Gratitude feels like this

There was rocks and rain being thrown inside the truck yesterday. I couldn’t stop feeling wet and getting lumps stuck in my throat.

I’ve had some rough days. I’ve had friends tell me that they don’t believe my symptoms are real. I’ve had many change the subject immediately after asking how I’m doing. I’ve had some people straight up ignore me when I’ve asked them directly for something small (simply sharing a post – nothing more). I’ve had people talk condescendingly me towards me for not wanting to try a remedy without discussing it with my physician first, telling me I was giving up or not willing to get better by trying different things. It wasn’t that I wasn’t willing, but I wanted to ensure there was no (or limited) risk that my doctor might have known about before trying it. If he felt there was no harm in trying, then I’m all for it. I’ve had people mute me on social media because they’ve said they just don’t care.

Some of those things  I can chalk up to not being about me. Some of those things are limiting factors on the other person’s end, or awkwardness towards the situation, or just not knowing what to do or say. Those are things I understand, and I have no problems with.

But some of the other comments, actions and inactions hurt, and they were difficult not to take personally. I managed it, eventually, but that initial reaction felt like an icy cold slap to the face, and it stung when it came from a small handful of people I have known for a long time and I thought cared. That they didn’t is actually ok – they have things of their own to worry about, and they have their own agendas. Me expecting them to look out for me is my problem, not their’s, and I don’t typically expect things from others. I was (and still am) feeling extra vulnerable, and was grasping onto things that weren’t mine to hold onto. (I’ve let those things go. I was feisty, nervous, sad and didn’t fully have awareness of my overabundant emotions at the time. I’m human.)

But then, everything changed. And those small handful of people who I had allowed to drive me deeper into a downward spiral are suddenly muted by the huge outpouring of love and support from so many others, and from some people I don’t even know.

Seriously, universe, you have some amazing people in you. And as much as I often question the direction of humanity, this lesson has taught me that there is more kindness than there isn’t. There’s been tears and feels, but they’ve been good (if not complicated) ones.

It’s been weird for both my husband and I. Admitting to needing help is hard enough. Especially publicly. Taking help is a whole other matter. As mentioned previously, I’m one to give things away. I love it. So when people have been buying product, I’ve been wanting to give them gifts with their order, as I always do. Jess, the superhero who has taken over selling my products, has slapped my wrist numerous times for that. I gave her complete control over all of the inventory, selling, discounts and everything associated. And she’s been rocking it, without the discounts. She’s selling things better than I ever did.

We’ve both shared that we’re better at selling other people’s products than our own. At markets, I’d sell my neighbours products easier than mine. It was fun, and they were appreciative. They’d be quiet about their product, and strike up conversation a little, but wouldn’t want to be pushy with sales and allow the customer to browse. I’d pop my head over, grab my favorite product from the table (which would change with different customers) and start asking them questions about it, and commenting on the things I loved most about it. I was also sincere about it, which I truly believe made the difference.

Most of the time the customer would buy one of whatever I was oohing and aahing over.

I excel at retail sales when I have fun with them. At the sports store I used to work at, I’d focus on the customers in front of me, and not focusing on making specific sales. I worked the quietest shifts, but always had the highest sales, because they were my focus, no matter what they were looking at. My specialties were the people on a budget – because I could relate the best with them. It was amazing how much some of the other associates took advantage of people, and it never impressed me. We got commission at the time. I’m glad that practice has been ended since I worked there. The managers loved those associates for selling the high ticket items, but then they didn’t have the highest average sales.

“They are so cute, and anything has to be more comfortable than these. Where did you get them?”

I remember one elderly gentleman had come in to pick up his shoes he had on hold, and I couldn’t help but pry. He was there to purchase the newest, greatest Nike Shox, which retailed for the great deal of $299 at the time. The associate that had helped him previously convinced this man that these shoes would help his knees stop hurting while he was in the garden. The man was on disability and in pain, and he was desperate for relief.

They were basketball shoes, meant for a basketball court, with crevices in the soles where dirt could pack into and compound, rendering the “shox” useless once dirt got embedded in there. He obviously had crippling arthritis in his hands, and the work to clean the shoes in order to keep the dirt out from those areas would add to the list of things he shouldn’t have had to do.

I downsold him to a reliable, comfortable, supportive pair of $60 New Balance shoes, and gave the associate the sale for those.

Oh dear, did I ever cause a kerfuffle. The other associate complained to management, who had to reprimand me for stealing a sale even though I didn’t take it myself. The associate was also reprimanded for the unethical sale. 

I didn’t make friends there. Apparently ethics doesn’t belong in retail sales, and I’ve always tried to live up to a strong code of ethics for the benefit of others. I could not in good conscious let that man pay for those shoes without feeling guilt, and to this day I do not regret my decision to downsell him those shoes. He came back to see me personally and thank me, as the shoes actually did help reduce his pain while in the garden. This was the kind of thing I worked for. 

I had the lowest amount per sale, however the highest total monthly sales for my department, because there were customers that refused to see other people due to my honesty. They simply wouldn’t deal with the other associates in my department, and would ask for me specifically. The managers had to deal with fires often from disagreements on fairness. No one could control who the customers wanted to buy from, however, and there was nothing that could be done about it. I was always on time, I didn’t steal sales from other associates, I found associates to pass customers to in other departments and I treated everyone fairly. I was isolated from the others, but it wasn’t a big deal to me. I was there to work, not to make friends, which wasn’t the same attitude that many others had. I didn’t mind.

When it came to my own products, however, I was no different than those other quiet handmade vendors. I’d converse, talk and answer questions, but didn’t want to come across as over zealous, so didn’t push sales. And I’ve never done so poorly selling products as I did my own.

That’s not to say I did poorly, mind you – but I didn’t have the same exuberance about it as I did selling other people’s products.

It was never for lack of confidence in my products – while sure, I’ve made a few mistakes and bumbles (seriously, what company doesn’t), I’ve always loved the things that I’ve made and have been proud of what I’ve  done. I think the issue lies more in the self, in asking people to pay me for the things I do. As much as I’d try to talk myself up that I’m worth what I ask for, I think deep down, I didn’t believe it myself and it came across that way. Or, not that I wasn’t worth it so much as just wanting to enjoy what I was doing without worrying about the monetary aspect behind it.

Which makes for TERRIBLE business practice.

I was quiet yesterday, and my husband noticed. My feelings were strong – and confused. I was elated by the outpour of support from so many people, while dreading taking their generosity, while grateful for it, while sad that those I thought would be more supportive disappeared, while humbled and embarassed, but proud of reaching out instead of falling into further trouble. I was also glad to have the thought of business off my mind, while sad to be letting it go.

Emotions are complicated and hard, man. But I’m ok. I’m more than ok. I am so, so blessed to have such amazing people in my life.

But gratitude and love win. Every time. And that’s how I’m feeling right now.

Plus exhausted beyond reasonable comparison. The last few weeks have taken alot out of me, and I don’t feel like I’ve given myself the proper chance to rest and catch up. And the more tired I am, the less I sleep, and the worse it gets. And today I’m definitely in a huge energy deficit, and I’m just staying in bed. I’ll take a break from that to do a small yoga practice and move some blood and tissue at least a little, but I don’t think I’ve got much else. And that’s ok. I don’t have anything I need to get done today, and nothing pending, and anything that’s on my to-do list can be put aside for another day.

This is where my boundaries and self care kick in. I’ve pushed myself here and there, mostly to see how my body would respond. It’s little experiments to know how far I can go and what activities I can do. Sadly, it’s not nearly what I’d have hoped for, but I’ll take what I can.

My MRI is on Saturday, which is faster than anyone expected. If the MRI comes back with issues, I’m being sent to a neurologist. If it comes back clean, then a rheumatologist. 

We’re narrowing things down, finally, and I’m looking forward to finding a better normal than I’ve had recently. It’ll still be awhile, but it’ll come. I have faith.

But in the meantime, I feel so grateful for everyone who has helped us, and I’m excited for the day that I can pay it forward again.

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I reached out … now what?

Asking for help has never been easy. It means I owe a debt, and it’s not always a debt I’m sure I’m able to repay, so it’s only when I’m truly desperate that I do what I feel is grovelling to others to request help. If I’m able to repay the favor, then it’s not hard to ask, but without having that balance I struggle with the request.

Experiences can be humbling, can’t they?

I am at what might be my most humble. I’ve had to ask for help before, but not quite like this.

This year has been a struggle, and we’ve kept many details to ourselves. During yoga teacher training I wasn’t able to keep up well with sales so much, as there was so much going on with trying to finish training as well as my aromatherapy certification. There was also a side project underway where a new company became incorporated, and so much effort had been put into getting this endeavour underway. It was ready to go, and we were just waiting for our financing to come through. It would have been so good for us, but that’s when things started to go wrong. That’s when I could no longer make sense of the things happening. That’s when I couldn’t focus on any of the tasks I was working on without making silly mistakes. And that’s when I had to admit that I couldn’t move forward with the company we incorporated, because it was completely a team effort and we were both needed in order to move forward with it.

We cancelled all plans with the incorporation. We still own it for the time being, but nothing has progressed with it. We wanted to wait to see what would happen.

I am short of my yoga teacher training certification by 10 hours because the worst of my symptoms came up during the retreat, where I found out just how much I was affected by the sun and heat. 

I couldn’t finish my aromatherapy certification because of the brain fog, which has made it nearly impossible to not only read, but to retain new information.

I moved my products out of the house in case they were the source of my issues. This makes them difficult to sell.

All of my plans and income sources had to be put on hold because I couldn’t focus on them. Whenever I tried, I made mistakes, or forgot, and I couldn’t stand the idea of disappointing anyone. So that’s when I made the hard decision to temporarily shut down Bohemian Alchemist, with hopes I could pick it up again soon.

But I couldn’t. My inventory was stored offsite, and trying to sell it was difficult to do when I had a hard time managing the inventory. I couldn’t offer services or products out of fear of making a harmful mistake. I was making mistakes, and it was only a matter of time before I made a mistake I’d regret and hurt someone. Thankfully, they were all minor, but they were enough to make me realize that it was time for me to stop. I did the responsible thing by keeping my clients safe, rather than pushing myself further beyond my limits in order to keep everything operational. I was already beyond my limits, which had changed so, so much from the beginning of the year.

Closing was hard. So much harder than I could ever express. I love my business, and I love the products I’ve made, and I loved the direction I was heading with it. But mostly, I loved the connections I made with people. I worked hard to start and maintain it (not without help – I’ve had so much help from so many people!). I found that hanging off of “maybe”, “possibly”, “one day” and “eventually” wore on me so much, and I couldn’t answer people who wanted to know when I was opening again. The encouragement from others was well meaning, but brought my attention continuously to the responsibilities waiting for me. I felt horrible anytime someone wanted a custom order and I had to refuse. I felt inadequate, disappointing and that I was letting people down – but the one that mattered most was my husband. I have not been able to contribute to our income. He has been ever the encouraging, supportive person he always has been, but this is an insecurity of my own that stems from old, deep hurts and experiences that are difficult to keep controlled when I’m at my most vulnerable.

Everything was shut down. I found ways to keep busy and to keep my flare ups moderately controlled. The more controlled my symptoms are, the more productive I am, which is how I’ve been able to reasonably maintain our home. It hasn’t been ideal, but we’ve made it work.

But our expenses added up. Medications and supplements and specific clothes that helped reduce symptoms, fuel to get to and from appointments, window replacement, so on so forth. I’ve listed some of our expenses previously. They continue to add up.

And then our hot water tank decided to die on us right after my surgery. The nerve of it, I dare say.

What do you MEAN money isn’t everything? We are a bank!

And it’s been a struggle since then. 

I hit a low point a couple of weeks ago, which I also shared part of. But not in entirety. I had cabin fever in a bad way, and I was unsure of everything. We had been thinking about getting a service dog to help with certain things in order to get me the support I needed to function better in the day, but I wondered if maybe this was too extreme. 

And so did a few others. A few people have mentioned that they believe I may be bipolar, or that perhaps I need to find God, or meditate more, or to “just relax”. It has been implied that my symptoms are imagined and that I’m a hypochondriac. Perhaps I am just looking for attention.

These comments come from very few, select people, but they hurt, more than they could ever know. I believe they had good intentions, and truly believe the things they say. There were harmful, hurtful words regardless of intent, however. They made me think that, maybe, they weren’t wrong. They made me feel insecure. They made me feel that I was sharing too much about our situation, and that perhaps I should keep it more to myself. I found engagements with people to get less and less, and I wondered if I was believed at all or not.

To be fair, when people see me they see that I’ve lost weight and am rocking a fairly normal body size for the first time in a decade, see me walking and talking  and my clean house and see my rosy red cheeks, unaware that the redness is part of a flare up. What they see seems healthy.

What they don’t see is everything else I’ve previously mentioned. The crippling fatigue, the numb cheeks,  the thick brain fog and confusion, the double vision. I’m functional, but very carefully. They don’t see that. They don’t see the little leg pump I do before I stand up, nor do they realize why I stand up so slowly. They don’t see my balance as that bad. They don’t see me avoiding bending over to avoid passing out. It’s hard to believe, sometimes, if there’s nothing to see.

It’s there, however, if you pay attention.

For the most part people have been kind, caring and supportive. Several have offered help, and have stepped up to help where we need it most. Right now, what we need most is financial. Bad timing, I know. Our bills are paid, the animals are fed, but we’ve been maxed out in all accounts since early fall and we have been just barely getting by. The prospect of catching up hasn’t been promising – which also means no possibility of a service dog. I will not commit to getting an animal that I am not able to afford to care for.

So I  reached out.  I asked for help, as so many people have encouraged if I needed it. And I need it. I presented my case. I made a post on my Facebook page. People asked me, “What can I do to help?”

“Share my page post,” I responded. I don’t expect anyone to buy things they don’t want or need, but sharing my post would help get the word out, and perhaps reach and audience that could help. It costs nothing and is easy to do. But then, I always seemed to follow it up with, “If you can’t, then I understand.”

I don’t understand. I don’t know why I  ever said that. To be nice? To give them permission to ignore it? To make them think that we weren’t in as tight of a situation that we are? Or maybe I’m just an idiot. I really don’t know why I said it that way, but that’s what I do.

When I went to see my psychologist and he asked me how I was, I said, “I’m great! Thanks! How are you?” – which I then had to admit that I lied. When he asked why I said that if I didn’t mean it, I admitted that it’s a trained response after growing up in a place that didn’t admit to weakness. I believe working retail also encouraged said response. Customers don’t want to hear how great you’re not. They’re there to spend money, and that’s all. It’s just what we are trained to respond with in order to maintain courtesy, and I’m trying to retrain that response. It’s not an easy thing to stop doing, especially when my defence mechanisms are locked and loaded at the moment.

Anyways, Some people shared my post.

And some people never responded, and never shared it. I see so many people share things supporting other events and complete strangers, but have not supported me where I need it most. Sometimes with excuses explaining the reason of their lack of support – which I appreciate, since at least I know where they stand. Most often the response was silence, however, and it’s the silence that hurts most of all.

And that hurt contributed to my downward spiral, which also caused worsening symptoms and an emotional meltdown, which made my spiral even worse. I spoke with my internist. I was so tired. Frustrated. I was falling apart. He assured me that he believed there was something happening and that we needed to push through just a little longer to try to find some answers. He brainstormed some ideas, agreeing that I needed a break. He prescribed something to help me sleep – something I do not get nearly enough of – and agreed that a service dog would be beneficial to my case. 

This helped alot. The reassurance from both him and my psychologist made me realize that I was spiralling down the hole of other people’s perceptions and expectations again. They told me that I’ve been holding myself together so much better than many other people might in my situation. I don’t know how true that is or not, but I hung onto it. It’s been a source of strength for me to keep pushing forward.

During one of my appointments, I was asked what I would do if I had all of the power in the world. 

I answered that I’d give it away to someone who would use it well.

Then I was asked what I would do if I had all the agency in the world.

I had to think on it, but eventually I answered that I’d use it to become a better person.

Thinking on this…. I HAVE all the agency in the world. That’s not something anyone can control, change or take away from me – only I have the power to do that.

Which gives me all the power on the world to do what I said I’d do. And that’s not a power I’ll hand over to someone else, regardless of their intentions.

I need to stop giving away my power. It’s the only thing I can truly control when I keep it as my own.

I needed that challenge. And I was able to use that to find my calm once again. And my power to become that thing I want to be.

I let things be. Kept my post up, and just gave it over to the universe. A friend of mine told me, “The universe gives you only that which you can handle.” I responded that the universe has more faith in me than I do, but there was an important point in that, and one that I do agree with, even if I struggled with in that moment.

And then the most amazing thing happened. Or, rather, person, and things seem to be progressing in a way I never though I’d see.

I had asked for help, and held unrealistic expectations of others. It was never about them, however. Those expectations were based on my own disappointment in myself and my situation. Once I let go of that disappointment, as well as the expectations of others, things have changed quickly. People have taken my call out seriously and I have found myself surrounded by more support than I had hoped for. There are still those in my corner that hold silence, which is disappointing, but I hold no grudge towards anyone. No one can possibly know how the situation truly feels, and I hope they are never in a position to fully understand – which would mean being in my situation. There are those that do understand it, because they’ve been through a similar experience already. And I have never held more compassion, empathy and understanding for them than I do now.

It’s hard to accept help. Harder than asking for it, especially after the disapproval of some people. But people find themselves in situations, sometimes, and need a leg up. This time, it’s us. Now that help has been incoming, I find myself wanting to offer things to pay them back – knowing full well that we’re not able to. It’s been difficult to say “yes” to the help offered – but I have been. I’m breaking out of old habits and routines, and finding a new way to be.

And once I’m able, I’ll find way to pay it forward again.

The universe knows my gratitude, my fear, my uncertainty and my feelings of personal failure. And I’m learning to trust it to catch me with grace as I’m falling, so that I can later catch others with that same grace and help them back up.

It feels similar to performing the “Angel Walk” at the end of the YTT training during graduation. I may have been short 10 hours from a signed certificate, but I graduated in so many other ways than I ever could have expected.

I reached out for help. And now, I’m learning to accept it with gratitude, and no expectation.

Lessons Learned

Admitting that I need help with something has NEVER been easy for me. And normally, the things I needed help with were minor, so it wasn’t so bad asking for (and getting) the help, because it was small and easy.

This time it’s a bit different.

I grew up knowing that you don’t ask for help. You don’t take help. You do it yourself, or you don’t do it at all. Sure, you can give to others, as long as there’s benefit for you in it, even if it’s later. And you hold them to that. You make sure that whatever they give you, you give back in some way, because that’s the way things are done and there’s no way that you “owe any favors”. It was like being a Lannister: We always paid our debts. There is no giving without receiving, and no receiving without giving in return. It’s a tedious account of cheques and balances that can be a hard game to keep up with.

I remember one Christmas during an especially tumultuous time in our family, and my sister and I opened our gifts. One that I opened was an electric keyboard. I was confused. The betrayed and disappointed look on my sister’s face is unforgettable. My sister was the one who had asked for it, so I started to hand it to her thinking that the tags had been mixed up, and my dad stopped me. “No, that’s for you.” He turned to my sister, and explained that if she wanted to go ahead and move in with our mother, then she could go right ahead, but the keyboard was mine and she couldn’t take it with her. The keyboard was a bribe to make her stay and make her feel guilty. I don’t think we ever really talked about it. I remember being too young to truly understand the significance of this action, but I remember the hurt involved, and I remember aplogizing to my sister for getting the gift she wanted. I felt guilty.

That guilt, as well as much more, followed me into my adult life. 

This is the way I learned about gift giving. It wasn’t about making the other person happy – it was about doing it out of expectation. Sometimes even out of manipulation. The gifts I gave were often disengenous, insincere and unwanted, because the thought behind it was typically  to get them SOMETHING, even though I didn’t know what. So most often it was a guess to wrap up a thing prettily and have something to exchange, in hopes that I lucked out and they were appreciative. Sometimes the gifts were made, sometimes bought, but more and more often I found people were indifferent to the gift and I became more and more insecure about my gift giving abilities. I learned to loathe Christmas and birthday shopping, because I just didn’t know how to give something that I felt the person would genuinely enjoy. The more I loathed gift shopping, the worse my gifts got. The times I enjoyed gift shopping I usually nailed it – because that person was truly in my mind as opposed to the expectation of giving something for the sake of giving.

I didn’t understand the true value of gift giving until much later. I’ve always tried to give in whatever way I was able, without wanting anything back. I was always told that I was selfish and disingenuous when I was a kid, and I was trying to be better than what they said I was. I didn’t want to be a bad person and I wanted to be good and generous. But then I was asked by my elders what I got for giving so much, and happiness just wasn’t an acceptable answer. Trying to find a balance to please everyone seemed impossible.

When you’re growing up and trying to figure these things out, it gets really confusing to have such conflicting theories.

So for years I tried to maintain that balance of cheques and debts. If someone did something for me, I’d do something in return. If I did something for someone else….. well, I didn’t always get something in return, and usually it didn’t bother me. But I have always had a hard time taking a gift as they were, with no expectation or guilt if I didn’t have something to offer in return. It’s just the way I knew the world.

That mentality has been slowly worn down over the years, and I’ve learned that I love to give. The shift truly started with the threat of going to jail. And it’s a story I’m going to share. Not one I’m proud of, but it was a humbling lesson for me.

I was 17 or 18 years old, working two jobs to cover rent and food, couldn’t afford a bus pass and used my bike to get everywhere, no matter what the weather was like. It was exhausting. Being on my own was still fairly new, and I was struggling trying to make everything balance. One day on my way to work, my bike brakes stopped working in the middle of a major rain storm and I was scared to keep going, so needed to hop on a bus with it. I always tried to keep bus change on me, just in case, but I had nothing at that time, and I knew I was short on change. I had checked all corners, drawers and couch corners for every nickle, dime and penny I could find. The driver wouldn’t have known for sure, though, since my fare was paid in such small change, and I could only apologize and let him know it was all I had. He scowled in suspicion as each coin tinkled into the container, but he gave me my transfer and I got my bike settled in for the rest of the trip, quickly forming my own indoor pool underneath me in my drenched clothes.

In getting to work, I realized I had no lunch. I can’t remember if I forgot it or if I didn’t have any food at home. I was in the habit of not eating breakfast. And I had to work my second job after the first one. I tried to make it through the day, but by the time my late lunch came on, I was lightheaded, hangry and ready to eat anyone that crossed my path.

But I was proud, and didn’t want to beg for food.

I went to the Zellers and stuffed a pack of ichiban noodles into my shoulder bag, hoping no one noticed, and went for the exit to go eat it. I was floored when someone grabbed by elbow tightly and whipped me around. “You can come with me, ma’am”, store security said.

I was terrified. I had no idea what to expect. Obviously, I was caught. I was hungry. And I had to be back on shift in 20 minutes.

I hadn’t realized that I was carrying a second package in my hand at the time, as well. Apparently I had grabbed another one without thinking, and very obviously walked out of the store with it. I’m not the best thief that ever did thief, apparently. My sneak skills were apparently not very finely honed. (Although, there was that one time I walked around a dollar store twirling a fun keychain with full intent of buying it, only to realize much later that I had this thing on my finger and couldn’t remember where the hell I had picked it up. When I did, I brought it back with so many apologies….)

She sat me down and asked me what else I took, and I pulled the other package out of my bag. She just looked at me. I was crying. I was apologizing. She asked me why I stole $3 worth of product, and I told her I simply didn’t have anything to buy it with, and I had no food until I could get home after my shift at the bar that night. It was early afternoon still. She said that she was under obligation to report me for minor theft, but if I didn’t want to have a criminal record then I could do community service. The thought terrified me, but having a criminal record scared me more. So I agreed to the community service.

She put the soup packages back into my bag, with a few dollars to grab a snack later if I needed. I was so grateful for her kindness. I never went through Zellers again while I worked at the mall. I wish I had gone back later to thank her and bring her coffee, but being young, I was too embarrassed or insecure or scared or something – because she was so nice, despite sending me for community service, and I didn’t know how to deal with that. I wasn’t used to it.

Experience lesson #1: Don’t forget a lunch, or at least a snack.

Lesson #2: It’s better to ask for help than to take from someone else. Someone will help. And we’ve all been there.

Lesson #3: Humility. 

Lesson #4: Kindness from strangers (or people in general) isn’t a thing to fear, and they aren’t always looking for something in return.

Community service terrified me. The volunteers at the homeless shelter knew I had committed a crime, so how would I be treated? As a criminal? I was proud, bold, and didn’t want to show my fear. I had to work in one of the shelters downtown – a place I had never experienced before. I scrubbed toilets, washed walls, changed bedding and washed dishes for the homeless. Some made dirty comments and catcalled me as I worked, but most averted my curious gaze and my attempt at a friendly (although scared) smile altogether, when I finally pulled out of my own shell to look at my surroundings a bit more.

Lesson #5: Be humble.

By the time I finished my community service, I had experienced a whole new world that I hadn’t really known before. Many had mismatched shoes and socks, they were unwashed, they smelled terrible and they didn’t help around the facility. Some were quiet. Some were angry. Some were sober, others were not. Some glared at me with obvious resentment, while others had looks familiar with envy.

And they were all thankful for the help offered at the shelter. And they all had a story to share.

Lesson #6: Listen.

I was welcomed to eat with them. I didn’t, at first, but eventually took them up on it. The volunteers shared stories. Some were previously recipients of the shelter’s services. Some were homeless. Some had homes, but nothing else, and came for food. And the more I listened, the more they shared what I now know to be normal people who once led what we know as normal lives who got lost in their situations that brought them to this place, to teach me these lessons they learned themselves that would take much longer to truly sink in.

Lesson #7: Be kind.

I think of that situation often, from my own mistakes, to the kindness of the security guard and the kindness of the shelter volunteers and the people who frequented that location. And I’m grateful for all of it, because many of the lessons I learned immediately while others took a bit longer to take hold. But it changed my life and my outlook on people and their situations, and especially on judgement.

And I’ve learned that I don’t need to please anyone else with the methods of my giving, and it’s my decision to make. I learned that in giving, I always get something in return regardless. Friendships, knowledge, love, satisfaction, smiles, hugs, lessons…. it’s something I found I loved doing, but started not wanting anything back anymore. No credits, no debts, no worries.

Sometimes I gifted money, but more often it was time, or food, or things we could part with or gifts that we’d find that just suited a person so well. It just felt good to do it. I still had a hard time accepting things from others, though, and would respond with statements that it was too much, or that I didn’t have anything to give back, or that they shouldn’t have. 

And in doing so I truly was ungrateful. Someone went out of their way to do something kind for me, and I didn’t want it, because I didn’t have something to give back, which made me feel bad. And I couldn’t get the comments about being selfish or what I knew about having a debt to pay out of my head. But what about the other person?

In reversed roles, I’d feel bad if a gift was given back to me, because I’d see it as a sign that they didn’t like or appreciate the gift, or perhaps some other hidden reason that I didn’t understand regarding our relationship. So in refusing gifts, was I causing harm to my relationships? Probably. I started practicing gratitude, and accepting what people offered, how it was offered, with sincere appreciation. The hardest of those gifts to overcome have been compliments. But I’m working on it. It’ll be a lifelong practice that I’ll never perfect, I’m sure.

The best I, or anyone, can do is to be better.

Since it’s just my husband and I, we frequently buy each other gifts randomly throughout the year, as well as things for others as we see them and feel it’s something that person would truly love. When it comes to traditional gift giving at Christmas and birthdays, we’ve stopped following tradition altogether. It was just too much. We don’t give or expect Christmas or birthday gifts at all anymore. We’ve been called grinches at Christmas, and we’ve been given slightly dirty looks, but we decided to do what was best for us. Christmas used to cause us both alot of stress, and it wasn’t fun. We realized that this was not the spirit of gift giving, and we have no regrets for making this change. Due to work schedules and time off around the holiday season, it usually also caused much financial distress ontop of the expectations, which has been alleviated. We’ve learned to truly simplify the holidays and only do those things we are able without reaching a point of exhaustion, and the time spent with friends and family mean so much more to both of us now than they ever have. We can be truly grateful and loving instead of stressed and excited for the season to be over.

We gift as we’re able and as we’re thinking about people specifically. We make gifts, as well, for those who enjoy the handcrafted wares. We used to both volunteer quite a bit, but as that has declined we’ve donated monetary gifts to different organizations, events and people who need it, instead.

This year, things have changed, and we haven’t been able to gift much at all.

Asking for help is not something I’m well practiced at… but that’s changing, too.

Little Things

Sometimes having the most simple thing can make everything seem just that little bit better.

Right now, that thing is fresh ginger and tumeric tea. Nothing fancy. Just that tiny bite of the tongue from ginger and the rooty, grounding flavor of both of them, with a hint of honey. It’s simple, tasty and warm.

I have 2 journal entries I’m trying to write, and it’s getting harder to do that. Writing itself isn’t so bad – I can type with my eyes closed. But the words are getting harder to find, and proofreading is harder to do, and making things coherent isn’t as easy as it used to be.

I’ve always been wordy, but lately… my words are faltering.

And I’m struggling with it. My left eye has gone completely blurry, and it’s become hard to focus on anything for any amount of time.

But I’m finding ways to makes things work. Minimizing the work that needs to be done, asking for help when I need to, paying attention, being as patient as I can…

Today I expanded my yoga practice. I had been performing very limited poses now and again, but today I did a full 20 minute practice, without standing poses. And you know what I found out?

My body isn’t my own. Well, it is, but it sure doesn’t feel like it.

My joints feel similar to before I started to lose weight. I can’t kneel again, my hips have stiffened up, my neck and shoulders are angry rock corrals. I’ve been slouching for so long to accommodate for the cyst at first, and then after surgery to keep off the painful perineum sutures, that my hips and tailbone feel like they were sun baked and dried out. My muscles have deteriorated and I’m not able to hold poses for any amount of time without shaking.

And you know…. it’s ok. I’m grateful for my body, even as broken as it is. It’s only treating me as well as I’ve treated it for way too long, so the patience is needed. It’s time to be gentle, kind and nourishing.

I’ll get my book written.

Eventually.

Awkward Conversations

“Krys! Oh my god, you look SO GREAT!” she said, gesturing down my body with her hands and eyes. It stung, but she had no idea.

I get it. A couple of years ago, I was over 220 pounds on my little 5’3″ frame. I hid my lumpy shape under hoodies and oversized t-shirts. I lived with the shame my grandparents’ words implanted in me from a young age. “No one wants to see a fat woman. It’s not so bad for guys, because they can get away with it more. But people really want to look at pretty women, so that’s what all women should strive to be no matter how much they have to change to achieve that attraction. Walk with a broom under the arms, walk daintily in heels, spend the extra time to trim the frizzy hair so it doesn’t show, eat less even if you’re hungry, cover your face entirely with makeup because it’s naturally too red. Don’t show your real face to the world, because the world won’t love it the way it is.”

That shit stays with you for a long time, especially when drilled into you when young, and even when other people try to minimize the impact of it – it doesn’t change the fact that my emotional well being wasn’t based on anything healthy growing up. It’s what I knew, and trying to change that takes work. That path had deep treads, and finding a new route doesn’t come with a map. It’s work (but it’s worth it).

It took a long, long time to break away from those limiting beliefs, but I did. Mostly….. there are still smoke tendrils trailing behind me. But I still didn’t feel good about my body or health, and my self esteem was suffering as much as my health. So I started to focus on my health, and that’s a story that’s recently been underway. I worked hard, reduced the pain I was having as well as my pant size and was feeling so great and healthy. My yoga practice progressed a long way and I was feeling fit, confident and energized. Until, one day, not so much. All of the energy I had been enjoying was suddenly in a negative and I’ll never forget that day when I realized that something was very, very wrong, and it has progressed downward from there.

“What’s your secret? Are you doing the keto diet?”

The questions seem to be harmless, but I can’t help but feel like people are not really paying attention to the bigger picture.

I hear how great I look frequently from people I see, and on Instagram and Facebook like it’s something to celebrate and something I should be proud of, but this time I’m not really happy about it. This time, my weight loss is from being too scared to eat anything for fear of razor blades tearing up my belly, or exiting too quickly to be of any benefit. It’s from the loss of muscle mass from watching Netflix and as many golden buzzers from Britain’s Got Talent as I’ve got the happy tears to share in those people’s moments (trust me – they are unending). It’s from eating from a limited selection of food that doesn’t make me feel like having a night out in my bathroom.

I have become anorexic. (Not to be confused with anorexia nervosa, keep in mind. It’s definitely not voluntary. I love food, but it’s not a thing I can enjoy like before without horrible consequences.) It started during my final week of yoga teacher training in June and has progressed to the point that I’m struggling to keep anything in my system long enough to absorb nutrients.

That was a hard lump to swallow and to admit. For someone who loves food, this isn’t easy or fun, and it’s an adjustment that I’m not used to. Hopefully I don’t have to get used to it  for long. I’m looking forward to enjoying meals again.

I’m fitting into smaller clothes. My ribs and hips are starting to make an appearance. My cyst can be visibly seen in my abdomen when it feels like looking out from it’s nest in my hip. My hands have become skeletal. My skin is becoming parched and papery. My hair is becoming dull and is breaking easily, and there are days that I have twice as much hair fall out than usual. Yes, I still have bulk, especially in my lower extremities, but it’s soft and disappearing more quickly than I’d like in a way that I don’t want it to.

My eyes …. the thing I’ve always loved most about my physical appearance… they’re tired. I remember wearing red eyeliner under the thick black raccoon shadows in order to create a bit of a darker, creepy look during my high school goth days, and now I don’t need makeup to recreate that. It’s just part of the look, now.

Hm. Maybe I have a career lined up?

Ha. No. Kidding.

But damn, I’d save alot of money on eyeliner!

What’s my secret?

It lies in hiding the shaking in my legs when I’ve been standing too long. In making it to the closest place to sit down before my vision goes completely black. Or, at the very least, a wall to lean against while my vision returns. The secret is in keeping my hands warm enough that I can grasp a pen without my hand seizing. It’s finding a position where I’m in a little bit less pain (which doesn’t go away) so I can concentrate better on whatever it is I’m doing. Sometimes it’s getting comfortable enough so that I can just do nothing, because moving hurts and motion creates waves of nausea. It’s going downstairs to do something and forgetting – over and over and over again until I actually get it done or forget about it entirely. It’s asking for help when I can’t keep up. It’s in dressing up a little to pull attention away from the rest of me. It’s learning how to breath in a way that doesn’t cause my heart to race and my vision to blur, despite the intense breath work learned during yoga teacher training that I can’t use right now. It’s in keeping things short and sweet. It’s learning to listen really closely past the constant screaming in my ears that spikes frequently and drowns out sound for a moment. It’s in speaking more slowly to give me time to find the vocabulary that slips away like a dream after waking. It’s in pulling my shoulders back long enough to look strong, when the truth is I’m ready to collapse. It’s in learning to say “not right now” to things I really want to do.  It’s in letting my fear over my situation rage on occasion so that it can rest again later. It’s in drawing boundaries and letting people know when I’m overwhelmed. Which is often.

Maybe the secret isn’t much of a secret at all. The “secret” is letting people see what they want , and in letting them say what they do without correcting them. Because does it really matter? I feel terrible, and I believe it’s easy to see… but maybe it’s not? Maybe it’s easy for me to assume that simply because of the way I feel. But that’s not what people want to see, or draw attention to. Is there’s really a harm to them or to me in simply accepting that compliment?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I really don’t believe there’s any harm in it. Perhaps even more harm to us both if I draw attention to it and make things more awkward than they already are.

Perhaps my physical degradation actually does look good to them. Or maybe they only see that one detail because it’s the most obvious. Or perhaps they do see what’s going on and just want to make me feel better.

It doesn’t make me feel better, really. It kind of brings my attention back to how I feel, which is a constant anyways. But what does matter is that they are there, and they care. And THAT is what makes me feel better. And THAT is what I choose to take out of it after an initial knee-jerk reaction in my head that screams “WHAT?!”

 

I choose love and gratitude. Always.

 

 

Letter to the universe

Dear Universe,

I haven’t exactly asked for anything specific lately, or reached out looking for help. I didn’t think I needed to, and I’ve just taken each moment as they come. But you seemed to know what I needed more than I did, as usual, and you provided that to me. I paid attention this time.

Mostly, I’ve been ok. I’m been taking every day as it is, listening to what my body needs and wants and doing my best to just get through each day with a smile and a little bit of progress. I’ve been paying close attention to what’s happening around me, and living in the moment in every way. Mostly, things have been ok.

But there have been moments during some days that I’m not ok. Moments that I just want to cry and collapse and not get up again. Some moments that I DON’T get up again. There are moments that I am angry, frustrated and impatient. These kinds of moments, I’m really not ok.

And every time I’m not ok, something happens that brings me back to being ok. One day, you brought me rain – much needed relief from the heat that was causing a flare of symptoms. Another day, you gave me cucumbers in my garden. Some of those moments are ones that I am able to remind myself that I’m ok, and am able to pull myself back up. And there have been moments that I’ve just allowed everything to be just as it is, in the messy way it needs to be, with the gentle reminder that it’s ok to not be ok. And some of those moments I just need to not be ok….

Today, you brought me people I didn’t know I sorely needed to talk to.

Someone wise and loving advised me to trust the process.

How could I? I have been let down by people so many times before, and I have found it’s so much better to just do things myself. If I’m in control of my life, then I’m the one responsible for what happens.

But what happens when I don’t have control? What then?

Sometimes there are things we can’t control, situations we would never wish for and answers to questions we never asked. The reality is that no one has control, despite wanting to so badly.

Trusting the process involves letting go. Allowing things to be what they are. It is a vulnerability – one of those things I’ve never been good at. For me, it was the realization that the more control I tried to have of my life, the easier it was to lose control, and the more I try to get it back the more I’d fail.

Trust the process…..

I have an impressive list of complaints that I’m tracking closely for my care teams. These complaints are currently in control. The best thing I’ve learned to do is let those symptoms have control, and to do everything I can to reduce them until treatment starts. It’s the best I can do – and in doing my best for myself, I’m doing everything I need to.

And the more I trust the process, the better the Universe seems to respond.

And I am so grateful, for the people, the events and the lessons that keep coming this way. I feel terrible in body, but light in spirit.

I am vibrant, strong and shiny. I’ll get through this, with new lessons and perspectives I would never be able to know otherwise.

I’m ok right now. Tomorrow might be different – or it may be the same, or even better. That’s something to experience tomorrow, though.

Hari Om.

We can do better

There are times in everyone’s life when things don’t seem to be fair. Neighbours are cruel. Kids get sick. Cars break down. People die. People come into our lives, while others make their exit. You watch others self destruct. You take the blame for some offences while standing your ground on others while groups implode from dishonest players who tag along for the ride.

Everyone has something going on, and it’s become fairly normal to forget that. While we are busy trying to keep ourselves together from all that life may throw at us, there are sometimes expectations we have of others to help us keep things rolling smoothly. We always have choices throughout the day on how we react to situations. Often what I see is excuses being made for the choices we make instead of compromises. It may be worth taking a step back and seeing another side of every situation.

When your coffee isn’t made right in the morning, it could cost you being late for work in order to make a new one to your perfection. You snap at the barista a little strongly because you know you are going to be late, but decided risking being late to get your coffee “just right”. (You couldn’t have known that the barista was up late with her sick child in the emergency room last night, and having to remake your coffee has put her behind in customer orders and is now making others late and she ends up getting reprimanded by her superiors.) When you show up late with a Starbucks in hand, your boss comes down a little harder on you and a few others than normal. (S/he has just been reprimanded for your department’s dwindling efficiency.) One of your coworkers gets let go from her job because she made an abrupt comment to your also-stressed boss, and leaves in a hurry, knocking into you and spilling your Starbucks. You tear her a new one for staining your shirt. (You didn’t know that she had found her husband cheating on her the night before.) You finish your day at work unhappy and wanting to go home, but have to pick up your daughter in 20 minutes. Traffic is jammed and you’re going to be late, which incurs an additional cost for child care. You cut someone off trying to get around people and they don’t stop in time, and you get bumped but no one is hurt. You call them stupid and irresponsible and blame them for not paying attention while you exchange information. (That person is coming back from a doctor’s appointment. They just found out they have cancer.) You get to the daycare to pick up your daughter and she’s missing her shoes. You tell the daycare worker that you’re taking it out of her monthly fees. (She has just learned that her husband is going to Afghanistan in less than a week.) You get home late and find that your husband hasn’t started making dinner like he promised he would when you told him you were running behind, and you yell at him not to bother while you hastily get started. (He was in the traffic jam on his way back from the store with dinner, and made a special trip to Starbucks because he knew yours from earlier in the day had been spilled, and he hit someone riding a bicycle who was trying to weave illegally through traffic.) In your haste and anger at your husband while making dinner, you step on a toy your child leaves on the floor and burn yourself, spilling the pot. You yell at your child for not picking up her toys, making her cry. You end up feeding your child cereal so you can just go to bed as soon as you can, angry at the world and upset that no one is competent. (Your little girl thinks that eating cereal is punishment for leaving the toy on the floor and can’t get to sleep because she thinks you’re still mad at her.)

We can do better than this. We can make choices not only to help us help ourselves, but to help others as well. There are studies that show that when we are compassionate and kind to others, our own levels of happiness also improve. Pay happiness and gratitude forward. We are all human, and we all make mistakes. All of us. Sometimes we make a bad call and it’s not always necessarily a bad thing. It can be fixed, but the first step to do this is to admit it. Apologies are more powerful than defenses.

You are ALLOWED to feel whatever it is you feel. You can feel frustrated at your barista for making you late. Or you can feel grateful that she tried, take what you got and not be late. You are allowed to feel abashed that you got reprimanded by your boss. Or you can choose to admit remorse over making your coffee your priority over work. You are allowed to feel upset that your favorite shirt may be stained. Or you may choose to put your coworker’s well being higher than the monetary value of a piece of cloth. You may feel angry that someone didn’t see you switch lanes in time. Or you may choose feel lucky that it was a very minor incident. You may be upset with your daycare staff for not keeping your child’s belongings safe. Or you may choose to recognise the dedication they have to the children under their care and be grateful that you have a safe place for your child to be while you are working. You can be angry at your husband for not planning his day better, or you can choose to be thankful for his thoughtfulness and his well being. You can reprimand your daughter for not cleaning up, or you can teach her a valuable lesson that she’ll learn out of repetition and positive encouragement rather than out of fear of reprimand or negative responses.

You are allowed to feel whatever emotion comes to you. You are also allowed to choose how you react, however, and sometimes that reaction is changing the emotion you feel towards a situation. Fear doesn’t belong in the driver seat. Neither does anger, or hurt, or regret. For that matter, neither does happiness, joyfulness or any other emotion. You are in charge, not your emotions, so it’s worth keeping them close to help your decide which direction to go, but not always a good idea to let them drive you or your reactions. Emotions are a great fuel to get to your destination, but they don’t have a great sense of direction on their own.

Next time try this. Let the barista know that the coffee is a little too hot so she knows a mistake was made, but thank her for making it anyways and let her help the next customer if it’s something you can live with. Apologise to your boss for being late and let her know that you’ll stay late or work through one of your breaks to make up for it. Ask your coworker if she’s ok since it’s obvious she’s upset. It’s just a shirt and if you act quick then staining can be prevented. Apologise to the driver of the vehicle for cutting them off and make sure they’re ok and didn’t get hurt, and deal with the insurance (if needed) later. Ask your daycare worker to ask other parents if they have the shoes – you have others at home. Help your husband with dinner and ask him why he was behind. Make a game out of cleaning for your child.

Sometimes these little changes can make the biggest difference – not only in your own life, but in others as well. Those deep breaths people recommend to take during times of stress work well. Those deep breaths increase oxygen (and functioning) to the brain, they create a pause, they lower the heart rate and can create a moment to just be for long enough to find the calm needed to get through the moment. Your moment of aggravation does not need to become someone else’s frustration on top of whatever else they may be dealing with in their life.

SmilingBuddhawm-199x300And if you do react in a way that isn’t kind? It happens, to the best of us and to the worst of us. Sometimes we are overwhelmed and our amygdala takes over, which causes a knee-jerk reaction to our situation, but it’s not always the most reasonable one. A sincere apology can sometimes make the biggest difference to start the healing process after a hurt has been made. We are all people trying to do the best we can, and it’s ok that we slip up now and again. The best thing we can do is be the best we can be and to help others do the same. The ripples we make travel far. You don’t have to log hundreds of volunteer hours, or donate money you don’t really have, or sacrifice anything you don’t want to sacrifice. It’s doesn’t take much – a bit of understanding, compassion, a smile or a hug. We don’t know what’s going on in another person’s world. We can’t expect ourselves to be perfect – so why expect it of others?

There’s always a way to find peace. Hug a kitten. Snuggle a baby. Wear your favorite pajamas. Plant a tree. Plant an idea. Give your neighbor flowers. Pick up some trash. Buy a friend coffee. Go for a walk. Make something to gift to someone – just to let them know you’re thinking of them. Find something that makes you feel good, and do that.

What kind of ripples do you want others to feel in your wake? Ripples of kindness, or of resentment? It’s up to you. It’s up to us. We really can do better for each other. Let’s start at home.