Saturday, February 12, 2011


I think you have exceeded the limits of your reserves.

Sounds ominous.

Seriously, I think you need to take some time off of work and unwind, take care of yourself.

I just took two mental health days and today is my fourth Friday off in a row.

When was the last time you took more than a couple of days away from work?

Fourteen months ago, we went to Mexico for two weeks.

Did you do any work on that trip?

Just on the plane there and home. And emails. I checked emails, but just once a day.

And how many vacation days did you take in 2010?

Three and a half.

Are you ever able take a break from working or thinking about your job?

Which one? I don't obsess over my teaching job because that is only one night a week. Plus class prep on weekends. But no, I always obsess over my full-time job.

And you've had high job stress for the entire four years that you have worked there, according to your file? You've been in here for stress related issues six times. looks like the last time we saw you was seven months ago. Did things get better for a while?

No. Worse. But I was too busy to take time off for doctor's appointments.

What was happening just before you got this job?

I had stage three colon cancer and spent a year undergoing chemotherapy. I got my job the week after I was told I didn't have cancer anymore.

So you had a year off, but you were fighting cancer.

Well, no.

No what?

I didn't have a year off. I was teaching while I did chemo.

Full time?

No! Not for the first semester. Just for the second.

Okay. I am beginning to understand. What about...before cancer?

Well we were raising our family so I only worked part-time while going to school. Thirteen years of university in a row, the last six of them were spent on my PhD.

What was your thesis about?

History of care of dying cancer patients early twentieth century in North America. Ironic, hey?

So did you have any time off between finishing the doctorate and getting cancer?

Not so much.

As in?

I defended my thesis the hospital. One week after they yanked the cancerous colon.

It didn't occur to you to pospone the defence?

No. I had to get it done because we were in the middle of a move to another province. I had to finish it and get out of the hospital so I could get our house ready to sell. It was fine. The nurses helped me figure out the timing of the pain control so I could make it through the two hours.

I hate to ask...but before your final run at the PhD...any break from "working?"

Well, at the beginning of the PhD I kind of took it easy on the studying for sixteen months. So that was for all of 1999, first quarter of 2000.

Great! And how did that feel?

Not very good. I was taking care of my mother who was dying from leukemia.

You really need a month off. To start.

Now isn't the best time.

You are crying in executive meetings at work. You aren't sleeping. You are having anxiety attacks and you think you have Alzheimer's disease because you keep forgetting words. Now is a really good time.

You don't think it's Alzheimer's? What do you think it is?

You're going to need at least a month.

Can I keep my blackberry?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Never Short on Hope

Disclaimer: I posted this saccharine poem (no offense to Emily) late last night because I was desperately seeking happy thoughts. It worked last night, but it looks ridiculous to me today. It's so not me. More on yesterday's drama later.

Some days I just need to read a good poem.
Like today, for instance.

Hope is the Thing With Flowers

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chilliest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

~Emily Dickinson~

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Teardrops and Milestones

My extremely exciting milestone marker today is that in addition to learning yesterday that I have something called a "traffic source" (which is turning out to be a link to a friend you will never meet who liked your blog), I now (seriously, just overnight while I was sleeping) have:

Three followers
Four comments

The comments are incredible. All lovely, inspiring, supportive words by women who have some of the same writing dreams and desires as I. I am warmed and humbled. Indeed, I am overwhelmed. I was still over the moon just from yesterday's one traffic source.

I haven't quite figured out the follower thing, but I will this week so that I can follow the blogs of my followers. Although, I am pretty certain that the third follower may be my sister, who doesn't have a blog. Come to think of it, she is very bright and creative and should fire one up too. She was born with only one very small learning disability that leads her to misuse apostrophes quite regularly, but I have been helping her with that challenge by gently correcting her Facebook posts. If she is the mysterious third follower (I am 99% certain it is her because she figured out how to follow my last blog too) I think that she will be notified when I publish this post.

If that is the case, and you are reading this my dear baby sister, I love you. I know from our skype session this morning that you are having a crappy week. Really, everything will be okay, everybody will be okay. I don't like to see you cry, but even Dr. Phil (I don't care for him, but I know you do) would say you should feel the feelings and just cry.

It is, as we have often noted, a crying shame that when the women in our family cry, we don't look like Julia Roberts looks when she cries. We aren't our prettiest with our faces all red and blotchy and snot flying out of our noses. This is true. But we sure are fortunate that we are able to feel those damned feelings, aren't we? You may be thinking "not so much" at this point in time. And that's okay too.

And so here I sit. Off work for the day on a mental health day because I started crying in a meeting at work on Tuesday, which was really just a strong indicator that I needed a break from what has been a really stressful working year. I am thinking about the women who checked out my blog, and feel like crying with joy because they checked out my blog. My sister, miles and miles away from me, cried this morning but she didn't do it alone because we were on skype. Words, technology, women. I am amazed by the possibility.

I thought blogs were just about writing, but this feels like connection, confirmation, affirmation. Who knew. One of the lovely women who commented on my post yesterday is right on two fronts. It really is only the fear that stops us.

And, secondarily, as she noted, blogging really does seem to be an addiction worth having. At least for today.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Coming Out of the Blogger's Closet

I don't know Jenni Engledow, but I like her a lot.

I decided today was the day to start to let people know that I have a blog. After all, it is the two week anniversary of my commitment to myself to blog every day. I'm loving it, intend to keep doing it, and I think it is time to put myself out "there" a little bit.

Sadly, I have absolutely no understanding of how blogs work. I thought about figuring out the mechanics before I started this new blog, but that proved a mode of procrastination, so I decided to start writing and sort the details out later. I need to figure out how to get traffic, apparently.

Today, I went to my beloved She Writes site and posted in a few spots that I had started a new blog. (I haven't quite figured out how the She Writes site works either). I didn't really know what would  happen if or when people visited my blog, or if I would know what was happening when it was happening. I did notice that there is a tab called "stats" that, as far as I can tell, up until today has merely registered every time I viewed my own blog.

Well anyway, several hours after letting my own cat out of my own bag, I checked my "stats" again and what do you know. Something called "traffic sources" listed a web address, which I assumed indicated that - I got traffic!

I clicked on the website and lo and behold, the remarkable Jenni Engledow has Recovering Dawn right there under a list entitled "Interesting Blogs." Oh. My. God. Jenni, I adore you. I am so going to figure out how to get you on my list of interesting blogs once I figure out how to start such a list. Until then, let's do this the old fashioned way.

If anybody other than Jenni and I ever read this blog, be sure to check out Jenni's blog, The Engledow Chronicles: Musings of a Suburban Housewife and Mother. Have a look at her Blurbs of Wisdom in particular, there are some absolute gems. For example:

If you want your life to be a magnificent story, then begin by realizing that you are the author and everyday you have the opportunity to write a new page. – unknown

I am so happy to be writing these "pages." Thank you Jenni, for giving them a read.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Self Care Isn't Selfish

I'm getting much better at taking care of myself.

Today I told my boss that I needed to take the next few days off as mental health days. With pay, thank you very much. I have a great job (obviously, as you know from my posts about being addicted to it) but it is pretty darned stressful. My boss (new to us, but so far proving to be very supportive) has quite recently witnessed the evidence that I need some away from the office (picture one of us crying). She took the news that I was abandoning my post very well. So, good for her, good for me. A few days of investment in my self-care will yield positive results, for everybody in my life.

Truthfully, I am beginning to "get" this whole self-care thing. Fortunately, there is a lot of information out there about how to do it. The following is a shortened version of a list of ten self-care techniques for stress management, published by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. I apologize, it's still a pretty long list. But you deserve it.

Throughout the day, take "mini-breaks". Sit down and get comfortable. Slowly take in a deep breath; hold it; and then exhale very slowly. At the same time, let your shoulder muscles droop, smile, and say something positive like, "I am r-e-l-a-x-e-d." Be sure to get sufficient rest at night.

Many people get distressed over things they won't let themselves accept. Often, these are things that can't be changed, for example someone else's feelings or beliefs. If something unjust bothers you, that is different.

Ask yourself what real impact the stressful situation will have on you in a day or in a week, and see if you can let the negative thoughts go. Think through whether the situation is your problem or the other person's. If it is yours, approach it calmly and firmly. If it is the other person's, there is not much you can do about it.

Develop a realistic schedule of daily activities that includes time for work, sleep, relationships, and recreation. Use a daily "things to do"  list. Improve your physical surroundings by cleaning your house and straightening up your office. Use your time and energy efficiently.

Physical activity has always provided relief from stress.

If you frequently check your watch or worry about what you do with your time, learn to take things a bit slower. Allow plenty of time to get things done. Plan your schedule ahead of time. Recognize that you can only do so much in a given period. Practice the notion of "pace, not race".

Every situation in life does not require you to be competitive. Adjust your approach to an event according to its demands. You don't have to raise your voice in a simple discussion. Playing tennis with a friend does not have to be an Olympic trial. Leave behind your "weapons" of shouting, having the last word, putting someone else down, and blaming.

Balance your family, social, and work demands with special private times. Hobbies are good antidotes for daily pressures. Unwind by taking a quiet stroll, soaking in a hot bath, watching a sunset, or listening to calming music.

Eat sensibly -- a balanced diet will provide all the necessary energy you will need during the day. Avoid non-prescription drugs and avoid alcohol use -- you need to be mentally and physically alert to deal with stress. Be mindful of the effects of excessive caffeine and sugar on nervousness.

Friends can be good medicine. Daily doses of conversation, regular social engagements, and occasional sharing of deep feelings and thoughts can reduce stress quite nicely.

I hope you get something out of the list.

Take care.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Expect Nothing

It's Monday, and I am struggling to make peace with the idea of Tuesday. So I thought I would share my favourite Alice Walker poem.
Expect Nothing
Expect nothing. Live frugally
On surprise.
Become a stranger
To need of pity
Or, if compassion be freely
Given out
Take only enough
Stop short of urge to plead
Then purge away the need.

Wish for nothing larger
Than your own small heart
Or greater than a star;
Tame wild disappointment
With caress unmoved and cold
Make of it a parka
For your soul.

Discover the reason why
So tiny a human midget
Exists at all
So scared unwise
But expect nothing. Live frugally
On surprise.
~ Alice Walker ~

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Making and Taking a Vow

In her book Mindfulness and the 12 Steps: Living Recovery in the Present Moment, Thérèse Jacobs-Stewart suggests that we employ the Buddhist practice of creating a four-line verse called a gāthā as a way of asking a higher power to remove our shortcomings. This I can do.

Here's how to do it, adapted from Jacobs-Stewart (p. 104):

1. Open

Here I need to describe the shortcoming or "habituated pattern" that I am asking to be removed. I need to state it specifically and in the present tense. For example:

When I am afraid of running out of time...

2. Acknowledge My Reliance

In this second line, I need to place my needs and concerns in my higher power's care, or in the care of the universe, or whatever works for me. For example:

I vow with the help of my higher power...

3. Let Go of the Old

Next, I state my desire to let go of the root cause of the old behaviour. For example:

To let go of my anxiety and fear...

4. Invite in the New

Finally, I state my aspiration for the virtue or characteristic that I would like to cultivate in place of the defect. For example:

And rest fully and peacefully in the joy of the moment.

Alrighty then. I am going to take this idea for a test drive.

When I am afraid of running out of time...
I vow with the help of my higher power...
To let go of my anxiety and fear...
And rest fully and peacefully in the joy of the moment.

Wish me luck.

Mindfulness and the 12 Steps

We just spent an entire evening in our living room with a group of friends (and an adorable eight-week old baby) watching grown men beat on each other (Ultimate Fighting Championship). Watching UFC has become a tradition over the years. It started out as a male bonding experience for the fellows, but more recently, girlfriends, wives and even daughters have joined in. The fights tonight were rather boring, but the company was splendid. 

I hope it doesn't sound outrageous for me to be writing a post tonight about wanting to become more spiritual. Believe me, I am hell bent on figuring out how to get on and stay on a more spiritual path. I've been interested in the concept of mindfulness for years, and am attracted to the apparent parallels between mindfulness and twelve step recovery. Yesterday I opened a book that is actually blowing me away. 

The book is Mindfulness and the 12 Steps: Living Recovery in the Present Moment, written by Thérèse Jacobs-Stewart. Interestingly, we have had another book in our house for years that focuses quite similiarly on the topic of Buddhism and the 12 steps. I've tried to read that other book a number of times, but I just couldn't get into it, and I think it's because it was written by a man. Not that I have anything against male writers, but the words on the page of Kevin Griffin's One Breath of a Time just don't leap off the page and connect with me the way that the Jacobs-Stewart book does. I get her.

As I noted in a post a few days back, I am on the seventh step, and I desperately need some of my shortcomings to be removed. Jacobs-Stewart reveals that the Buddhist approach to dissolving "habituated patterns" of the negative sort is called "aspiration practice."

"Buddhist tradition points to an aspiration practice as a way of 'walking in the direction' of our desired change. We hold a strong intention to let go of the old, asking that our heart may open, blossoming into the new. We are inspired to make a vow, relying on our Higher Power to help us carry it through."

In other words, if we are going to ask that our shortcomings be removed, we need to "hold an intention to open to a new virtue in its place." I like this thinking a lot. It feels more productive to me than the way I have worked the seventh step in the past. It's late now, so I am going to sleep on this new information and continue this tomorrow.

By the way, this post is going up at 12:42 am so it will look like I missed posting for a day. But I didn't.