Happiness, Lifestyle, Lifestyle Design, Personal Development, Physical Wellness, Travel

First Time Mountain Biking in West Bragg Creek x How to Climb Out of a Funk.

 

Our family is growing.In my final weeks of maternity leave I have been making sure to focus on some “me” time and schedule some really lovely days while the older kids are in dayhome. As I write this I have a sleepy 3 year old on one arm and a baby army crawling across the rug toward my foot. As this is an in-the-spur of the moment blog post, it is unedited and free-flowing.  So bear with me, I get to the point.

I am pretty motivated to start experiencing some great days not only because it’s the last 6 weeks of leave, but also because I was suffering.

The gift of suffering is that it motivates us to take action.   That’s some Tony Robbins Life Coach stuff right there. 

Like many of you, I was in such a funk this winter.  Even though I LOVE winter, even though I got outside and enjoy winter sports, I found that my mental health really started suffering in late January, I was in the doldrums in February-March and in April I was wondering if I was having a depressive episode. I was exhausted, sore, withdrawn and had zero motivation to do pretty much anything.  I was also experiencing some PTSD symptom recurrence as well as dissociative behaviours.

When you are in a funk it affects everything.  From the way you sleep to the way you talk.  I felt lonely, sad, anxious. I found myself framing things negatively, and my internal stories shifting. I was consumed with a handful of shitty memories of childhood and ruminated on one absent parent. It was just kind of a crap time for me internally.

I decided to start working with a psychologist again biweekly to process some of these tough childhood memories that began bubbling up during this funk, (many of them were memories that I had forgoetten about and was reexperiencing again with renewed intensity.) I also wanted just a glimmer of motivation to climb myself up and out of the doldrums.

Funks aren’t about what you are not doing.

I find that funks are more about why you can’t just get yourself to do what you need to do. 

Part of my internal recalibration process has been recommitting to doing things that make me happy.  I was getting too bogged down in human “doing” versus human “being.”  I was becoming a robotic to-do list champion and felt kind of emotionless and detached.  I would brush off something simple like drawing.  Here’s my brain’s response: “Why would you draw? It doesn’t contribute to anything productive.  It’s useless. And I have laundry to do.”

Sound familiar?

I’d even brush off going for a walk (which I LOVE doing on mat leave) or doing self care things like brush my teeth.  Because when you are in a funk, its like you discount all those things and think “ugh, that’s so cliche, doing something like a walk, or writing on paper,  is NOT going to change my entire internal landscape!” and you just care less about everything.

I KNOW this because I do it in funks. I KNOW this because my students at the University do this in their funks.  Everyone does this!

I hate when you get a pamphlet on mental health and it gives you a checklist of things to do.  We all intuitively know they will help.  The issue is our shitty attitude and that we convince ourselves none of these things are powerful enough to fix things. It’s like your rational brain has been hijacked by pirates that take that pamphlet or list and burn it, cheering.

What confounds me is that following all of those checklists on ” mental health” DOES work. Why do we eye roll and discount the very things that will get you back on track?

Pirates.  Definitely the pirates.

*IF* you commit, you do them, and slowly add more practices, then a month or so later you’re back to loving life. You climb up and out the hole.

Truly, you have to tell yourself to stop listening to everything your brain is saying and JUST DO IT.  Your little pirates will make you want to roll your eyes at the pamphlet and think “ugh, that is so cliche,” and toss it in the recycling.

So, ignoring the pirates, I made a list of things that I know make me feel good.  Even while my shitty mind was like “meh.”

  • I started walking again
  • Sleep in darker and colder room (improve sleep quality)
  • Go to bed earlier, no screens 90 prior to bed
  • Stepped up trail running (best form of mental therapy for me!)
  • Treated myself to some clothes and got my hair done and started doing makeup again.
  • Consciously put time into crafting, drawing and painting.
  • Less time on my iphone (a malfunctioning battery is really helping with this.)
  • Read some books with good energy to them (Wayne Dyer is a great one!)
  • Practicing mindfulness with family *not taking my iphone was crucial for this one*
  • Spent extra time in nature, among other things.

Ignoring my mid, I started DOING THEM.

It took me this long to get to the main point of my blog post…. 

I wanted to write about one of the most powerful things on this list today

One of the best ways to climb up and out is by reconnecting with things you enjoyed as a child. If you make a list of fun things like the above, and one of them has been around since you were a kid, start with that one!

I absolutely, 1000% swear by this.  If you commit to this for 2-3 months you can get back to a place of joy.

Coincidentally, this is also one of the most effective strategies if you are beginning to feel the need to re-discover (or even discover, period) who you are outside of motherhood and partner-hood.  Go back to childhood.

It turns out that, as grownups,

we land not too far from the apple tree of our childhood.

I took to my journal and made a list of all of my favourite things, or things that made me happy as a kid, and there were tons.   It took me a good 10 minutes to get into the flow of it, but then the ideas started coming.  So please, if you do this, be gentle with youself.  It honestly takes a good 10-15 minutes of sitting there, then finally the pipes open and you get ideas.

Flowers in the garden.  Crafts.  Playing in the forest.  Running through puddles.  Drawing.  Climbing trees.  My bmx bike.

Ahh, yes my BMX bike. I really, really, REALLY loved my bike. 

Tapping into that (and the fact I wistfully watch mountain bikers on the trails when I am running)  I decided this was something I would try.

In the spirit of “just do it” I decided that my husband and I would have a date day this week.  I consulted a few mountain biking acquaintances, chose a trail and committed. We dropped those kids off, packed up our shit and went. There were a few “buts” and a few “maybe we a nice paved pathway instead” moments but I tapped into my determination and stubborness (Taurus trait) and committed.

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We drove to West Bragg, hopped on our bikes and began the ascent up the bragging rights trail.

Whenever we try something new our ego goes to town. Have you noticed that? 

On the ascent I had to hike my bike up every hill and man oh man, it got started.

You look like such a noob! (I forgot my bike shorts and wore my lulu running crops.)  Those are terrible gear changes (clunking on uphill.)  This is scary (rocky rooty downhills) Or this gem, you don’t belong here, everyone is really good and clearly a fit mountain biker.  What if you fall off ? You can’t afford that with your back.  You’re not in shape to do this. this is probably making your organ prolapse worse.  You won’t make it all the way back. That one came up allloootttt as I hopped off my bike and pushed it uphill, because I was sucking wind like crazy.

So aside from pushing my bike up hill, I was taking each of these ego messages and  one by one, interrupting them, disempowering them, and pushing them aside.  I was working out my body but believe me, on those uphills I was working out my mind too!

Like…

“you’re not in condition to do this.”

wtf! That’s a nasty one from the my old friend Ego!

I’m sorry ego, but nobody rides their bike up the entire hill unless they are a competitive athlete in this area. Everyone else has to push it up at some point too!  Even the experienced people, because they don’t want to gas themselves.

This loop was recommended by a friend of ours that is an ex olympian- mountain biker and he described it as hard work, FFS.

So why the F is my ego beating me up and judging me for walking my bike up a hill, that an olympian would describe as a workout.

Isn’t that ridiculous?  Yeah, I think so to.  Stupid ego.

So I let that one go and declared, on the spot, out loud, that I would be gentle on myself and have no more judgments of walking my bike up hills.  (I also figured talking out loud would scare any bears away, a perpetual fear of mine lol.)

Mountain biking was a particularly cool experience because it is a constant push and pull between work and reward, work and reward.  Work pushing the bike up, reward rolling down through the forest, wind whipping through your sweaty helmet, feeling like a child.

Cruising down the descents, the ego would silence and I would enter the giddy, smiling, free and easy days of my childhood, cruising down through forest, the wind in my hair and happiness in my heart. And, honestly, feeling pretty badass.

And at the end? Fatigue but good, relaxed fatigue.  And probably the best beer I’ve ever had (Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc btw.)

Ironically, a sport that makes you focus intensely on your external environment helps you reset your internal environment.  By focusing on roots, rocks and the pure somatic experience of mountain biking, you are able to recalibrate your internal environment. It’s like a reset button.

I said to my husband that I understand why firefighters love mountain biking so much!

Also, if you are afraid of biking in West Bragg or getting hurt, or bears, or whatever, don’t be because 75% of the trail users were firefighters!

So, mountain biking. It was a taste of how my regular internal life should be, what we should work towards, and it was good enough that it left me craving more, more of this glorious feeling of being a kid again and silencing that internal dialogue that has plagued me of late.

I want to feel like this.  This is how I have committed to showing up in my life – happy, energized and present. This is the best version of me for my family. 

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Essays, Happiness, Learning, Lifestyle Design, Personal Development, Spirituality

36 Pieces of Knowledge I’ve Collected Over 36 Years.

1.) Treat all people as kindly as you’d treat a young child.

2.) Quick short blasts of cold air (or water) will bring vitality back to the body.

3.) Sunshine and fresh air is the most important vitamin to take.

4.) Let them eat dirt.

5.) Always make eye contact and say hello as you pass people. Who knows, maybe they will open a door for you, maybe they will decide not to rob you that day and choose the grumpy old man instead.

6.) Everything in life oscillates and moves in waves.  Up and down, back and forth.  Feelings, emotions, moods, fitness, body fat, you name it.  Everything in nature is seasonal.

7.) Consult the bristol stool chart.  You should have a healthy poop every day.  If you don’t, you’re not eating right for your body.

8.) If you would like to change your situation, decide to do the opposite of what you usually do in every decision that comes your way over the next 24 hours.

9.) Ask before assuming.  If it would be rude to ask, you shouldn’t be assuming in the first place.

10.) Judging is a spectator sport that won’t affect the outcome of the game.  You’ll just piss people off.

11.) Having children is the most advanced degree you’ll ever take.

12.) Keep dating your spouse.

13.)  Intentionally make time to laugh every day.

14.) Find 3 songs that can instantly change your mood and energy.

15.) If you use it everyday, spend the money and get a good quality version.

16.) Interrupt the patterns of negative people by asking them what they enjoyed or appreciated about today.  You have the power to engage in conversation, shift conversation or walk away from it.

17.)  Learn about the ego, its need for control and how it wants to separate you.  Learn how it shows up in you, what that is like, and how you can let it go.

18.)  Stress is the difference between expectations and reality. Adjust one or both.

19.) Every time you cross the threshold of a door into a new space or environment, ask yourself what energy you are responsible for bringing into the room.

20.) You’re only supposed to climb mountains, not carry them around on your back.

21.) People pick up more from our body language and energy than from our words.  Don’t just develop your vocabulary.  Seek to develop your body language and your energy.

22.) If it creates fear, it’s a sure sign you should do it because you’re touching the edges of invisible fence you’ve built for yourself over the years.  Hop over it.

23.) Never allow yourself to become stagnant.  Keep growing, expanding and experiencing.

24.) All cells in your body turn over and grow anew.  It’s never too late to heal your body.

25.) Feed the bacteria in your body.  They eat green stuff and vegetables.

26.) Walking is singly most underrated activity.  It is a gift.

27.) Never buy the nicest sports gear.  Start with the crappy stuff and learn with it.  When you get good, you have earned the right to good quality gear that you will appreciate 1000x more.

28.) Spend less time researching and buying gear, and more time just going out and doing it.

29.) There is a low, medium and high price point for any material object you could ever need.  Only choose medium or high price points for things that align with your desired life and values.

30.)  Everything in our exterior world will change.  It will all come and go.  Learn to love and take care of yourself, to find peace within you.  Ensure that you are never dependent on love or happiness acquired outside of yourself from others.

31.) It is only when your own cup is full that you can pour from it for others.

32.) Write out your absolute perfect day or future lifestyle.  Great!  Do those exact things today.  A daily practice will soon become a habit.

33.) Take a chance on your intuition a few times.  The more it proves right, the more you can trust it and hear it. When an opportunity presents itself and it seems uncanny, it’s a sure sign you should jump on it.

34.) Always maintain the curiosity and playfulness of a kitten with a ladybug.

35.) Learn how to put yourself in a disposition of lightness and laugh at yourself, so that you’ll never go down the road of taking yourself too seriously.

36.) The way you interpret life has been formed through a variety of people, places and events.  Though you cannot change your past, you can choose which interpretations are getting you where you want to go, and which are holding you back.  Only keep the ones that will write a beautiful future.  You are the author of your own life. Are the chapters going somewhere or the same over, and over again?

 

grief, Happiness

I was a Cancer Caregiver While I was Pregnant. Here’s What I Learnt.

 

My  hope in putting this article out here, is that it brings you peace, and if you are not going through this journey, and simply joining me for a story – that it serves as an inspiration for you to live life to the fullest *and* to stop worrying about stress & your sweet baby inside of you.

First, a brief background, my mum was diagnosed out of the blue with Non small-cell Stage IV Lung Cancer.  My mum was a vibrant, big personality, in love with life, travelling the world, a successful realtor.  It was a huge, surprising shock to all of us. She was given just a few months, but crushed it at chemotherapy and continued living it up, travelling, knowing that she had limited time.

In the new year of 2013 two things happened at the same time. She found out the cancer had metastasized to her brain and I found out I was pregnant.

11 months of fighting lung cancer successfully stepped up a notch.  Multiple brain tumours meant aggressive radiation and continued chemo on the lungs. The cancer took on a nastier profile, going from coughing, to nausea, personality changes and dizziness in my mum.

As I settled into a tough pregnancy (severe morning sickness until month 8) I also settled into a primary cancer caregiver role.

It probably sounds like the worst fucking thing anybody could ever experience.  Hyperemesis on its own is pretty shit.  So is your mum dying.

But let me tell you, I learnt about the power and resiliency of the human spirit during this time.  Here’s what I learnt from those dark 6 months.

No matter how bad it gets, you never lose your sense of humour.  You are going to laugh during the bleakest moments of this human experience and in fact, your sense of humour increases.

One day, after a chemo session, we were driving on the highway home. We’d both been craving salty chips for our gross stomachs that day.  Sadly, it was a bit too late for me.  Feeling my lunch coming back up, I had to swing off of the highway onto the shoulder and let lunch fly out of the window.  As I turned around in my seat, wiping my mouth with a tissue I saw my mum hanging her head out of the window too, letting her snack go in all of her post-chemo glory.  When she finished, we took one look at each other and started laughing HYSTERICALLY.  Like, leaning over the steering wheel hysterical laughter, tears streaming down our face.

And again, during a bleak, horrible moment, picking out my Mum’s own coffin for the cremation.  Really awful, right?  Waddling around, 7 months pregnant at that point, aghast at the blazing glory of 4 foot angels with glowing eyes, wooden boxes and outrageously ornate vases.  Done.  I lost it.

I had to sit down on the floor and just laugh my ass off, I couldn’t even make eye contact with the lazer-cut angel with glowing eyes. I couldn’t imagine my Mum’s remains going into that one without belly laughter.  I almost wanted to pick it out because my Mum, with her wickedly dark sense of British humour would have been on the floor laughing too.

The poor solemn funeral home assistant could do nothing except watch me with genuine concern on his face.

Therapy is excellent.

I should probably add that I was doing regular therapy with a psychologist to get me through this shit storm of a stage in life.  I started with my psychologist way back at the initial diagnosis to make sure I processed everything in a healthy way and because I had horrible insomnia for about 6 months.

I signed up for more sessions when I found when I was pregnant and wasn’t sure about that whole motherhood thing.  Then, when the cancer metastisized I was like, shit, I’ll probably just keep going for a few years (I still do it.)

 

Therapy isn’t just about helping you when you’re fucked up, it’s also about enhancing you when you are doing well!  Therapy can give you the tools not only to get through rough times, but also live a great life. I found mindfulness based approaches excellent.

I also read a lot of books.  Self help books are like immersing yourself into the author’s own brain and getting you out of your own thinking patterns.

 

Cancer Caregiving is one of the Greatest Leadership Development Experiences

As a cancer caregiver, its almost like you are thrown into a fast-paced MBA in leadership and in the entire process, somehow you find a renewed sense of self-confidence.  So many people speak of developing their leadership skills gradually through their career and training.  But leadership skill development can come via unexpected routes as well.  I learnt this first hand.

All of a sudden you are dealing with very complex medical information, the need to research, communicate with a medical team, consult and then build support around the people impacted by those major decisions.  You have to assist others (extended family and friends of the patient) with their own morale and without even knowing it, you find yourself setting an example and in a position of people looking to you for guidance.

In one of the final consultations where we decided to discontinue all forms of cancer treatment and go for palliative medicine & care, the reactions among my Mum’s network were extremely mixed.  I had to be okay and understand that each person would deal with this news in a different way, and it had nothing to do with me.  Just their perception of events.  Some fell apart, some were stoic, some disappeared, some rallied.  I really had to work on not judging others’ reactions.  They were all entitled to however they processed it.  A core piece of leadership is understanding your own handling of things.

As a cancer care giver, you find yourself judging things with a different baseline, and it alters the way you see people events and things (we all this shifting the observer in the coaching world.)  Nobody prepared me for how irritated I’d be with people who complained about mundane things, especially if I’d just left hospital and was dealing with a gas station attendant complaining.  I just wanted to unleash a lot of days.

You have huge decisions laid in your lap, which, in the moment, you simply deal with (I remember sitting in Starbucks one morning signing my mum’s resuscitation orders – I look back on that now and think whoa.)

Naturally, you will find that you step into a strong decision-making role where you must consult with medical staff, make decisions and communicate them to others calmly and confidently. Necessity is the mother of invention, and out of necessity you gain this leadership.

On my lunch breaks at work, I’d manage a large google document managing my mum’s medicine, chemo, radiation schedules and who was driving to / from the hospital and providing meals / care / assistance. This is such a huge, complex part of cancer care giving – this part was really a part time job in itself.

Planning was not my strongest suit, but I became damn good at it from that point onward.

The Entire Experience Provides a Perspective on Other Events in Life

Each moment of the cancer caregiving experience has given me a valuable “other perspective” – it really is a silver lining.

To experience cancer caregiving is to have a beautiful new anchor in your life.

Nothing, nothing will ever seem like too much of a big deal, too much of a bother as you go forward in your life.

After dealing with such profound humanity, grief, sadness, happiness, such an intensified form of what we call the “human experience,” nothing will shake your core.

You will develop a deep ground well of strength from which you will be able to draw, every single moment of your future life.

My mum passed a few days into my 3rd trimester, after getting to see my little daughter on the ultrasound via face time (shoutout to EFW Radiology on that one) and naming her.)

My last few days with my mum were painting her nails sparkly blue, listening to the chaplain playing beautiful Rod Stewart tunes on the guitar, and having some champagne.  The beauty of palliative care is after the busyness of “doing” and all of the cancer care giving, you get to shift to a place of “being.” Sitting in peace, and stillness and enjoying each others’ company.

To all of you on a similar journey, I salute you, honour you and tell you from my laptop here that there are silver linings in all of this.  Much love.  xo