A Few Charms (Banner)

A Few Charms (Banner)

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Blooms to beat the blues

A few days ago, my son went to retrieve something from my bedroom, and when he returned he said, "Is there a gas leak in your bedroom?" Turns out he's not fond of the strong scent of paperwhites! But they help me beat the winter blues.

The paperwhites on my husband's dresser in our bedroom
You can watch these growing from bulbs in my paperwhites Flipagram
There were lots of stories in the news this week about "Blue Monday," declared the most depressing day of the year. But for many people, myself included, feeling "blue" isn't limited to just one day in the winter. So what is the best strategy for beating the winter blues?

Winter of 2016
At this time of year, holiday festivities have come and gone. And credit card bills just keep coming. With long nights, and short days, the depths of winter can be hard!

When I was recovering from a bout of depression, after we were married (represented by the church charm), I found myself outside, in the Autumn, planting tulips. I had surprised myself. I was surprised because I realized that planting those tulip bulbs meant that I expected to be alive when the snow melted in the Spring. It meant I could actually see that far ahead. I had something to look forward to. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Well, even if I could not see the light at the end of the tunnel, at least I believed there was one. Planting those tulips was, to me, a sign of hope.

Looking back now, I would say there are two important things I learned from that. The first is that it helps me to have something to look forward to. The second is that flowers make me happy.

I've always enjoyed bringing in fresh flowers from the garden in the Spring and Summer, but I didn't really realize how much flowers made me happy until I started doing my Wildflower Walks and taking photos of flowers.

Winter of 2013
When I first decided to make a "Beat the Winter Blues" bracelet, in the Fall of 2012, I knew I needed to include the tulip dangle. It has since been moved to a bracelet I call "Love Blooms Here." So in the middle of our long, dark and cold winters, I try to "Bring in Spring" by forcing paperwhites, tulips, or hyacinth bulbs. And at the very least, I buy a pot of tulips or daffodils when they first appear in the grocery store.


So this year, as my health improved after this most recent bout with depression, I am pleased to say that I found myself in the garden again. In October, before the snow came, I (with help from my husband) planted some daffodils and tulips (and even some iris tubers) so I would have Spring blossoms to look forward to - a symbol of hope to help me beat the winter blues.

The tulip dangle on my Love Blooms Here bracelet
Related Posts:

Last year I did a countdown of the twelve days of Christmas but I only got as far as the seventh day of Christmas - must have been a fun New Years! But you can read the stories about how my Beat the Winter Blues bracelet began and why it had the pavĂ© lights and polar bear charms.

Winter usually starts at the beginning of November here in Canada, so there are a number of charms that help me beat the winter blues by reminding me about things I look forward to leading up to Christmas: silver bells, Santa's stocking, tree of lights and Santa's elves and toys.

One of the most important things I do to beat the winter blues is go "walking in a winter wonderland." And the blue daisy charm is about one of my most important affirmations: find beauty every day - even in the depths of winter.

Pandora has an older tulip charm representing international friendship in one of my most popular stories.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Death, grief, tears and a Christmas bauble

We took our Christmas tree down today. Big deal right? Hasn't everyone?
Well, it is a big deal, for me. Because it's the first time I've done that in 8 years. And I had a good cry while doing it.
I was glad to see this on my morning walk today.
Glad we're not the only people in the neighbourhood
who just took their tree down.
This year I was determined to take down the Christmas tree. And my motivation (surprise, surprise) was a Pandora charm, a Christmas bauble, waiting to go on my "Beat the Winter Blues" bracelet.
The Christmas ornament dangle
In anticipation of writing a blog post I had decided to take pictures of my ornaments. And so I began taking ornaments off the tree. And taking a photo of them. And as I did, I started to cry. I felt so much sadness and loneliness. So much loss and grief. And I sat down to write this blog post.
Wooden soldiers on parade
I used to love decorating the Christmas tree. I'm a bit of a perfectionist (in case you didn't know), so after the first few years of living together, Mike didn't even help me with the tree. I was pretty exacting about where things should go. I loosened up a little once we had kids and I taught them how to put on the garlands. And I told them the little ornaments go up top, the bigger ones down below.
Mitchell (just over 2 years old) fascinated by the Christmas tree
So why was this making me cry?
When I was young my mother would include a Christmas ornament or two in my stocking every year. So by the time I left home I had a quirky collection of ornaments. Wherever I lived, every Christmas I would play Christmas music and leisurely hang these ornaments on the tree, while enjoying my annual walk down memory lane.
Painted leather ornaments
One of my favourite things to do with my mom was go to craft fairs. Nova Scotia, the Canadian province where I grew up, has some wonderful artisans. Many of my Christmas ornaments were hand-made by local artists, so they evoke all those memories as well.
Wooden ornaments
And once the Christmas season was past, I would lovingly put all these ornaments back in the storage box, knowing I would see them again next year.
And then my mother died.
That was February 2008. 
The next Christmas, the Christmas of 2008, my in-laws came to Ottawa for an early Christmas with us. I just couldn't summon the energy or the desire to put up the tree. So my father-in-law took matters into his own hands. Along with his two seven-year-old grandkids, he got our tree completely decorated.
It was much easier the next year, but only because we never did get around to taking it down. Yes, you read that correctly. Our Christmas tree stayed up for an entire year.
Yes, I am ashamed to admit this. The kids' friends often asked why we still had our tree up in April or July. But I didn't let any adults into the house; I couldn't face the judgements I expected to get. I didn't think I could handle the shame I would feel.
You might ask why my husband didn't just take it down himself. I asked him that recently and he wasn't 100% sure but said he realized I'd want it done "just so." And he was worried that I'd feel even worse admitting that I needed someone else to do it for me.
But in the years to follow I relinquished control and let him take it down - and let go of the control that they might not be perfectly packed away. And then Mike's dad died. The following Christmas Mike's mom, now widowed, spent Christmas with us for the first time. And I let her decorate the tree with the kids.
Taylor and Mitchell decorating the tree with Grammie
I hadn't really stopped to think about why I didn't want to face the tree. But every year I let someone else take the tree down. It was "too overwhelming."
It wasn't until today that I realized what the problem was. It had been too hard to put away all those ornaments from my mom. To say goodbye to them. To feel the pain of saying goodbye to her, again and again. Year after year. That's why I was crying.
Dressed for the Christmas party at Mom's retirement home.
The kids would have just turned three.
Mitchell did NOT want to be in the photo!
Throughout this last year I've learned how to allow myself to feel sadness, loss, hurt and loneliness. To not be afraid of the emotions and try to avoid them and push them away. 
Ever since the second of February, 2008, I have been avoiding everything that reminded me of mom. I kept saying to myself, "I can't deal with this." I "couldn't deal with" opening mail for her, writing thank you notes for condolences we'd received, hanging photos of her, or revisiting the long term care facility where she died. Most difficult of all was remembering her death. This was not a healthy way of grieving.
Interestingly, the one thing I did do, over the last four years, was collect Pandora charms for a bracelet in her memory. And I started writing stories about her life and the lessons I learned from her. (If you haven't seen those, you can find stories about the fish bones, sneaker dangle, and making waves charms, as well as one I call love you forever.) She was amazing and I miss her, especially at times like Christmas.
My Unforgettable Mom: her life in charms
So this dangly Christmas bauble on my "Beat the Winter Blues" bracelet is a reminder of this achievement of taking down the Christmas tree. I can finally say to myself, "I did it!"
But more importantly it will remind me to savour the act of putting up the tree. To remember those ornaments in my stocking, and going to craft shows. And to be grateful. And to do the same when putting them away. Remembering that I will see them again next year.
I have continued the tradition by giving my children Christmas ornaments every year. And I hope, that as they get older, they will cherish our Christmas memories.
Rocking horse ornament from my mom.
The bear hugging a tree ornament, my gift to Mitchell
the year he was on the Green Team (environmental club)

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

How to follow your heart this New Year

It’s the beginning of a brand new year! I know it's not actually the first of January but the kids have gone back to school, so it feels like the new year starts this week.

How do you plan to spend this year? Have you made New Year’s resolutions? Not for me! Not this year.

I’ve come to realize that New Year’s resolutions tend to be goals that feel like punishment, rather than self-love. And they are things that we SHOULD do, like lose weight or exercise more. When we inevitably fail to meet those resolutions we start “should-ing all over ourselves,” as I explained in an earlier post about the scarab beetle. So this year I am trying something different. I’m going to harness the “power of intention.”
Honestly, I have not done a lot of research on this, and believe me there’s lots of material you can find on the internet. But I do trust the value in this because it was assigned homework in a group therapy program I attended in the outpatient psychiatry department. That three month program just ended in December so it’s fresh in my mind and I will share with you the intention statements that I wrote.

The idea is to look at different areas of your life and decide how important those things are, and then assess how satisfied you are with each domain. This material is taken directly from a book called The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety (above). I have typed up the material into a document and added it as images that you can read or, if you are interested, you can print them for your own use. New Year’s seems the appropriate time to assess where you are and where you want to go.

As you can see, the ten domains are work/career, intimate relationships, parenting, education/learning, friends/social life, health/physical self-care, family of origin, spirituality, community life/environment/nature, and recreation/leisure.

I am not working full-time at the moment and rated work/career as not very important to me at the moment. The work/career area can, of course, refer to work within the home or the community and does not have to be paid employment. I teach part-time and do a lot of writing, but otherwise my "work" at the moment is working on my health, personal growth, and relationships.

In looking through the other domains I realized that my marriage is very important to me and I rated it 2 on the scale. However, I surprised myself when I realized that I am actually very satisfied with my relationship. That may not be a surprise to my readers, given the number of posts I have written about my relationship and the work that we have done as a couple. If you want to read those you can go to the bottom of the web version of the blog and use the search for stories about my Always and Forever marriage bracelet.

I also ranked both parenting and my family relationships as very important but realized I was only moderately satisfied with both. My parents have both passed so my closest family relationship is my only brother. These areas have certainly improved as my mood has improved, but there is still work to do.

I have, albeit slowly, come to recognize the importance of my physical self-care, not just for my health but also for regulating my emotions, which, in turn, impacts the relationships in my life. I am not at all satisfied with my current level of physical fitness so that will be a big emphasis in the coming year. Unfortunately community involvement and social friendships have been impacted by my depression, as well as my physical health, so those are not things I can really put too much focus on at the moment. And I’m very unclear as to how I feel about my spirituality so I haven’t addressed that domain in my intention statements.

For each domain I have written my intentions on index cards and I read through them every day (I have typed them below). You will notice that I have written them in the present tense, because that feels more powerful. Even though I'm still working on some areas they still are my intentions. This was my first go at this assignment; I hope you'll give it a try. My favourite part of the instructions was "listen to and follow your heart," so I've added the heart of gold charm to my "Beat the Winter Blues" bracelet, to keep me on track - and remind me of what's in my heart - in the coming months of winter.

So when I'm angry at my husband, or frustrated with my kids, and feel like yelling... when things seem too hard or I want to throw my hands up in frustration... when I'm tempted to turn down an invitation or stay indoors... when I want to skip a workout or a walk... when I have an urge to numb my feelings by binging on food or Netflix... I will remember to follow my heart and live a life worth living.

The Power of Intention: How I want to live my life; a life worth living

An intention is a statement that reflects the direction you want to move in for the foreseeable future. It’s simply a statement of how you’d like to live your life. It should capture what’s most important to you, in that area. They are not goals with an endpoint. They should speak to how you want to live every day of your life. They should genuinely reflect your wishes. Listen to and follow your heart.
Intimate relationship
Mike and I have a relationship where we love and respect each other, and we support each other in our personal growth and spiritual journey. We play and have fun and look forward to spending the rest of our days together.
I have a family and a home that is a safe place for my children to land, where they feel accepted and loved unconditionally, as well as receive support, direction and guidance on their own journey of life.
Education/learning (personal growth)
I am learning about depression, anxiety, and eating disorder recovery by participating in groups, attending workshops/courses, and reading and researching (including prevention from a parent’s point of view). I am writing, whether it be blog posts, newspaper or magazine articles, or a book. I am writing about my journey of recovery from depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder, educating others, and (hopefully) giving them information and inspiration.
Health/physical self-care
I take care of my health because I want to live a long and active life, set a good example for my children, and be well enough to do the things I want to do. I enjoy good food and I enjoy physical activity for fun and fulfillment as well as fitness.
Family of origin
I have a relationship with my brother where we love and respect each other and give each other emotional support and guidance. My children have good relationships with their aunts and uncles, and I have the same with my nieces and nephews.
I enjoy my hobby of designing bracelets and collecting charms, and writing about them. I pursue my passion for photography. I enjoy spending time with Mike and the kids, as teenagers and as they grow into young adults, doing family things like travelling, going to movies and museums, playing games, engaging in physical activity, and pursuing our shared interests in theatre, art, books and sports.
Although the heart of gold charm is a little weather-beaten, it will remind me to follow my heart.

 Are you living a life worth living? What does your heart tell you to do in this new year?