The Joy of Journaling

[read time: 7 minutes]

Hi, everyone! I’m back with another instalment of the “Joy of…” series, where we explore various mindful activities and how they can help benefit you. Today we will explore the enjoyment of journaling. 

I remember being given my first-ever journal. I was six years old. I can still recall the weight of it in my hands, the blue cover, the picture of the dolphin on the front. It had a little lock and key, but I never used that, since I immediately misplaced the key. 

It had dates preprinted for every day, so my six-year old self did not have to worry about that. All I had to do was write – and thus began my love of journaling, and by extension, writing. 

Journaling is a well-known tool to help people cope with a myriad of problems. It’s often recommended to those struggling, as research shows that getting thoughts down and out both helps us sort through feelings and understand them. 

“There are the obvious benefits, like a boost in mindfulness, memory and communication skills,” Haley Phelan writes for The New York Times. “But studies have also found that writing in a journal can lead to better sleep, a stronger immune system, more self-confidence and a higher I.Q.” 

I, personally, recommend journaling to everyone, whether you are going through a tough time – or not. Journaling even for five minutes a day helps me organize my thoughts, feelings, experiences, and help achieve things like manifesting, planning my day, and getting out issues that bother me. 

I quit drinking and doing drugs after ten years, and journaling helped me through the whole process. It was on those pages where I laid my heart out, cried, denied, and fought with myself. I had an emotional outlet where I could judge myself and wallow in self-pity; after doing so, that same outlet became a source of recognition and acknowledgement. It was like a well-laid plan every time: by the end of my journaling session, I would feel immensely better, more level-headed, and clearer about my intentions and goals. 

I didn’t even have to leave the house or talk to anyone. 

Photo by Jess Bailey Designs on Pexels.com

So – how can you start journaling? 

First: keeping a journal is accessible and cheap. Notebooks can be purchased from the dollar store; no need for anything fancy. Alternatively, you can use your computer, as I sometimes do. I used to think using a computer for journaling was cheating – but I disagree with my previous assessment: my mind races so fast that typing is the only viable option. If you want to use a computer to type out your journal, go for it

The biggest obstacle to beginning to journal is just that: beginning. People do not journal for the same reason they resist attempting to draw: they’re afraid they’ll look stupid, make a mistake, or mess up. 

Alert: nobody cares. Your journal is just for you (unless, of course, you’re keen to share it). Don’t worry about what might happen if you make a mistake. I am more worried about self-realization I might miss out on if I do not journal. Mistakes be damned. I have personal growth to do. 

I know there are some people out there who will not journal for fear of someone finding it and reading it (hi, Mom!) I get that. We all have secrets. But get your secret out, and then burn the page. Rip it out and tear it up into little pieces and flush it down the toilet. Keep it on a password-protected computer. Write so messily that nobody can decipher it. 

Now that you have your notebook and pen out (or computer, or personal assistive device, or voice notes on your iPhone, or whatever it is you use), write. That’s it. Talk about your day. Tell it your secret. Divulge that you really hate Jason in 4B and by doing so maybe you realize it’s yourself you hate. Acknowledge that hate. Now journal about the steps you’re going to take to get over it. 

Journaling opens new pathways in our brains and helps form new connections. It helps us make sense of what has happened and plan for what will happen. 

Journaling requires you to be present in the moment. In order to write, you have to be in your mind to get the words out. 

Journaling can be used as a tool for manifestation. If you use your journal to write out your goals, hopes, and dreams, and then reflect on what you’ve written and take action on it – boom, there’s your wishes on the page now manifesting into real life. This is a tool that, I feel, is unrecognized in journaling. Or under-utilized. 

I say this from experience: by writing in my journal, repeatedly, that I wished to go back and complete my university degree after taking a 10-year hiatus, I did just that

Thoughts, turned into words, have the power to turn into action. It’s a very humbling thought. 

Besides using a journal to record day-to-day-life or manifesting your dreams, there are other forms of journal-keeping. 

One of my other journals I keep on a regular basis, besides my daily journal, is a gratitude journal

It takes about 30 seconds a day to write down three things I am grateful for. Any time I feel down, anxious, or stressed, I take it out, flip to any page, and read an entry. It immediately boosts my mood and brings warm memories back. 

Another type of journal I keep somewhat regularly is an art journal. A lot of people mistakenly equate art with drawing; that is not the case here. Sometimes, I use a word prompt or reflect on my day, and create a collage on the page with magazine pictures, stickers, words, and any artistic embellishments I feel like (such as drawing circles all over the page with oil pastels). As with keeping a written journal, an art journal helps you stay in the present moment, guide reflection, and foster creativity. 

I realize there are a lot of different ways of journaling and keeping a journal, many of which I did not touch on today. (Never fear, I’ll have an upcoming post on morning pages and wild minds.) There is also niche journaling, such as about nature or books or art. 

Whatever approach you take to your journaling practice, remember that there is no wrong way to do it. Your journal is for you and you alone (or whatever), and you should treat your journal as a judgment-free zone. 

The act of keeping a journal should be a source of enjoyment in itself. It should be a time of day you look forward to; not one that you dread – if so, perhaps journaling is not for you. 

What about you? Do you keep a journal? Have I missed any types that you love? Leave a comment below 🙂 

How Social Media Made Me Happier – Including the Trolls

[read time: five minutes]

[WARNING: EXPLICIT CONTENT] 

I have a confession to make: I wanted a troll. 

This upcoming Saturday, the 19th of February, will mark the fourth month this blog has been established. 

I have been reflecting on this for a while now and wanted to share with you how it has made me happier. 

By blogging, I’ve been forced to open up. By extension, I was forced to use Instagram: I needed some way to promote my blog!

What I discovered is the majority of people on the internet have been kind and supportive and thankful. 

I couldn’t ask for anything better. 

But, for some reason, I felt that the Blog Experience was not complete without the appearance of a troll.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”

Brené Brown

I feel this, 100%, in relation to my blog. 

By being vulnerable, and finally sharing my story, I feel free. 

Admittedly, I eschewed social media for years because of my fear of hate comments, cyberbullying, and trolls. 

However, my disability has forced me to rethink how the rest of my life will be shaped: since I have no control over flare-up days, I cannot foreseeably work a job that will require my presence at a certain time. 

So, my life has turned inwards, homewards, and to writing. 

I have known for a while now that I have something to say. We all do: our own lives, experiences, and histories have shaped us to become who we are, and we are all very different. 

I did not put together what was missing from my life until recently: an avenue to connect to people like me – those with a rare disease, since there are so few of us. 

I realized that I can combine my life experience of being disabled along with the love I have for writing and present to you, world, all that I can offer: a glimpse into the life of someone with an arteriovenous malformation, who struggles with trichotillomania and, in the past, alcoholism. (That will be an upcoming post.) 

This actually is not my first attempt at a blog. I began another one in late 2018 and discontinued it in early 2020. At that time, I had not gotten over my fear of the internet haters and the worry that my blog would be “found” by someone I knew and dissed. 

However, those things do not worry me any more. Why? I took control over my story. If I am the one living it and experiencing it, then I am the one telling it. If I do not take my chance to tell my story, then there might be someone out there like me looking for the same thing I was – a blog about being different, and how being different is ok – but not being able to find it. 

If I don’t tell my story, someone else will, and incorrectly. 

Once I began to write this blog, and to do so without fear, I began to love it. Once I let go of any worry, I embraced what I should have been doing all along – my writing practice. 

Once I began to get comments thanking me for telling my story, I knew I was on the right path. If I can get through to someone else who is going through the same thing, we can all help each other along and the world gets a little better. 

For a bit. 

Then, along came a troll. (In the comment section.) 

I feel like I passed a test. Like I’m a Real Blogger now. Like I can say, “Psshh, there’s one of those trolls making a damn fool of themselves again.” 

I needed to see for myself what it felt like to be trolled. I needed more, though, to see how I would react. 

I often tell myself, “I didn’t come this far only to come this far.” 

What does that mean? 

It means that I didn’t go through 35 years of living disabled, 25 years of having trichotillomania, 10 years of being an alcoholic drug user and graduating from university 11 years late just to let some asswipe of a troll leave a grammatically incorrect comment on my blog thinking it’s going to get me down, because it’s NOT. 

If I was the same person I was over 6 years ago, I’d tell you, troll, to go eat shit and die. But instead, I wish you love, light, and happiness – because you clearly need it. 

Because writing this blog is something I love being able to wake up and do, those comments can’t bother me. It’s the exact same as dealing with a shitty customer or a road rage driver. We are all going to encounter shitheads in our lives, no matter where we are, what we do, or what we are doing at the time. 

I think people troll to try and make others feel bad about themselves. They troll because they are unhappy with their own lives. They troll because they are jealous. 

Remember, trolls (/bullies): what you do doesn’t say anything about me, but it says everything about you. 

So – how did social media help me become a happier person? Despite trolls? The love and support I get from people and the support I try to give back is sustainability to me. I am actually usually pleasantly surprised to see – at least on the accounts I follow – people are nice to each other in the comments and it is not an all-out war as I assume it always will be. 

This goes without saying: not all accounts out there will have positive comments. It’s up to you how you want your social feed to look – but more importantly, how you want it to make you feel

Social media, in my eyes, CAN be used for GOOD. So far, my experience with it on Instagram has been positive. My blog has helped me grow as an individual – and writer – and by sharing my stories I feel more connected now than ever. 

So, yes, social media and blogging has made me happier: I grew out of vulnerability, and I realized that haters cannot bring me down. 

What about you? Do you see social media as a positive influence in your life, or negative? Leave a comment below. 

Dumped for Being Disabled & Other Truths, Part I 

[read time: 5 minutes] 

This event took place over nine years ago, but I still remember the text. 

I wanted to wait until you were done work, it began.

My heart sunk. 

I had been seeing a guy for a while now, and everything truly felt good. He was the first person I ever dated who owned a house and had his driver’s license. Not only did he even own a car, but multiple cars. He actually treated me nice. For a while, I truly believed I was – finally – dating a real man. 

And I wanted to give you a call

He took me on dates for drives in his old Cadillac convertibles, cruising the strip along the beach, eating ice cream along the way. We would hold hands and wander into the shops. He always made sure he had an extra sweater in the car for me, in case I got cold from the breeze rolling off the ocean, cooling the warm summer night air. 

There are so many great qualities in you, I continued to read. 

My mind jumped back to all the things I had ever told him. 

I’m sad. I’m depressed. I drink too much, I know it, and I can’t stop. My knee. My leg. My pain. 

I opened up to him, and he let me. We would talk on the phone for hours. He coaxed my deepest and darkest fears out of me, and listened, and said he understood. He was empathetic. 

And I’ve truly enjoyed the time I’ve spent with you. 

We would make out like teenagers under the pier, licking ice cream off each other’s lips. 

He was tall enough to hold me, protect me, and gently kiss the top of my head. Always a tall girl myself, finding someone even taller than me was a rarity.

But I want to be with someone who can enjoy the finer things in life. My stomach clenched. 

I told him how life had always been so difficult for me because of my knee, my leg, my disability. I confided in him the self-pity I always carried but tried not to show. 

I confessed to him like a diary: I won’t be able to be a police officer. I can’t be a paramedic. Anything that caused strain on my leg was out; I failed physical fitness exams and could never carry more than 40 pounds. 

Someone who can do things. Bicycle. Snowboard. Hike. 

I was sitting at my desk at work, and realized my palms were getting sweaty. I logged off my computer and ran down the four flights of steps to the fresh air outside. 

But you can’t do any of those things. 

I CAN do those things, I wanted to scream at the text. But I chose not to. They cause me pain, it hurts. Why would I put my body through that unnecessarily? 

He told me, as he listened to me express my frustration with the world, that he would take care of me. Take care of my well-being, take me to doctor’s appointments. 

For a while, I thought I found the one. 

And I want someone who can do those things. 

I started to hyperventilate. I just quit smoking a few weeks before, and I craved a cigarette now more than ever. 

I went to the gas station next door and bought a single cigarillo. 

I want someone who isn’t disabled, who can do those things. My hands shook as I lit the cigarillo and breathed deeply. 

There is was. Not only did he not call me, and not wait until I was done work, but rather he broke up with me because I am disabled – something I have no control over nor asked for – over a text. 

This guy was 43. You’d think he would have learned something – anything – by now. 

I gripped my cell phone in my palm, outraged. 

Good thing you told me now that you’re a little boy and not a man, I replied, then blocked him, and have not had any interaction with him since. 

I let the sadness flow through me for years. I was already an alcoholic during this time period, and that text did not help matters at all. 

Those words constantly played over and over in my mind.

I want someone who can enjoy the finer things in life. 

Words do hurt. Words do stay with you. 

I drank heavily for days after, pissed off at everything, especially him. 

But the one thing I did not do was hate myself over this. I knew, deep down, that he was in the wrong. Maybe he had tricked me into thinking he was someone different, someone who cared; maybe I had fallen for it. But the one thing I knew was that this was not my fault. 

It was not my fault I was born with a disability. It is not my fault I cannot snowboard, bike, hike. Do couples have to do every single thing together? Ever heard of alone time? 

By the way, I do not consider those things the “finer things in life”. Who even says that to describe outdoor activities? 

Speaking of which: ever heard of adaptive sports? Clearly, he had not. 

That text, although it enraged me, spoke volumes. Volumes about him, about me, about the state of the world. Despite the sweet whispers he said, they were nothing but lies. A person like him could never understand me: he has no patience to. 

Ever since then, I have made it a point to be more empathetic towards myself. Yes, there are things I cannot do – so what? To dump someone because they are physically limited and have been since birth is the most ridiculous and outrageous thing that has ever happened to me.

And you know what? I was not surprised. Not one bit. I knew this would happen to me one day, because that is how people deal with differences: by ignoring them, shaming them, and pushing them to the side. 

Luckily for him, he would never recognize me now if we passed each other on the street. And luckily for me: I’m not with him. 

The Joy of Puzzles

[read time: 5 minutes]

This is the second instalment in a series called “The Joy Of…”, where I reflect on various mindful, meditative activities, and how engaging in these projects/ hobbies can help you too. 

Confession: I have never been a big fan of puzzles. I used to find them boring, time-consuming, and annoying because they took up so much space. I usually gravitate towards projects I can put away easily, such as colouring or drawing: I dislike clutter. Plus, Stuff and Things need to be out of the way, or else they might become cat toys. 

I think, deep down, we are all intrigued by what we cannot have or what we do not know. So, during the Great Puzzle Shortage of 2020, my sudden interest in completing a puzzle was piqued. 

When my daughter began preschool for the first time this September, I suddenly had eight hours free to myself, three days a week: a luxury I had not enjoyed for years. 

I decided to look online for a puzzle that might interest me. There is a puzzle out there for everyone, guaranteed. It is not only the image itself you have to consider, but the amount of pieces (300? 3000?), the shape of pieces (uniform? random?), the format of it (flat? 3D?) – the options are endless. Because I had not looked at nor had the desire to complete a puzzle in years, I had to choose carefully – not too difficult, not too big, and a picture that appealed to me. This was my choice. 

Because I have a toddler, two cats, and only one space big enough for the puzzle – the kitchen table – I also purchased this puzzle mat to be able to roll up the puzzle and spirit it away when needed. Spoiler: the mat did more harm than good. I’ll reveal what below. 

So – why the appeal of puzzles? It is a mindful activity. It is something that can be done alone or with someone else. It is easy to pass the time alone or with my partner, not saying anything, simply concentrating on the task at hand. Time slips away. Worries on my mind cease momentarily. With being focused on what is in front of me (/us), nothing else matters. For a bit, anyway.

When doing a puzzle, you have to slow yourself down. There is no such thing as rushing a puzzle to its completion, nor is it a competition to finish it in a set amount of time. 

You cannot just try every random puzzle piece and hope it fits. This is a task of leisure: look at the pieces, study them, see the image broken apart and how it would look back together. 

Complete the border first – that’s the easy part. What about the interior? Organize your pieces by colour. As more and more click into place, the easier it becomes to differentiate a pattern on one part of the image from another. 

Sometimes the easier way to complete a section is by seeing how the shape of the pieces will fit. Sometimes it is easier to go by pattern. Which ever way you do it does not matter. Enjoy the process. Be mindful. Be present. Listen to a podcast

But, things can happen. 

So: I am about 3/4 complete, and want to roll the puzzle up because I need to get it out of the way. As I do, it breaks as it rolls, even though I am following the instructions. Apparently, this happens to everyone often. Fine. But I do not like it, so I unroll it and leave it as is. 

Fast forward about half an hour, and I am busy working on my laptop, at my desk, mere feet away from the puzzle. Then: crash! I hear it fall to the floor behind me. 

Apparently, the six-month old kitten jumped onto the mat, and when he jumped off, the mat either got caught in his claws, or he kicked it out from under him, and it ended up on the floor. 

Yep. Puzzle pieces everywhere. 

I had never come across this situation before, and I was sort of devastated, because “it’s the one mindful thing I’m doing for myself and now it’s turned into a legit pile of stress.” 

I had a decision to make: give up and put the pieces away, or try to salvage what I could and continue. 

I chose the latter. It was heartbreaking, but at the same time, THAT – the dropped puzzle on the floor – was, for once, my biggest worry; not something else, not something dumb, not something from my past, not the state our climate/ world/ etc is in, not the future. Just the dang pieces on the floor. 

So, I continued, and I surprisingly put the pieces back together quickly. I was familiar enough with what I completed that it was not too big an issue to put them back. Lesson: if you drop your puzzle, pick it up and continue on best you can. Don’t give up! On reflection, it would have taken longer if I had cleaned it up, put it away and attempted to restart it some time in the future – I would have to start all over. 

Wondering what to do when you’re complete? I recommend one of two things. 

Pass the puzzle on. Break it apart, put it back in the box, give it to someone else to do, and let them enjoy it. Obviously, some people will not feel comfortable with this step during covid. You do you. 

My favourite way of finishing a puzzle is to mount it. (Yes, I see where your mind went, lol, but not that kind of mount.) I lightly tape down the completed puzzle with painter’s tape, place a piece of cardboard large enough to cover the entire puzzle over that, and then – very carefully, with the mat underneath – I flip it. There’s been a few broken pieces here and there, but it is fixable.

After flipping it, I adhere these sticky sheets to the back, pop on the plastic hooks that came with them, and voila! A new piece of artwork for your walls. Also – gently peel the painter’s tape off after flipping. 

Once it was complete and up on the wall, I knew I was addicted. Sure, there were some upsets in the road to completion, but that is a part of life no matter what you do. 

So – what about you? Do you enjoy doing puzzles? What is your favourite kind? Leave a comment below!

Note: I do not receive commission if you click on the links and buy anything. I’m only sharing them because I truly like them 🙂 

Perspective: Life as a Disabled Single Mama

[read time: 5 minutes] 

Hi, everyone! 

I received lots of comments and support after uploading my post about living with an arteriovenous malformation, so I figured a follow-up is in order. 

One of the questions I was asked is: “How do you do it – be a single mom with a physical disability?” 

Answer: it is difficult. Indeed: probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done, even more so than struggling to get sober (post coming soon). 

First off, I do have help, mostly in the form of my dad, who graciously drives me to my doctor appointments (usually over an hour away) and helps out with picking up groceries when I need. My mom also helps out and the two of them together take my daughter for one night a week so I can have a break. Yes, I realize how lucky I am.

But beyond that – everything is up to me. 

Being born with a physical disability has shaped my life: it is the lens through which I see, and the constraints through which my experiences are filtered. 

I have to ask myself, every day: Can I do this? “This” could be a myriad of things: walk, drive, shop, work. 

The answer: it depends. Am I having a flare-up? If the answer is yes, walking/ driving/ going out is a no. 

Even if I am not having a Bad Leg Day, the activities my daughter and I can do together are severely limited. 

This is not because I do not want to do these things, It is because I cannot. It took me many years to accept my limitations for what they are. This isn’t as simple as changing my mindset – no, because of my disability, some activities are impossible. And, for the sake of my health and avoiding possible further injury, I have to respect my body. 

For example, I used to go on hikes with my dad and brother all the time when we were younger (think: early teens – so, about 20 years ago). However, as any adult with any bodily issues knows, your body deteriorates with age. 

I’d give anything to be able to go on a hike again. It does not matter how many times I complain about my arthritis, though: truly, nothing can be done. Just pain management. And when doing the activity causes the pain, there is no point. I can’t punish my knee for the sake of one hike, when I know I’ll be couch-bound for about a month after. 

So, we have to pick different activities. We go for lots of walks. We walk to places where I can sit down. 

Then, there are the home days. We have had more of these than I’d like to admit. (Granted, with covid, it’s easier to tell myself it’s safer to stay home anyway, lol.) 

What’s a home day? Days we stay home. Days that my leg is so bad I cannot leave the house. Days when my cane won’t cut it and I wish for a wheelchair. (I don’t have one of my own – yet. I’m sure I will soon.) 

These days we spend reading, playing with stickers, doing puzzles, and letting my daughter run around on the patio while I sit and watch. 

But, here’s the thing that hurts the most: she always wants to play with me, especially outside or at the playground or park, and oftentimes, I can’t. I endure the walk to the playground so I can sit on the bench while she gets out her energy. I drag my camping chair outside so I can watch her play in the snow. But there’s times when I can’t join in. These are the times that hurt the most: not only does my knee cause me pain, but there’s pain in my heart, too. 

Every time she wants to be carried, it breaks my heart that I can’t. I used to be able to hold her, obviously, when she was a wee baby; now that she’s 37 pounds, the strain on my leg is too much. 

There’s pain knowing I cannot participate in events coming up in her life: wanting to go snowboarding. Driving places excessively far. Hikes. Biking. Yoga. All things I know my broken body won’t be able to partake in. 

But that’s not to say she does not have a fulfilling and joyous life. Anything that needs to be done for her is done. I make it happen, one way or another. 

I am the only one who pays the bills, does the driving, gets the groceries, makes all the meals, does all the cleaning, etc. 

Don’t get me wrong, there are times that I wish for a partner who can help me do things such as load her or the groceries into the car; clean; generally help out. But, I choose to have nobody and it will stay that way forever (sorry, boys). 

Without someone by my side, I have learned to adapt and do things alone. I know better than to overbuy at the grocery store – I simply cannot carry it all in, especially when my daughter, being 4, cannot help. I use a grocery cart to wheel our stuff to our suite, but even then, it can’t be too heavy (I know, I know, I’m 85). 

So, I must listen to my body and respect it. On the days that I have “off” from my daughter (thanks, mom and dad!), I spend it resting. I sit on the couch with my laptop in my lap and my legs propped up – as I am now. (Side: because I have a venous malformation, and blood flow is affected, the best thing I can do for my leg/ knee is have it up and above my heart. However, we all know that means lying on one’s back and propping your leg way up. This is not feasible for day-to-day life, so I keep it elevated as much as I can.) 

These recent days, I’m packing for our move. I bought a two bedroom condo, which is dramatically different than the one-bedroom I currently rent and that the two of us currently live in. 

It’s an exciting time, but tinged with stress: will my leg hold out? Will my knee be ok? 

Because I am the only one doing the packing (however, I hired movers, because I know my limitations) I am worried that at some point, I’m going to have a flare-up, and then packing will grind to a halt. So, to circumvent this possibility, I started packing two weeks ago. Yep, you read that right: I need to take the whole month to pack and prepare, just to ensure that my leg will not be overworked and will hold out until the end of the month, when my daughter and I move. 

But it’s times like this when I also really shine. I prove to myself that I can do it. I have always been able to do it

It just takes me a bit more time than others, and that’s ok. 

What about you? Do you face any day-to-day challenges? Let me know by commenting below. 

Perspective: Living with Trichotillomania 

[read time: five minutes] 

I have been thinking about it for at least ten years. Shaving my head. Cutting all the hair off. 

Why? I was sick of it. Sick of my hair. Sick of being a slave to its whims. 

No, I’m not talking about the time it takes to wash/ blow dry/ style my hair. 

Not even close. 

So, I made the decision, on a random Sunday morning, to do it. And once I did, I got looks when I went out. I was bald. I could see it in their eyes, every time. They wonder: is she crazy? Does she have cancer? I know there is a stigma surrounding it. Negativity, even. 

No, the reason I shaved my hair was because of a condition I have been living with since I was a child – Trichotillomania. For those of you who do not know, it’s described as a 

“hair-pulling disorder; [it] is a mental disorder that involves recurrent, irresistible urges to pull out hair from your scalp, eyebrows or other areas of your body, despite trying to stop”

mayoclinic.org

It started when I was about 11 years old, or in grade 6. I recently had major surgery on my leg, resulting in my entire leg being encased stick straight in a cast for about two months. As such, I could not walk anywhere or do anything. I was laid up on the couch all day, as I had to keep my leg elevated to keep swelling down. We had to tape garbage bags over my leg so I could have a bath; even then, I was forced to hang my leg, awkwardly, out of the tub, to ensure it did not get wet. 

I was frustrated. I was bored. I had nothing to do with my hands. All I did all day for the first few weeks home from the hospital was watch tv. My body had to heal. 

Medical trauma is a very real thing. This is what I experienced, going through such a major and life-altering surgery at such a young age. At 11, I had no idea that I would come out of this surgery for both the better and the worse. However, I soon began to suspect that my life was indeed not going to get better, but much harder, as my leg would never function properly – the way it is supposed to: bend – ever again. 

So, as I sat on the couch, frustrated, bored, my hands wandered up to the top of my head. One of the hairs felt different, so I plucked it out. 

I was in intense pain from the surgery. I was taking a lot of painkillers. So, when I plucked that hair from my head, I did not feel pain, but a sort of relief. It was as if a bunch of pent-up stress had released as I pulled that hair from my head. So I did it again. And again. Over and over, one hair at a time. I dropped each hair on to the floor, next to the couch, until there was a little pile there. 

It was not until a few weeks later that my mom noticed that I had a bunch of short hairs growing in around the crown of my head that she mentioned something. I told her I was pulling my hair out, and we got some crafts to keep my hands busy during the day. But any time we watched a movie at night, there would be a pile of hair next to me by the time it was over. 

Over the next 24 years of my life, the hair pulling would ebb and flow. Months would go by without pulling, or I would be so stressed out that I would spend hours pulling hair out of my head in front of the bathroom mirror. 

Yes, hours. Hours at a time. My arms would be exhausted by the time I was done. My head would be full of near-bald spots. 

At some point in time during my 20s I was diagnosed with mild obsessive compulsive disorder, along with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. While I have mostly overcome the latter two, I still struggle with OCD to this day – specifically, Trichotillomania. It took a lot of years sober, with medication, therapy, CBD (yep, weed), CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), and meditation to get a handle on my depression and anxiety, but the OCD – Trich – has always endured. 

To list all the CBT tools I’ve tried in effort to combat this would be exhaustive. But to name a few: I’ve worn gloves and/ or toques while inside, I’ve covered up mirrors, I’ve kept an elastic band around my wrist to snap instead when I feel the urge to pull, I’ve left notes around for myself to keep my hands away from my head. Nothing worked. 

All the years of selectively pulling, and not giving my hair a chance to grow back, has taken its toll. Luckily, I have never had too noticeable of a bald patch, but my hair is incredibly thin and thinning more so because of the damage. I would try to grow my hair long, only to have to cut it short over and over again because I could not stop pulling. This created an almost mullet-like hairdo as the hair on the top of my head would slowly grow back in (which, most of the time, I plucked out again anyway) and the parts underneath remained long. 

For the past few years I have been seriously contemplating shaving my hair off, almost as a threat to myself: “If you can’t stop, you HAVE to shave it.” I’d snatch my hands back from my head so quick! However, it usually wasn’t even an hour later before I caught myself doing it again. I’d scream in frustration, smack my hands together, anything just to stop. 

However, over these past few years, besides using the head-shave as a threat to myself, it also almost became desirable. I was starting to warm up to the idea. I began to think that maybe it would be easier to shave it all off, be done with it, and have some freedom. 

That Sunday morning, I had already been pulling at my hair. I was standing in the middle of the kitchen doing it, when my toddler asked me, “Mommy, what are you doing?” 

My heart broke. I snatched my hands down and said, “Nothing, honey.” But I’ve seen her playing with her hair, and I do not want her to start and then to feel the same shame and guilt I have had over pulling my hair out – or the helplessness that comes with feeling unable to stop. 

Twenty-four years of living with this, off and on and it all came down to about five minutes, me in front of the mirror, scissors and razor at the ready. I stepped away a few times before beginning, unsure if I was really going to go through with it. But I thought of all the time I wasted standing in front of the same mirror pulling my hair out, and that is what kicked me into action. 

When I set the razor down, I was all smiles. I had no idea how I was going to feel when I was done. I was free. That was the first word that came to my mind: I was free of pulling, free of OCD, free of wasted time. I felt so good, and even better – I looked good! Turned out I have a nice-shaped head. Hahaha. 

That was the end of September. It’s now been just over three months since I shaved it all off. My hair has grown a few inches, and I shaved it into a mohawk. Might as well – it’s never been this short before. 

So – did shaving all my hair off actually work in preventing me from pulling it out?

Well, yeah. I had no hair. 

Seriously, though: it’s been three months that I have not pulled. It’s been three months that I haven’t wasted hours in front of the mirror. It’s been three months of my hair growing back evenly. Three months of my hands not wandering up. I haven’t even tried to pull the hair that has regrown out – it’s like my mind and hand have been retrained. When I get anxiety these days, I don’t try to pull the short hair that has grown back. I simply run my hands through my hair, content in knowing I have this OCD beat – for now, at least. 

What about you? Do you have any struggles with OCD, depression or anxiety? It’s a safe space here, so feel free to leave a comment below.

Before leaving, check out Disabled Danielle’s post about trich. She inspired me to write this one.

Perspective: Living with a Venous Malformation 

[read time: 4 minutes]

I was born with a venous malformation, sometimes referred to as an arteriovenous malformation, that affects my entire right leg, from pinky toe to bum, culminating mostly in my knee and foot. 

Venous malformations are the overgrowth of malformed veins. They are normally confined to one limb or area of the body, including malformations on the face, in the spine, or in the brain. Vascular malformations also include lymphatic and capillary (aka port wine stains). The malformation grows proportionally with the child. Mine, in particular, is considered a rare disease, will be with me my entire life (and always has been), is not curable, not removable, not infectious, and not a tumour, but causes major complications.

image of a venous or arteriovenous malformation
Diagram showing an artery and vein connected by capillaries and an artery and vein with an arterial venous malformation (AVM) in the connection. source:kidshealth.org.

The veins in my leg overgrew throughout, including into the knee joint, causing, outwardly, a serious stretch of blue and purple varicose veins; and, inwardly, veins everywhere, causing bleeding, swelling, arthritis, lack of motion and movement, weakness, and pain. 

Since my malformation affects my leg, and I need that leg to walk, walking has been problematic since I was able to do so. As I grew, I limped. My knee swelled up all the time. I was in constant pain. I could not run, crouch, kneel, jump on a trampoline, sit crossed-legged, play sports, dance, be “normal”. (Side note: as I grew up, I realized nobody was “normal”.) 

Years of limping and swelling finally culminated in a major surgery I had at 11 years old. Because the malformation was so extensive, not much could be done. I had veins embolized and muscle removed. I was stuck in a hospital bed for a week with a machine manipulating my leg back and forth. Then, my leg was encased in a cast, stick-straight, for months afterwards. 

Then came the rehab. Unfortunately, an 11 year old girl, recently traumatized by the surgical events she was not expecting, is not a good candidate for physiotherapy. I resisted, and that, along with the extent of the malformation, caused my knee to be permanently unable to bend past 90 degrees. 

As if dealing, inwardly, with the disfigurement and limping beforehand was not enough, I got bullied, teased, and left out of school actives afterward. I have suffered from depression ever since. 

For ten years of my life, from 19-29, I was a severe alcoholic, trying to cope. 

Now, I have been sober for almost six years. 

So: what does a day in my life look like, dealing with a venous malformation that affects a major and important limb? Read on. 

My day begins when I wake up in the morning. Already, though, there’s one catch: I have to check the status of my leg. Did something happen overnight that could affect me? This is the issue with having a leg like mine – it acts up whenever it wants to. I can go bed perfectly fine but wake up with swollen veins or phlebitis. My arthritis can worsen overnight (or, sometimes, get better). 

If I have time, I take a bath with a CBD bath bomb. That helps the pain. Sometimes, it’s not enough. I apply a prescription-strength pain cream after. 

Next, no matter the status of my leg, I wear compression socks. No, I’m not 80, I’m 35. Most of the time. These are the same that are also worn by pilots and flight attendants. My physiotherapist recommends wearing them every day – they prevent your legs from becoming sore and tired. 

I wear them because they compress the veins in my leg, encouraging the blood to flow. Anything swollen is tamped down. 

Next comes the knee brace. I have tried SO MANY BRACES, including thousand-dollar custom made ones, only to revert back to my favourite: a knee sleeve from the grocery store. Anything that could potentially press against my knee joint is out of the question – it just aggravates my arthritis. 

Last, I grab my cane (if needed that day) and head out the door. 

Once out for the day, it’s always a challenge getting around. I do not have handicapped parking (yet) so I still park far away from whatever store/ business/ etc I am visiting. 

In the winter, when it has snowed, I rarely leave. It’s too difficult to walk (limp), especially with a cane, in the ice and snow. 

Basically, I do the best I can. I can barely drive any more. Walking is a chore. But I have a toddler who is always on the go, and I need to keep up, so I do. 

Then there are the days where I can’t even leave the house. This occurs when I have phlebitis in my foot and simply cannot walk on swollen, painful pouches of blood that are under the sole. 

It’s days like that when I feel most sorry for myself – and not purely for myself, but for the knowledge that I cannot take my daughter out to do things like other people can do. It breaks my heart when we get invited out to do something – recently, go play in the snow with friends – and I had to say no, because I was having a flare-up and could not walk or drive. 

Luckily, not every day is a bad day. I have more good than bad, usually, and take things as easy as possible in order to not aggravate the pain or veins or arthritis. 

That sums up a basic day: I try to be as careful as possible to avoid any further injury to my already-fragile limb. 

I used to be bullied all throughout my childhood. And teenage years. In fact, I have been even to this day. I used to be embarrassed. I used to be depressed. 

But, as time went on, things became better, mostly owed to the work I’ve done on myself to conjure the confidence I now have. 

However, the biggest change in my relationship to my broken body was finding people online who are just like me. 

Once I stopped resisting social media and, instead, embraced it, I found my tribe. I was totally blown away by the confidence people online had in showing off their vascular malformations. If they can do it, I can too. Their strength and courage have encouraged me to share my story. 

I will have a post soon where I talk about dealing with a venous malformation as a child, not having it properly diagnosed for years (leading to missed intervention), and the pain and incessant bullying I endured. It’s an important story about bullying for anyone who has kids, or was once a kid themselves. (Lol.)

Is there anything you would like to know about that I missed? I encourage any and all questions. It’s funny how after 35 years I’m finally not ashamed any more. 

How to Make a New Year’s Resolution – that sticks 

[read time: 3 minutes] / LISTICLE 

We all make them, we all break them: New Year’s resolutions. 

This year, I share some tips that have helped me make my resolutions more manageable – and therefore something I’m liable to keep up for the first one or two months of the year. 

This is a modified version of goal-setting using the SMART method: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. That acronym first appeared in Management Review journal in 1981 and is still relevant and used today. 

  1. Make it realistic

A way of determining if your resolution is realistic is to ask: is it concrete? Is it achievable? Can it be broken down into smaller chunks? 

for example – instead of 
eat a vegetable with every meal every day 
try 
eat a vegetable with one meal a day

2. Make it manageable 

If time management is not your skill, welcome to my club. A manageable goal is easier to achieve, and then you won’t feel guilty if you don’t hit it every day. Hopefully. You can also entice yourself into finishing with the promise of a reward

for example – instead of 
write 1,000 words every day
try
write 300 words Monday – Friday 

3. Make it specific 

We all want to finish our novels. But, just saying so does not make it true. A resolution that is too general will not be as easily achievable: where do you start? How do you measure it?

instead of 
finish my novel
try
write 300 words Monday – Friday 

4. Choose one goal and make it the right one for you 

It’s admirable to want to take it all on. However, the more you take on, the less time you have. Ask yourself: are you making this goal for you or is it because society wants you to

instead of
save the world
try
donate to a charity once a month

5. Modify as needed 

A good way to keep track of your goal and see if it is working is by breaking it down into something measurable. Journal what you feel and reflect on what is working. It is okay to change your goals – if you consistently try to achieve them. 

By no means is this list exhaustive; there is also the psychology behind what drives us to make New Year’s resolutions. 

What works for you? Leave a comment below. Happy New Year! 

The Joy of Colouring 

[read time: 3 minutes] 

Hi, everyone! Welcome to the first article in “The Joy of…” series, where I explore mindful activities and how engaging in them might benefit you. 

What is a mindful activity? It’s where you: 

-pay attention
-live in the moment 
-accept yourself 
-focus on your breathing 

For more information, see here

Today we will explore the fascinating world of adult colouring. For any of you who liked to colour as a kid: this will definitely interest you. 

It is said that engaging in old childhood hobbies can be beneficial for stress reduction. Picking up a new hobby can mean less screen time. Doing a hobby on the weekend or in between shifts is more beneficial to your mental health than going out and getting shitfaced. (I say this from experience.) 

How to get started: 

You will need a colouring page or book. If you’re broke like me, print out something at home. Otherwise, there is a plethora of colouring books available, and most are reasonably priced ($10-$30 CAD). Generally, the more you pay, the higher the quality of the paper, and therefore the more you can do with it. First, identify what you would like to colour. For example, if you want to colour flowers or nature, do not buy a book with architecture images. As you begin to colour more, you will figure out what artists you like, what images you enjoy, and what draws you to a page. My personal favourites are Kanoko Egusa or Hanna Karlzon. I find the activity of flipping through the pages in the colouring books and imagining the colours on the page a mindful activity itself. 

You will also need materials. Again, the more you pay, the higher quality you receive. An investment in a good-quality set can go a long way. 

Pens: pens are quick and easy to colour with. I recommend Staedler or Gelly Rolls. With pens, however, you might get bleed-through to the other page; slip a piece of white computer paper underneath to cushion it. As well, pens are permanent and usually non-blendable – shading a picture, or even doing an ombre effect, is not recommended. (I recommend using pens only for a one-dimensional picture, such as a mandala.) 

Pencil crayons: pencil crayons are my personal choice when colouring. My favourite is Prismacolor Premier. If you’re brand new to colouring and feel daunted by the prospect of shading, try a greyscale colouring book to get started. 

Watercolour pencils, soft pastels, and more: as long as the paper can handle it, play around with different materials and see what you enjoy to use. There is no right or wrong way to colour. I have even seen people add glitter, ribbon, and scrapbook embellishments to their pages. Have fun! 

No matter what you use, the fun is in using it. If you use pencil crayons, enjoy the buttery feel that the pencil leaves over the paper. Listen to scratching sound it makes. Watch as, layer by layer, the page in front of you transforms from blank to alive with colour. Engage your senses. The important thing is taking the time for yourself, away from your phone/ screens/ kids/ life/ etc. Enjoy the moment, do not worry about your past/ the future. You will feel a sense of accomplishment when you have completed an element – or a whole page – and receive a natural hit of dopamine. 

If you are feeling stuck, I recommend using Pinterest or watching YouTube for inspiration. There are a lot of amazing colourists whose work you can learn a lot from. These resources are also great places to start if you have never coloured before, never used art supplies, or don’t know where to start. 

So – can adult colouring really be a beneficial and mindful activity? Yes. Pay attention to how you feel: relaxed? Uptight? Ideally, by engaging in the moment, you will not feel the latter. If so, try taking a few deep breaths. Accept yourself, as mentioned above. Let the creativity flow from you. There is nobody around to judge you. (Unless you’re colouring with a group of friends, which is fantastic, but I cannot stop them from judging you, sorry.) 

The takeaway: 

Colouring is one of my favourite hobbies to engage in when I am feeling stressed or bored. For me to really benefit from it, I usually wait until my daughter is asleep to pull out the book and pencil crayons. (We colour a LOT together during the day; there’s just not enough room for her books AND mine, so we compromise and use hers, lol.) 

I personally love to listen to an audiobook or podcast while colouring, sip a cup of tea (carefully, lol) and allow any worries to slip away. It is an enjoyable and mindful way to spend my time. 

How about you? Have you ever engaged in a hobby as an adult that you once did as a kid? Do you like to colour too? 

Note: I do not receive commission if you click on the links and buy anything. I’m only sharing them because I truly like them 🙂 

Dealing with Depression as a Writer and Blogger

[Read time: 3-4 minutes]

**Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor. This advice is based off my therapy sessions and what works for ME. What is right for some may not be right for others; find what works best for you.**

Scroll straight to the bottom for the tips, if you don’t want to hear me blather. 

Confession: I called in sick to work yesterday for the first time since 2017 (when I was, in fact, sick.) 

Luckily, I work for myself and from home, so my boss was not TOO mad at me. Lol. 

I got some disappointing news regarding my Christmas plans: where I was expecting to go has now been cancelled. I was devastated by the news, as I was really looking forward to seeing family and getting some time away from my noisy little home. 

The devastation quickly turned into a depressive episode. To backtrack slightly: I have been attempting to rise out of my depression since early 2016. And, mostly, I have. In early 2016 I quit drinking, then quit the job I hated. Those two factors alone helped boost me up; other things I did after (finishing university, becoming a mother, launching this blog, etc) helped me change the status of my mental health. But, doing these things alone was not enough; I employed several strategies during the day-to-day struggle. 

So, when episodes like this do pop up, I have a few tricks I use to claw my way back out of the deep dark hole that is depression. 

Before I begin, I want to make sure you’re all aware of what I did on my mental health break from work yesterday: 

dropped my daughter off at school. 
napped.
played video games.
napped again.
played video games again. 
did some diamond painting and listened to murder podcasts. 
picked up my daughter from school.

That’s it. 

During the whole day, was I beating myself up for not working? Yep! Was I crying? Yes! Did I lose interest in doing the things I wanted to do? You betcha! Needless to say, the day I had originally planned for myself (writing, blogging, working) was thrown straight into the trash. The article I was going to write? Didn’t start it. The blog post I had planned? Still floating in my head and not on paper as planned. My novel? Didn’t touch it. 

This quote perfectly sums up how I felt yesterday:

“Q: What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? 
A: Misery is feeling estranged from people I love. Misery is also not working. The two seem to go together.” 

Joan Didion

Today, though, I am better. The episode has passed, thanks a lot in part to some strategies I learned during counselling. I share them below. Please note, again, I am not a medical doctor. If you suffer from severe depression, I encourage you to seek help. There is no shame in it, and *I* will be on your side, if nobody else. 

MY tips: 

1. Recognize that you’re having an episode. 

This is simultaneously the hardest and easiest step. You’ll want to resist at first – “I’m too strong for this!” – but, I promise you, if you acknowledge it, it’s easier to accept it. 

How to do it: Let yourself go through the feelings. It’s the only way to get through them. Cry if you need to. There are such things as mental health days; take one of those, if you are able. 

2. Give yourself grace. 

This is the hardest step for me, personally. But once I am able to let go, my breathing becomes a little easier, my thoughts become a little clearer. 

How to do it: Acknowledge feelings of guilt and shame and let them go. Once you recognize that you are spiralling, simply hold on to the thought, acknowledge it, and gently let it leave. They’re just thoughts. Give yourself the grace to do this. 

3. Do only what you can. 

If all you can do is lie on the couch and watch Lord of the Rings all day, then that’s what you’ll do. But, resolve to be better the next day. 

How to do it: To be able to successfully do only that you can, you have to incorporate the above two tips into your day. If you can’t, you’ll do the bare minimum but feel guilty, resentful, shameful, lazy, etc. Beating yourself up for having a mental illness is your mental illness talking. Recognize it and let it go. 

4. Get a good night’s sleep. 

The power of a good night’s sleep is underrated. 

How to do it: I’m not going to give professional advice on sleeping. So, I encourage you to read this

Other tips I incorporate: 

Stay off of social media. Yes, I know, easier said than done. But, I find myself instantly comparing my “shitty” life to the “perfect” ones on instagram that we all know are fake anyway – so I stop.

Pet animals. My kitten was all over me all day yesterday, napping on my chest, sleeping on my lap. It was like he knew I was sad and did what he could to cheer me up. (It worked.) If you don’t like cats, pet a dog. Or horse, or whatever is available in your area. If you don’t have access to animals, hug a stuffed animal. It really does help (me). 

If I did not engage in these practices, I would have easily spiralled. Spiralling depression can last days, weeks, months, years. It looks like: being depressed every day; unable to get enjoyment from activities you once used to; drug and alcohol abuse; missing work and commitments; and much more. I was depressed for years before finally recognizing it and seeing my doctor. With medication, therapy, and the commitment I made to myself to try and get better, I have become the best version of myself. 

Again, this may not work for everyone. However, it worked for me. As well, there are other things that you can do such as eat healthy, go for a walk or get outside, and take medication; however, as mentioned before, I am not a doctor, and I encourage you to seek out medical advice from a professional who can help you along your journey to betterment. 

Do you have any tips that work for you? Comment below 🙂