We all have sleepy days.
Stay on the couch days.
Stay in your pyjamas days.
Do lots of snacking days.
Scroll on your phone days.
Not much energy days.
We all have those days.
Listen to your body and embrace those days when they come.
Time spent recharging, is never wasted time.
Moms are always extra busy over winter holidays. We shop, we cook, we clean, we make the magic happen. Like so many moms, I have worked extra hard this year to make Christmas special. I've put lots of time and effort into gift selection. I'm trying to meet everyone's emotional needs and to be the rock they need as they mourn the loss of merriment and connection. I'm trying to keep everyone's moods lifted amidst the ever-looming shadow of Covid and isolation.
At the end of the day, I am exhausted in my bones from what feels like a massive emotional load. Mom-mode almost feels like survival mode. When my mom-mode is switched on, I do whatever needs to be done. I don't always feel the strain until it's over and by then, it's too late. I'm completely depleted.
Well, it's Christmas Eve Eve and I've already hit the emotional wall. The burden is too big and I need to set it down. I can't take everyone's pain away. People will be sad. People will be mad. People will be lonely and all of that is real, normal and understandable. It's not my job to take it away. It's my job to be there through it all.
What I've learned is that, as moms, we can't feel everything for everybody and we can't always take the hurt away. With love comes loss. With joy comes grief. With community comes isolation. If we don't experience one, we can't appreciate the other. Nor can we fully recognize the difference between the two.
By not allowing my emotional cup to run empty, I can be what matters the most. Mom. Just mom. It is my presence that counts, not my presents. The most important thing I can do for my family is be there, to listen and to love. By not allowing my emotional cup to run empty, I am giving my family the best gift of all - my strong, healthy, loving self.
Today I did a thing. I mean, it was a little thing, but it was a big thing. And it may seem like nothing at all to most people, but it has taken me 45 years and a pandemic to do it.
Today, when someone was needlessly cranky and short-tempered with me, I did not take it personally.
Not even for a moment. I did not feel hurt by it. I did not internalize it nor let it linger. I paused for mere seconds before telling myself, “It’s not about you”. I then took a deep breath and released it completely.
It was so liberating.
“It’s not about you,” I said. And it wasn’t. And, what was even more remarkable: I understood that completely.
We are all hurting, grieving, mourning, struggling, worrying, needing, raging and reacting.
We all just want to be near people again, to get out and live our lives, to forget that any of this has even happened.
We all feel victimized.
We all feel trapped.
We’re in shock.
We are experiencing trauma.
I'm not suggesting that we should allow people to treat us poorly. On the contrary, we teach people how to treat us. However, the next time someone is cranky or short-tempered with you, try to not feel hurt by it. Do not let it linger. Instead, give that cranky person all of the love, understanding and compassion that you can muster and repeat after me: “It’s not about you”.
And it really isn’t.
Do you ever have times in your life where you feel like you’re functioning on autopilot? Have you ever been half way through your commute to work and wondered how you got there, unable to remember the first part of your route? Many are the days where we coast through our lives completing perfunctory tasks, but feeling disconnected from our purpose.
The reality is that humans aren’t meant to live their lives this way. We aren’t meant to wake up every day and perform the same tasks over and over. We aren’t built to sit at desks, stare at computers or spend most of our lives indoors. As a result, we develop a type of numbness that keeps us from breaking free of these patterns of being.
When we feel disconnected from our purpose, we often fill the void by looking outwards when what we should be doing is looking within. At the end of the day, what drives us to keep going like this, to stay in jobs that don’t fulfill us, to spend more waking hours dedicated to the profit of others than to our own well-being – all of this comes down to social programming. The truth is that we are consumed by consumerism.
So desperate are we to have the things we’re supposed to have that we are prepared to abandon our precious time in the pursuit of material possessions. Yet, can we even say why we want these things? Yes, we need shelter and clothing and food, but do we need the latest and greatest of everything. Do we need to buy our own happiness with stuff? Can we really feed our emptiness or find our sense of self with possessions?
Our compulsion to consume is often connected with our social-emotional needs. A daily barrage of media messaging tells us that our lives will never live up to other people’s lives and that we are never enough.
We overeat to console ourselves. We buy new clothes to disguise our shortcomings. Even when we can’t afford to, we buy trinkets–houses, cars, baubles–beyond our means to assuage our inadequacies. We even fill our calendars with activities and commitments so as to be able to complain about our popularity.
The cycle of consumption–need followed by emptiness triggering more need and the eventual, inevitable realization of emptiness – is a spiraling vortex. IT’S TIME TO BREAK FREE. Consider the possibility that a happy life is not something we can buy because happiness doesn’t come from external “stuff”.
Life is full of ebbs and flows and we’re meant to feel it all. If we can find peace within ourselves, by prioritizing relationships over things, we can move through these ebbs and flows without needing to fill the void with “stuff”. When we live a life of purpose we feel less of a need for constant consumption. The key to happiness, therefore, is not found in owning more: it is found in being more.
There is something about being awake when the world is still and everyone else is tucked in their beds that makes you contemplate the universe. Each morning while I walk my dog, Wilbur, my mind thinks all of the thoughts that are too big for me to think at home. In fact, it is only the promise of thinking time that quiets the protest in my head when my excited pup pulls me from the comfort of slumber and into the early morning hour.
You see, I crave solitude so much that I wake up before my family every day just so that I can be alone. Don’t get me wrong: I love my family and they’re cool people and all. But, I know that being alone for regular intervals is essential to my mental health and well-being. Not only am I an introvert, but I am an anxious introvert who masquerades as an extrovert. I do this every dang day and it’s exhausting!
Even though I am a care-giver who instinctively loves and supports other people, there’s another part of me that wants to remain a quiet, unruffled observer of the world. Truth be told, other people and their needs are a constant source of pressure for me. Despite this, each and every day, I dutifully get up, get out the door and present myself to the world as an extrovert. I do good work this way, but it requires a level of emotional vulnerability that drains me every day.
As I get older, I find that I am craving quiet and solitude even more. My thoughts are like my closest friends and I can’t wait to be with them in a way that can’t happen when other people are around. Sometimes, I actually feel excitement at the thought of turning off the light and going to bed because it means that I can lay there and hear my thoughts again without interference or interruption.
The bottom line is that introverts--especially anxious ones--need periods of peace and solitude as bulwark against the insistence of socializing. We need to build in times in our day when we can recharge. For a long time, I ignored my need for this time and the result was regular emotional burnout. I have now created my own little office space in my home and that room is like a sanctuary. I’ve outlined boundaries and my family respects them. The kids knock before entering; they don’t disturb me unless it’s important. My family understands that when I emerge from my happy place, I will be rejuvenated. And, that’s good news for everyone.
And so, as Wilbur and I walked the streets this morning, when the sun had not yet risen and even the birds were barely awake, I could feel my emotional batteries charging. It only took me 45 years to understand myself and to lay down the boundaries required to function successfully as the anxious introvert in an extroverted world.
Creativity is not an inherited gene like blue eyes or wavy hair. When people say they aren’t creative, it just isn’t true. We are all born with the capacity for original thought, fantasy, creation and exploration. It is only as we get older that we are conditioned to stifle it. There is creativity swirling inside everyone, but I would argue that it is less of an attribute and more of a skill that requires developing.
And, as with all skills, creativity needs commitment, inspiration and courage in order to bloom.
When we are children, our creativity is nurtured and developed through books, colours, music, sights, sounds, experiences, relationships and play. Lots and lots of play. Sadly, the impulse for unfiltered play gets driven from us earlier and earlier in our lives. Instead, our instincts for creation and imagination are being replaced with the drone-like consumption of screen time and task completion.
I know what you’re thinking. Yeah, yeah, we use too much technology. Yada, yada, yada. The issue has certainly been discussed ad nauseam. Stick with me though, because that’s not my main point.
My point is that even though it may be half-dead deep inside you—trapped by to-do lists and daily monotony--your creativity is still there. It’s not dead, just dormant, and with practice and care, it can flourish again. You see, creativity only dies if you let it and we only let it because we are unaware of its value.
Creativity is essential to human progress. Without it, there would be no problem solving, no invention and no collaborative creation. Without creativity, there would be no scientific discovery, no medical advancements or philosophical inquiry. You see, creativity is not only important, it’s vital! So now that we understand its importance, let’s develop our creativity by following these four simple steps:
Creativity requires commitment. If you aren't committed to regular exploration, then you don’t want to be creative badly enough. Artists and poets don’t create masterpieces by waving a magic wand. They work at it daily. If you want to be creative, you need to set aside time each day to develop the skill. If you want to write: write. If you want to draw: draw. If you want to dance: dance. It’s not important whether the outcomes are good or not. In fact, don’t be so focused on the outcome. The process of creation is more important than the product itself. Just spend time exploring the skill.
Creativity requires inspiration. Fill your head full of thoughts. Your thoughts, other people’s thoughts. Thoughts about thoughts. So many thoughts! Never stop thinking! Listen to music, read books, listen to podcasts, watch films, look at art. Surround yourself with other creative thinkers and allow them to inspire you!
Lastly, creativity requires courage. You can’t be afraid to suck. In fact, you need to suck. Then you learn something. Then you try again. Then you suck less. Then you learn more. You get the idea; it’s a process of vulnerability, so let go of the ego now and focus on what you can learn. If you are too afraid to fail, you will never create a damn thing.
The world needs creative thinkers. The world needs people who can imagine the world not as it is, but how it could be. Be committed. Develop your craft. Fuel your inspiration. Be courageous. Creativity only dies if you let it. Don’t let it.
We’ve all been there. You arrive at work prepared to take on the day. You’re humming your tunes, you’ve packed a tasty lunch and you’re feeling pretty good. Everything is in balance until you swing open the door and you step into the room. Then it hits you like an impenetrable wall. A wall of negativity. A wall of darkness. Somewhere in the room is an energy sucker.
Your heart rate increases and your eyes dart from side to side. You can feel them, but you don’t know who they are yet. Is it too late to get out of there? Will you be noticed if you (make a sudden about-face and) leave? But, wait a minute. You can’t leave; you work here. What are you going to do?
You offer the room an exploratory greeting. “Good morning, everyone’, you proffer. A few people throw salutations your way and then there it is; the energy sucker identifies themselves with what can only be called a grunt.
You proceed with caution. You extend pleasant conversation. Out of nowhere: slam! Negativity slaps you hard across the face. You regroup and attempt a clarifying question: Is everything ok? Slam! An uppercut to the jaw. With every second that passes, you feel yourself drooping, your earlier positivity draining from you. In very little time, you find yourself growing angry and anxious. You have deflated so much, so quickly that you can barely remember your earlier buoyancy. How did this happen? All you did was walk into the room and now your entire day seems greyer. Not even the very tasty lunch clutched tightly in your hands can help you now.
Let me take a moment here to be clear about what an energy sucker is and what an energy sucker is not. An energy sucker is not someone who is just having a bad day and is trying to hold themselves together. They are not those everyday folks like you and me who have problems, but are socially aware enough to know that others have them, too. Thus, when I speak of energy suckers, I am not speaking of the usually good-natured individuals who try hard not to dump their garbage load of bad energy onto others.
Rather, an energy sucker is someone who constantly drains the room of possibility and progress. To them, the answers are always no, we can’t, it won’t work, that’s not how we do it here. So mired in their own muck, the energy sucker has no ability to see the way their words, thoughts and actions are affecting the room. They are the antithesis of momentum and bring everything around them to grinding halt.
Now, those of you who know me and my usually sun-shiny self, may be anticipating my coping strategy. You may be thinking that I would advocate for having compassion, offering support, being a good listener, walking a mile in their shoes, having gratitude. You get the idea.
I’ll admit that’s how I used to handle energy suckers. I used to allow them to use me to keep themselves afloat, drowning me in the process. I used to absorb their negative energy in hopes of providing them--my fellow human being--with a little relief. I used to. But, turning 40 changes a woman and gone are the days when I would put up with being emotionally controlled or manipulated. A woman in her 40s has no damn time for that. She could do it, but she won’t.
and will result in you feeling bitter and manipulated. You doing their work only enables them to keep sucking people down into the mire. They don’t want to be in the muck alone! They want everyone in there with them. Do not get close enough. Do not get sucked in. Just run.
Be near people who lift you up. Lift others up where reciprocity exists or is possible. But, for gosh sakes, get away from the suckers and don’t ever feel a moment of guilt about it.
I get it. Life is busy. Some days you feel like you can barely catch your breath. As quickly as you cross something off of your list, something new pops up. Children, spouses, activities, jobs, bills, shopping, pets, housework, errands, appointments. Rush, rush, rush. Each night you fall into bed, only to awake feeling no more rested than when you went to sleep.
Do you ever pause long enough to wonder what it’s all for? Why are we all working so damn hard? At the end of each day as we flop on the couch, too exhausted to engage with our spouses, too depleted to pursue our passion projects. All we seem to have energy for is mindless scrolling through social media. There, in this online world, we see other people’s tidy houses, their cleverly themed birthday parties and their exciting vacations. But is any of that real? Are we seeing their reality or their skillfully crafted media presentation? Are we working to live or are we living to work? Is working to live really living?
I understand too well the frustration and helplessness of the incessant demands. You need to just keep going. There’s so much pressure. If you slow down, something will get missed. There are so many balls in the air and pausing even for a moment would mean a ball would be dropped. Something would be unfinished; someone would be disappointed.
But, friends, please slow down for a minute and hear me out. Take a deep breath and just exhale slowly. What if I were to suggest that you should drop all of it and take a good step back? Think about it: how many of those balls that you juggle everyday are truly meaningful to you?
For years, I subscribed to the self-destructive paradigm that more is better and that being busy meant that I was successful. Moving forward in my career. Constantly upgrading credentials. Chauffeuring my children from high performance program to high performance program. Eating dinner in the car. Regularly working past midnight. I spent my days clutching my $7.00 coffee and wearing my fatigue like a badge of honour. I was important, you see, and important people are tired, right?
Then one day it happened. My daughter no longer wanted to do competitive dance. I could let go of that ball and instead of scrambling to pick something up in its place, I just left it there and waited. Curiously, nothing ominous happened. Nothing came crashing down and things seemed just a little easier to juggle. Soon after, my son told me he was no longer interested in doing martial arts. Instead of resisting, I allowed that ball to drop. A wave of relief washed over me. The remaining balls seemed so much lighter. Emboldened, I started pitching balls all over the place. I couldn’t get rid of them fast enough. I jettisoned committees and clubs. It was so freeing. What I was left with was the most precious gift I could ever receive. Time. My time. I gave it back to myself.
What happens now is magical. We have dinner at home as a family. There is time for unstructured spontaneity. My kids can hang out with their friends. When school and work are done, we are free! There’s even time for my own personal self care and, yes, my own passion projects. Most nights, I go to bed on time. I work out every day. Sometimes, we don’t even do anything. Sometimes, we simply lounge about. Sure, the house is often a bit messy, but I don’t care because that’s not where I choose to use my time.
You see: you do have time. You have time for whatever you want. In the end, perhaps that’s all we have. Minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day: we choose how we use the time we have. For so many years, I thought that busy kids meant happy kids. Good moms provided their kids with constant opportunity and fulfillment, even if that was at the expense of their own joy and interests. Every day, I made a choice about what I committed myself to, what I committed my kids to. But when we all stopped and talked about it, we realized that none of us wanted any of it! None of us felt our time enriched by busyness. None of us needed to juggle so many balls.
You have time, too. And choices. So, how do you want to spend your time?
I have never been a morning person. Even as a child, it was a running joke that people knew to stay away from me first thing in the morning. When I wake up, I need quiet, solitude, and space to just think my big and little thoughts. After I’ve had those things, a switch just flips and I’m ready to do my adulting.
Now that my children are older, I have established a predictable and satisfying morning routine. It includes meditation, quiet contemplation, reading, list making and exercise: everything I need to “warm up my brain”, and be a caring empath in the world. What a joy to be able to focus on myself, before having to fulfill the needs of so many other people. Ah, balance. Thou art a loving friend.
Then, one day, my children convinced me that we needed a new puppy. And, in the blink of an eye, all that balance and comfort and time for deep thinking went up in smoke. Just like that, my mornings transformed from calm to chaotic. Instead of solitary meditation, I now spend the first part of my day in service to him. Instead of space, I am now overwhelmed with his insistent nipping and slurping and nudging. The sedate pace of those wistful mornings have been replaced with the mad dash around the neighbourhood in search of a perfect spot for him to do his business. I glower in resentment as I pass the houses full of puppyless people, who are waking up quietly before having to flip on their adulting switch. There is no time now to fill my emotional cup before pouring my energy into him. Puppies are a pain.
But do I regret getting this little furry ball of love? Not. For. A. Second. The sacrifice is temporary and the love, laughter and joy he gives us will last his lifetime. He will learn, he will grow and someday he will need me in different, less immediate ways.
So, what is the point of this early morning musing, you ask? Simple, my friends: nothing is permanent. Everything ebbs and flows. Just as you develop a predictable rhythm—just as things begin to move in a way that feels natural and energetically balanced, everything changes. My friends, our job is not to get to a certain point and then ride the wave of peace towards the shore of eternal bliss. Rather, it is to become aware of those moments of contentment and to appreciate them for the divine, albeit fleeting gifts that they are.
Things change. Life is complicated. Sometimes you have to flip the switch before you’re ready.
Empaths should not look at social media without expecting to have an emotional battle. I am an empath which means that I am highly attuned to other people’s emotions. I regularly take on other people’s feelings and allow them to become my own. Because of this, it is imperative that I have quiet contemplation, inspirational memes and puppy photos to wrap around my heart like a protective shield. I do this as an early morning self-care practice and it provides an emotional layer between me and the cruel, cold world. I know this rule, and yet today I woke up, I reached for my phone and I plunged myself into a swirling undertow of Instagram tragedy. Covid-19. Trump. Death. Destruction.
My wrist fatigues as I swipe my way through the murky waters of politics, the environment, global crisis. The familiar heaviness of anxiety spreads across my chest and I know I should stop, but it's too late now. Like a dewy-eyed Dory, I seem driven to "just keep swimming." I plummet into darkness. So many deaths! So much despair! Within minutes, Trump’s imbecilic voice is all I can hear. A halo of Covid-19 death tolls begins to swirl around my head. What is happening in this world? Suddenly, I feel myself sliding down, down, down into a pool of grief.
It’s dramatic, I know, but some days I deserve the award for how many emotions I can feel at the same time. The struggle of the empath is real, people, and I am splashing in a pool, weighed down by anxiety for people.
The problem with being deeply sensitive is it’s just so hard to find a balance between feeling compassion for others versus committing to carrying their full emotional load. If I close myself off to the woes of the world, I am callous. If I open my heart to the suffering and tragedy, I risk feeling an almost debilitating empathy. To feel or not to feel becomes the theme of my daily soliloquy.
Then, a miracle: the sounds of my children waking up is offered like a lifeline tossed into the raging depths. I sit up and I decide to flip the switch. I remind myself that I can be compassionate and still protect my own heart. I am able to care for others and still know when I need to take a step back. I put down the phone, get out of bed, get dressed and leave my room. I close the door and I leave the sorrow behind me.
Being educated about world issues is important. Being informed about politics is crucial. Using my voice for change is my responsibility. Yet, if I don’t protect my mental health and well-being, I am powerless to act.
Empaths like me should not look at social media without preparing for an emotional battle. It is imperative that I have quiet contemplation, inspirational memes and puppy photos to wrap around my heart like a protective shield. If I consume the negativity of social media before preparing myself mentally, the emotions completely take over. And if I allow myself to take in all of the woes of the world, how can I be a positive advocate for change? So, you see, it isn’t really a question of to feel or not to feel? Instead, it’s a daily recalibration of how much to feel.