Stressful Life Stuff

Going through some stressful life stuff lately. Keeping my head above water, but just barely. One day at a time is another 24hrs of struggle without much reprieve or an end in sight.

This might sound melodramatic, but the life  of an adult with a brain injury is tough. At this stage, especially if your injury is decades behind you, everyone expects that there’s really no reason to use it as an  “excuse” any longer. Neither do they realize, however, that the damage is permanent and with age the brain becomes more and more tired as it has compensated for so long. Sure, the best-case scenario sees an individual surrounded by routine and some type of support system, but unless that support system is ideal and the routine ongoing, there really is no way to guarantee a life that isn’t consumed by exhaustion. 

Throw into this mix an above average intelligence but quite a few “bad breaks” over the years, and the frustration and sense of constant drowning becomes the new norm. Good jobs are not easy to come by, survival requires timing and attention that often seems an impossibility. In a constant state of stress, your bio-chemistry actually changes and your body begins fighting itself. 

Life is cruel to some of us. 

Elitist/Ableist Thinking

It really bugs me that people think that those of us who struggle to find work in a terrible economy are lazy or simply taking advantage of the system. 

Both my sister and I have benefited from EI and its social assistance over the years. It’s a very necessary program considering the economy these days. Even the Welfare program is beneficial to those without options and in terrible situations. I’ve heard stories of single women who were left to raise children and a not a penny to their name. Without these social supports, our society would be in serious trouble.

So, when I hear elitist friends say they don’t agree with living off of the hard work of others, it really irks me. At some point even the elitist may need that support. What goes around comes around. We never know what lies around the corner for us. Life is funny that way.

The same goes for the ableist mentality. This is not often thought about. People who are fully physically and cognitively able don’t think twice about their attitude toward those of us who may have challenges – be it chronic fatigue or cognitive delay or physical inabilities. It’s so easy to assume that we are lazy (which is so far from the truth). And if you don’t agree, come live a day in our shoes and see how exhausting simple daily living activities can be. Add to that the emotional stress of relationships with people who don’t “get it”, and a society whose ignorance permeates the very air we breathe…the struggle is real. If you thought tension in the air feels thick, you should experience the feeling of ignorance (and arrogance) thrust upon you. It leaves me speechless – believe it or not (😉).

Why don’t you get a job and stop living off the system? You look fine. What’s wrong with you? 

First of all, appearances mean nothing. Mental health challenges are one of the most common issues in society right now. These challenges leave a person immobilized and unable to focus or think. Even on medications, our bodies are exhausted from fighting ourselves. Secondly, jobs (especially in London, On) do not grow on trees. Many decent paying positions require very specific education and training. Without the money and cognitive ability and energy to pursue such training, a person is sunk. 

So what’s left then? Where does that leave us? Minimum wage jobs do not pay the bills. Sadly, since moving back from Calgary almost 10yrs ago, I have had only one job with full time hours and decent pay. It lasted a little over a year and was an abusive situation. I was forced to quit as the owners were tired of working with my exceptionality. 

So, here I am, having been forced to start my own business just so that I had a job, and specifically one without a boss breathing down my back with unrealistic expectations. But the work of running ones own business is not exactly ideal for someone with brain injury. The payment per hour barely covers travel expenses and time spent “working”, never mind administration. I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. 

But of course, I look fine. So what’s my problem? Just find another job, right? Lots of people work multiple jobs to pay the bills. Go ahead and judge me and tell me again that I’m not worth the money I charge for the service I provide. And by all means, let me know again that you don’t appreciate having to pay for someone else’s life (which is not mine, just for the record).

Lately, I just can’t stand people. 😒

Brutal Honesty

Today I hate my life. Sounds dramatic…I know. Emotional, over the top, a bit excessive…yes, yes, and yes. But you know what? It’s the reality of my experience lately. This is depression.

Have you ever been “stuck”? …on a thought, a feeling, or in a place in life? Have you ever felt so overwhelmed with negativity that you are literally immobilized with sadness? Have you ever wondered if people would actually notice if you were gone?

I think about it a lot. I often think about the fact that if it weren’t for my own exhausting efforts to connect with and reach out to others, I would probably never hear from anyone. In fact, I’ve actually put this theory to the test and have found it to be true.

We are such an independent, individualistic society. And while to some degree I find myself relatively confident in my independence because of my introverted personality, I am also very “relational” and find myself needing to connect with others for a sense of community. I love relationships, learning from others, supporting and encouraging those who need it and sharing a laugh at the world’s craziness.

But let me ask you something: How often do you express genuine gratitude to those people around you? How often do you check in on people – friends, family, even acquaintances on Facebook. How often do you freely offer a hug, a genuine smile, or a helping hand? It’s so easy to get wrapped up in your own world, rushing from one activity to the next, focused on your personal obligations, never considering how you can contribute positively to the world around you.

This is definitely where I’m at today…feeling like an island in a big nasty world. As I went about my day of errands and activities today, thinking about all of the things on my “to do” list, I was suddenly struck by an incredible emotional fatigue. I am tired of life, tired of the rat-race, tired of trying, tired of keeping face. The energy it takes to live life just seems like an overwhelming burden right now. I made it to band this morning, played for two exhausting hours, remembered to stop at the market and grocery store for food, and now I’m at home curled up with a warm blanket and my kitty.

In a world so interconnected with social media and instant communication, life-tracking with “check-in’s” and insta-photos, I think we are so used to people broadcasting their thoughts, feelings, and daily activities that we have lost our empathic ability to inquisitively and actively care about those around us. It makes me think about a really specific example from my concert band practice on Saturdays.

During our coffee break time, I have noticed that there are always a fringe group of members who line the benches or stand quietly against the wall. Then the other 75% mingle freely in the middle, enjoying the snacks and refreshments, debriefing the week between practices. During these times, there is a lovely retired gentleman in the band who regularly makes sure to check in on me. We carry on a genuine exchange of experiences and ideas, thoughts and reflections. It’s really nice. And I see it as a true example of community and well-developed social skills.

This is what I miss. I miss the connections of family and friends who actually give a shit (pardon my French)…people who miss you when you’re gone or when they don’t hear from you…people who actually wonder how you’re doing and what they can do to help you. It’s like people don’t have time to care about others these days because they are so wrapped up in their own stuff.

I rarely hear a genuine “how are you?” anymore – with the intent to listen and not just respond. In much the same way, I have even found myself apologizing for who I am or how I feel simply to appease those around me (knowing that everything I do and say seems to draw an “annoyed” response). My personal feelings don’t matter. But my-oh-my…if I don’t consider the position of someone else at certain moments, do I ever hear about it!!

In a world that supposedly values objectivism, we are losing our innate human ability to sense and respond to emotions. They are not acknowledged or valued or understood. Given this fact, then, I find we are becoming more and more disconnected as a society, and less and less capable of communicating with or relating to those around us.

No wonder I am in such a dark place today.

…this is my life…

Focus

It’s been another couple of weeks since I’ve written.  Gosh, this life gets overwhelming sometimes. For anyone who hasn’t read my blog posts in the past, I encourage you to have a look at some of them to give some context for this one.  My Blog is a place of personal expression and enlightenment where I hope to connect with others through my experiences – many of which are due to an brain injury sustained as an adolescent.

Today I have chosen to write about focus.  It’s something that I struggle with a lot, both on a macro and micro-management scale.  I fully believe that more and more people are plagued with this as well, living in this fast-moving society that we live in.  In this busy, loud, multi-tasking world, it’s difficult to stay on track these days – whether with one particular task, or on a grander scale of aligning life choices with one end goal in mind.

Focus is such an abstract concept, but an important one.  I see people all around me struggling with this same thing, so I don’t feel alone – nor do I believe that my struggle is “due to” my injury.  I think that’s a huge thing for anyone to accept post-trauma.  The awareness that we are not alone in our experiences is one level of acceptance, but that our experience is not necessarily an isolated incident due to only this type of injury (brain injury) is a deeper level of acceptance.  But I digress…. (ironic, as I discuss the concept of focus…) lol

Whether it be in our moment-to-moment interaction with the world around us, or our overall commitment of energy as a whole, I believe we can all benefit from an increased level of focus.  “And what might that look like,” you ask?  Tuning in more intently in a conversation, directing more energy in a physical exertion, or simply freeing up your mind to attend without inhibition to the task at hand – all of these instances can amount to greater focus and, in turn, greater performance or a deeper, more alert experience.

Try it sometime.

It’s how the best physical training coaches direct their athletes, how musicians perfect their craft, and how good friends establish such a strong connection.  It’s the practice of “presence” – being fully in the moment, physically/intectually/emotionally.  If you are looking to improve a skill, deepen a relationship, or just experience life more fully, I highly recommend this personal practice.

And don’t be discouraged when you find you have to take a break, or you feel your mind wandering, or you feel like you’re making the same mistakes over and over.  Let your awareness expand through the experience.  Take a minute to reflect and notice what you notice about your presence, your performance and what is happening around you.  The repetition of this practice will help to increase your mind’s sensitivity to the experience, and you will surprise yourself with the improvements you will see.

This is my life.

The Doctrine of Love: Part Two – Grace

As promised, this is the second part of a blog that has sort of been rolling around in my head for quite some time. The concept: grace. It’s a big one, I know.  Or perhaps it’s obscure enough that you’ve never really thought about it before.  Hopefully this blog will provide some food for thought.

Having grown up in the church, the concept of grace is something that I have had first-hand experience with for my entire life.  However, it wasn’t always learned from those in the church.  Talk to anyone who has been a part of a church family, religious organization, sect, or passionate group, and you will likely hear stories of un-grace or “dis-grace” – which is ironic because any true God-related practice should have grace at its very core, oozing from every pore of its being.  After all, that is how Christ demonstrated His true love for us.  And yet that is the furthest from the Christian “norm” in most cases.

What sets Christianity apart from other religions is its fundamental teaching of grace.  Our entire redemption is thanks to the grace of God and His gift of salvation through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  It is nothing we can earn through good behaviour, rather our positive behaviour comes out of our understanding of and experience with grace.  As a believer and follower, then, I therefore find myself wrapped up in the beauty of this concept.

Though I am fascinated and overwhelmed by the significance of grace, and though I am deeply touched by its meaning in my own life, I find that my humanity betrays the essence of its spirit and has restricted my own practice of it.  Yes, as contradictory as it may seem, the ones who are most aware of a reality are quite often just as susceptible to its malpractice as those who are unaware.  And yet, the awareness itself brings us one step closer to incorporating the concept more fully into our lives.

I say this for those of the Christian faith, and anyone else as well.  The concept of grace is not something only for the Christian believer – it is for everyone.  I think all of us, both Christians and others, too often practice judgement – in the name of love, of course – thinking that somehow that will bring about the change we seek (in others or ourselves).  To be quite honest, I believe a person’s best catalyst for change is their expression of love seen in their capacity for grace.

Think about it…how often do we criticize others, thinking that our own methodology or thinking is the “right” way (whatever the topic may be)?  And how often do we end up acting or thinking a certain way out of feelings of shame or guilt or obligation due to the critical judgment from others? So what is the answer?  How is this reconciled or rectified?

The answer is grace – unmeritted favour…respect, honour, kind regard – just for the sake of it.

The essence of love is not found in righteous judgment but the humility of grace.  Again I say, “when in the existence of human kind has the use of negative reinforcement ever proven to be ultimately successful in increasing a person’s self-awareness, contributing to said person’s intrinsic motivation (or ultimately accomplishing the goal of bringing meaning and purpose to life)?” It hasn’t.

And so…this is the focus of my journey.  In retrospect, it has been for a very long time – likely, my entire existence.  And I think the same can be said for many people.  It is a daily re-awakening to my true self, the joy within, and – through that – experiencing a connection to the world around me.  You see, I don’t think we as a people are just seeking validation (though it can be helpful) or reciprocity (though it may be comforting); I think we are ultimately drawn to the greater concept of grace (the freedom to be and become who we are and have been created to be without fear of persecution).

Imagine a life lived in a world where the purity of love (for others and ourselves) was the norm. How would that change the way we see things?  How would it change the way we treat one another?  How would it change the way we see and treat ourselves? What would you pursue more fully or how might you express yourself differently if you lived without the judgement of friends, family, society, or yourself?  You might not even know at this point.  You might not even be aware of your own interests, passions, or abilities.  Why not take some time to explore those things? Why not use this day to share that exploration with others?

Imagine a world full of self-aware, genuine, loving, gracious people…a world free from guilt, grudges, bitterness, anger, fear, and hatred…

A girl can dream, can’t she? 🙂

…this is my life. ❤

Eliminate Drama

“But remember that you cannot change other people! Do not take their negativity personally. It is THEIR problem, not yours!” (Dani Johnson)

Great Article! http://www.danijohnson.com/2013/2-ways-to-eliminate-negativity-in-your-life/

This article discusses a lesson I have learned many times – and have dealt with a lot very recently. Substitute “negativity” for “emotionalism” and it’s the same concept. I would call it “2 Ways to Eliminate Stress (or Drama) in Your Life” – as the article says, eliminate those people from your life or learn how to deal with them effectively.

In this day and age emotional manipulation is very common because people take everything personally and expect that others should too. To some degree, I get it – I am an emotional person. But by letting our “feelings” or emotions dictate our actions, we never really take control of our lives. We become reactive and overwhelmed with that emotion (whether good or bad) which only contributes negatively to making consciously objective and effective choices.

How we deal with and process that emotion makes a world of difference. It is my choice to feel offended or effected by someone else’s choices. It is just as much my choice to respond with integrity and not allow another person’s emotions to dictate my behaviour (refusing to lash back at an angry person, or be guilted into making a choice that is not congruent with my own values).

You can allow others’ emotions to dictate your actions, or you can live your own life and let them live theirs. It is actually quite empowering to take control of your own life in this way. I no longer allow others to “guilt” me into a certain lifestyle or reactive response. People will use their emotionalism in an attempt to engage your emotions rather than your objective mind. Be aware, acknowledge the reality, and take back the power which is rightfully yours.

The Beauty of Simplicity

After a conversation yesterday about the complexities of life and the beauty of simplicity, I thought today was a perfect day for checking this one off my list. I have a list of blog topics that come to mind at random times and when there are no “pressing” topics for the day, I work my way through the list. My list contains topics that I find myself facing on a daily basis – random challenges specific to my experience, or delights which come out of them.

The beauty of simplicity is something I have learned from several sources in my life. Having grown up in the country, my siblings and I learned to amuse ourselves with nature and our imaginations rather than being bombarded by technology. Since then, my experience with a brain injury provided setbacks which in turn allowed for the development of a unique perspective – literally “dialing it back” as I learned to walk and talk again at the age of 16, acquiring more subtle social skills into my 20’s. I have come to a new appreciation of the efforts made to do seemingly “simple” tasks in life – things we take for granted. These tasks are important but often unaccounted for in the average persons life: planning meals, buying groceries, prioritizing time for a shower, brushing teeth, adequate driving time and sleep.

One of the techniques we are taught in learning to deal with our challenges is improved self-awareness. As mentioned in previous blogs, a more thorough self-awareness amounts to more effective life choices. I likened my teachings in cognitive behavioural therapy to the guided enlightenment of the yoga practice. I had been instructed to participate in yoga as a part of my physiotherapy program, however I found there were many many more psychological benefits as well.

There was something that my yoga teacher would say that has always stuck with me. She would encourage us to “notice what you notice” as we moved from one pose to another. She was literally teaching us how to be aware without actually saying so. She facilitated the awareness experience in a way that made it automatic after a few classes. And soon I found myself “noticing what I noticed” about everything in life – the colours of the world around me, the sense of alertness after a restful sleep, the crisp feeling and fresh smell of the air on a cold winters day.

All of those experiences bring my awareness back to the beauty of simplicity in life – the warmth of a genuine smile, the awe of a child learning a new skill, the appreciation of the sound of silence. Despite all of the challenges and frustrations in my life, I have come to use my awareness practice – recognizing and acknowledging the beauty of simplicity – to bring balance to my life. The neat thing about it is that the awareness allows for a more positive outlook and attitude which helps to actually enjoy the happenings in the day rather than just going through the motions. This inner joy brings meaning to life which then spills out and effects the happiness of others, which in turn reflects back! I find myself in a better mood, surrounded by positive, empowering people, and even more enlightening experiences. Simply put, it’s beautiful.

…this is my life…