©2020 Erin Newton, www.thewellnessgarden.ca, All rights reserved
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.
I don’t enjoy doing things that challenge me. There. I said it. Doing things I know I like and have been good at is far more my jam. I’m not lazy, far from it. It’s just that if I am interested in something, I will pursue it with gusto. I’m willing to work very hard, but I much prefer it when the predictable outcome is success. Pursuing something that challenges me? Well, that requires a certain level of risk taking and vulnerability that kinda makes me want to run in the opposite direction.
For example, working with technology is a challenge for me, so I avoid it like the plague. In particular, anything having to do with setting up electronics or learning new software has been known to send me into a rage. I would much prefer to step back and allow someone else to do it for me. It feels so good to just have other people fix things for you, install things for you, build things for you. I mean, it’s a win-win situation where a techie person gets to do what they enjoy and are good at, and you get to your goal without having to break a sweat.
Playing it safe can feel fantastic at times. The big HOWEVER, though, (and you probably saw this coming) is that this type of avoidance provides us with only a fleeting sense of satisfaction. Someone else fixed my problem so now everything is okay. Well, until the next time and the time after that when I still don’t know how to do it. Do you recall the ancient proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”? That’s kind of what I’m getting at.
I am not suggesting that you need to learn how to fix your own car. You don’t have to become omnipotent and utterly self-reliant. I mean, nobody’s going to perform their own surgery or take a pleasure trip to the moon on their own handmade rocket. Instead, I am suggesting that regularly challenging yourself to move beyond your comfort zone can help you grow in ways that are far more important.
Trying new things is challenging and we don’t usually enjoy things that challenge us. It requires a willingness to move beyond our everyday patterns and paradigms, and that takes courage. Taking risks and being vulnerable is uncomfortable and scary. But in the long run, it’s the only way to grow. The lesson: sometimes it’s important to catch your own fish.
People who don’t return their supermarket carts are monsters. I’m convinced that they are the same people who put their dog poop in a bag but drop the bag on the ground. They don’t flush a public toilet after they’ve used it and they, most assuredly, leave their garbage on the table at the food court.
If this is you, I am sorry.
Actually, no. I’m not sorry.
You’re a monster and I am judging you.
We’ve all seen them. They live among us and we don’t even know who they are until we let them in our lane and they don’t say thank you. Monsters! When I hold open the door for them and they walk right through without acknowledging my existence, I think to myself, “Who hurt them?”.
I often wonder what primitive urge creates this level of entitlement. How does this happen? Is it nature or is it nurture? Universities need to conduct studies. We need to gather a team of psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists and fund a massive study. Could this ideological notion of "Someone will come along to clean up my mess", be something that we’re born with or it is created through years of conditioning?
So how do we continue to give in a world that seems intent, nay emboldened to take, take, take? I proffer that it’s all about mindset: that is, we need to stop internalizing other people’s rude behaviour. Hear me out. What I mean is that it’s not about us: it’s about them. People who are acting out in inconsiderate ways, may not be, at their essence, inconsiderate. When we separate the action from the person, we can respond with compassion instead of anger. Is the person who leaves their supermarket cart in the middle of the parking lot a monster or a single mom whose toddler is having a melt down? Could that person who walks through the door you’re holding without saying thank you, be contemplating a divorce? Might the person who leaves their garbage on the table at the food court be rushing to tend to an elderly parent?
The truth is, we don’t know why some people lack consideration for others at any given moment. It’s too simplistic to conclude that a person is inconsiderate because their current behaviour is. One small snippet does not show us the whole picture. Having a compassionate mindset helps us to believe the best in people and to become empathetic to their situation. I mean, happy people don’t normally go through life acting like douchebags. Isn’t it more productive to assume that people are doing the best they can with what they have in any given moment? I mean, after all, isn’t that what we’re all doing?
Maybe the people who don’t return their supermarket carts are monsters. But I’d rather give them the benefit of the doubt than believe that monsters shop at my local Fortinos. Maybe if we weren’t so quick to judge others and, instead, considered what they might be going through, the world would be a better place.
When I became a mom, a part of me disappeared. I was there one day and gone the next and it took a long time for me to find myself again. It’s like placing those beautiful babies in my arms completely replaced my identity as an individual. When my children arrived I naturally put all of my love, energy and focus into them.
From that day forward, I was Maddie’s mom and then I was Liam’s mom. Yet, I‘m not sure where Erin went for all of those years. It was as if I traded in being Erin in order to become Mom. I didn’t realize that I could be both at the same time.
What I’ve since learned is that I can be as many different things as I want to be! Yes, I am a mom but I am also Erin, wife, sister, daughter, teacher, friend, artist and so much more. On any given day, at any given moment, I can be anything I want to be and so can you! All that this requires is that we are brave, we set boundaries and that we love ourselves enough to enforce them.
You see, there is nothing more powerful than a woman who loves herself fiercely. I’m so in awe of women who know their self worth. For many years, I loved my children more than I loved myself. It doesn’t have to be that way. I used to believe that to be a good mom, my children’s wants and needs must always come before my own. Only the depleted energy I had left at the end of my day was mine to reclaim for myself and my dreams.
This is utter madness! At the end of the day, I have given so much that there isn’t any energy left. Is this the mom I want my kids to see? I need them to know who Erin is. We rob our children of the opportunity to see our greatness when all we give them is our service. I want them to see me as the wife, sister, daughter, teacher, friend and artist. I want them to see me shine.
Dreams are not finite, you are allowed to have more than one! If you are blessed enough to have been granted the dream of motherhood, there’s no need to stop there! It’s not selfish to want more. Allow your children to see your greatness in every aspect of your life. Allow them to see you struggle, perhaps fail, re-commit, and triumph. Be brave, love yourself fiercely, set boundaries and remember who you are.
Photos of the kids were taken by Kelly Elliott. Beach pic of me is a shameless selfie.
After many years of thinking my magical thoughts, writing in my colourful journals and dreaming of making a blog, I have finally taken the leap. I’ve been feverishly writing and re-writing, researching and planning. I am here now with my very first blog post, but a week ago this almost didn't happen.
Last Saturday morning, I abruptly halted the process. I don’t mean that I slowed down. I mean that I came to a screeching halt and thought, What the hell am I doing? I began to feel a familiar embarrassment grow into humiliation. It was just one week until my blog was to go live and I was convinced that I was going to fail miserably.
If you are surprised by my negativity, you shouldn’t be. I’m actually very skilled at doubting myself. My imagination is so powerful that I can be embarrassed by my own failure before I’ve even started a project. As soon as my eyes opened last Saturday, my inner voice began to scream. Who the hell do you think you are and why do you think anyone will care about what you have to say? My inner voice can be one heck of a bully sometimes.
Self-doubt is nothing new to me. My entire life I have zig-zagged between confidently speaking my mind and telling myself to sit down and be quiet. Whenever I take on a new project, it’s like my inner voice says, How dare you be so bold? Sometimes I’m able to silence those thoughts, but that Saturday morning they gave me great pause.
I decided to do what I often do when I feel anxious. I went outside and walked my dog. There’s something so soothing about feeling the sunlight on my face and being with a furry pal. Wilbur is new to our family, but he never, ever doubts my greatness! Truth be told, he thinks I’m brilliant. As I walked with Wilbur, my anxiety softened. My swirling thoughts begin to organize themselves into neat, little folders in my brain and everything just becomes clearer.
What I began to realize was that every creative thinker is subject to scrutiny and anyone who expresses a point of view might be met with opposition. Those things are both inevitable and beyond my control. I would even argue that they are necessary. I mean, how do we have meaningful conversations if there is only one perspective being presented? How will we see beyond our own social conditioning, if we don’t examine things through a variety of lenses? But, if I don’t believe that my voice is worthy, if I don’t believe that what I say is relevant to the conversation, then why should anyone else believe it?
As artists, we can’t simply wait until we feel ready to make art. If we waited until we knew that we were good enough, we would never even start. And so, I will work daily to silence my inner critic and to send my art out into the world. I won’t wait until I’m good enough, until I know enough, until I am enough. I mean, if Wilbur believes in me, then the least I can do is believe in myself.