Stepping Away From Social Media

I suppose it started when an unsolicited PM appeared in my Facebook messenger inbox. It was from a woman I met briefly through a mutual friend. It began innocently enough:

“Hey, girlfriend (girlfriend?). Wanted to invite you to join my next challenge group – we’ll be focusing on fitting in 30 minutes of exercise, balanced nutrition and motivation. Let me help you reach your goals! Can’t wait to talk to you about this!

I laughed and closed my browser but the meaning behind the message stuck with me all day. At 5’8” and 155 pounds, my BMI is on the “fluffy but average” side but, more importantly, my blood pressure is fine and all the various things they test blood for come back within normal range. Somehow, though, I fit the profile of a woman who needs help achieving a healthy lifestyle. The more the day went on, the heavier her message weighed on me (ha!).  I am certainly not as thin as I used to be, as the medication I take to tame an out-of-control panic disorder has the unfortunate side effects of extreme lethargy and weight gain, and there are many days I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and do a double-take on my double-chins. The insecurity about my body which had simmered quietly under the surface was brought to life by one little Facebook PM. That got me thinking about social media in general and how it took up too much of my time.

I had to step away from the mindless scrolling for the same reason I can’t buy Halloween candy before October 30 – no self-control. The catching up and reconnecting with old friends that drew me into social media has morphed into a daily stream of posts which sometimes make me feel bad. There are the “Vaguebook” posts which leave me scratching my head – someone I care enough about to have as a friend on Facebook posts about a struggle but “doesn’t want to get into it”. There are streams of photos from a #motheroftheyear that leaves me questioning whether I do enough for my son but those fears are quickly remedied by the “suggested posts” which fearmonger me into questioning if I do too much for him. Vacation posts are fun to browse but remind me that we only took two vacations this year (typing that makes me cringe). A plethora of multi-level marketing posts has me wondering if I should be buying all-natural cleaners and using essential oils to heal my son’s eczema. Fine dining, various shopping sprees and too many pedicure photos to count bombarded my eyes and taxed my already over-wrought brain. Facebook, which started as a distraction, had become a habit – a toxic habit that stole my happiness by magnifying every insecurity I have about myself and my (beautiful) life.  It didn’t exercise my body or mind or fuel my creative juices. It took and took and took and added nothing in return.

The nail in the Facebook coffin came when I posted a photo to my page and five minutes later my son asked how many “likes” we got.

Cue the sound of screeching brakes, record scratches and every other sound that accompanies an epiphany.

His simple question led me into a thought tunnel: post a picture, wait for likes. Likes equal acceptance and approval. I had forgotten that acceptance and approval need to come from within and I had unknowingly set a dangerous precedent as it won’t be long before he has his own phone and the freedom to post his own pictures. I don’t want him waiting with bated breath for his peers to “like” them and, by extension, like and accept him. I don’t want him believing that his self-worth relies on what others think and “click”.

I tried to remember what life was like without Facebook. Surfing the internet was an occasional distraction and I spent a lot more time reading books and magazines. I printed out photos and put them in albums.  Checking in with friends happened through brief text messages, emails or phone calls.  The lexicon FOMO didn’t exist because we weren’t bombarded with photos of our friends having fun without us. Was life easier then than it is now? In an effort to both re-create the simplicity of those days and set a healthier example for my son, I deactivated my Facebook account for two weeks.

I felt lost at first. I missed the mindless scrolling I did while waiting in lineups. I got into the habit of checking Facebook first thing in the morning and the last thing at night, so I had to come up with some new habits. I carry a novel and a crossword puzzle book with me (which prompted the teenager sitting beside me at the blood clinic to comment “that’s so retro!”) I re-discovered crocheting. I started taking yoga classes.

Leaving Facebook left my mind quiet enough to remember a few important things: My body is fine just the way it is. My close friends will text or call me if they are struggling and I will help them. I do my best to be a good mother, our son is happy and healthy, and we are damn lucky to be able to afford our two vacations a year. I stopped watching events through my phone and photographing them like the suburban paparazzi. The results were almost immediate once the fog of Facebook lifted. Our happy moments as a family were enhanced because I was completely present and the break left me feeling better about myself, my family, my home and my life.

I have returned to Facebook, but with a clear mind and little desire to post as much. I look in on a daily basis, but not as frequently. I love seeing the photos of my friends’ kids growing up and treasure how it allows me to keep in touch with family far and wide. However, it’s not an addiction anymore. I understand that you can’t compare your behind the scenes with other people’s front page, and I’m much happier for that.

On a side note, I submitted this to a mental health website as a potential story for them. They outright rejected it AND recommended that I “Like” their new Facebook page.

I’m Sorry, You’re Not On The List

In highly sensitive people, our greatest strength is our greatest weakness: along with our endless empathy and kindness to others we tend to feel everything very intensely. Too intensely.

For years, I was labelled too sensitive, and was told that I needed thicker skin. I would feel physically ill if I was around too many people for too long, but would be crushed if I wasn’t invited to a party. I was at the mercy of everyone else’s attitude and behaviour, and someone else’s bad mood would eclipse my happy one in a matter of minutes. Moreover, everyone’s opinion held equal weight in my mind; an offhanded hurtful remark from a casual acquaintance hurt just as much as criticism from a close friend.

As any Fire Marshall can tell you, occupancy limits are there for a reason, and this applies to our brains as well. We simply cannot allow every person and their opinions in our minds. For highly-sensitive people who struggle with anxiety and depression, negative people and thoughts overwhelm the love and encouragement of others. Our brains become so full of insults and judgements that there is simply no room for anything else. The negative comments and behaviours of people I encountered were overwhelming, and without anything to control them, my mind began to burst at the seams.

“Just forget about them” my therapist would advise. Easy to say, not easy to do.

Then I imagined my over-wrought mind like a nightclub. Every nightclub needs a bouncer to keep the numbers in line and the troublemakers out. And every bouncer needs a guest list.

If you’re on The List, you get in. If you’re not, well, I’m sorry, but you’ll have to wait in line or find somewhere else to go.

Everyone’s list is different. Mine has fifteen people on it. If those people are upset or critical, then I’ll pay attention to what they are saying. If they’re not on The List, well, their opinion doesn’t count for very much at all.

By curating our own lists and being our own bouncer – letting only a select few people and thoughts in – a tremendous sense of confidence is born. Now, in any situation that has a person threaten to upset my balance, I pause and check to see if they are on The List.

Avoiding difficult people is impossible, and that is the beauty of The List. We acknowledge they are there, but every interaction is tolerable because, regardless of how they behave, The List reminds us that they don’t have the power to upset us anymore.

The co-worker who is generally unpleasant and difficult to be around? I’m sorry, you’re not on The List. Family members who make callous comments and harsh judgements? I’m sorry, you’re not on The List.

Even the seemingly insignificant encounters that can threaten the peace in our lives: drivers who cut you off, parking spot stealers, judgy PTA members, nasty neighbours…I’m sorry, none of you are on The List.

A large part of mental health management is learning to control your thoughts before they control you. Difficult people become easier to deal with when you assume the power position. So become the bouncer of your brain. Be powerful, yet quiet, and check The List. If their name isn’t on it, they don’t get inside.

So stay sensitive – it’s truly a gift – but react to every situation from a place of peace and reason, not from a place of hurt.


A Clear and Happy 2018

Is March 4th too late to wish everyone a Happy New Year?

I began this post in December.

Then came the Christmas rush.

Christmas is my absolute favourite time of the year, but I over-schedule December to the point that I am left deflated in January. I blinked, and, suddenly, it’s March.

Although I signed all our Christmas cards “love and best wishes for 2018”, I thought I’d take an opportunity to be more specific. These are the things I wish for each and every one of you over the next ten months:

Passion. Find something you love and tunnel energy, thought and work into it. Become so enthralled with a new hobby, activity or job that it makes waking up a little less painful. It’s also something fun to share with others when they ask “So what have you been up to?”.  I have answered this question with “not much, you?” for far too long. My wish is for you to find tremendous joy in something this year.

Love. Surround yourself with people who love you in all your quirky glory. Take a break from trying to please everyone, and stop chasing people. Forget the slights and destructive criticism from 2017; it’s toxic and irrelevant at this point. My wish for you is to immerse yourself in the company of people who love you. Those who don’t? Wish them well and send them on their way. They don’t matter this year.

Quiet. Not from external noise, though, from internal noise (I mean, I can’t unload the dishwasher without The Smiths blaring and folding laundry without Netflix on would be torture). The internal noise I speak of is the kind that kicks in as you lay down to sleep or the kind that follows you back from the bathroom in the middle of the night. It’s the “what ifs”, “if only’s” and “I should haves” that steal peaceful, restorative sleep.  F@$& that. My wish for you is the quiet, cozy peace that resembles sitting by a fire on a rainy afternoon.

We are, ourselves, our first, best and most reliable source of happiness. Barring medical conditions that make it impossible (and I have resources to share with you should you need them), happiness is a decision that I pledge to make every day this year.

Well, at least 20 out of every 28 days (let’s be realistic here).

Happy New Year everyone.


My To-Do List

I’ve never been one for new year’s resolutions. January is my decompression month because even happy events like Christmas, our wedding anniversary, and prep for Cooper’s birthday take up a lot of head space!

To-do lists, on the other hand, now that’s my jam! Never underestimate the power of checking a box! So, instead of winging it and sprinkling acts of kindness around when situations present themselves, I’ve decided to make a six-month schedule of things to be done.

January – Book Annual Physical, Dental and Optical Check-Ups. Lee’s illness requires a standing three-month appointment at the hospital, but our son and I venture into Toronto once a year for our check-ups. I love seeing the height and weight increases (IN OUR SON – far less thrilling to see my weight increase). Plus, this January will mark one-year from getting abnormal results. I shudder when I think of what could have happened had I put this appointment off. I call the Scott Mission ahead of our trip to see what they are running short of, and drop stuff off on our way home.

February – Teacher Pick-Me-Ups.  The doldrums of winter will have set in, accompanied by many a runny nose! I’ve started a list of items I’m going to put in a care package for our son’s teacher. Let me know if I’ve forgotten anything: Large box of Kleenex, purse size hand sanitizer, lip balm, travel size Advil (for indoor recess days when it’s too cold for the children to play outside), gum and lozenges (talking all day must make for a dry throat), a couple of new dry-erase markers, and a five-dollar Tim’s card.

March – Closet Clean-Out Time! Is there anything more pleasing to the eye than a freshly organized closet? Clutter makes me crazy, and since Lee embraced a minimalist lifestyle this year, this is something we can do together. Our laundry room is also out-of-control cluttered, so it will need a good clearing-out and vacuum.

April – Animal Shelter Check-In. All the old sheets and blankets that are taking up space in our laundry room will be welcomed at our local animal shelter. I call in advance to make sure they need them, and offer to pick up anything else they are running short of. I try to limit my visit to under five minutes, otherwise I may end up with a car full of animals.

May – A Walk in the Woods. No, not M. Night Shayamalan’s new movie, just a walk along the local trails with a garbage bag. I wear disposable gloves for this little adventure because there is so much mud on everything.

June – Blood Donation. Canadian Blood Services is desperate for blood donations, and they like to have a full supply going into the summer months.

Don’t forget to take care of yourselves during these upcoming cold winter months. Wishing all of you a happy, fun and safe holiday season.

All my love,



Is Santa Real?

“Mom, is Santa real?”
The question I’ve been dreading for ten years came out of my son’s mouth, just 33 days before Christmas. He’s in grade four, and this seems to be a popular topic of discussion amongst his classmates these days. Here’s what worked for me, spread out over a few conversations:
I told him “it’s normal and natural to stop believing in Santa at your age. It’s a phase everyone goes through at some point. You can choose to keep believing, or you can choose to stop believing. Either way, you’ll still get presents. At some point in the future, though, Santa will be a part of your life again. Maybe it will be when you’re a bit older and feel the magic in the air at Christmas, or maybe it will be when you have kids of your own. The most important things are:

1) to keep the magic alive for those who still believe in Santa. It doesn’t make them babyish or stupid.

2) it’s not your job to convince people that Santa is or isn’t real. It’s a personal thing, this belief in Santa, and every family has different beliefs.

Don’t waste time trying to convince other people that you’re right and they’re wrong – there’s no point getting into fights or losing friends over this. So if someone asks if you believe in Santa, just tell the truth: ‘I’m not sure yet’ “.

Guest Post – Little things

It truly is the little things that can make an impact on someone’s day.
A couple days ago my wife received an unsolicited compliment from a friend. He said how wonderful she is and how he couldn’t do what he needs to without her help. He said this not only to her, but in front of others as well. Five or six times since that praise she has brought it up to me, that she can’t believe he said that and how good it makes her feel. A little thing like a compliment made a difference for her, and for me.
This morning as I was driving in to work I happened to look in my rearview mirror and started to have a critical thought but had it quickly change. There was a mom driving her teenaged daughter and the daughter was totally oblivious to what was going on because she had her headphones on and eyes lowered. My initial reaction was “I hope that never becomes me and my son”. I want to develop a relationship with him, I like talking to him and hearing about his day, his thoughts and have discussions with him about life, the universe, and everything (Yes, that’s stolen from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, he and I both loved the film).
Then while watching them my day got unexpectedly brighter. The mom, unbeknownst to the daughter, kept looking over at her and smiling. It was beautiful. A look of pure love. It didn’t matter that the daughter didn’t see it, didn’t know it was happening. No words were exchanged. It was just a mom looking at her offspring with love in her eyes and face.
They will never know that they made my day brighter, that the expression of love was a great pick me up, but it was wonderful. While I still hope that I am able to have conversations with my son instead of him isolated with headphones, I hope that I can be happy in the moment enough to smile a look of love at just being with him.
Two small things, a smile and a compliment, made someone’s day better. I’m sure we all can do something small that will make some else happy today, which in turn will make you happy too.

Aaaaand we’re back!

Well, that was a long six weeks. As much as I’d like to think I have it all together, it seems like some old habits die hard. Worrying is my default mode, and it takes a lot of mental energy to get past the darkness that tends to fall over my mind from time to time. This makes sitting down to write kind, loving messages a nearly impossible task. I want to give you fun and practical ideas for living a gentle life, not drone on and on about the black dog that can rear it’s ugly head from time to time.

Things took a turn for the better this week, though. Lee and I spent Thursday morning at Sunnybrook Hospital to get the results of my biopsy.  Great news – the cervical cells they removed are only mildly abnormal (kind of like the rest of me) so no scary treatments will be necessary. I have to go back to the clinic every six months for a scope until everything returns to normal, but, hey, no complaints here.

Well, ok, one complaint: I called the clinic on Monday to see if I’d be full-on examined this week or if I’d simply be talking to the doctor (fully dressed, feet flat on the floor). His secretary said “no examination, just a chat”. Imagine my surprise when his nurse handed me a gown and ushered me into a treatment room. Odd that my first thought wasn’t “oh no, this is not good” but rather “are you kidding me? I didn’t wax or shave my legs!”.

I immediately relaxed, however, when the doctor came in excited to talk about his Halloween decorations. Doctors who have to give bad news generally walk in slowly, with their glasses in their hands, and greet you with a simpathetic smile. This guy came in with a big hellloooo and took out his iPhone to show us a videos of his animatronic ghost display. Female friends, if you need a truly compassionate doctor who can work a speculum like butter, call Dr. Michael Shier.

So, back to concentrating on kindness and gentleness. I find Christmas to be the perfect season to exercise my good-deed muscles – so many fun opportunities lie ahead! First on my list is to visit the local nursing homes to get the names of residents who don’t have family, and therefore won’t get many gifts. I try to get some idea of who they are, what hobbies they have and if they have any disabilities. Then it’s off to the local shops. This is a cool twofer – I love supporting the tiny, independent shops in our little town.

I know many families bring out the Elf on the Shelf at Christmas. Not my favourite thing, to be honest. While I love looking at photos of the elves getting into mischief, the message they send bothers me. Seems like the elves can be naughty and get into all kinds of messy situations, but if little Johnny pinches his sister, the elf reports back to Santa Claus.

Kind of a dick move, little elf.

Also not a fan of the whole “he sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake” lore of Santa. Ideally we’d all try to be good for goodness sake regardless of who is watching – but I’ll get off my high horse now

Oh, HIGH. I get it.

and just draw your attention to these guys. You can still create all kinds of Christmas fun with them. No judgement, though. You do you, and whatever works, when you have kids. Please share any holiday traditions you and your families have. I’d love to hear them and get inspired by your ideas.

A Public Cervix Announcement

Last fall, I went to a meeting of the Bolton Empowering Women’s group. The leader, Sarah Neal, shared her story of losing a friend to cervical cancer. She was 32 years old. To honour her fight, Teal Power was born.

At my last physical in January, in addition to the standard blood-urine-mammogram, I asked my doctor if I was due for a Pap test. She looked at my records and said “no, not for another two years”. (The Ontario Government only allows for one test every five years if you’ve had two clear tests in a row).

My mind flashed back to Sarah’s story and that little voice we all have inside us told me to ask for a test anyway. Friends, we all have that inner voice. That gut feeling when something needs to be said. Listen to that voice.

I asked, since I was there and naked anyway, if she could do one and I’d pay out-of-pocket for it.

“Sure, no problem” she said and so it was done. Then I forgot all about it.

Until her name appeared on my phone three weeks later.

“Listen, not to worry” she began, “but your Pap test came back abnormal. This is nothing to worry about, but I’m going to make a note in your chart for you to come back in six months to have it re-done. These abnormalities can quite often resolve on their own”.

And back I went in July for the re-test. And three weeks after that, her name appeared on my phone once again.

Still abnormal. A bit worse this time.

My panick-y little brain went into overdrive, but she was calm and reassuring and booked me into Sunnybrook Hospital for a colposcopy.

I researched the doctor I’d be seeing and felt reassured just by seeing the ton of awards and accolades he has received over the years. One Rate Your Doctor commenter described him as “The King Of The Cervixes”.

Huh. I bet I could design a crown for him. I think it would be pink and have flaps.

Anyway, to prepare for the test, I booked a wax and pedicure near the hospital. My husband had to remind me that this is a medical procedure, not a date, but I figured I floss before going to the dentist, right? Plus I wanted to make a good first impression.

Big mistake. First, the doctors and nurses don’t care what things look like down there. Second, the first part of the test involves the spraying of an acetic acid spray. Yowza.

The rest of the test consisted of a scope, not unlike the ones that optometrists use, and a lot of swabbing. When they found an area of concern, the doctor injected a local anaesthetic in order to take a sample for biopsy. The injection was totally painless and very effective as I felt neither the needle nor the subsequent snip of tissue. There is a t.v. screen next to your head, where you can watch the procedure. I asked if it gets any other channels, and it doesn’t, so if an up-close play-by-play of cervical biopsies isn’t your thing, just close your eyes. Maybe bring headphones too, as I felt a bit woozy when I heard the medical resident ask for the biopsy instrument with “the bigger teeth”. Geez. Still, the most painful part of the day was paying the $23 parking fee for two hours.

So now we wait for the results. They have re-booked an appointment for me in six weeks time. The nurses and doctors were very reassuring, saying all the things patients want to hear: “mild”, “treatable”, “don’t worry”, “seriously, don’t worry”. Their calm, confident manner left me feeling that I’m receiving truly exceptional care, regardless of the outcome.

I feel silly wasting so much brain power on worrying about this test and the results. Folks, I’ve had more painful dental cleanings. Please, for the sake of your health, for the sake of the people who love you, get a Pap test done every year. I shudder when I think I almost let this go for another two years when there was a change for the worse after six months. Thank you, Sarah, and thank you, Teal Power.

Go. Call your doctor. Book one now.




Make, Read, Listen, Squish

I have stumbled upon a few interesting and inspiring things and I’m eager to share them with you.

Kindness Rocks has emerged with full force in our little town of Bolton. It’s a super easy and fun family craft activity – we started by researching different designs and sayings to put on the rocks, created them, then hid them around the neighbourhood (and found a bunch that others have created). There’s even a Facebook page devoted to the craft – a “show and tell” of sorts.

I read Tina Fey’s Bossypants cover to cover in record time. As the first female head writer at Saturday Night Live, she is unapologetically tough and I love her ability to laugh at herself. It’s a quick read and totally inspiring. Here is an excerpt, where she describes an interaction between Jimmy Fallon and Amy Poehler:

“Amy Poehler was new to SNL and we were all crowded into the seventeenth-floor writers’ room, waiting for the Wednesday night read-through to start. […] Amy was in the middle of some such nonsense with Seth Meyers across the table, and she did something vulgar as a joke. I can’t remember what it was exactly, except it was dirty and loud and “unladylike”,
Jimmy Fallon […] turned to her and in a faux-squeamish voice said, “Stop that! It’s not cute! I don’t like it.”
Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him. “I don’t fucking care if you like it.” Jimmy was visibly startled. Amy went right back to enjoying her ridiculous bit.
With that exchange, a cosmic shift took place. Amy made it clear that she wasn’t there to be cute. She wasn’t there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys’ scenes. She was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not fucking care if you like it.”

That quote led me to Amy Poehler’s book, Yes Please. Another hilarious take on being a devoted mother who also loves her career. I felt a lot less guilty about many of things after reading it.

I have a lot of trouble turning my brain off at night. Where some people find respite in the dark and quiet of night, my brain lights up like a firecracker and one thought leads to another, and another, and another ad nauseum. I’ve turned to podcasts to help me to sleep with amazing success. My favourite is Happier by Gretchen Rubin. Interesting enough to distract my hamster wheel brain while putting happy thoughts in my mind to lull me off to sleep.

September is a month of fresh starts and what better way to begin a new school year than with a clean bill of health? I schedule a mammogram every September. Please, ladies, call your doctor and book one if you haven’t already. A routine mammogram uncovered early onset breast cancer in my mother nearly twenty years ago and it saved her life. The procedure is quick and the discomfort is minimal (I have the pain threshold of an overtired, hungry three-year-old, so trust me on this – it’s really not bad).

Make, read, listen, squish. Wishing you a sunny September full of fun and love.