The Goddess Weighs In

Living Large and Healthy

Momma Murray’s Minions

Growing up I had several mothers.  I don’t mean in a “Heather Has Two Mommies” kind of way, it was just that for some reason other mothers seemed to look out for me and talk to me more so than the other kids in the gang.  Maybe they noticed something wanting in me or perhaps it was because I was precocious.  Whatever it was I cherish my “other mothers” and the relationships I’ve had with them over the years.  One of my mothers was Elaine Murray, the mother of my oldest and dearest friend Vicki.  Two years ago Elaine was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.  As she lives out of town I haven’t been able to see much of her, but I’ve followed her progress, and her journey is filled with highs and lows, the anecdotes often heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.

Alzheimer’s is a sinister disease robbing its victims of their memories, their loved ones forced to mourn their loss long before their time. New treatments and therapies are emerging, but more research is needed and that costs money.  So I’ve joined “Momma Murray’s Minions” and on January 30th, 2016 we are going to walk to support the Alzheimer Society of Toronto.

According to their website the Alzheimer Society of Toronto offers support, information and education to people with dementia, their families and their caregivers.  They work to increase public awareness of dementia, promote research, and advocate for services that respect the dignity of the individual.

If you’d like to sponsor me you can do so here.

– the Goddess

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Let’s Talk, Let’s Really Talk

I’m sitting here pondering just how I’m going to make it through work tomorrow while I suffer through the symptoms of a bladder infection.  In case you haven’t had the pleasure, symptoms include nausea, painful urination, and an overwhelming urge to urinate despite having just done so.  There are other possible symptoms like malaise, fever and lower back pain, but they tend to come a little later and hopefully after a night of being up (and down) several times you will seek medical attention.  Say frequent and painful urination and your doctor will whip out her prescription pad faster than a gunslinger at high noon.  I’m also sitting here pondering the fact that I have no problem telling you the ins and outs of my urethra and by association my other bits and pieces, but I have kept secret the fact that for the last ten months I’ve been seeing a psychologist.

The truth is my dad died nearly 5 years ago and I didn’t handle it very well.  For the six months I went into Wonder Woman mode and I held it all together.  I cancelled accounts, dealt with banks, contacted family members, stayed in touch with his friends, hired people to do reno work on his condo, bought and schlepped building materials, ripped up carpet, and kept all the balls in the air.  And then one day I just stopped.  i stopped opening my mail, I stopped paying my bills, I stopped seeing friends, I stopped going out, I just stopped.  By the time I worked up the courage to even talk to friends about my need to speak to a professional I had gained 90 pounds, I had ruined my credit rating, and I was emotionally paralyzed.  I went to work each day, I was functional, but that was all I was.  Most people didn’t notice, some would try to cajole me into doing things and some flat out admonished me for not keeping up with bills, especially when the money was in the bank.  I couldn’t find the energy and I couldn’t find the words to explain to them that just getting up and going to work each day usurped all of my strength.  Just holding it together enough to do laundry and feed the cat was a struggle.  By the time I finally contacted the Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) offered through my employer I was so low that a friend had to keep on me for months just to pick up the phone.  As it was I found an email address and used that and even then I couldn’t pull it together to respond in a timely fashion and the EAP provider sent me a list of therapists and then closed the dialogue.  Eventually the fog started to lift and my good friend kept pushing me and I found a therapist.  

I was never suicidal, but when my father died unexpectedly I suddenly understood how someone could do it.  I always thought of it as a selfish act, an abandonment of one’s loved ones. I always wondered how one could leave his or her children especially if they were very young, but the despair and physical pain of grief enabled me to see how some of us could see it as the only way to end suffering.  Today Robin Williams chose to end his suffering.  I knew that he had issues with substance abuse and depression and somehow today I was surprised and yet not surprised.  Often the funniest people in our lives have the darkest thoughts.  Twitter and Facebook are lit up today as people hear and respond to the news.  People are posting links about Mental Health Awareness and where to seek help.  They are talking about mental illness and so, inspired by their efforts, I decided to tell you about my struggles in hopes that if you need some assistance today will be the day you reach out and clutch that helping hand.  

If you’re in Ontario, Canada then you can contact the Mental Health Helpline http://www.mentalhealthhelpline.ca/  

If you are not in Ontario then it appears if you type “Mental Health Helpline” and enter the name of your town or city you will find people eager to assist you.

– the Goddess

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A Thought For The Weekend

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All too often we feel guilty for relaxing and taking pleasure in doing nothing.  If you have read Eat, Pray, Love you are familiar with the Italian phrase “Dolce far niente” which translates to “The sweetness of doing nothing.”  This weekend I will be “puddling” around my house.  It’s supposed to warm up here, but I really just want to make soup and read and catch up on some sleep and if the mood strikes I might take a walk, but I very much like the idea of not having an agenda or a plan.  No doubt I’ll attempt to bust a challenge or two, but my time will not be measured or scripted. I don’t have to be anywhere by a specific time, I don’t have to work anyone else’s schedule into mine, I’m just going to “be” and see how tomorrow unfolds.  It’s not about being antisocial, I may very well go out at some point tomorrow, but I’m going to move at my pace, for my pleasure and if I spend the day curled up in my favourite chair with a blanket and some chai then that is the way the day was meant to be.  I am not going to dwell on the things I could’ve or would’ve or should’ve done.  I’m just going to be.

For those of us with a lot of commitments and responsibilities this can be near impossible, but if you get the opportunity I encourage you to revel in doing nothing for a bit.

– the Goddess

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The Self Involvement Of Others Is Vaguely Comforting

I was reminded recently that people are primarily concerned with themselves and their own well being.  They may stop and think about someone else, be it critiquing an outfit or admiring a haircut, but they quickly turn back towards their own needs, wants and desires.  It’s not mean, it’s not unkind, it just is.

For someone who has been bullied and who has felt the judging eyes of others this is hard to appreciate.  For many of us who fit into the “plus size” category it can feel like all eyes are on us when we go out to events or parties or even just to the grocery store.  The feeling can be so strong that it keeps us from working out or worse donning a bathing suit and going swimming and I won’t lie to you, people are looking and many are passing judgement, but then they go back to their own thoughts.  As much as I have wanted to crawl under a rock at times or be swallowed up by the floor beneath me for feeling judged or maligned in some way, no one has ever physically attacked me for being fat and not since grade school has anyone said anything that I couldn’t handle having hurled at me.  I may not like it, I may hold on to things that are said to me for days and days and I’ve wondered how anyone could be so thoughtless and cruel, but at the end of the day I have to remind myself that what I’m holding on to and obsessing about they forgot about minutes after it happened. In situations where I am uncomfortable I try to remind myself to  “dance like no one is watching” and yet in my head there is always the addendum “if you are thin”.  The fact of the matter is that it doesn’t matter what you look like or how you carry yourself there are going to be haters in every situation and then they will turn back to their incredibly deep thoughts about their hair or their shoes and they will leave you alone.

Recently I’ve been streaming a show made in the UK called Fat Doctor.  The show introduces the viewer to people who are extremely overweight and who have in many cases given up on life. They are followed from the time they are approved for gastric bypass surgery to several months after the surgery when they have lost weight and are more active and fit.  My personal feelings about bariatric surgeries aside, one of the most interesting things that I’ve noticed about the show is that people have the surgery and almost immediately they are in the gym and and putting on exercise gear and talking all about how people are treating them differently since they’ve lost the weight.  And let me tell you some of the stories they tell about people slinging slurs at them and staring openly as if they are circus freaks are heartbreaking.  What’s most interesting however is that many of these people are out and about walking and swimming and going to the gym and being seen in public and after losing only a fraction of their body weight.  Certainly they feel physically better, imagine carrying around fifty pounds of potatoes every day all day and suddenly you can put it down and go on your way. No doubt they feel great, plus there is the satisfaction of knowing that you are taking care of yourself and extending your life span, but truth be told if you weigh five hundred pounds and you lose fifty or sixty pounds you are still over four hundred pounds and you will be judged as fat by passersby.  The difference isn’t the weight loss, nor is it the behaviour of others, though some may compliment their efforts, rather it is the participant’s interpretation of that behaviour.  Other people simply didn’t care that much about their issues or their looks to begin with.  I remember a few years ago when I lost a lot of weight and I felt really good. I was walking on air, I was happier than I’d been in many years and then a complete stranger called me fat and I had to agree that he was right. Despite losing eighty pounds I was still way above the weight range for my height.  Despite my success, that stranger’s perception of my weight had not changed, even though mine had changed drastically.

One of the reasons I rarely eat alone in public is because I think people are looking at me and judging me.  I might eat in my car, I might eat in a restaurant with friends, but only twice can I think of a time that I sat in a restaurant and broke bread all by myself.  Once I was early for an appointment and I sat in a little coffee shop in a hospital and the other I was travelling to Florida and wanted something other than drive thru and so I sat in a Cracker Barrel armed with a book and I ate my pancakes in silence.  I survived both instances, but I was incredibly self conscious and self aware and I don’t think I even tasted my food because I couldn’t bear to be on display, and right there I just proved my own point. I was so self absorbed that I thought everyone else was looking at me, thinking about what I was eating, and equating my being alone with being lonely or friendless when in fact it’s quite possible that they acknowledged my presence, perhaps even contemplated why I was sitting in a restaurant alone and then went right back to their own breakfasts and didn’t give me another thought.

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There are times when the self serving behaviour of others really rankles me and I wonder how people can be so self absorbed to not consider how their actions affect those around them, but as the fattest chick in my aquafit class I’m glad they are more worried about their own issues and don’t worry themselves too much about my cottage cheese thighs as I get into the pool.

– the Goddess

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I Only Have So Many Spoons

When I first heard this expression I was confused, but then it was explained to me and  I immediately understood.  For those of us who lean more towards  the introverted end of the spectrum, going out, being social, and being around other people can be taxing.  It’s not unpleasant or  painful, but while many people are energized by being social, and going to parties and just being out and about I can actually feel my batteries draining.  I’ve had nights where I’ll go out with friends and at the end of the evening they are considering checking out an after party and I am desperate for solitude and calm.  That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy social gatherings and on occasion I have experienced the desire to have an evening continue into the wee hours if the company and the conversation are engaging, but I do require more solitude than some.  Last night I worked late and then I did some late night Christmas shopping and I was about to head to midnight madness at IKEA when I realized I had run out of spoons.  I have a finite amount of social energy and when it is tapped out I have to recharge. I’ve had two weeks of holiday parties, work events, and evenings out and other than the pretty violent food poisoning I experienced earlier this week I’ve enjoyed myself and enjoyed catching up with friends, but last night I hit a wall.  I was pushing a cart through Walmart and found myself seriously considering yelling at people to get out of my way or to wake the freak up as they meandered around the store aimlessly pushing their carts in one direction while looking in another.  Thankfully I recognized that it wasn’t them, it was me who was having an issue. I may never understand why people wander around Walmart if they apparently don’t need anything, but it’s inappropriate for me to berate them for this behaviour so I wheeled my purchases to the check out.  IKEA was next on my list and I was seconds away when I had to admit that if I actually parked and went in I was going to be so overwhelmed that there might be tears.

The majority of people are extroverts, they thrive in social gatherings and feed off the energy of others in a good way.  Years ago I was travelling with a friend and we were talking about what we would do on a particular day and after each thing we discussed doing she would say “and then what are we going to do?”.  I honestly thought she was joking, but I soon realized that she craved being social and meeting new people and bumbling about the city and to her my need to be alone and quiet for stretches of time was simply alien.  When I relaxed a bit and opted to “go with the flow” and let her plan more of our activities I did have fun, but when we got to our hotel each night I was exhausted and went right to sleep and left her to watch tv or wander around the hotel and I would wake up very early and try to snag some quiet time before she flipped on the tv and started the day.

With the holidays it can be almost impossible to hold out some personal time and I find it difficult when people simply don’t understand that my need to be alone is not a personal slight to them, but rather a basic need for me like sleeping or eating. I try to be good about it, and I try to recognize that just as their need to be more social is foreign to me , my need for quiet is foreign to them, but sometimes I have to be clear that I am not attending an event because I just can’t.  Oftentimes  I “polite” myself into doing things because it’s the right thing to do and they attended my party so I should go to theirs or I had to cancel on them last time so even though a week is crazy busy I will try to slot in one more dinner or outing, but I’m recognizing more and more that I need to take better care of myself and mental health is just as important as physical health. In fact mental health may impinge on my physical health, by increasing stress, affecting blood pressure or causing me to eat more in an attempt to self soothe.

If you are like me I encourage you to find the right balance of social and personal time and to not feel bullied or overwhelmed by those who simply don’t get that you’re different.  For the rest I hope that if you can’t understand us that you can at least respect our needs and recognize that we do want to see you and have fun with you, it just might need to be delayed so we can gather up our spoons.

– the Goddess

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Shhhh, I’m Meditating

Challenge 25 is create a meditation space.  And here it is!

Chair Orange

Ok that’s my big comfy chair in my living room and all I really did was move some clutter away from it and kick the cat out of it, but it is now my Meditation Space.  I looked all around my house for a place I could put some cushions, I debated removing all the furniture, including the bed from the guest room and making a meditation room, I even considered setting up a spot in my garden, but I realized that none of these were going to entice me to meditate as they were either too far removed from my daily life or they just weren’t going to be that comfortable.  So the big comfy chair it is.

I bought this chair when I started my Master’s program and I decided that for once in my life I would have a place that was mine and fit me perfectly and would be a great place to read for school.  It turned out it was a superb spot for napping, but I also didn’t know I had a sleep disorder which explains a lot.  When I bought the chair I was living with my father and I cleared with him that he would be home when it was delivered.  I got a panicked phone call on delivery day because the chair dwarfed our couch.  For the record the chair is big, but the couch was really a love seat.

Eventually I think I will buy an ottoman for maximum meditation comfort so I can focus on my breathing and not how much comfier I would be if my feet were up, but this is minor and not in the budget right now.  For now I’m going to work on incorporating meditation into my week, possibly into every day and having a comfy spot to practice is the first step.

– the Goddess

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Pay Yourself First

This was an expression my father used quite a lot.  He was talking about financial matters and that when you are deciding how to allot your funds you need to make sure that first you put a set amount in reserve for retirement or a rainy day and then you pay off bills, debts and the like.  But this phrase applies to our persons and our souls as well.

My brother has been hospitalized for over a month and while I worry about him and his recovery I know that he is looked after.  It is after all a hospital and he has nurses fussing over him and around him giving him meds, monitoring his comings and goings, taking readings and all those weird and wonderful things that nurses do.  It may not be fun, but he is being watched over.

My concern is for his wife.  She goes to the hospital every day, advocates for him, brings him food when he is permitted to eat, tends to him, rallies his spirits, and generally holds all the pieces together and then makes her way home and looks after the house and gets a regular dose of stink eye from dear Betty A. Cat who can’t understand why she is alone all day and wonders where the taller human has gotten himself to, cuz she hasn’t seen him in what seems like forever.

My brother has been ill since May and it is only now that my sister-in-law is fully realizing that if she doesn’t take care of herself there will be nothing left of her to aid him.  She has cut back the number of hours spent at the hospital, started to exercise in the morning and is paying more attention to her eating habits.  I think this last one is by far the hardest for someone who is in transit and on-call all day every day because it is so much easier to grab something quick and be done with it, then stop and cook a wholesome, nutrient-rich meal.

I am currently helping a friend through a rough patch and I am taking a page from my sister-in-law’s book.  I skipped my Sunday aquafit classes the last few weeks to spend time with my friend, but my back has been acting up and I’ve been feeling run down.  I decided that while he needs my time and my support, I won’t be able to give him that if I am ill or in pain.  So today was about me.

Oftentimes we feel guilty taking that personal time and we push ourselves to be everything that people need us to be, but if we don’t set some boundaries and if we don’t make time to care for ourselves be it exercise, meditation, relaxation, a laugh with friends, or a healthy meal then we will end up failing everyone, ourselves included.  It is amazing what we as humans can endure and often caregivers go on for years without taking sufficient time to recharge, but not doing so will lead to a crash sooner or later.

As outsiders watching a friend or colleague adopt a caregiver role there are lots of ways we can help like making food, offering transportation, offering to assist with running errands, or taking the caregiver out for a coffee, but even more important is reminding the caregiver that it is in everyone’s best interest that they take a break and that it is  not only OK, but it is absolutely necessary to be a little selfish and look after themselves too.

– the Goddess

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What Does A Cry For Help Sound Like?

Just before Christmas a colleague of mine, the person to whom I vented when work demands were too much, suffered a breakdown.  My friend and confidante for the last eighteen months was admitted to hospital for depression and paranoia and none of us saw it coming.  He came to my office a few days before and for the first time I saw how tired he was and this was my first indication that anything was amiss.  A couple days later at our office Christmas party he looked small, lost, and exhausted and people came to me and asked what was wrong.  When he was admitted to hospital people asked me how my bosses and I could have missed that he was struggling, since at the party it was so obvious that he was ill.  The truth is that he hid his suffering.  He wore a mask so convincing that I never suspected that he wasn’t coping with work pressures.  Even his spouse didn’t realize there was an issue until she saw his colleagues reacting to his altered appearance and behaviour at the office party.  In fact it wasn’t until a day or two later when his behaviour was obviously paranoid that she sprang into action and sought medical attention.

Now that he is receiving treatment, I keep thinking about what signs he may have shown and what signals he was giving us that we didn’t see. Like the rest of us he griped about there being too much work and the expectations being too great, but otherwise he was always affable, always willing to lend a hand, always there to listen and to make suggestions.  Perhaps that’s the problem right there.  When I started to consider all the elements of his position and the special projects he was assigned, the meetings he was asked to attend, the various things he was asked to implement, I realized that he was juggling enough work for possibly two full time positions.  He was asked to take on these extra responsibilities because he is bright and diligent, and would complete tasks effectively and on time, but it’s not fair to reward someone who finishes their work by giving them more work.

I know from own struggles with mild depression that there were times when I thought I was being clear that I needed help and yet even close friends seemed oblivious to my struggles.  I talked to one friend who has also struggled with depression and she admitted that she has experienced the same, so I’m going to guess that even if there were signals they were not that easy to read.  In that case we need to be proactive about the situations we put people in or in which they find themselves.  For example I’ve started to instruct my staff to make sure that they take all of their breaks and lunch hours and ideally get up and leave the office.  All too often we sit at our desks and snag bites of lunch between phone calls, visitors and emails.  I also work on average 5 hours of overtime per week.  I am welcome to do all the overtime I want since it’s been made clear that it will be unpaid.  I’ve decided that this must stop.  I’ve instructed my staff that they are not to take work home, nor are they to work after hours.  We work in a union environment so it’s a little easier to draw the line if only we’d stop crossing it because we want to get work done or make sure projects are on track.  The truth is however, that if things don’t get done, we need to stop internalizing that we have in some way failed, and recognize that we need additional support to complete our tasks.

My colleague told my bosses that he wanted to quit and give up his career completely because he felt like a complete failure.  The truth is we failed him.  We piled it higher and deeper and in the end we effectively broke him.  I don’t know if he will return to our unit, I hope so, but at this point it’s not clear.  What I can do is work to keep the same thing from happening to me and my colleagues.

– the Goddess

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