, but all of those things are temporary and, at times, totally subjective. We don't like having any of those things threatened. We like to be comfortable and reassured. I suppose there are very few things that are "real" in our existence and in our experience.

Mindfulness, being present in the now, kindness whenever possible, gratitude, curiosity, creativity, honesty, love, gentleness, community, friendship, forgiveness. That's plenty to strive for. The people in my life who have been ravaged by cancer showed all of these characteristics while they were sick. Sometimes they were angry and depressed and lashed out or pushed people away. In the end, though, certain things remain with the people left behind. Struggling with/dealing with/beating/dying from cancer is, from my limited observation, a very real battle, but it's just about striving for life.

10 out of 10 people are going to die one way or the other. All of us. No exceptions. It's terrifying at times but it's also okay in a strange way. I don't know what I believe spiritually any more but I do believe in what I see of the seasons, of life, death, and rebirth. Energy. All that. So having said all of that . . . here's to honesty, whether or not it's comfy, and here's to loving each other and just being part of each other when the going gets tough, even if it's bloody and scary and smells bad.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Leap of Faith

About a week ago, I gave my notice at work - 6 weeks notice, to be specific. My last day of externally-employed work will be August 31. For the last year and a half, I've been working for a local Self-Publishing company that's enjoying increasing success and experiencing tremendous growth. It's been a bustling, interesting, creative environment, but I've been feeling a pull to provide Editorial services on a freelance basis for some time now.

It has been in my heart to work freelance, and I felt even more equipped to do so once I graduated from the Computer Graphics Techniques program in 2010. However, because of relocation from Montreal to Victoria, I needed to be grounded locally and to nurture community while I was growing local credibility.

6 months ago, I was asked by my new manager what it was that I really wanted to do. My first answer was that I wanted to work freelance as an editor and desktop publisher, but then quickly followed up with an explanation that I wanted to make sure that I'd explored every avenue with this company. I meant what I said, but in light of the potential of the company's imminent growth explosion, I was projecting that my freelance life was still years down the road.

Recently the issue came up again more pointedly, and again, my intuitive manager asked me what it was that I really, really wanted to do more than anything else. The visceral agitation I was feeling around that question revealed that there was one major thing holding me back: fear. Fear of giving up a stable job, fear of being broke again like we were for a full year after we relocated. Fear of failure. But the inspiration and desire to lay hold of the things that are at the core of my interests and talents outweighs my fear. I have always known that I need to return to words, to written words, to reading and writing and sculpting them. That's where I find my flow every single time, without fail.

It's not just about my own words; it's also about the words of others. I love listening to and supporting the ideas formed by others and to help them be heard more clearly.  I get a very real charge out of offering tools to deliver their message in a way that feels right to them. It's what I have loved most about working in production: helping authors produce books that represent their dream.

Because of the amount of editing work that is available through the company I have been with, and because I have forged a strong relationship there, I feel confident in taking that leap of faith now, even though I am not sure where it's going to take me in the months and years to come. I know that I have the qualifications, talent, and motivation to handle the work and then some - and I love that I'll be working side by side with my husband and partner. I love that we'll be in stride with one another throughout the day and that we'll be determining the pace of our days together. I'm excited to be working from home instead of stumbling out the door in the morning and stumbling back in the door, exhausted, at the end of the day. Most of all, I'm thrilled that I'll be tuning in to the essence of what I can lose myself in for hours: reading, writing, the sound of language, the look of language, the layout of type, the feel of words in my mouth, the shape of words in my imagination, the sound of words in the air.


Bien dans sa pea

It's a familiar cycle: planning to lose weight for the New Year/Summer/Wedding/Class Reunion/etc., and making all sorts of resolutions to lose 20, 40, maybe even more by said date or event. I'm 42 years old and if I am honest, brutally honest with myself, I have been making this resolution for the last 18 years, since my first child was born. I've managed to shed a few pounds a few times in the those years - though never to pre-pregnancy weight - but I've not maintained it.

Currently, I'm the heaviest I have ever been.

Last year I got remarried after a three-year engagement, and instead of losing weight in the time leading up to it, I put weight on. On my wedding day, I was the heaviest I had ever been., and now, 10 months later, I am about ten pounds heavier than that weight. 

I want more of a sense of feeling good in my own skin - the French call it "Bien dans sa peau". 

I find myself increasingly admiring women whom I find beautiful , and they are not fashion models or Hollywood actresses. These are women who are friends, women I see on the bus, or in a restaurant, or in passing on the street. Women of varying ages and shapes and weight. I find that I want to look at women who are casual and healthy and curvy and vivacious. Instead of making a million resolutions based on perfectionism and insecurity, perhaps the best thing for my mental, emotional and physical wellness would be to make feeling good in my own skin my ultimate goal. 

What's stopping me from feeling sexy and comfortable and confident now, today? 

Perfectionism
Clinging to the past
Fatigue
Stress
Low self-esteem
Depression and anxiety

I will be exploring these barriers more comprehensively in upcoming posts, and would love to hear from you if you can relate. 

I'm also seeking to open up a meaningful dialogue, online and in person, with some of the women that I've had the pleasure of meeting in the last year and a half in Victoria. I'm having something of a dream of having a group of ladies that feel safe and comfortable with one another, and talk about realistic ways of feeling better, taking care of ourselves, feeling sexy, and rejecting stereotypes and media messages. I'd like to do this via Twitter, under the hashtag #yyjcurvyladies. I'm also running a bit of a Tumblr (as an experiment) in this same vein. Not sure where it's going to take me, but here's hoping it helps move me past spinning my wheels. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A rather futile entry, but there you go.

Fragile moments of temporary vulnerability, parting like curtains in a dark room. On the bus ride home after work today, packed in tight with other droopy bodies, a gangly, pale, red-eyed man got on with his companion, a woman so thin and pale that she was not much more than a whisper. "We don't have any bus fare; she just got out of the hospital and we had to get medication" he said to the driver in a plain-spoken but steady voice. No entitlement or arrogance, but definitely a tone that expressed that he was dealing with troubles far greater than regular conventions could even touch. The bus driver had him pass through quietly, and the pair unsteadily made their way together and sat right across from me. She was thin like a bird, and I could see on her wrist that she still had her hospital identification and a Medic Alert bracelet. She was so thin that I have no idea how she was even standing, let alone out in public on a crowded bus.

The woman leaned against the gangly man with her delicate hand resting on his lap and I could see that she was resting as much as she could, even in this public place, and that she was going moment by moment finding refuge where she could. I don't know if this man was her husband or friend, but it was clear that he was a total support to her and that she needed it. I felt like I wished I could do anything to help -- offer them something from the bag of groceries crowding around my feet, a bus ticket, something, anything, but for the brief moment that my eyes met theirs it was clear that they just wanted privacy and distance from the loud world around them. To address them would likely have been an intrusion.

So much to say about unspeakable, heartbreaking things that I have seen, sad and also joyful and beautiful, but these are things that I can't write away tonight. Suffice it to say that sometimes I'm reminded that we are so fragile and broken at different times in our lives. The illusion of "us" and "them" is pretty much just that: an illusion. Everybody hurts. We should be gentle and kind. Whoever those people are, my heart goes out to them in whatever limited way, and I hope they will be okay, whatever they are going through.

Monday, May 28, 2012

I get knocked down, but I get up again

I went back to the gym this morning after about a 9 week slump. I've already been through the entire self-hatred cycle about that so I'm not going to even bother picking that apart in this entry. Need to look forward, only forward.

I will say, however, that I see a fine line between finding momentum and getting frantic about exercise, and I was getting a bit frantic, methinks. Whatever the reasons (over-ambition, self-defeating patterns, perfectionism, simple laziness), I stopped exercising, and man, did I feel it. Anxiety and inertia crept in like mold and I started to feel immobilized and raw.

Sometimes it takes my anxiety and depression to grow intrusive enough to make my skin actually hurt before I listen to it. When it gets like that, my thoughts ring loudly in my head like bad electric guitar feedback, distorting my perceptions and taking up way too much bandwidth. I can't concentrate. I feel  hollow. It takes me to darker places, and with the summer just around the corner, it's that much more conspicuous.

But no beating myself up about it. Back to the gym I went for the pure medicine of it.

Happily, I found today that I have not gained any weight, and in fact, am at the exact same weight that I was 9 weeks ago when I last went to the gym.

I'm aiming to lose 10% of my total weight by fall (just to give myself some parameters). My plan is to break up exercise throughout the day to keep the happy chemicals level in the morning, afternoon, and after dinner, and beyond that, it's all about being flexible, mobile, and a bit more energetic. I'm willing to give a little bit of energy to see where that kind of kickstart will take me over the next year. Not gung-ho, not all about the resolution -- just about the momentum, for now.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Not really sure what this blog post is about, but it felt like it needed to be written.

In the last two months (since December 7) I've been going to the local YMCA and working on the Couch to 5K program. I fell off the exercise wagon for two and a half weeks in January shortly after my father died because I fell into a slump, but about a week ago I felt really compelled to get back to my program again. The rush of endorphins after a good thirty minutes is the medicine I need to keep from going into a depressive episode or get overtaken by anxiety. Even at the best of times, I need to fight hard to stave those chemicals off.

Earlier this week I was rather unfocused on the treadmill. Either my music was all wrong, or it just felt so boring to run on the machine. This morning I realized that it's getting light enough in time for me to run outdoors, so I ended up running (slowly, of course, it's still pretty new for me) down to Dallas Road from Quadra and Fort. I felt like I really needed to see the ocean today.

It was still frosty and a bit dewy in the early morning. and there was a smattering of pet lovers walking their playful and energetic dogs.  The closer I got to the ocean, the lighter I felt in my chest. The sun was breaking through some clouds and shone softly on the water. Waves rolled in rhythmically and gulls called out, and my own breathing seemed in perfect time with the life around me.

I got as far as Clover Point before I turned to make my way back to where I started from (this time through Cook Street Village). Along the way, I felt the stirring of something I have not felt for a long time: a fresh, quiet, tentative sense of belonging. I passed the street that the officiant who married us lived on and met with us on our wedding day last August; further along, the tacky apartment building I lived in 22 years ago during one of my brief seasons in Victoria.

I have been feeling the loss of that elusive, dreamy sense that I had of Victoria all those years ago when I first came out here to try to have a relationship with my father, who had long been divorced from my mother, and with whom I had an on-again, off-again connection. I stayed with him in James Bay back then; my sister Jessica was a preschooler, my second sister Zoe was not conceived yet. I was 20 and had a view of the world that centred around my manufactured fabulousnessness. And then the last 22 years happened.

Now my father is gone, my sisters are women, my children are on the cusp of adulthood, and I'm in my second marriage. I've travelled and have been uprooted and settled and uprooted again countless times in the last two decades. I've spent many of those years feeling lost and disconnected. Today, with my feet, breath, and heartbeat in time with the ocean and the air, I felt a sense of gravity anchoring me to the life I'm creating. Habits, routines, growing relationships...all of it still new and increasingly familiar at the same time.

My feet hitting the ground as I moved anonymously along the roads this morning somehow punctuated that I'm here - I'm not lost, even though time moves on and people pass away, and memories slip by like a half-remembered dream.