Sick Day

“I think I’m coming down with something.”

A phrase that we hear, and might say ourselves, from time to time. You know the feeling; tired, run down, maybe some sneezes and sniffles or a scratchy throat that are the unmistakable hints that you’ve caught something and you’re getting sick.

So what do you do?

If you’re like me, you start loading up on vitamin c and drinking more water. Add in a wonderful brew of garlic, ginger, lemon and honey to help battle the germs. Make sure to rest more and try to take it easy so that my body can fight off the bug that is running rampant inside my normally healthy body. I’m lucky enough to have access to a sauna and that’s always part of my arsenal of wiping out the illness. Take some time off work and get better.  In short, I turn my attention to doing whatever I can to help make myself get better as quickly as I can. It’s what we have been told we should do, need to do, for ourselves and for the most part we do. Even I do, and I’m not great at taking care of myself.

So let’s flip this from physical to mental health.

“I am burned out and done. Just done.”

A phrase – or some variation of that gets said fairly often too. Words that convey the simple fact that things are just too much right now, or that our ability to meet the mental or emotional demands on us are just not up to it. Whether it’s work stress or personal issues, whether it’s the tap out from depression, anxiety, grief, exhaustion or any myriad of mental health issues – chronic or not, it doesn’t matter. What matters is what we do once we have hit that point.

So what do we do? In a perfect world, you would look at what it is that’s the main issue and address it. What do you need, right that moment, to make things better? Then do that. What do you need, long term, to help yourself? Then do that. You would find support or take yourself away from what is causing you stress. You would get help in the form of counselling or medication or therapies that work for you. You would take a day off, maybe a few if you can and take time to get better.

What actually happens though?

We cough and sneeze and call in or email and say we’re sick and stay home. Everyone tells us how much they hope we get better soon and that we should rest and not push ourselves – just take it easy and get better.

 

or….

 

We don’t think we can get out of bed because of the heavy and dark depression or the anxiety that is crippling today or *insert your own version here* but we do it anyways; we get dressed in between panic attacks and sobs that ruin the makeup we’ve already had to re-do twice and we put on clothes that we feel like we can hide inside of. We pull ourselves together and we became masters at faking being “okay” or “fine, just tired” so that we don’t have to try to explain.

Or we don’t get out of bed. We call in or email and say we have a migraine or stomach flu – anything that can be gone in 24 hours so that there won’t be too many questions tomorrow when we do manage to pull ourselves together and make it to the outside world again. We become masters at lying and hiding what is really wrong.

Why? Because making a call and saying “I’m not okay today. I’m not well and it’s not my body that’s the problem.” is not something that we know how to do. It’s also not something that we know how to hear and respond to either. That’s okay though because the only way things will change is if we start changing them after we admit that there is something that needs changing.

So today I did something I never do. Today I called in “sick” and didn’t lie about why. I said I was taking a mental health day and that I was just simply burned out and needed a day to rest and recharge and get my head screwed on straight. You know what? The reply was “good for you, do what you need to.”. Yes, I was nervous about being that honest but I also know that I need to start walking the talk about getting rid of stigma if I really mean it – and I do. Yes, I do realize that I am incredibly lucky that I can do that and that not all of us can. Not everyone has time off available and not everyone works in an environment that you could say those words and not worry about how it will affect your job security. But if you do, and can, please do it when you need to. It’s the only way that taking care of our mental health will start being seen as just as normal and necessary as taking care of our physical health.

I Want You To Know

What do you value? What goals do you have that you want to achieve and how do they relate to the values that you hold true for yourself and how you want to live your life.

 

A couple of questions among a few today in a course that I’m taking. Questions that opened the door into a journaling task. A task that was to be done quickly, in class, not taking more than a few minutes. Designed to let us jot down our instinctive responses without over-thinking and without trying to analyze. Simply to write down our most basic “what do you want”. An exercise that was to tie into last week’s look at why we fail or succeed in making changes in areas of our lives that we say we want to change. Simple.

 

But first, before what I want, a little background.

I’ve been living with a depression for the last few (okay, many) months and fighting even acknowledging it to myself, never mind to anyone else. I’ve just barely started being open about how deep the shadows are to my partner and letting glimpses of how I’m doing be seen by a couple of others. most definitely not ok is indicative of just how bad it is right now. It’s that depression that fogs over everything right now for me. It’s dark and heavy and exhausting, and I’m so tired of it.

 

Sitting in class today, looking at my paper and holding my pen in hand, trying to even feel what I want so that I can write it down. Tears coming to my eyes again – like they had been off and on for most of the class – as I am overwhelmed by the sadness that I felt. Sadness that the one word that was front and centre felt so far from me. The one word that slowly came into my mind to explain what I want more than anything else just made me want to give up with how unattainable it felt to me.

 

Light.

 

I want to be light again. I am so exhausted from the heaviness of depression and grief that I sometimes forget what it feels like to not be crushed by it. I know that I have times that it’s merely a shadow and that I do peek out from under it but on days like today, those times are hard to remember – even harder to recall how it feels to have that lightness of being.

 

The sadness I feel in writing that hurts because within that is a deeper, more urgent want that wiggles in my mind as I work towards that lightness again. A sadness for what this darkness has made so hard lately. Connections, re-connections of relationships lost and let go of in my depression and grief, reassurance to those who are close to me still (even with all my efforts to push away hard).

 

I so desperately want the people who are in my life to know that it’s not all dark and heavy – and that I DO know that. I am blessed and I have so much in my life that does bring me happiness and laughter and light…and I am trying so hard to be aware of those times just as , if not even more than, the times when the heaviness weighs in.

 

I want and need for the people in my life to see when I’m having a light and easy day and there are smiles and joy to not worry if a cloud rolls in for a few minutes, maybe some tears or sadness will come. But it’ll pass. A single cloud doesn’t ruin a beautiful day. I promise.

 

I want and need for the people in my life to know that when the clouds pile up and darken and stick around, they’ll pass too. It might take longer than a moment, but they will. They always do, some days I have a harder time remembering that but I promise that they will pass too.

 

I want and need for the people in my life to know that it IS getting better and I need for you to remind me of that when I fall apart and share that I don’t know if it is – or ever will be better.

I want you to know how much it means to me that you are there to tell me that when I can’t see it.

 

I want you to know that I hide behind “I’m ok, just tired” or “I’m fine” like you do too…and I see you and it’s ok to hide behind that if you need to; I know sometimes I need to not share how I really am too. It’s ok when it’s too much.

 

I want you to know that sometimes I can be what we all are in some way or other:

Perfectly okay and doing great.

A mess.

Loved and loving.

Falling apart.

Grateful for all the amazing and wonderful things and people in my life.

Overwhelmed and lost in depression

Joyful and light.

Hurt.

Laughing, smiling, sincerely happy and content.

Scared that it won’t ever be different.

Excited for tomorrow..

Wanting to give up.

 

I want to say thank you for being in my life. Whether you are someone who I share a few minutes with once or twice a year…a casual friend… a chosen family or close friend…or my partner, my love… I want you to know that I can be, like we all are, both a work in progress and a masterpiece, all at the same time.

 

Life, controlled

I love lists. To-do lists, short-term, long-term, lists of accomplishments, lists that track data or statistics… oh I love them and I know I’m not the only one. Most of us who are like this don’t necessarily talk too much about it though, we know we’re the minority and it’s almost a closet passion. I’ve met a few kindred spirits though and learned that there are incredibly similar reasons behind our love of lists. Our gathering and tracking (and yes, sometimes hoarding) of information and data makes us feel secure and grounded – safe. They make a person feel like they can clearly see, assess, measure – control – everything in our reach and even those things beyond our current reach. Goals and dreams for the future even factor into the never-ending compilation of lists and spreadsheets. So does looking back and tracking where we’ve come from in so many areas of life. From work performance and tasks to personal activity, health and fitness tracking and goals to budgets, it can all be sorted and tracked and analyzed – almost obsessively so. “Archive” is a word that gives people like me the warm fuzzies – but we’ll almost never admit that, except to another like-minded spreadsheet-loving freak.  I am not exaggerating when I say I have budgets archived from at least 10 years ago and I can tell you exactly how much I spent in a coffee shop in October 2003 ($41.85). Want to know what the postal code was for the apartment that I lived in for a few months in 1990? I have that too. What was my body fat percentage in March 2013, just one second while I pull that up. This goes beyond the usual grocery list on the fridge type of behaviour that is what most people limit themselves to – and I know that. Being in control and task oriented is a good thing, even necessary depending on how you live your life. Yet what I’m looking at here is something other than what would be considered “normal”. An easy analogy: having a drink with friends when you get together is all good; secretly drinking alone every night until you pass out is not healthy behaviour. Same idea but without the alcohol….

So why is it that some people are so bound by lists and the need to collect and track information? Any behaviour that is habitual must serve a need to be continued. The question then is how is it serving a need – and more importantly – if you want to change it – what is that need?

Some introspection this past week has me pondering the reasons behind it all. It’s not the first time that I’ve thought “what would happen if I just stopped?” Would the world stop spinning if I chose to “delete forever” from my drive? Would my ability to function within my safety net of knowing everything be affected? It’s these thoughts that drive me to peruse the “why”. It’s actually something I contemplate every time someone in my life points out that these lists and compilations aren’t always the healthiest of behaviour patterns for me.

Breaking it down, It comes down to two very separate and distinct motivators. From the people who I’ve encountered, and my own experience, these reasons exist with very blurred lines of separation and aren’t mutually exclusive.

The first is control. The control that a person has over their lives, or the illusion of control, serves a massive need to feel secure and stable. It is personal safety 101 and it is one of our most basic, primal needs that we search to have met. If you grow up experiencing life with trauma, abuse, neglect, instability or a feeling of not being secure – this is where it can manifest from. From a sense of not being able to control even the most basic of your needs like personal safety or stability in your environment we learn coping mechanisms. Some people put up walls so thick and high that their own internal space becomes the only space they need or want to feel that security. They dissociate, find a secure place inside of themselves and hunker down for the long haul, sometimes for life. Others turn outwards, looking to obsessively control any aspect that they can. For these people, when they start to have control over some areas of their lives, they exert it stringently and with an iron fist. Welcome to homes that are never cluttered or untidy, bookshelves arranged by colour or author or book size, closets that are micro-organized. Lives that are lived scheduled to the minute and smartphones that are linked to every calendar imaginable for cross referencing. This type of behaviour is something that can be a healthy characteristic to possess. It’s when it creeps into needing to control other people’s actions (or reactions) that it can get messy and toxic.  In teen years, or even younger, this control shows up as eating disorders and other forms of self harm. You can’t control if someone is abusing you but you sure as hell can decide to not eat or to secretly hurt yourself with blades. You exert dominance over the one thing you can; your body.

Which brings me to the next option for “why”. Closely linked but different.

You grow up, move out and get away from the external influences that you sought to wrestle control from. Now you are competent and in control and perfection in action… Unless you aren’t. Instead of your mother or father or society inflicting the hurt or telling you that you aren’t good enough or you are a failure, you learn to (outwardly at least) shake that off and be strong and independent! Yet the firmly entrenched and expected feeling of being not good enough or “wrong” somehow is – sadly – a comfortable way to feel. As dysfunctional as that sounds, it’s what is the most normal and it’s been the most consistent feeling in your life for so long that it actually feels better when you feel badly. Messed up, but not uncommon unfortunately. So, what better way to punish or hurt yourself (and create that familiar, if unhealthy, feeling) than by being the one to set up the parameters for how you measure up? This is an easy one to hide from even yourself though. It very often masquerades as “good” and “healthy” to the person doing it, even motivational. These types of behaviours are routinely even praised and encouraged by others. You feel accomplished and organized and you are the envy of your friends who can never find the tax papers they need or who run out of socks because they let their laundry pile up in the corners of their cluttered rooms. You give yourself a big pat on the back for having it all so together.

Looking deeper though, you’ll see the patterns of reactionary behaviour that go with this type of behaviour and tracking and list making. You know the exhaustion that comes from always needing to be perfect and the need to have everything around you perfect. You know that holding onto those spreadsheets of weekly or monthly goals not quite met sends you into an emotional spin. You know that every time you analyze what you consider a failure to meet unachievable goals (that you set for yourself…see the loop here?) you feel badly. Yet you still do it. You have become the abuser and the abused, and in some twisted way, you know this and it’s better than it was because now at least, you are in control of it.  You are the only one who can stop the cycle and be, ironically, in control of ending the cycle that eats away at your self-image and self-love. But how about instead of you being the one to control the hurt, you chose to stop it instead?

Whether it’s about control or self-harm, unhealthy actions need to be changed. It may sound simplistic and it is. Simple, but not easy. Being aware of the “why” is sometimes the first stop on the road to making changes. From there, you’re in control, in a good way.

through the fire and back

the bright center of amber lost,

the sheen of the metal tarnished.

it is now forever altered, changed.

in the blink of an eye,

in the span of a few seconds,

the scorch of the flames

appeared to devour the essence of its beauty.

however, it remains;

loved, held close,

recovered and reclaimed,

literally from the ashes.

it is, still now,

as it always was,

beautiful.

only now in a new way,

a different way.

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So badly wanted.

For years I had wanted something so badly, I craved it more than I can ever remember wanting anything else. It wasn’t a singular item or want exactly. It was something that I would daydream about though. I would make plans about what I would do with it when I had it and I would imagine what it would be like to have it. Oh, you can bet I dreamed and wished and planned for the elusive, but certain, day when I would have it. When it would be mine.

What was it that I wanted so badly? Time. Time was what I wanted. Not just any old kind of time though. I wanted time to myself. Time that was just for me to use as I wanted. Time that was for my pursuits and dreams and needs – and wants. Selfish time that had only one focus, me.

You see, back then, when that was what I wanted more than anything else, time was a valuable commodity to me. I was a single parent, I had young (and numerous) children and work outside of the home and my own business. Oh, and attempts at a social life in there somewhere as well. Volunteering, community and school commitments aplenty and all of the late night hours that went along with those. My time was given freely and readily to everyone else in my life. I didn’t begrudge the fact that this was my life, in fact I loved it. I thrived on the pace of it all and I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

But time for myself just was never there. Each day when everything all was done, I would fall into bed exhausted and imagine what it would be like to have even just a couple of hours to myself that I could do anything I wanted with. Even getting to enjoy a bath without knocks on the door and voices asking me questions and wanting to know when I would be done was unheard of back then. I craved solitude and silence. I couldn’t even grasp the concept of what entire day or weekend just for me would be like. That was beyond even my imagination!

Now though, I have that. I have time to myself. I have crafted my life after a change in circumstances into what it is now, and that life includes time for me. I have hours to myself. Days even, all to myself. I still have work and other commitments but the demands on my time that used to fill the other hours are no longer there. Silence and solitude is the standard for this new life of mine. So what is it that I do with the time that I so desperately wanted and that I now actually possess?

Nothing, for the most part. I wanted it more than anything and now that I have it, I don’t use it.

Do I spend hours writing and creating like I always wanted to, but never had the time for?

No, barely ever.

What about those imagined hobbies or interests that were going to be sought out “some day”? Still waiting on those.

What about me seeking out the little dalliances that pique my desires to explore?

Not a single one delved into yet.

What about spending indulgent days doing nothing and feeling amazing about it?

Nope.

The one thing that I have ever wanted the most is mine now, and I don’t even use it – and it’s time that changed.

What’s between your legs? And why does it matter?!

A conversation happened today in which the subject of the events going on in the US was being discussed. I was present but not part of the discussion but when a remark was made that we didn’t need to worry , up here in Canada, and especially here in this city because, after all… there weren’t really that many gays. As a matter of fact, this person said, she didn’t even know anyone who was gay. Well, hold on there…now I was part of the discussion, thank you very much.

After outing myself and being open that I have many friends and chosen family who live in the states and that they have very real and very founded fears for themselves and their lives, not to mention the potential ramifications on their employment and basic human rights, I explained that it wasn’t something that was just an issue in the states. That as a gay woman, in an openly lesbian relationship with another woman, safety IS something that is a consideration, even in Canada.

I was told bluntly that, as a “straight looking feminine woman” I don’t look like a “real gay person” and therefore, I don’t have any reason to be afraid for what is happening in the US since the election. Sadly, this is not the first time – or the last probably – that this sentiment is voiced.

As a Femme dyke, I know that I am very often misread as being straight. I also know that I am always quick to openly correct someone when that assumption is made known. One reason for that is for that exact point – because I don’t look like what some uninformed or unexposed people would expect a gay person to look like. So, in my little way, in my predominantly safe area of the world that we live in, I try to do what I can to expose people.  It’s often frustrating and feels like one step forward two steps back as I see a stranger being dismissive or worse yet, seeing someone who has been working to understand and accept suddenly come out with a remark that is born of long standing beliefs that are, clearly, not as changed as I had hoped.

Later in the day, a small remark from a co-worker about someone who may or may not “be a man” sparked a remark back from me that asked the question “what makes a person a man or a woman. If they say they’re a man, then they’re a man”.

I was frustrated and upset from the earlier conversation and would normally have let this go but not today. So here’s my little roller coaster of “nope, not dropping this one today”, it’s time for a bit of a rant…

*disclaimer, this is in no way comprehensive, it covers just what I ranted about today in person with my co-worker, notably, masculine/feminine and the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation*

What defines a person’s gender? Or their sexual orientation? Or their self identity? Or, or, or….? Spoiler alert, aka the short answer: Not you.

The terms masculine and feminine are not gender specific. They are simply terms that are used to categorize certain traits, mannerisms and characteristics of behaviour and appearance or presentation. Yet they are so often used in such a limited, and limiting way that it’s harmful.

We are taught from as far back as we can recall that a person is labelled as a boy or a girl because of what they are born with between their legs. Along with whatever parts are visible is the expectation of how they will dress, behave and what what roles in society they will fit into. All based on genitals. That’s a lot to live up to based on physical presentation. So what if what a person is, who they are, is not what society says they should be, based on what is between their legs and on their chest?

What do you do with the little girl who wants to ride dirt bikes and play ice hockey instead of ringette? Or the little boy who loves to match his socks to his shirts and draws intricate doodles of flowers. Both of these examples by the way are of children that I knew when my kids were in school, and in both cases, it was the parents who were far more judgemental than the other kids.

Ok you say, some people are gay and that’s ok. Ah, but what if these little kids aren’t gay? What if they are what they are in their expression of themselves and it has nothing to do with who they will be sexually and/or romantically attracted to when they grow up? A person’s gender identity and their sexual orientation are not the same thing.

How do you classify a masculine woman; one who identifies as a woman, has the commonly accepted physical aspects of female (pssst, I mean a vagina) but who is more masculine than feminine in her dress and mannerisms.

How do you classify a feminine man; one that has a penis – so he must be a man (because that is, of course, how you determine these things after all) but his mannerisms and way of dressing or acting would be more commonly called feminine?

Then add in the aspect of sexuality and sexuality orientation.

What if that masculine woman isn’t a lesbian like you thought she would be when you slotted her into that category in your mind? Because all women who dress and act more “like a man” must be lesbians. Just like that woman that you see in feminine dress and make up must be straight. Maybe, maybe not – on both accounts. Oh but what if that pretty, feminine woman has a penis? She might, or she might not. How would you know, and why would it make a difference to what you see her as. What matters is how she sees herself and how she lives her life.

What if that man who is so feminine, and who you assume must be a gay man, isn’t? What if he’s a straight man who is, just simply, more feminine that what you think a straight man should be like? Oh but wait, what if he has a vagina? But then again how would you know, and what would it matter.

So many what if’s! So many varieties and options and possibilities! What if you just accepted a person as just that: a person. My sexual orientation has nothing to do with how I interact with someone in day to day life. Neither does my self identity of gender. Unless we are looking to hookup or date, it just doesn’t matter. It’s really that simple.

You may now unbuckle and get off the roller coaster. The tilt-a-whirl is just around the corner, I’ll meet you there for the next ride 😉