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Tag: stress

Equanimity

I’m obsessed with equanimity. It’s an often sought out thing, but a little used word. And it’s the word I want tattooed onto my body because I value equanimity so much.

Equanimity is a mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.

For much of my life – until I entered therapy when I was 39 – I struggled with finding any bit of peace within myself. I was always in panic mode. Always dealing with low and high levels of anxiety. Always trying to control things outside of myself (impossible and so so so draining) in order to avoid feeling my troubling or scary feelings.

It took much work to find ways to nurture a sense of calm and composure no matter what comes my way. The waves of emotion did not disappear. I learned to ride them.

The less I implode or explode these feelings that I am “not allowed to feel”, the more of a moderate relationship I have with them. – Alanis Morisette

This is why I want a tattoo with the word. But where? My friend Christelle is very good at small freestyle tattoos. I will book time with her in 2017 and I’m sure she will help me find the perfect spot.

PS I wrote a blog post a while back on how nurture equanimity within myself.

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When you’re down what do you do to feel better?

The way I feel better is by acknowledging that I feel bad and I don’t try to deny it, fight it or turn it into something different.

This technique has had such impact in my life. Likely my most powerful strategy for my mental and physical health.

I say physical because as I age I want to mitigate the physical consequences of stress. My body doesn’t bounce back like it used to if I feel muscles tightening in my back, shallow breathing or acid reflux. It’s never too late to address this part of our human experience!

Here is what I do:

When I feel down I take time to recognize that I’m feeling trapped by a difficult feeling or negative thought and then I acknowledge the feelings without trying to change them. Sometimes I whisper to myself “yes and this too” as a way of accepting the feelings instead of denying or fighting them. Then I investigate the feelings and where they live in my body. I often find they are more nuanced than I initially think them to be. I try to get precise with the language I use to describe the feeling. I do this examination gently and with loving kindness. I ask myself what do I need in this vulnerable moment? What am I missing? And then I answer it as best I can with nourishing statements. This process helps me centre myself and feel more at ease with myself and what is going on in the moment.

This technique is called the RAIN technique. I discovered it in the work of meditation teacher Tara Brach and it has done me a world of good.

Now this is mostly a mental exercise. I also believe in the power of changing your physical state in order to change your mental state. If I feel emotionally or intellectually stuck, I like to move around. At home that might be doing some jumping jacks, pushups or dancing like no one is watching (great because no is). Out in public it might be walking to another place in a room and looking out the window or going somewhere private to shake it all out. Sometimes I wiggle my toes in my shoes and then wiggle my hands in my lap.

 

And when all else fails there is this kitten video on YouTube. ;-)

PS For a bunch of reasons I wasn’t taught how to acknowledge my feelings and manage stress, conflict and challenges in a healthy way. When these things occurred I would deny any difficult/negative feelings and then they would resurface in weird and ugly ways. You can read a more in-depth exploration here.

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What Sobriety Means To Me

I have not had an alcoholic beverage since December 27th, 2013. On January 4th, 2014 I went in front a room of strangers and declared that I was an alcoholic. This declaration was important.  A public reality check of sorts that helped me create a final ending of a specific pattern of behaviour and start a new one. It helped me find a community of similarly minded people and feel less alone in my experience. It provided me with access to resources as I started to live my life without alcohol as a part of it – without my culturally celebrated pacifier.

While I am now at ease with calling myself an alcoholic (it wasn’t easy at first), I do not think of myself as an addict. When I stopped drinking I did not experience any physical withdrawal. It was much more of a MIND thing than a BODY thing (though my excessive drinking was greatly affecting my health – something I will write about another time). I didn’t crave alcohol or feel compelled to drink. I did think about it a lot the first month, but it was all part of figuring out new ways to manage my time and energy now that I wasn’t dulled by booze, messily drunk or hungover.

Yes, alcohol consumption for me was a destructive and near impossible thing for me to control (especially once I get started) because I associated it with stress relief, avoiding pain and coping with anxiety. I thought of drinking as “relaxation”, as something owed to me for being so “good” or working hard. Rather than a physical addiction drinking was a habit forming activity based on faulty associations.

Booze numbed me and allowed me (for a short time) to feel comfortable and be social. I didn’t drink every day and there were times I handled suffering without it, went to events without drinking, but I couldn’t predict which times those would be. As the years progressed I couldn’t manage my drinking and subsequently I got worse and worse at managing my life. What I believe I had is a learning disorder around alcohol and emotional well-being.

Here is an article that looks at drinking through that lens. I found it really interesting and helpful.

This learning disorder began early for me. When I was younger, from childhood until age 40 (ah!!! half a lifetime!!!), I had very little tolerance for my suffering. Especially related to fear, anger and disappointing others. I also had messed up beliefs like if I was perfect (whatever that was) I would never feel pain, everyone would accept me, and I would always be happy. Read more about this, my old way of thinking, here. Then I entered therapy and learned new ways of approaching my anxiety and fear. I think if it had not been for therapy and working on my skills to observe, accept and view my feelings with loving kindness I would never have been able to stop drinking.

I really wished I had learned earlier how to manage my uncomfortable feelings in a healthy way. I think instead I learned to deny my difficult feelings by having beliefs like: look on the brighter side, other people have it worse than me, and the classic don’t cry out loud and keep it inside

If I look back – before alcohol was even part of the picture – I was an escape artist more than an addict. I was an avid user of not-so-healthy and sometimes even quite destructive coping mechanisms to soothe myself. The choice of strategies changed through out the years (hitting myself and others in my family when I was a child, cutting as an early teen, picking as a late teen and young adult *, then trying to be as disciplined and controlled as my ex-husband in my 30s). All very different things, but they were my attempt to make awful feelings go away.

I have stopped trying to find something outside of myself to deal with my fears, anxiety and struggles. The suffering will always be there and I allow myself to feel what I feel. No longer am I questing for perfection in hopes of it making me happy and pain free, to be accepted by others. I am now in a place of equanimity and resilience. With my mindful and compassionate practices AND my sobriety I am no longer twirling around in the vicious circle of trying to be perfect because I felt like a failure for being less than perfect.

* A good article on picking and how to cope.

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Blog Break

Hello my blog friends! The blog has been quiet for a few months because I moved. It was quite the endeavour as I moved to an entirely new city (Montreal to Ottawa).

I spent most of April preparing for the move. I did a tremendous purging of belongings as I went from a 1000 sq feet space to a 450 sq feet one. I sold my bed, TV, bureau (set of drawers? commode? what the heck is it called?), shelving, kitchen island, and dining room table. I gave away a lot of clothes and books. I shredded and recycled a lot of paper documents. I listened to The Minimalist Podcasts through out which helped both pass the time and inspire me. Definitely something I need as I did this all on my own.

In May I made the move and promptly got hit by a horrible cold. So much sinus pain and such a disgusting cough. Then my cat Rufus came down with a life threatening urinary blockage. It was a very scary experience – emotionally and financially. He is OK now but it was so stressful because all my money was tied up in the move. On top of that I started a new job. It’s great in so many ways and it makes me quite happy. But like every new job there is a learning curve and that took up whatever little energy I had left. Hence the blog break.

Now I am settled and ready to write again. Expect quite a few posts in the coming days!

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Fitness Journey

These photos were taken 2 years ago over the course of 6 weeks of working out and eating 80% clean under the supervision of my trainer Sophie P Fitness. I think the results were pretty impressive.

2014-03-10 11.23.50

At the start point in early 2014 I was at around 160lbs.  Over the past 3 years I had gained weight (30lbs) and lost muscle tone.  Post-divorce I did a lot of emotional eating and excessive drinking as well as dealt with all the anxiety, depression, fear and over all stress that comes with struggling over how to rebuild one’s life.

When I got sober in January 2014 I dropped 10lbs quite quickly and then I lost another 10lbs by eating well and working out with Sophie during my 6 week programme. I was feeling pretty good, but I got off track by the end of 2014. I spent much of 2015 stressed and working as a waitress and manager at a restaurant. While it brought some stability to my life, it also took up all of my time and my mental and physical energy. It was not my ideal work/life situation. My healthy habits disappeared. My meals were not plant-based or centered around whole foods as it was more economical and convenient to eat at the restaurant. Then in the summer I suffered a back injury and after that I didn’t work out at all. While I was not living the same unhealthy lifestyle as before, I wasn’t making my health a priority.

I decided in January to change that. I started with small changes in my schedule, doing less of what was not working and doing more of what I know does work for me. Now I’m moving to a new space, being more consistent in my exercise and healthy eating. I have a ways to go as I want to be able to run and lift like I did some ten years ago.

I decided to share this photo to keep myself accountable AND to remind myself of what I can do in six weeks if I am consistent with my healthy life routine.

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September Catch-up

Have you been following me on Twitter and Instagram? It’s where I’ve been most of the spring and summer. Online at least. That’s because I haven’t had time to dedicate to my writing beyond 140 characters. It was an experiment of sorts. Here is what happened.

Opportunity

In February/March I had the opportunity to apply for a job at Chez Stella – a local sex worker resource organization. Job opportunities are not something that come my way very often. One reason is that I have been self-employed and freelancing for close to 20 years. Another is that most of my work has been in and around the adult industry. I knew when I started in this business my options would be limited, but the reality of that has really hit me hard these past few years as I try to stay afloat in this era of free porn and tube sites. It has been a serious, depressing struggle.

Anyway, putting together a CV and letter of intent as part of a job application took a lot of time and energy. It was a challenge as it had to be in French and reflect more than a record of skills and accomplishments. It had to include my perspective on harm reduction and sex worker rights activism. It was a very detailed and through exercise for me. It was quite empowering to present a complete picture of myself. Not something I am able to do in any other professional exercise.

A few weeks after submitting my CV and letter of intent I was called in for an interview. It didn’t go as well as I would have liked. I haven’t had a job interview since the 1990s. I was a bit nervous and anxious. I am sure it showed. Also, the interview was held in French and I’m not as comfortable speaking on certain topics in French. For example, I misunderstood a question on Hepatitis C screening. That was awkward.

Another issue that came up was my sobriety. They asked about my comfort about being in bars. I was honest. While that is not an issue per say it made me think about being around people who are drunk and/or high as part of my work and that is not something I really want to be doing. Not because I would tempted. Being around boozed-up high people actually reinforces my choice, but it does exhaust me. Not an ideal frame of mind for doing demanding work with a vulnerable, marginalized population. Even more so than booze or drugs I knew I would likely have to deal with people who are armed and violent. I do not think I have the personality or the skill set to deal with these things.

In the end it was a relief that I did not get offered the job. I’m glad I had the opportunity to apply. Like I said, work outside of xxx performance is hard to come by for me. Having 2 degrees, webmaster skills, and project management experience cannot counteract the stigma and prejudice of having done the work.

This sucks.

A Second Chance

After the job interview I met with a friend who has a start up. He knows about my work as we have collaborated on burlesque productions together. He offered me a management job to help get things going. What timing! While it is in an area of business that is not in my passion zone it would take advantage of my organizational and leadership skills. Looking for some stability I took the job.

I spent all of this Spring and Summer working on this project. As most things it was not exactly as presented and not really a good fit. I did crazy 60 hour weeks and was not able to work on any of my projects (like my Seska blog), see my family or take care of my health. In August I hurt my back and I was unable to move or walk for a week.

As much as I believe in my friend’s project I knew I had to change things up. I took some time off and dealt with my back. I connected with an awesome osteopath that has brought me back to a much more mobile and flexible physical state. When I was ready to go back to work I cut back my hours and responsibilities. It was the right move.

Next Steps

Now I need to go back to where I was in February before this little adventure in employment began.

I am at my happiest, my most fulfilled, when I am creating and communicating, expressing and writing. I am my most engaged and inspired when I am learning, synthesizing what I learned and sharing it with others.

Productivity without passion makes me ever so unhappy. As time consuming as it was to learn this lesson it was worth it.

Now back to the drawing board!

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