A Few Charms (Banner)

A Few Charms (Banner)

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Can you see what's there? It's a wonderland!

My last story about beating the winter blues - for this year
Calabogie Lake from our balcony
We were on vacation last week  - our family retreat - and when we arrived this was the view from the balcony of our cabin, overlooking a still-very-frozen lake. And we woke to fresh snow on Sunday morning! Even yesterday we had a sprinkling of snow! While many of my friends on Facebook are sharing photos of Spring flowers, we are still working on Spring thaw!

The only way to survive our very long Canadian winters - to "Beat the Winter Blues" - is to find the beauty in that with which you are fed up! So last Sunday morning I put on my winter boots, a winter coat, scarf and mittens, and went for a walk to take some photos - to "find beauty."
Trying to "find beauty every day" - last Sunday!
Just this past Christmas I shared a story about my pavé lights charm and how I made a conscious effort two years ago to find some strategies for beating the winter blues. At that time I also decided that I needed to build a bracelet called "Beat the Winter Blues." So I asked for wintery Pandora charms for Christmas 2012.
I've already shared stories about a few of these charms and how they help me "beat the winter blues." My son gave me the snowman and the polar bear dangle for embracing living in The Great White North. My husband gave me Santa's stocking which reminds me to look forward to Christmas shopping and filling stockings from Santa. And my daughter gave me the snowflake and the blue vines. She was quick to point out that she was the one who gave me some colour for my bracelet! I also had some Christmas money from my Aunt Edna, and used it to buy the blue looking glass murano and the enamel blue daisy charm.
My Pandora gifts Christmas 2012
A sample of Aunt Edna's photographs made into note cards
Edna is a very talented photographer so having this daisy charm on my "Beat the Winter Blues" bracelet reminds me that even in the deep cold of winter I can still try to "find beauty every day" - and document it with photographs!

One of my favourite authors is Geneen Roth. She writes about healing from compulsive and emotional overeating. One of the books in my collection is "When you eat at the refrigerator, pull up a chair: 50 ways to feel thin, gorgeous, and happy {when you feel anything but}" Best. Book Title. Ever.

Goodreads describes the author's work, "Geneen Roth's pioneering books were among the first to link compulsive eating and perpetual dieting with deeply personal and spiritual issues that go far beyond food, weight, and body image. She believes that we eat the way we live and that our relationship to food, money, love is an exact reflection of our deepest held beliefs about ourselves and the amount of joy, abundance, pain, scarcity, we believe we have (or are allowed to have) in our lives." 
I follow Roth on Facebook and when I saw this photo and quote on my NewsFeed it made me realize I was onto something with my affirmation, "Find beauty every day."
Roth explained this photo, "I believe in love. And beauty. I believe that every single person has something they find beautiful and that they truly love. The smell of their child's hair, the silence of a forest, their lover's crooked grin. And I believe that if you follow this love all the way to its end, you will perceive an intangible presence and peace, you can find the stillness where goodness and healing and love exist."
Some photos after an ice storm this winter
I previously shared stories about my Walking in a Winter Wonderland clip and my Wildflower Walk charm, which I first earned at Calabogie three years ago on our family retreat. These meditative walks are one of the foundations of my pursuit of health and happiness. And thanks to Geneen Roth I have a better understanding of why the walks and photography are so important in my healing. I will continue to take photos on my walks. But I also try to find beauty in other ways - where I don't have to be outside in the winter!
The beauty of frost on our bedroom window

The beauty of a $2.00 mug from the Dollarama that matches our bedroom - and my bracelet

The beauty of a mango for the pancake breakfast at school
The beauty of a sculpture in a neighbour's front yard
The beauty of a yellow rose only 99 cents from the hospital flower shop on Mondays
The beauty of the afternoon sun on the hardwood floors of our bedroom 

I also find this blue daisy charm looks like a blue forget-me-not, and that is the symbol for the Alzheimer Society of Canada. My mother had Alzheimer Disease for a number of years before she passed away in 2008.

Our twins were 2-years-old when my mom was first diagnosed. By the time they were in Senior (5-year-old) Kindergarten she was getting pretty forgetful, even though she still knew us by name. Every time we visited her at the retirement residence she'd say, "Now what grade are you in?" The kids would patiently say, "We're in Senior Kindergarten Nana." Then I'd have to explain that it was like Primary school when I was a kid. Before we'd leave there would inevitably be a few more times when she would ask the same question. Same answer. Same explanation. They were so relieved when they were in grade one - so much less explanation required! On the way home one day the kids were asking me why Nana was so forgetful. I explained that she had an illness that affected her brain, that her brain was (quite literally) shrinking.
Taylor and Mitchell celebrating THEIR birthday with Nana
A short while later I was at the doctor's office with Mitchell. I happened to mention that Mom had fallen into the tub and cut her head, and been to the Emergency Room. So the doctor pulled up the results of the CT scan. She explained to us that we could see that there was space between Mom's brain and her skull. She said that if we compared it to 5-year-old Mitchell's brain, his brain would be closer to the skull and he would have more undulations and surface area than Mom's did.

The next time we visited Mom she was forgetful again. As we were leaving her room Mitchell put his index finger and thumb about an inch apart, and quite seriously said, "Nana's brain must be THIS big now!" I have to say Mom got quite a kick out of hearing that story - she kept her sense of humour right to the end!

Aunt Edna with her big sister, my mom,
a few months before Mom passed away

Edna was 14 years younger than my mom. Losing her had a huge impact on both me and Edna. So it seems appropriate to have this charm from my mom's little sister.

Of course visiting Edna in San Francisco might be an even better way to Beat the Winter Blues!

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Managing emotions means learning to surf

I feel truly overwhelmed by my emotions sometimes. Here's an example: I've been participating in a once-a-week group therapy program this winter, and last week we had to say goodbye to one of the group facilitators, the psychologist, who is cutting back her hours at that clinic. I'm usually a pretty chatty person, and can talk quite a bit about my feelings, but the only words I could get out were, "I've learned a lot!"
The "Ocean Waves" charm on my "Sparkle and Shine" bracelet
I used to think that emotions, feelings, are bad. They are scary. It was scary when my parents fought. They are painful. It was painful to have feelings of sadness or fear or anger and not know how to cope with them, or ask for what I needed. And, I am just learning now, it would be veeeeery painful and veeeeery scary for a child to ask for what they needed - and not get it.

We didn't talk about feelings in my family when I was growing up. Don't get me wrong, there were lots of feelings, especially anger, but we didn't talk about it. We didn't learn how to communicate our feelings in a healthy way. We didn't use assertive "I" statements. We didn't ask for the help we needed with these feelings.
And we didn't learn how to resolve conflict. Don't get me wrong, there was lots of conflict, but we didn't resolve it. As kids we were sent to our room. We could come down when we were "feeling better." If parent and child fought we just pretended it never happened. Sometimes there would be a group "family hug" i.e. we ALL just pretended it never happened, and we pretended we were "feeling better."

I did not know (and am still learning) how to handle strong emotions - and I have veeeeery intense emotions. I was the little boy (well, girl really) with his (her) finger in the damn. I was afraid that if I took that finger out, the damn would break, and I would be swept away and drowned by the emotions. I worked veeeeery hard to keep those emotions in. I kept my finger in the damn for a veeeeery long time. Until I couldn't anymore. I was in my 20's. I sought help.

I learned in therapy that emotions are neither good nor bad, they just ARE. You can feel them, and maybe learn from them. But don't judge them. Or judge yourself for having them. Or judge other people for having them. Or NOT having them. 

So feelings are valid. Valid, simply because you are feeling them. Now, that is NOT to say that the thoughts that led to those feelings are valid, or correct! In fact, in my case at least, they are quite frequently thought-distortions. And if feelings are valid that is also not to say that you should ACT on those thoughts (or distortions) or feelings. This I am learning - veeeeery slowly!

I remember, in my twenties, being in a group therapy program at the Eating Disorder Clinic and the psychiatrist asking me, "What would happen if you just stayed with those feelings of anxiety and didn't binge?" Although this was before the days of social media and text messaging, I remember thinking, "Oh. My. God." Because, quite frankly, I didn't KNOW what would happen! And it scared the crap out of me! I guess that wasn't the "teachable moment" because it was a veeeeery long time before I learned that lesson.
At another time, in a CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) group, I learned that emotions have a purpose; they tell us something. They served our cave men - and women - ancestors.

Anger indicates a need for change. It tells us that something is not right, or there has been an injustice (even if an incorrectly perceived injustice). Anger arms us, gives us strength, gets us ready to fight - as in the "fight or flight" response.

Anxiety indicates an uncertainty, leading us to search for answers. It tells us if we are in danger (even if an incorrectly perceived danger) and tells us to flee - the flight in "fight or flight." Anxiety tells us to prepare, to find strategies, and it motivates us to DO something to reduce the anxiety.

Sadness indicates a loss of some sort. It allows us to draw inward to heal ourselves, as well as reach out and receive loving care from those around us. This is why we need to share our feelings.

My "ocean waves" on my first bracelet, my teal and turquoise "Recovery" bracelet
In a resiliency training program for children I learned that if you can't identify what has upset a child you can look at the emotion and work backwards to figure out what's bothering your child. If you see anger you can look to see where the child might see an injustice - it could be something as simple as they wanted to push the elevator button themselves. Anxiety tells you they might not feel prepared for something - a plane ride or a test at school. And sadness tells you to look for a loss, any kind of perceived loss from a child's perspective. We can also apply this process to ourselves as adults, when we are not sure why we are experiencing intense emotions.
But probably the thing that has had the most impact was learning that emotions have a lifespan, a time frame. They will dissipate. Most emotions last about 20 minutes, on average. That's it! Not for the rest of your life. They won't drown you when you take your finger out of the damn.

It was over three years ago when I began this journey of using Pandora charms as a reward for making changes during my recovery from my eating disorder. You can read about how my journey began in this post from July. I gave myself a $2 knock-off charm every day in the first week that I fought to resist the urge to binge - it's just like fighting the urge to drink. Then I got another charm each week for that first month. At the end of that month, after four weeks of "sobriety," I earned my first real Pandora charm. I hadn't planned which charm I would get. I knew that the week would tell me what charm I had needed that week. What I had learned and needed to represent with a charm. What I had learned that week and that month.

An early picture of the Ocean Waves charm
So after four weeks of recovery, four weeks of being symptom-free - no bingeing, purging or restricting - I had to go back twenty-five years and try what that psychiatrist had said. I needed to stay with the feelings and NOT binge.

So I sat on the sofa and let the feelings come. The feelings came as a wave of emotions. I absorbed them. I let them wash over me. I felt the intensity of the feelings - anger, fear, sadness - but I didn't struggle to get away from them. I relaxed. I stayed with them. I didn't distract myself to avoid feeling them. I didn't eat to stuff the feelings back down. I didn't numb myself with food or shopping, to stop myself from feeling them. I let them sweep me away, remembering, trusting, that they wouldn't last too long.

And sure enough, after that surge of emotions, the feelings slowly lessened. I had let them run their course. And I didn't binge!
I grew up by the ocean. I learned to swim in the ocean. The thing about waves is if you fight the wave it can pull you under. You can exhaust yourself fighting the wave and then you will be drowned. And there are riptides that can pull you under, make you panic. Best thing to do is relax. Best place to be is on top - riding that wave.
So I chose the "ocean waves" charm for that week and that month. I bought it to remind me to "feel the feelings and ride the wave" - to know that feelings wash in like waves, and recede again. They don't last forever. I don't need to fight the feelings. I can just let the feelings come, and let them go, ebb and flow. They will not drown me. They may throw me back on shore, leave me wet and battered, exhausted and drained, but I will not drown. They are emotions and they will not kill me.

So if you're having intense feelings of anger, fear, or sadness, I invite you to grab a board and join me! "Feel the feeling and ride the wave."