Friendship

This morning Gavin and I had a conversation about God’s purpose for our lives. I explained that God gives us each special gifts and that those gifts are tied to our purpose for our lives. Sometimes we put our gifts to use in a job – like a teacher, or a leader of some sort. And sometimes are gifts are softer skills like encouragement and friendship. He responded with ways he tried to encourage his friends and the children his mother babysits. A very sweet response – I think he gets it.

Over the years, I have been struck by my journey of friendships and recently I’ve been reflecting again. In a way, I think that friendship is my spiritual gift. My youth leader, Mrs D., once told me that we have friends for many different purposes on our lives: some for short periods of time, others for longer, some for significant connections, and others for moments of encouragement or enlightenment, or even for teaching a lesson.

This has been a really important lesson in my life. I am a deep thinker and have often sought friends who are the same. Not only that, but I connect deeply and have sought others who seek likewise. But, as Mrs D advised, not all people are looking for that. Not everyone is capable of or needing such a connection. And that’s okay.

I’ve spent lots of time just appreciating the individuals in my life lately – acquaintances still in the “get-to-know-you” phase, old elementary school connections, the friends of friends I may have met at a party, and the ones who’ve connected on a deeper level over coffee and hours of chatting. And I truly do appreciate them all.

My struggle becomes a matter of priorities. Some people might not understand this, but I am an extraverted introvert. I have a loud voice – an uninhibited way about me – yet my true nature and being at the deepest level is that of an introvert. I HAVE to have alone time…and lots of it. I love people, but I don’t need or want to be surrounded by them all the time. I love my clients, but socializing all day for my job is thoroughly exhausting.

Now, add to my introversion a “catastrophic” level brain injury that significantly decreases energy and overall cognitive functioning levels, and now I’ve got quite the conundrum! So how does this relate to my blog on “friends”? Sadly, many people don’t understand or appreciate mental health challenges or brain injury struggles. It becomes tricky, then, to juggle the intricacies of friendship dynamics, the ongoing work of a romantic relationship and a blended family with Asperger Syndrom, and still manage my own survival. See what I mean yet? I might not be an ideal friend for some people because I have so much “stuff” that I often cocoon simply to survive.

Today a friend with a brain injury reminded me that “we are more loving & compassionate & open than most & that freaks some people out. Pray for her. There’s nothing unlovable about you. ❤️” Also…”I know London is a hard place to be sometimes but you really do give people a lot of hope. Amanda.. that is priceless. ❤️ Keep being you! You are making a huge difference in ways you’ll never know. ❤️”

These words of encouragement from a friend far away, but who “gets it”, were just what I needed today. And I’m reminded of Mrs. D’s adage from years back, that even if a new friend never does “get it”, THAT’S O.K! Friends will come and go. They will fill any number of various spaces in our life for a variety of different times. But in the end, no matter what, I know I can do as ‘Richard from Texas‘ suggests and send people light and love, be grateful for the space their friendship filled during the time that it existed, and then let them go.

Brutal Honesty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No wonder I am in such a dark place today.

…this is my life…

Re-Awakening Joy

“Do something everyday, regardless.  Nothing will happen unless you first initiate a process of cause and effect.  This starts with an action.  Reawaken the possibility of possibility.  Reawaken it with play.”

This week I saw the above post on Facebook and it re-awakened in me an awareness of my current adventure.  I speak often of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” novel that we each write as we watch our personal stories play out in real-time.  Every day is a new opportunity to create the life we want for ourselves.  Every moment presents us with the beauty of “newness” that we might choose to better our situation or, at the very least, awaken to and appreciate the moment in which we find ourselves.  What are the  possibilities in the possibilities?

We so easily get lost in the monotony and obligation of the “grind” of every-day life – going through the motions, watching the clock, just putting in time until we can get to the weekend.  And the interesting thing is, this means of existence is understood as “normal” and the average person out there never questions it.  We grow up going to school, we find a job, “work hard”, acquiesce to social obligation, and somewhere along the way we more than likely end up looking for a way to take our minds off the unbearable expectations (both societal and personal) which become our impending doom.  Sounds ominous, doesn’t it?  I know I’m being dramatic here, but this is the place in which we find ourselves at times.  We’ve all been there to some degree.

It is from this place which I speak today.  Actually, I’m probably a few steps out of this “pit” right now which gives me enough perspective and courage to be able to speak about it.  From the bottom, having regained some strength and renewed determination, I can’t help but think “there must be a better way”.  Being the reflective individual that I am, I keep wondering “what would happen if we allowed ourselves to prioritize the experience of true joy on a daily basis?”  I don’t just mean “pleasure” or the art of distraction – whatever form that takes.  But how cool would it be if we each understood ourselves enough to become aware of our circumstances, aware of our inner person, aware of our heart’s true love and passion? What is it that makes your heart soar?  What is it that makes  you swell with joy inside?

And taking that one step further, what would happen if we were not afraid or hesitant in any way to express that?  How would our own lives change if we were more generous in spirit – with both ourselves and others?  How might we influence the lives of those around us?  I have been touched this week by the concept of “being with” – the beauty of an embrace and its way of communicating without any words required, the comfort of shared company (to laugh, joke, sing, listen), as well as the depths touched through time alone learning to “be with” ones own “stuff”.

Through the re-awakening of our joy, I believe we can learn to appreciate and express  the beauty which is in and around each and every one of us.  Through the art of play, the acknowledgement of our gifts, and the uninhibited expression of our true self, I know we can re-awaken that joy.  What is it that you love to do?  Do it!  What is it that scares you the most?  Face it!  With whom do you enjoy spending time?  Tell them!  Be with them!  Life is too short to live in fear, condemnation, or guilt – directed by obligation (both imagined or verbalized).  Are you feeling weighed down with “should’s” or “ought to’s”? Do you dread the dawning of a new day for the obligations it involves or the pressures it brings?

Know today that you are not alone.  But please don’t let the weight of your obligations drag you under.  Start by acknowledging the things that make you smile today, the moments of gratitude that helped to dispel the fear or the pain.  That is your joy being re-awakened.  That is your heart fighting for its life.  Now take a deep breath and follow it.  Follow the bright light of possibilities and give life to your heart’s inner joy.  It is there that you will find what you have been looking for.

Making the “Impossible” Possible

Between the anxiety, borderline depression, an overwhelming mental/emotional fatigue and a body that aches all over, sometimes the days get to be too much. Sleep is intermittent, lack of routine and energy makes proper eating and exercise non-existent, and the will to do anything but lay here is gone.

Tomorrow will be a better day. The beginning of a new week and a fresh start in my “old” job will be just what I need to “get back on the horse” so to speak. I am very much looking forward to the familiarity and consistency – they are just what I need to feel a sense of “mastery” or accomplishment again. And I have really missed all my clients and co-workers.

But today is still today. And I find myself somewhat “stuck” in a negative mindset. In these moments it sometimes feels “impossible” for me to get past this, to get started at my cleaning – which is so desperately needed – or to finish the laundry and get it all put away. I know I will feel better once it’s done, but here I sit.

Today’s sermon talked about making the “impossible” possible with God’s help. I am always encouraged and motivated by the words of scripture. They breathe life and love into my tired, discouraged body. Even as I write about it I am already feeling a bit better in that I’ve got the dishes started in the dishwasher and I’ve had something to eat. Next will be a nap to supply the energy for some bigger tasks of laundry and cleaning.

The sermon this morning described Peter stepping out of the boat in faith. He’s the only human to successfully walk on water (even if it was just a few steps). That’s inspiring! But Peter was stepping out IN FAITH…knowing that if he responded to God’s call then God would provide the circumstances needed to get Peter there.

So, in much the same way, I’m living “by faith” these days. God brought me out of a coma, healed my seizures, and strengthened my mind and body to the point that I can work full-time and socialize like any other person out there. At one point in my life, as I lay in a hospital bed, hooked up to a million machines for life support, today’s reality seemed “impossible”. So I know I can trust that God will provide whatever support I need for this seemingly “impossible” moment. I just need to take the next step in faith.

…this is my life…

2 Important Principles for the New Year

In the eighties there was this super-groovy tune called “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”.  It has been a long-time favourite of mine as it brings back fond memories of my childhood and still provides the same warm fuzzies that it did when it first came out.  How can you not smile and groove along when you hear Bobby McFerrin whistling away and singing in his fun island accent (with those cool sounding back-up singers)? 🙂

Well, my post today is a summary of some of my most recent thoughts – and there have been many! LOL – which, funny enough, this song more succinctly does.  At the end of the day, my reflections can be best summarized by the phrase, “Don’t worry, be happy!”  And, as I exegete this little phrase, watch me take all the amusement out of it. 🙂

Firstly, I think it is already evident from my previous posts that since my injury I have been consumed with the concept of balance.  For me, that looks like a daily battle with honouring my “challenges” while striving to optimize every ounce of my capabilities.  For you, it may be as simple (or not so simple) as making time for both work and rest, efforts dedicated to both self and others.  Everywhere we look, we are faced with the idea of balancing two polar opposite entities – yin and yang, light and dark, positive and negative. So let’s look at how we can use a bit of effort and a bit of ease, to “not worry” but “be happy”.

As a part of my process of enlightenment, I have been blessed to encounter several “experts” in different fields who have contributed to my personal awareness and education – one of whom is my friend and boss who owns and runs his own gym and holistic health corporation.  Tommy teaches people to be resourceful, be a sponge in learning new things, but discerning in their application.  One of his common recommendations of late has been that each person should become his or her own experiment.  What that means is, each of us is responsible for observing and reflecting and interpreting the data for ourselves, then applying the appropriate adjustments and “solutions” as necessary for our situation.

Inspired by this piece of advice, I have more enthusiastically taken the initiative to begin the regimented task of creating change in my life – one step at a time.  Sometimes this endeavour is so big that it becomes overwhelming.  But with a focus on one item at a time, one DAY at a time, I am already seeing positive change.  Whether it be in my attitude, daily routines, or relationships, I have discovered the following two principles to be a key part of my establishing and maintaining the elusive state of “balance”.

Principle #1 – Don’t Worry.  This principle is ironic for a few reasons.  It is generally an empty exclamation used in situations that are clearly worrisome to some degree or another.  The phrase is set in a negative tone, warning not to do something of a negative nature, which in turn intends to emphasize the positive.

My interpretation and application: we can positively contribute to our life by avoiding the negative.  As I reflect on my life over the past year – my jobs, friendships, and personal “life stuff” – I can see in retrospect that so many problems could have been avoided (or altered) with the simple choice of NOT doing something.  For instance, I chose to eat something I shouldn’t have, engaged someone when I could have said nothing, or perseverated on a worrisome thought (about money) rather than immersing myself in a more positive investment of time (like writing a budget).  Overall, I think we can create more ease with a little effort in NOT emphasizing the negative of a given situation – and, so, increase the positive!

Principle #2 – Be Happy!  This principle is also a paradoxical balance of effort and ease.  The concept of “being” has the connotation of having no effort, yet in this context the speaker is giving instruction.  Ironically, we really cannot “instruct” another person how to “be” as that contradicts the essence of the word.  The phrase, however, has only the best intentions as it is usually used in the context of encouraging someone.

My interpretation and application:  due to the very personal nature of this phrase, I believe it is the responsibility of each of us as individuals to invest in our own happiness.  Contradictory to the passive nature of the verb “to BE”, I don’t think we should fall victim to living life with our emotions (or the seemingly natural state of “being”) when we were given brains to direct them.  So while my last point was more passive in recommendation, this point is more active.  I believe we need to actively participate in our lives more – as I mentioned Tommy recommending above.  Whether it be investing in time with friends, or allowing for quiet times of reflection to rest and recharge, we can choose!  Whether it be taking on a second job to pay the bills, or scaling back expenses to make the budget more manageable – it is within our power!  Whether it be sulking at home feeling sorry for oneself watching mindless t.v, or cleaning and organizing the house to achieve a sense of accomplishment – in the end, it’s up to us!

I speak from lots of experience, folks.  I am so grateful to sit here on this end – having struggled with bouts of depression, anxiety, overwhelm and utter despair – now feeling a sense of relief and empowerment as I see for myself the difference I can make in my own life.  The balance is different for everyone, and it’s ever-changing, but let me tell you with certainty that the balance CAN be found and it’s up to us to honour it.  All it takes is a little effort…and a little ease.  Be good to yourself.

…this is my life…

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

Welcome to the motto of my life…”try, try again.”

Given that my blog was meant to bring some sort of structure or routine to my week, I have already experienced my first epic “fail” in the process.  I was meaning to write weekly (even twice weekly), but timing has just not allowed for it recently.  It does, however, provide a perfect teaching opportunity as to how this “broken vessel” operates.  So, here we go…the first in a line of hopefully several ramblings…

As I believe I mentioned in the intro blog-post, I have been wanting to write a blog for a long time, but never knew where to begin or how to go about it.  Then recently, as things would happen in life I would jot down quotes that I heard and liked, or lessons I was learning along the way that I thought might make for a good story or reflection.  Then once I had compiled a list of 10 or 12 things, I figured I would have a good “beginning” for a few weeks of writing.  So I began…

…and then I “lost” my list…

Haha! Funny, right? 🙂 I thought, this is one of those “perfect examples” of how I deal with life – I would use it as my first actual rambling post and hopefully restructure my ideas from there.  And then, lo and behold, today I sit down to write and I found my list! It’s comical in my mind because my experience (response to losing my list) is an example of each of my blog ideas in some way, shape, or form.  It’s reassuring to note that these life-lessons that I’ve experienced (and I’m preparing to write about) have become new habits and coping strategies in life.  So I AM actually learning along the way! 🙂

So, the topic of today’s rambling is “time vs energy management”.  I read an article about it through someone I follow on Twitter, and it’s something that I struggle with daily.  If you google it, there are many life coaches who have written blogs and articles on the topic, and it seems to be a popular realm of thought – not only for those of us with a “challenge” but for anyone with a busy schedule.  It makes sense that we only have so many hours in the day/week – an objective measurement that applies across the board.  However, we also need to consider that we each only have a limited amount of energy to be used in that time – and this measurement is not so objective.

I’ve heard people discuss the idea of health and wellness, particularly fitness pursuits, and the time commitment involved.  They break down a 24-hour day into the appropriate increments – 8hrs sleep, 9-10hr work day, etc. – and then they claim there is still plenty of time leftover for at least an hour a day of exercise.  This is likely quite true in the objective sense.  However, let’s also consider a person’s “24-hours” of energy.  If I use an hour of energy (not just physical but mental/emotional energy) for every activity that I perform in a day, how does that change my situation?  And, I’m not just talking “every activity” as in a scheduled appointment (massage or chiropractic) or an overall activity (soccer game or coffee with a friend).  I’m talking about the energy it takes to get out of bed, shower, get dressed, plan meals, cook meals,  plan my schedule for the day, time the drive…and the list goes on.  Consider for a moment that every functional activity, though somewhat “automatic” and seemingly “normal”-looking, expends 3 times as much mental/emotional energy for someone with a brain-injury than for someone with an un-injured brain.  And if there is any hint of depression or anxiety involved that number could be incrementally more.  Now try and fit that 24hr calculation together and tell me how the equation works!

Life with a brain injury involves a delicate balancing act.  And that skill of co-ordinating, itself, consumes 25% of our energy! Plus, the process of learning is extremely draining so learning and re-learning to deal with life on a daily basis = exhaustion.  Allowing myself to “go with the flow” was a huge factor in managing my energy.  There’s an emotional connection to the entire process – needing control of the situation, needing to know what’s happening next, and becoming upset when something goes awry in the schedule.  That’s why structure is said to be the “best thing” for someone with a brain injury.  Because with structure and consistency, a person develops a sense of “mastery” over his or her life and derives a sense of accomplishment or success from it.  And, though I somewhat agree with this need for structure (especially in the first few years of recovery), I found that because structure is not always practical in life (“the only thing constant in life is change”) then learning to be flexible was actually the more helpful lesson for my adapting to society (rather than having to impose structure and deal with consequences). Along with that, was the emotional lesson in “letting go” of having to have my day go a certain way and accepting that the day can be just as great – if not better – by just letting it happen.

The management of time vs. energy, then, clearly needs to be evaluated on an individualistic basis.  It involves a lot of personal reflection, self-assessment, and being open to possibilities along the way.  It involves identifying strengths and weaknesses, then prioritizing and scheduling time according to the required energy investment.  It involves “having perspective” and a flexible approach to life, being gentle with self (if something doesn’t get done it’s not the end of the world) and accepting of change.  That’s why I’ve always loved the serenity prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” 🙂

…this is my life…