Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Last Straw

Happy New Year! 2018! (This post is about January and February. Even though I started writing it in March and am still working on it in APRIL!) How bizarre that this is where we are. I had high hopes for the New Year being much better than the last but it was off to a pretty rocky start. Unfortunately my problems didn't just magically disappear into a puff of smoke like I'd hoped when we entered 2018. They were still there waiting for me to tackle them and I was still lacking the time, energy or means to figure out solutions. I just kept trying to muddle through. I felt trapped in an impossible situation and couldn't see a way out.

For Michelle's sake I always tried to hide my stress from her as best I could and to keep my sense of humour. Yes we're wearing matching fox sweaters here and it's not by accident. Michelle referred to our time together as "Mama and me" time. I was fortunate to have the first week of January off to spend with her because she was off on Christmas break. As a single Mom without help even when you're "off" work you're never really "off." You're always "on." You're either at work or you're working at home, taking care of your child. Time to yourself is limited (or non-existent.)

It was nice to start the year at my Mom and Dad's place. Michelle loves her grandparents and I'm very grateful to have them to care for her when I'm working. Usually I'm rushing to and from work and don't really have time for a visit so it was a great change of pace to have an actual visit with my parents while I was on vacation. I knew the week would fly by and I would have a difficult week the following week -- an 80 hour work week. There were changes and new challenges at work to add to the already overwhelming stress. I was trying not to think about it.

January. Winter. Snow. Good times. Well not for me but Michelle loved it. Michelle was excited about the snow. She was alone on that one. As I've mentioned before I'm really not a fan. As a kid, sure I loved playing in it, as an adult snow is just a chore and a nuisance at best, a hazard and a nightmare at worst. Shoveling it and driving in it are two of my least favourite tasks. But for now, I just grinned and bore it.

I told Michelle we could try to make a snowman. It wasn't packing snow so we had to make do with a pretty sorry looking little snowman, or two. Michelle wanted to put the New Year hats on them so we did. Michelle's excitement is infectious and it usually does perk me up a little. I'm still always relieved and grateful when she wants to go back indoors!

Though I love playing with Michelle it can be exhausting. Her energy is infinite. Mine is limited. Trying to be the shiny happy Disney Mom for her sake is tough. Trying to feign enthusiasm when you're not feeling it, when you're so tired you could just lie down on the middle of the floor, is harder than I can explain. I was hoping while Michelle was off school that we might actually get to sleep in at least. No such luck. On school days it's tough to drag Michelle out of bed and get her ready in time for school. Ironically on non-school days she wakes up bright and early (an hour earlier than she needs to for school!) and wants to play.

Unfortunately sleep deprivation isn't limited to my working days. Even on my days off I never get a proper sleep. Trying to re-adjust after working strange shifts is an endless battle. It's like having jet lag all the time. Sleep never comes easily. Stress keeps me up (I can't relax. Can't stop thinking, worrying) so that I can't fall asleep. Even if/when I finally FALL asleep I can't STAY asleep and keep waking -- either from Michelle coughing or my need to go to the bathroom then I'm back to the uphill battle to quiet my mind and fall BACK to sleep. Even when I do get some sleep, I have nightmares. Sometimes I dream that I'm running and I wake up exhausted like I really have been running. I never wake up feeling rested. I feel drained and depleted most of the time. But Michelle asks "Mama! Will you play with me?!"
and I can't say no. I love Michelle's energy and joy for life. I wish that I shared it. It's hard when you're always tired and stressed out.

There was so much to do. With Christmas over, the house was like a bomb hit it. I had to tidy and organize -- finding a place for her new toys. I got some new shelving units to store things. Michelle even helped me put them together. She was so excited and felt so grown up using a screwdriver. She loves to help with adult chores. My natural inclination is to say no but then I give in (even though I know the task will take 4 times as long) because it makes her happy and it's good experience for her. My Mom never let us help with anything. I get it. I'm a control freak too. But sometimes I relinquish control to make Michelle happy.

Michelle and I did crafts together. She received a few craft kits for Christmas and wanted me to work on them with her. I helped her with some light up bracelet crafts. After we made them she wanted to have a dance party/light show. We waited until it was dark enough and then we danced around. We laughed at the swirling lights in the mirror. I got the idea to try to photograph the light. I was amazed with the results. It was so cool. You could see the movement of the light like strokes of a paintbrush. Sometimes I find my playful side in spite of myself. If there's a photo op in it that's what makes me happiest. Michelle and I had a blast dancing with light and capturing it on camera. "Cool, Mama!"

I knew that the following week I would barely see Michelle at all so I wanted to make the most of our time together. Whatever she wanted to play, I was game -- crafts, dolls, hide and seek, tag, ball, board games, role play. One of the games she got for Christmas, Connect 4 (like Tic Tac Toe but with 4 in a row) became her favourite game and she wanted to play it OVER AND OVER AND OVER. It was trying my patience but it made her happy. And I sat and watched as Michelle performed improvised dances and songs for me (singing off key at the top of her lungs). I clapped and cheered encouragingly. Even when I had a headache and would have given anything for a bit of silence.

I was grateful to have so much time with Michelle but it didn't exactly feel like a vacation. It was exhausting in its own way. And I felt guilty when she wanted to play and I had to cook, clean and do laundry. I had to remind her that I'm one person. There is no other parent to help with chores. It's easier with two parents. They can share the work (theoretically -- though from what I've heard the lion's share of the burden normally falls on Mom even when there's a Dad in the picture.) I'm it. I have to do everything. And I can't always play.

And sometimes when Michelle would fall asleep, I would sit and cry. I was drained, dead tired and didn't know how I'd keep going. Except to just keep going.

At least Michelle appreciated my efforts. She made me this. We are hearts and we even have hair! It was so cute I laughed and cried all at once. She always writes "You are the best Mama in the world" (or wrold -- but hey she's trying!) I'm not of course. Far from it. But I try to be. She is everything to me. She is #1 on my list. But it isn't easy. Work and Michelle (in very different ways) were taking so much out of me that it felt like there was nothing left for myself. Self-care was non-existent. I wasn't sleeping, eating properly. I didn't exercise. I didn't have time to myself for hobbies (aside from grabbing a couple of minutes here and there on Twitter or on Blogger -- while Michelle was off school I felt too guilty even for that most of the time.) It was like I had two demanding full-time jobs. It didn't leave any down time, recovery time or "me time." Even my vacation was exhausting. Michelle can entertain herself and play independently and sometimes she does. But without siblings to play with, she looks to me. And I have a hard time saying no. So I'm the Mom and the sister/friend and the provider and everything.

Each day I would ask Michelle what she wanted to do and we did it. As a kid it always felt like the answer was "No." Everything I wanted, everything I asked for, Mom's answer was "No." So now with Michelle, to the degree that I can, I try to always say yes. Some days she wanted to stay home and play. When there was snow she wanted to play in it. She wanted me to pull her on the sled. Beast of burden that I am I pulled her around in circles while she giggled with delight. Out of breath and with a pain in my chest I finally collapsed on the snow and made a snow angel.
Michelle laughed.
"You remember how to call 9-1-1 if you need to, right?" I joked, "like if Mama can't get up..."
She laughed mercilessly and asked me to pull her on the sled again. "AGAIN, Mama!"
"Mama can't breathe," I said, huffing and puffing.
She laughed and threw snow at me.
"I feel the love!" I said. And then I pulled her again. Because I'm a sucker.
Michelle is the Princess and she rules the roost. I am just her minion, her mule, following her orders, doing everything I can to keep her happy. Of course there were some wishes that are beyond my power to grant. Michelle wanted a sister. Her doll Sara seemed to fill the role. Michelle wanted to take Sara everywhere, to dress her up. We didn't have a winter coat but we found a jacket and scarf and some clear rubber boots. She went with us on car trips. One day Michelle wanted to go to the indoor playground. She asked to bring Sara inside but I told her she wouldn't be able to run and play and climb with Sara in her arms and she was too big to fit in my purse.

Michelle always has a blast at the playground. I figure it's a good way to run off some of that boundless energy (though it never really tires her out the way I think/hope it will.) I'm happy to snap photos of her having fun. And it gives me a few moments at least to sit and relax while she plays. I can never completely relax though. I'm always watching for her. If she's out of sight for a few moments I start to panic and search. There are a few blind spots in the upper level of the playground. I'm not a fan of not being able to see her out in public. Other parents don't seem to worry and are glued to their cellphones -- texting, surfing or whatever it is they do -- oblivious to where their kids are. Sometimes a child will cry and it takes a long time for their parent to even notice/find them. There is a lot of crying, screaming and general mayhem inside the playground. It's crowded and chaotic. It's LOUD. Sometimes you can sort of tune it out like high decibel white noise. Other days the din hits you between the eyes. Girls can really scream. Sometimes the boys' screams are even more shrill. You put 50 of them in a room together running amok and it's an ear-splitting unholy mess. Not exactly relaxing.

At one point I panicked. I couldn't find Michelle. My nerves were already pretty fried so it was the last thing I needed. I started eye-balling the exit, scanning faces. What if someone took her? I had taught her of course to never go off with a stranger but would she pass the test in real life? What if someone said "I have kittens!" and lured her to his white van?! Sometimes I'd see a borderline sketchy-looking man skulking around and felt uncomfortable (was he really a dad? Yes they don't let you in unless you're with a kid but still...) What if...? My heart was pounding. I kept pacing back and forth checking everywhere for her. She wasn't on the slides or the ropes or in the ball area. I had told her we had to leave soon. Now I couldn't find her. There were a couple of climbing areas that were covered so you couldn't see the kids inside (I always hated that!) Maybe she was in one of them? I didn't want to have to go climbing/crawling up inside there but I was almost at that point. My stomach was churning. My eye was twitching. I started calling her name desperately "Michelle! Michelle!" Just as I was about to have a complete panic/heart attack, she emerged laughing. She had been hiding. A wave of relief washed over me. Then anger. She had put me through this purposely?! But she probably didn't realize how much it would affect me. No way she could know. Mama is already hanging by less than a thread. for the love of God don't ADD to my stress!
"That wasn't funny. Remember if I can't SEE you I can't SAVE you! You scared Mama to death. Don't EVER do that again."
"Sorry Mama."

So while that trip to the playground was loads of fun for her, it was pretty much a trip through Hell for me.

I wish I wasn't a worrier. I wish I didn't panic over everything. I'm a control freak and there are so many things beyond my control. Michelle matters more to me than my own life. Sometimes I wish I could be like the laid back parents that don't seem to worry at all, that just chill out, playing on their cellphone, paying no attention to where their kids are, trusting that they're probably OK. That probably no one is kidnapping them. They don't have to hover and watch over their kids. Some people drop off their kids for a birthday party in a chaotic public place like the playground, leaving their kids running amok with dozens of other kids, while the only supervising parent isn't even watching because they are busy setting up balloons and cake and everything in a side room. I've often wondered how they do it. I can't imagine. If I was responsible for 20 kids at a party I'd be watching them all like a hawk. I'd probably want to put bells on them. I don't know how you'd keep track. I had a hard time just keeping track of a few kids when I volunteered at a school trip. Or maybe they don't even try to watch them. They just trust the universe. (Don't they watch the news?!) Everyone seems so chill. They just go about their business. No one worries. But I'm not laid back. I'm not chill. I'm me. And I worry. Bad things happen all the time. Nowadays more than ever. The world has gone to hell if you haven't noticed! Some tragedies you can't prevent, but others, if you're vigilant, you hopefully can. I can't take the chance. There were times in my life that I threw caution to the wind (though admittedly not very often!) With Michelle I just can't do it. I am overly cautious, overprotective. I don't know how else to be. I don't want to stifle her to the point where she can't even have fun. But each time I have to let go a little I worry. I need boundaries. I need to know she's safe. Yes I'm a helicopter parent. If you have smothering on one end of the spectrum and negligence on the other, frankly, I'll err toward sMOTHERING! (Yes if you notice, most of the word smothering is actually MOTHERING whereas negligence has NO mothering in it at all! So guess which end of the spectrum I choose to be on?! Of course somewhere in the middle would probably be closer to ideal but that's beside the point.) As a Mama, it's instinctual to protect your young. Isn't that natural? There's a quote -- "God could not be everywhere and therefore he made mothers." Rudyard Kipling

I told Michelle that I was going to choose the next outing and it was going to be somewhere I could have eyes on her at all times, something TRANQUIL, beautiful and calming for a change: the Butterfly Conservatory. She was psyched because she loves going there too. To me, it's one of the most beautiful places and when it's mid-winter and the days are mostly cold, grey, bleak and barren, beauty is often in short supply! I feel like beauty is as much a necessity as air, food, water, shelter. Focusing on the ugliness of life (horrors in the news etc) is toxic mentally and physically. Beauty soothes the soul...

As you can see, we dressed for the occasion -- she in a butterfly dress and me in a butterfly shirt because yes I'm a total nerd! I can own that. My penchant for "theme dressing" is not going anywhere. Not as long as I'm a photoholic anyway! (Which will be ALWAYS! I can't see myself one day going "Naw...I'm not taking anymore pictures. I'm done!" Not a snowball's chance in Hell.)

Going from the extreme cold outside to extreme heat and humidity inside (it's a jungle in there!) made my camera lens fog up and it was a long time before it acclimatized. So the first batch of photos I took had this haze that almost looks like a filter. It is not.

In retrospect a little haze may not be a bad thing. Especially when you're taking an awkward selfie (always too close for comfort I think!) At least I managed to capture this shot of Michelle with a butterfly on her shoulder, next to me! And sort of smiling to boot! I'll take it!

Aside from the fog/haze I had my scratched lens to deal with (which tends to refract sunlight and make ghosts appear mid-frame.) I really should get a new camera but I'm resistant to change (also the expense is a deterrent! Still holding on to my old Nikon for now!)

Michelle was always thrilled when a butterfly would perch on her. I saw some kids flailing and trying to avoid the butterflies (which begs the question -- WHAT THE WHAT ARE YOU DOING AT A BUTTERFLY CONSERVATORY IF YOU'RE AFRAID OF BUTTERFLIES?! That's just bad planning. Or bad parenting. One of the two. You'd think parents would consult the kids before going on an outing that will traumatize them. I mean you will NEVER catch me at a Scorpion Conservatory! Not that such a thing exists. Nor should it! They are creepy as Hell! Strangely enough I dated two Scorpios and they were both alternately dreamy and creepy in their own ways. I'm grateful about the last one especially though. Without him I wouldn't have my girl. So Yay Scorpios! Even if you are partially evil. I'm sort of kidding. But not. My Mom is a Scorpio too...This whole paragraph was a weird tangent...Sorry about that!) In any event I don't know how anyone can be afraid of butterflies. They're so beautiful!

I love Michelle's sweet (if somewhat forced) smile here! She walked around for quite a while with her black and yellow friend and then I saw a photo op (a bench where I could sit the camera for a self-timed pic and no photobombers within a 10 second radius...This is not easy, let me tell you!)

I just wish Michelle had angled her hand so that you could see the butterfly better but you can't have everything. A couple of people commented on her butterfly dress and the fact that she seemed to attract butterflies like a magnet while others struggled to get even one to land on them. Michelle loved the attention and felt quite special, like a magical butterfly fairy.

Eventually if her winged friends didn't fly away on their own she'd put them on one of the food stations to have a snack. (Fruit and sponges soaked in nectar.)

So many times I had tried to get a good macro of a Blue Morpho but they so rarely open their gorgeous blue wings to give you a proper shot. This one was POSING! At first I thought it couldn't be real. It was just too perfect, posing on the giant plastic snowflake -- like a perfect juxtaposition of Winter and Spring. Others stopped to photograph it as well and debated whether it was real or not, until it moved and we knew for sure. Thank you for your cooperation, gorgeous! The Blue Morpho is by far my favourite butterfly.

And then, my dream come true -- a Blue Morpho (the belle of the ball, the most beautiful butterfly of all) was ON MICHELLE'S SHOULDER and even OPENING ITS WINGS!

If only Michelle had been looking at the camera and smiling instead of awkwardly avoiding it but I know it can't be easy being a photoholic's kid and constantly having a camera in your face! I can almost see the thought bubble above her head "Oh Mama, COME ON!" At least she knows by now that it's non-negotiable and she might as well just learn to live with it. She's pretty cooperative/indulgent with me for the most part. I wish I'd just taken pictures of her without trying to get myself into the shot because I just look like a dufus!

I LOVE Michelle's artwork and I never tire of her sweet love letters. She's always saying I'm the best Mama in the world. As though she's met all the mothers out there to know. It may not be true but I try my best and I'll take it! I've made so many sacrifices for Michelle. I always try to put her first, even when it means putting myself dead last. I don't feel like I have a choice. It's all about her now. It has been since the moment I found out I was pregnant.

Movies are a great escape from your own stressful reality. When I heard there was going to be a movie about a bull (Ferdinand), I was really psyched. (I'm a Taurus so the bull has a special place in my heart!)

It was a sweet, funny, completely adorable film and we both loved it! Ferdinand is an exceptional bull, despite his brute strength, he is a softie inside -- kind, sensitive, sweet and drawn to beauty. He loves flowers. He isn't violent. He doesn't want to fight, even though it's supposed to be his destiny. It's a beautiful message -- to be who you are MEANT to be, rather than just falling into the trap of doing what's EXPECTED of you. You have to follow your bliss. Also it showed how barbaric and cruel bull-fighting is. The bull isn't the villain. It's the matador and the cruel treatment of the animal that makes him seem like a raging monster. Bull-fighting should be banned (if it hasn't been already...) I could relate to Ferdinand. I'm a Taurus who also prefers to stop and smell the flowers when it's an option.

While escapism is nice, of course it doesn't last. You have those hours in the dark, caught up in this beautiful, magical make believe world. Then the movie ends, you leave the theatre and face the cold air outside, jolting you back into the real world. It was great spending time with Michelle and having fun doing things to distract me from the difficult realities in my life. But the week ended. Reality was waiting for me to face it. And it was back with a vengeance. The second week of January I was back to work and it was even more difficult than I'd feared. An 80 hour week made me tired just thinking about it. I wasn't sure how I was actually going to do it. I went from seeing Michelle every day to barely seeing her at all. I was basically working and traveling every single day. We didn't even have one day back at home before we were off again. I was barely home long enough to throw in some laundry and re-pack our bags. It was nuts.
"I miss being home," Michelle said to me.
"Me too," I said.

While I knew that it was going to be a tough week, I didn't expect to already be breaking down on TUESDAY. It was just too much going from a week off to a 16 hour day on no sleep. And it was a bad day (night) at that. Monday night I made it through the shift (somehow) but by morning I was so beyond depleted that I felt like I was going to throw up. And I still had to drive TWO HOURS. Like a zombie with red eyes, my head pounding, dizzy and slurring my words (like being impaired by sleep -- is that legal? It's not alcohol but the effect is almost the same -- slurred speech, cloudy head. Still how can you help being tired when you work long shifts and drive for hours? What could I do? What I DID do is roll down the window, blast music, drink caffeine and force my eyeballs open!) An hour to pick up Michelle, get her out of bed at my Mom's, drive another hour back home, pack her lunch, get her breakfast and off to school. When I finally dropped her off I was so relieved I thought I would just fall into bed and sleep instantly. (For a whopping 4 hours tops before I had to get up to get Michelle and go work my next shift...) Instead I sat down on the couch and cried. The cat came over to comfort me but she got scared and ran away when my sobbing was inconsolable. Sometimes I would cry from sheer exhaustion but this was different. I was completely spent. I didn't know how I'd get through another night shift and the rest of the week. I felt trapped and I didn't know what to do. And I kept thinking "I should be sleeping now. I only have 4 hours -- make that 3 now-- max to sleep as it is....Before I have to pick up Michelle from school (early) and drive 2-3 hours in bad traffic and go through it all again..."

I needed help. I had appointments set up with the psychologist but they didn't start until later in the month. I needed help NOW. I needed a calm voice to tell me it was going to be OK somehow (whether or not that was true.) I tried to reach my sister and couldn't get her. Then I reached out to a counseling service through my work (I'm in a stressful field so they have a help line you can call if needed.) I called and got a very nice counselor within minutes.

I just cried and cried and told her what I was going through. My schedule was nuts. No one could do it without falling apart. I needed to find a solution because this was not sustainable. It was inhumane. The counselor suggested I take some time off. I told her I wasn't sure that was an option. She said I had to make some decisions and changes but in my fragile state any decision I made likely wouldn't be a good one. She suggested I see my doctor ASAP and get some time off to relax and heal because I was BEYOND BURNED OUT. Stress was breaking me down mentally and physically. I'd already been diagnosed with Traumatic Mental Stress as a result of my job in November. I probably shouldn't have been working period, never mind a crazy 80 hour week but I just kept pushing myself thinking. "Just get through the day. Just get through the week." I didn't know what else to do. Back in October my doctor wanted me to take at least a couple of weeks (if not months) off but I didn't want to burn through all my sick time. I didn't think it was an option. I settled for a week off. It wasn't enough. I just kept pushing myself. It's like the law of inertia -- an object in motion tends to stay in motion. I was so used to just going and going, I didn't know how to stop. But I definitely needed to slow down.

The counselor had helped. Just having a detached observer acknowledge that I was in an impossible situation and making a valiant effort, was comforting. Just having a calm, caring voice on the other end of the phone was a huge help. Somehow it would be OK. I had to take better care of myself. Several people HAD been telling me that. There just wasn't time. With my tears drying, I managed to grab a couple hours of sleep before work. I made it through the night. Sleep deprived as usual. At least my boss was letting me off early because I had to be up early the next morning to come in ON MY DAY OFF. Unfortunately those extra hours didn't help. I couldn't sleep a wink. I just lay there and lay there. I couldn't stop thinking, worrying, spinning, trying to figure out what on Earth I was going to do because sure what doesn't kill you makes you stronger but WHAT IF IT KILLS YOU?! And I had to be there for my little girl.

Getting up early in the morning on your day off and after nightshift, and on about half an hour of sleep if that, is less than ideal. I was mostly a zombie. Luckily the day itself wasn't too bad. I actually met some very nice people who were somewhat sympathetic to my situation. Unfortunately I didn't get to work with them and probably wouldn't see them again. It was a pleasant experience. Unfortunately the timing was terrible. Another day of no sleep during my most hectic week. Another day of commuting for hours. Now I wouldn't even have one day off.

The job itself has always been stressful but one thing that has made it tougher the last several years (aside from the world going to Hell in a handbasket!) is not having a social network. Once upon a time, when I started in the field I was in a very large organization where I managed to find a pocket of like-minded, quirky girls to bond with. I had a network, a social life outside of work that made work more bearable. Also being single, being a night owl was an option. I could be up all night and sleep all day. The weird hours appealed to me. (It all changed as a single Mom -- I got no sleep day or night it seemed. The commute made it worse.) Since transferring to a smaller organization I've never really fit in. I've always been the outsider, never really bonded with anyone. I used to at least have boyfriends and a network outside of work. For a while I was part of the music community, playing music regularly, bonding with other songwriters. It gave me an outlet.

These days I had no social life, no time for art, music or any of the things that used to bring me peace. I was either working (in a difficult job) or taking care of my daughter (on my own.) Two full-time jobs without a break. Without sleep, or exercise or any form of self-care. No time for me. As a single Mom I felt even more isolated, at work and everywhere. No one really gets it or can relate. Even other single Moms don't really understand or sympathize with my situation. Sometimes they just lecture me: "Why don't you just GET A BABYSITTER nearby?" or "Just move!" Just this or that. Just disregard all of my anxieties, fears, values and put my daughter's life in jeopardy. Nope. Michelle is more important to me than my own life. Yes I got myself into an unbearable, impossible situation with a hellish commute etc but it was for my child's sake. To live in a safe neighbourhood I could afford. To have her with family because I don't trust a stranger with my child for an entire day at a time. I just can't do it. I hate when people dictate that you live your life the way that they live theirs. Even when their situation was entirely different. Even when their values and temperament are the polar opposite of yours. Yes my situation was a disaster but it was the best I could come up with. Michelle is everything to me. She comes first. Even if it means I come dead last.

There were things beyond my control. I didn't ask for my hours to be doubled at the start of 2017. Financially it was a godsend but in every other way it was destroying me. More money isn't worth my physical and mental health. Plus I felt guilty for leaving Michelle so much. I felt pressured to be the best Mom, pressured to keep doing my job even as it killed me. I was drained, depleted and couldn't see a way out. And it kept going from bad to worse. The world became more messed up. My job became even more stressful and I was running on less than empty. Most people have a spouse/partner's shoulder to cry on after a bad day, or a circle of friends to go drinking with. I was on my own. And I don't even drink. (Yes, I was sober dealing with that shit!) I was falling apart and still trying to hold it together for Michelle's sake. But I was in shambles.

I didn't know it at the time but the last straw was coming... It had been a long time coming. It's tough when you're struggling and there aren't many (or ANY) sympathetic ears around. No one really understood or cared what I was going through and no one had my (overburdened, breaking) back. Even knowing I'd have a two hour commute at the end of my shift and was so tired I could die, somehow I was always the last person to be relieved. Every. Single. Time. It was like a slap in the face. Everyone else would go home and I'd still be sitting waiting. You'd think someone would take pity on me once in a while. You'd think someone would accidentally let me go home first so I could embark on my grueling TWO HOUR hour commute rather than relieve someone with a ten minute commute. But no. Maybe it wasn't intentional. Maybe it was just luck of the draw/Murphy's Law. But it hurt more than I could say. It was a slap in the face. No one gave a damn what I was going through. They probably figured it was my own fault anyway. And I get it. Why would they have my back? I never really fit in there. I'm not one of them. No one could relate to me. The only thing more stressful than the job itself, and the commute and all that I was going through was going through it all ALONE. No one to vent to, to roll my eyes at mid-day. To laugh with over coffee (iced capp in my case.) To comfort, to sympathize, to ease the burden. Not having an ally, a confidante, someone who understood. I missed having the camaraderie of co-workers on my wavelength (like I used to a long long time ago.) It's hard and it's lonely feeling like a square peg in a round hole, knowing you'll never fit in. To always feel you don't belong. To always be misunderstood. And to be alone to deal with it all.

It was a rough week to say the least. Somehow I survived it. One day, one hour at a time. Then the weekend came. Day shifts this time. Night shifts are Hell on earth but day shifts are somehow even worse. On a day shift I have to stay over at my Mom's on an uncomfortable fold out bed. I usually get no sleep or maybe 1 hour tops. I get up at 4 am to get ready for work then drive an hour, work 12 hours and drive another hour (or two if it's my last one and I'm heading home.) Sometimes by the second or third dayshift I am so exhausted I could die and I collapse at 8 pm. Other times I'm not so lucky and as sleepy as I am I still lie there and lie there worrying, spinning, thinking an endless stream of thoughts from the mundane to the terrible. From past regrets to future fears. Sometimes I would get up and watch CNN in the wee hours (because that's SO SOOTHING! At least I'd get a few laughs out of Trump's ridiculous antics. At this writing he STILL hasn't been impeached and I can't believe it but I try not to follow it anymore. I have enough of my own worries without paying attention to American politics.) Or I'd write a song or poem. Or draw. But most of the time I would just LAY THERE. Trying to relax (which ironically becomes more unattainable the harder you try!) I would try to meditate. To breathe mindfully. Nope. I would just spin and spin and spin. There was so much fear, anxiety, anger, confusion, frustration. Thinking about my job and my life and the state of the world in general would sometimes induce a full-on panic attack. "What am I going to do?" "What are WE going to do? As a people? As a planet?" The world is falling apart. It made me feel helpless. I couldn't ignore it but I couldn't really do anything about it either.

My job didn't help. The world really seemed to be crumbling around me, even more so than usual and I unfortunately had a front row seat for it. Without saying where I work (because I never do. Not online. Have to keep some level of anonymity/mystery when I reveal so much about myself and my life!) it's a very stressful occupation. It goes way beyond multi-tasking in a fast-paced environment. Sometimes it's like a living horror movie. There are a number of careers with an enormous amount of responsibility (where peoples' lives are at stake) and consequently a great deal of stress -- the military, health care, emergency services (police, fire and ambulance) to name a few. A number of careers where you deal with the dark side of humanity -- the angst, the anger and the anguish -- on a daily basis. There was a line on a TV drama (Fox's 9-1-1) where the protagonist says "It takes a certain kind of person to swim in the pain of the world and not get wet." Unfortunately I'm not that kind of person. I get wet. I was drowning. You take in so much negativity, constantly, from the trivial to the tragic and it's almost impossible to stay positive. It wears you down. Some people seem to be immune to it. I'm not one of them.

I still care. I still feel. It gets to me. Even after all these years. I'm not bullet-proof. I'm not desensitized. It still affects me. I'm not one of the adrenaline junkies drawn toward danger. I'd prefer it if life were perfect and nothing ever went wrong! To constantly face the dark side of humanity, to be surrounded by negativity, to deal with terrible, stressful things from minor annoyances to disturbing horrors, wore on me more than I could explain. It had for years but it had gotten worse lately. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation, the increase in hours, the lack of a partner (I used to have a boyfriend to come home to. Now I have Michelle but I can't burden her with grown up problems or talk about the horrors I face in my work. Instead I always try to put a smile on for her sake, which is even more draining) or a combination of everything that made me feel more fragile but my burden felt much greater. It wasn't like the weight of the world fell on me on a single day, it was more cumulative. Day by day, piece by piece. Chipping away. Breaking me down.

I remember the interview scene in the movie "The Incredibles" where Mr. Incredible says "Sometimes I wish the world would just STAY SAVED!" You try to help people, to make a difference in some small way every day. But it's like you don't make any difference. No matter what you do, the world is still broken. The job is never done. The world is never saved. Nothing is ever resolved. Your inbox is never empty. It's relentless and soul destroying. No closure. No resolution. No end. Just more. And more. Same shit, different piles. Different shit, different piles. So much shit. Sometimes it feels like there's nothing you can do. It's futile and frustrating. It makes you feel hopeless, helpless. And the worse the world gets, the harder it is. When you're someone who likes to have things resolved, to have all their ducks in a row, that likes to have order and control it is beyond discouraging and defeating to be inundated, surrounded by chaos that you can't even get a handle on. It's just one thing after another. Never knowing what's coming next that may be even worse, your worst nightmare. A happy ending once in a while, a good day, when things run smoothly, when a supervisor gives you a pat on the back and says what a great job you did, when you feel like you made a bit of a difference -- can be so empowering. But the rest of the time you feel overwhelmed. It seems futile. With limited resources to try to solve infinite problems, you're set up to fail. It chips away at you. An endless stream of troubles to deal with (most of which can't be settled), each one worse than the last. And you have more bad days than good and when you're on no sleep you're so fragile that every setback, every issue feels heavier. It crushes you.

I admire the men and women who bravely try to save the world every day. To keep doing it without falling apart it seems you have to be Superhuman or a Saint. If you're made of steel and nothing gets to you, you can just keep trying to rescue and recover the broken world, asking nothing in return, never having a moment of weakness. If you're a martyr you're willing to give your life for others, never losing patience, never complaining how hard it was even as it destroys you. But I am definitely NOT Superman or Mother Teresa, just a (VERY) flawed human being, and a sensitive one at that (more than the average person!) So IT GETS TO ME. It had been GETTING TO ME for a long time. I managed to muddle through but it was taking a toll. More and more each day. I was running on less than empty. I was past my breaking point. How could I help anyone else when I needed help myself?! It gets to the point where you feel utterly futile -- like Sisyphus, knocking yourself out to roll a massive boulder up the hill just to have it roll back down again. Day after day after day. Or like Atlas carrying the weight of the friggin world every day, without a break...

Everything was weighing on me now. Even the smallest things -- the oppressively loud white noise of the fan that goes constantly. The overhead lights (which suddenly people had on day and night so you were working 12 hours under harsh fluorescent lights like a Walmart at mid-day until you had a blinding tension headache and your eyes felt like they were being gouged out with a spoon.) Constant stress -- from minor annoyances to major incidents. The endless inbox. The conflicts without resolution. The perpetual negativity. All while sleep deprived, stomach churning, eye twitching, anxious, miserable, burned out. Not to mention the long grueling commute to and from your stressful job. Somehow I made it to Sunday. I was almost done my impossible 80 hour week! Woo hoo! Then I'd have a couple of days off. I thought I was home free. But Sunday broke me. And I was already broken. It was a bad day. It wasn't the worst day ever. Not by a long shot. It was just the last day of a very bad week. It was just THE LAST STRAW (after a LOT of straws...)

The expression "The straw that broke the camel's back" makes the camel sound like a lightweight. It is not. Camels are BAD ASS. A camel can carry close to 1000 lbs. It can walk 120 miles a day and go 6-7 months without water. They are designed to endure A LOT for a LONG TIME. Their hump of fat provides fuel so that they can go without water. Eventually the hump starts to slump (I wonder if Dr. Seuss used that one!) Now I'm not saying that I'm a camel, exactly. My hump didn't slump (though I did get a lump in my breast I had to have removed and I'm sure stress was a major factor if not the sole cause!) But I went a VERY long time working in difficult conditions until the last straw broke my back.

It's not "the last straw" that actually breaks the camel's back of course. It's the ACCUMULATION of all the straws. It's that you are already overburdened and they just keep PILING IT ON. And you don't matter to them. No one worries about you. No one has your back. You're just a chump. So they carelessly, thoughtlessly, ruthlessly drop that last little straw on you, thinking you can take it because you're just a beast of burden and a glutton for punishment anyway, right?! You're already carrying 1000 pounds and the weight of the God damned world, right?! You've gone this long, right?! You've been doing this forever and you survived it, right?! But NO. Not today. On this particular day, after this particular week, after that particular year that you've endured, after the overwhelming stress, after the mental and physical torture (sleep deprivation is a form of torture by the way, just ask the CIA!) that you've suffered, that seemingly trivial/simple/stupid /inconsequential but so ill-timed event/comment/altercation/bad day is just THE LAST FUCKING STRAW and you snap. Cumulative stress will continue to weigh on you, getting heavier and heavier until it finally breaks you.

And suddenly you just think "FUCK THIS SHIT!" Fuck. This. SHIT! I try not to swear online, but NOTHING quite conveys utter frustration like expletives. FUCK THIS SHIT! As in: ENOUGH IS E-FUCKING-NOUGH! As in I just can't fucking do this anymore! And NOBODY CARES. Like you could drop down dead on the floor and they'd just step over you. And call you weak. And just find another camel. No one was going to sympathize. And why on Earth was I killing myself for these people who didn't even give a damn about me? Why did I keep pushing myself for a job that was quite literally killing me? I have a little girl who loves and needs me and I'm all she has. Letting my job kill me (it sure wasn't making me stronger!) was NOT an option. I couldn't go on like this. I wouldn't go on like this.

I'd been joking about "having a nervous breakdown" for months. Except it wasn't a joke. I was coming apart at the seams. The stress of the job and the world and my life situation and everything was just breaking me down. I thought of the poem "Not waving but drowning." I hadn't even been subtle about how fucked up I was. I had burst into tears at work. I was dropping F bombs. I had no filter. I was lashing out. I was snapping. I was losing it. But it was like no one noticed or cared.

Mind you my boss had known for months I was having a rough time. In fairness he did reach out a few times. He asked if there was anything he could do. If I was smart (which clearly I'm NOT!) I should have asked for TIME OFF. That was what I really needed but I just kept thinking it wasn't an option. So sometimes he just let me vent for a couple of minutes in his office and yell or cry before returning to my desk.

Or sometimes he brought ice cream on a particularly horrific day (which was surreal in a way but I can't say no to ice cream on any occasion!) It wasn't his fault. He didn't know what else to do. He didn't even realize when he was piling more straws on me. And neither of us knew when the last one would break me (though I knew I was already all kinds of broken!) And at least he'd ask how I was. Of course he wasn't always there. Supervisors don't work 24 hours a day even if the rest of us do. Most people really didn't care how I was. They were probably afraid to ask for fear that I'd give an honest answer: "Hanging by a fucking thread...How are you?" There was a time when someone could ask how I was and I'd answer "Fine thank you. How are you?" without a hint of irony but that ship had SAILED. Most of the time I'd just censor myself by saying "TIRED." How am I? Tired and miserable and severely stressed out and fucking bone tired and almost dead and fucking overwhelmed and fucking falling apart and trapped and can't see a way out but at least I get to work a fucking 16 hour shift in an unholy nightmare on no fucking sleep over and over and over again. Not that anyone remotely gave a damn.

So to make a long story short (too late!) Sunday was a shitty day. (In a couple of ways: My IBS was having a field day too which helped immensely. Because when your nerves are already shot you might as well have explosive diarrhea to boot! I love my life!) Still I got through the shift (yes that's shift with an f. But yes I got through the shit too!) (Mostly.) Without primal screaming (though I REALLY had to hold myself back. I was trembling with rage.) Without going postal. Without causing too much of a scene. (It helps to have my own private box/cubicle to hide clenched fists, rolling eyes, eye twitches, profuse sweating etc.)

Looking at "Fuck this Shit" memes got me through the day. That was my camaraderie. That was my ally. It helped just knowing that I wasn't alone -- that maybe someone else somewhere had felt this frustrated, angry, desperate, at the end of their rope too and had created these little memes to express it.

It was therapeutic. I was mad. I was fed up. I was beyond mad and fed up. I thought of that line from the movie "Network" (which I've never seen except for that clip): "I'm as mad as Hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!" And the day finally ended and I breathed a heavy sigh as I walked to my car. I got in and I was shaking. All the tears and rage that had been bottled up came out. My shoulders heaving. Tears streaming down my face. (Driving while impaired by crying, also not illegal but not advisable either.) And I drove and I cried and I raged and I drove and I cried and I thought "Yup. I've got to see my doctor. And if she tells me to take a couple of weeks off (or a couple of months, years, millennia!) I'm BLOODY WELL TAKING IT!" Fuck. This. Shit.

So I went to see my doctor. And I was a mess. I was bawling uncontrollably. I was babbling like a lunatic. I was worse than I had been in her office back in October. I was MORE BROKEN. (I used to think you couldn't be more broken. Like when you're late you can't be MORE LATE. But I was wrong. You can be more late. You can be more broken. Much much more.) I told her what I'd been through. And thankfully my doctor insisted I take a medical leave to rest, de-stress and take care of myself. And I didn't fight her this time. I didn't know the logistics of it (I couldn't afford not to get paid but it also wasn't worth my life and sanity to keep pushing myself. I was in no state to do the job. I needed to get well no matter the cost.) I just knew that I needed time. Luckily because they'd already determined my stress was work-related I was covered. I needed time to heal. Everyone seemed to agree on that.

It's one thing to say that you SHOULD get more rest, exercise and find your happy place. It's quite another when it's actually doctor's orders. I was determined I was finally going to take better care of myself and now I would actually have the TIME to do it. Time to myself while Michelle was in school. Time to breathe. Time to do yoga. I booked massages to help me relax. I took a bubble bath for the first time in years. I started therapy. I was hopeful things would get better.

It felt good to be taking care of myself for a change. For so long I'd neglected myself. Like I wasn't a priority at all. Like I wasn't even human. Pushed myself to keep going even without basic necessities like sleep, proper food, any form of relaxation.

Knowing that Michelle loved me helped a lot. But I really needed to love MYSELF too. What kind of Mom could I be if I was falling apart? I needed to be OK to be there for her. I had my work cut out for me. 

When Michelle wrote that she missed me (even if she misspelled it! Mist...) it broke my heart. That week from Hell wasn't just hard on me. It was hard on her. I barely saw her. Life is so short. Was this how I was going to spend it? Overworked, hanging by a thread with no time to spend with my little girl who means more to me than anything? But what could I do? I'm a single Mom. I have to support us. It felt like a no win situation. At least now I would have some time to take a breath.

The only good thing about working so much was that Michelle got to spend quality time with Grandma and Grandpa. She did portraits of them. She even made them sit and pose for their portraits. I love that she included my Mom's cross necklace. This portrait of my dad was so adorable and accurate I couldn't stop laughing. It's just perfect. I love the mustache, the green eyes, the little tufts of hair on his head. I love the swirls in his ears. I love that she's even got his black pants (pulled up too high -- Steve Irkel style!) with the red stripe. She notices the little details -- an artist already at 5 years old!

I love Michelle's art. Her world is sweet and happy and magical. Such a stark contrast from the dark, miserable, nightmarish world I'd experienced at work. It was a nice change. I wanted to inhabit this childlike world now.

I love that Michelle's smile is so big she has three rows of teeth! I love that she doesn't even try to do hands because they're hard. I always hated drawing them too! This is Michelle's own self-portrait. She sees herself as a blonde rather than a redhead. Her hair is gold. When you're limited to the colours in a crayon box it's a tough call for a strawberry blonde. Do you choose orange? Your hair isn't exactly orange. Do you go for red, like Ariel? Sure you're a redhead but your hair isn't literally red. Or do you go with yellow, like the sun (which isn't yellow either, it's more white...) and be a blonde? So Michelle sees herself as a blonde and she's never really liked the term redhead anyway. Although, make no mistake, Michelle IS a redhead, a true ginger in every way!

"Mama can you get me this huge bear? PLEASE?"
"Ummmm NO! We've had this discussion. No gargantuan bears for us. Not happening."
"But it's a KOALA!"
"Yup. Not really relevant. It's too expensive. It's too big for the car or even the house for that matter. Just no."

But of course I couldn't resist grabbing a photo of her with it. That's my go to if Michelle wants something and the answer is no -- get a picture of it and then you get to keep it forever, in a way.

With Michelle, I usually try to come from a place of yes. But sometimes the answer has to be no for obvious reasons.

I love my family so much. I'm so grateful for them. Spending time with them, especially my sister (and best friend) always cheers me up. Somehow May always makes me laugh no matter what. Michelle loves visiting at Auntie May's as well. Working so much means time away from Michelle and my family, no time for yoga, no time to relax -- all the things that make me happy and recharge my spirit. I got myself so depleted that I was running on less than empty. Now it was time to take it easy and to do the things that make me feel good again.

Michelle was happy that I was going to be at home for a change, that for now at least we wouldn't be on that insane schedule, driving all over hell's half acre, rarely home. I wouldn't have to pick her up early from school or have her miss days of school like she did when I was working full time. She could enjoy her time at school and home with her Mom without constantly being uprooted.

Michelle did a portrait of our little family -- Michelle, Ali and me. We're all smiling. Even the cat. And the sun is golden. I wanted to live in that smiley happy world. I wanted to try anyway. Now that I had a break to take a breath I had a shot at least.

I didn't know what to expect from therapy but I was looking forward to it. Like a nerd, I brought a notebook to take notes. I was going to treat it like going to school. (I'd always loved school and been an A student. A total type A control freak I thought I was going to ace this! I was going to be cured in one session! Sure. Could happen! Even though I'd been scheduled for 18 sessions. Even though it had taken 17 years in my job to get me this messed up.) It was like taking a course in well-being, learning how to be happier, more calm, more resilient, learning how to cope with stress, anxiety and anger. I'd loved Psychology 101 when I took it in university. I only took it because I needed a science course but I absolutely LOVED it. I found it fascinating. I was at the top of my class (in the top 2% among 2000 students) and my Psych professor wrote a letter at the end of the year saying he looked forward to working with me in the future. I didn't have the heart to tell him that course was the only Psychology one I'd be taking. That I was a Humanities student just trying to meet the science requirement.

I took Sociology as well because I needed a social science. They try to make sure students are "well rounded" so they make you take at least one or two courses outside of your specialty. So the math and science set are forced to take an arts course and the artsy-fartsy types need to take a science or two. Sociology was interesting as well, learning about behaviour in groups as opposed to just individuals, how we relate to others. I remember my teacher loved one of my essays so much he read it to the class. I was proud and embarrassed all at once. He said it was different from any science paper he'd ever read, so raw and direct. Of course because I was more of a writer than a scientist. I got an A. That was what I loved about school. You could put your heart into something and get an A. In life it often feels like you put your heart and soul out there and no one gives a shit. University was a great experience. Looking back, I would have loved to take more psychology courses. Unfortunately I didn't have the maths and sciences required to specialize in it.

Philosophy -- pondering the big questions about reality and existence -- had always fascinated me too and I really wanted to take it in university as well but there was no room for it. I already had a full plate trying to do a double major -- English and Drama, with a minor in Art History. But I was glad I took Psychology. As I sat in that huge lecture hall taking notes or reading my text book at home I never imagined that one day I'd be GOING TO a psychologist myself. As a PATIENT. Then again I also wouldn't have guessed the career I'd end up in or the fact that I'd be a single Mom. Life is stressful. Sometimes you cope and sometimes you slip. Mental health is so important but we don't always give it the attention it deserves. We either take it for granted or don't fully understand it. We know if we break a leg that it needs a cast to heal but sometimes we suffer a mental injury and we just keep pushing ourselves. And no one can see the injury. If we don't speak up they may not know. Robin Williams was one of the greatest comedians that ever lived and he was suffering in silence. And we lost him. There is still somewhat of a stigma to admitting you need help. There shouldn't be. Many celebrities have come forward and opened up about their battles with anxiety, depression, etc. Therapy helps a lot of people. It can still be hard sometimes to admit that you don't have it all together. There seems to be this pressure to fit in, to be OK or at least fake it well enough to fool everyone. But the burden is greater when you can't even share it. When you're going through it alone.

At my first session the therapist drew a picture of the parts of the brain and their various functions. (I wound up drawing my own copy as well.) I was already well acquainted with the Amygdala -- the center of the fight or flight mechanism. Mine was cranked up to full blast. She explained that when our basic needs aren't met (as mine weren't -- sleep deprived etc) our survival mechanism kicks in, we revert to our more primitive nature, becoming reactionary. I was basically on edge ALL THE TIME. Everyone and everything was a threat. My nerves were shot. Of course in primitive times fight or flight kept you alive but these days stress is triggered by THOUGHTS rather than actual danger. I didn't know how to stop thinking. The therapist told me that you can't really. It's like if someone tells you not to think of a pink elephant. Then of course you do. You can't eliminate the negative intrusive thoughts but you can learn to acknowledge them and challenge them. Stop giving them so much power over you. I had to learn to tell myself "I'm OK. I'm safe" whenever the stress kicked in (at work, in traffic etc.)

After that first session I was hopeful that I could learn to challenge and change the negative thoughts and stop the stress response that had become such a part of my life. Getting enough sleep was one of the main things I needed to heal. The therapist recommended I try lavender oil on my feet to help me sleep. Though skeptical I was willing to try anything. I went to a wellness store and picked up some lavender oil and other essential oils. I even picked up a salt lamp because I'd always thought they were beautiful and I heard that they purify the air, boost your mood and help you sleep. Whether it really worked or was just a coincidence or placebo effect, that night I slept with lavender on my feet and the salt lamp by my bed and I had the FIRST GOOD NIGHT'S SLEEP I'd had in YEARS! I was thrilled. I was actually starting to feel better.

There was light at the end of the tunnel. I was taking care of myself for a change. I started doing yoga every day, eating healthier, drinking more water, doing breathing exercises. I was finally doing all the right things. I booked a massage to help me relax. I had a bubble bath for the first time in years. I started writing and painting and doing the things that nourished my soul. My spirit had been so broken. Now it felt like I was putting myself back together again. And when I felt anxious thoughts creeping in, I tried to talk myself out of them. With my main sources of stress -- work and the long commute -- now absent I thought I could finally begin healing. During my travels in aromatherapy and wellness stores I met some very nice women who opened up to me about their own struggles. A lot of people are overwhelmed with stress these days. I was not alone. Everything was going to be OK. I was feeling more positive than I had in a long time.

Unfortunately my enthusiasm was short-lived. Suddenly I got really sick with a cold, the worst I'd had since my pneumonia years ago and it was like a slap in the face. I had gone from overworked and running on empty with no sleep, no exercise and a terrible diet to relaxing at home, getting rest, exercising and eating right and NOW I get sick?! Why now?! WTF?! It wasn't fair. Online I found that others had been through the same thing.  There was even a term for it -- "leisure sickness." People who have extremely stressful jobs can't just switch the stress and strain off. When they try to relax, they get sick. When you're under constant pressure, the immune system is stimulated -- it's like your body knows there isn't time to get sick. It keeps you on high alert in case you have to wrestle a saber tooth tiger. When you try to take a break it signals the immune system to back off (OK guys, pressure is off now so you can relax!) and without the immune system working overtime, you wind up getting ill. All those days without sleep, all that excess cortisol, all the self-neglect of months or years catches up to you. My nose was running, my head was foggy. I couldn't sleep. Even my skin was breaking out. Pimples?! In my late 40s?! I wasn't even eating chocolate or peanut butter. It didn't make sense. I was angry. I was discouraged. I had gone from feeling so hopeful to now feeling completely hopeless. One step forward, two steps back. Even when I tried to take care of myself I was falling apart. I couldn't win. The next time I went to see my therapist I was sobbing uncontrollably. I felt like I'd failed. I wanted to be getting better but now it felt like I was getting worse.

My therapist was very reassuring. She told me not to get discouraged, that I was on the path to healing and what I was going through was completely natural. It was like I was going through detox -- my body ridding itself of toxins which manifested as sickness, my skin breaking out, etc. Though exercising, eating healthier and getting rest were obviously steps in the right direction they were still a DRASTIC change in my lifestyle and my body was adjusting. I had to give it time. The path to wellness is a journey. It took 17 years to mess me up. It was going to take more than a week to cure my stress.

Impatient, a control freak, perfectionistic, I tend to be pretty hard on myself and I tend to expect too much too fast. I think in terms of black and white, pass or fail, good or bad, which is more destructive than productive. Our thoughts, behaviours, emotions and physical sensations are all connected, however of the four there are really only two which you can control: thoughts and behaviours. You can't stop what you feel emotionally and physically but you can work on how you think and act, which in turn can help to improve your emotional and physical well-being.

This is what Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is. My automatic thoughts were unfortunately destructive and negative. The therapist gave me a list of "unhelpful thinking patterns" and I had absolutely ALL OF THEM! Every. Single. One. The mind is a powerful thing. What you think and believe become your reality. Black or white/all or nothing thinking, negative mental filter, jumping to conclusions, over-generalizing, catastrophizing, personalising etc -- all these destructive thought patterns were darkening my view of the world (which was frankly already pretty dark and didn't need any help from me!) My homework was to record upsetting events, rationalize them, labeling my negative thought patterns (at least I would nail that part. I LOVE labeling things!) and finally replacing them with a more balanced or positive thought (whether or not I actually believed it.)

Of course not being at work or commuting (my two major stress triggers) I had significantly fewer upsetting events than I normally would but I still managed to find quite a few. When you're a perfectionist you set up impossible standards for yourself and the world around you. Life ISN'T perfect. You CAN'T control everything. You can drive yourself crazy letting every little thing get to you. I found my homework exercise helpful. I'd never done that before -- recorded the details of stressful events and thoughts that occurred throughout the day or challenged them in that way. It allowed me to see how much I overreact to situations. (A LOT!) I was hoping I could learn to tone down my stress response. To become more calm and resilient. To not allow things to bother me so much. To cut myself, others and life some slack because none of us are perfect.

So I was learning to relax, somewhat, during the day. I could find my zen while I was doing yoga and I could slow down my breathing while doing chores and running errands. Laying down at night was another story. Insomnia had always been a problem, particularly in the last decade or so. My mind doesn't come with an off switch. It just keeps spinning -- past regrets, present problems, future dread. From the mundane to-do lists to existential crises. Stress and anxiety make sleep almost impossible. Even now with time off I couldn't relax. Aside from my one fluke night of good sleep I was right back to insomnia again. The lavender and salt weren't helping. Of course a runny nose and cough didn't make it any easier. I lay there for hours unable to FALL asleep. Then I wake up to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water and can't get BACK to sleep. The only time I seem to be really sound asleep is just before the alarm goes off (and alarm is the right word because it is ALARMING! I nearly jump out of my skin and my heart pounds out of my chest from the shock.) I didn't have to go to work but I still had to get Michelle to school on time, which is stressful in itself. Michelle has absolutely no sense of urgency. She takes her sweet time eating breakfast, getting dressed, putting on her coat. Meanwhile I'm rushing to get there on time, but she doesn't worry at all. It's a miracle she's never been late. Sometimes we're running to get in the door before the bell goes off (and the doors lock so you have to go to the office even if you're one minute late.) Slow as molasses. She's usually the last one out too when I go to pick her up at the end of the day. I guess I should be glad she's more easy-going and not stressed out like her Mama. Then again, she's FIVE. 

Even when I do sleep, sometimes I have nightmares. I had one of the worst I'd had in many years. At one point I was running and these horrible creatures were chasing me -- not sure if they were goblins or zombies except that they were misshapen, grotesque, decaying bodies that were after me. I couldn't get away no matter what I did. They followed me even as I ran up the walls like a spider, they'd run up too. I'd jump up and take flight but then they could fly too. They were always at my heels and there was no escape. Usually in my dreams there was an out -- a way to escape the monsters. Usually if I could fly then I could leave them behind or wake up but this was different. They would get me no matter what. I woke up relieved that it was just a dream but totally exhausted as though I really had been running (and jumping and flying!) So even rest wasn't restful. Clearly I had a lot of demons to work out in therapy. You could take me out of my job but could you take my job and the trauma I'd dealt with for so long, out of me? I tried to avoid anything stressful. I didn't want to hear about tragedies in the news. I watched nothing but animated movies with Michelle. I wanted to live in a sweet, happy world of sunshine and rainbows. But I was still haunted, still struggling.

At least Michelle didn't seem affected by what I was going through. She was happy to have me home for a change.

While I had no social life whatsoever Michelle had an active one. She was invited to birthday parties just about every weekend. I was feeling like Hell with my cold and lack of sleep but I managed to drag myself out to take her to a friend's party. I was so tired and my head in a fog so I barely knew what I was doing.

I was so out of it that I got lost. Even though I'd been there before. I wound up having to call her friend's Mom for directions. So we arrived late to paint ceramics at Crock a Doodle. Michelle had wanted to paint a cat sculpture but they were all taken so she settled on a cupcake. I convinced her that that was even better because it was a container that she could put things in. She had a ball painting her pretty purple, pink and turquoise cupcake ceramic. She couldn't wait to see it but I told her it would have to be fired in a kiln and she'd get it later.

I'm glad that Michelle is the opposite of me in so many ways -- happy, friendly, sociable, outgoing, confident. I'm glad that she gets along so well with others. I always struggled with shyness and insecurity. She is a 5 year old social butterfly while Mama is (age withheld!) more of an anti-social moth. But I stray outside of my comfort zone enough to allow Michelle to have some fun. I don't want to hold her back. Even when my nose is running like a tap and my head feels like a block of wood I'm out there trying to make her happy (even if we get lost along the way...)

Even though I felt like a giant bag of Hell, the thought of driving all the way back home for a short time just to have to head all the way back and pick her up again made me more tired than just staying put.

Plus I could take some pictures which being a hopeless photoholic always cheers me up a little. Michelle was mostly having a good time and ignoring the paparazzi (Mama-razzi!) but once in a while she'd throw me a smile!

Michelle and her BFF. I remember when I was a kid and had a BFF or two that I hung out with all the time. I do miss that. When I got older and became involved in romantic relationships that sort of overshadowed any need for friendships. I was never someone who needed a large circle of friends. I preferred to have one best friend. So my boyfriend became my best friend (even though in some cases they should have been my worst enemies!) I jumped from one bad relationship to another because I was afraid to be alone. I never seemed to have trouble finding a boyfriend. I'd break up with someone and meet someone else a day later. Now I've gone six years without meeting or dating anyone. Of course Michelle is my best friend. And I have my sister. But sometimes I wish I had a social circle. Adults to talk to and share things with. Most of the time it just feels like I can't relate to anyone. And these days I am a pretty solitary creature. I do need time to myself.

February (I called it FebRUEary in one of my first posts) was always one of my least favourite months. It's just cold and dark and bleak AF. The shortest month but it feels long waiting for Spring. It used to be the only holiday to break the monotony was Valentine's Day. Being a romantic I used to love Valentine's Day when I was in a relationship. I looked forward to flowers, chocolates or love cards and letters (my personal favourite.) Of course it's different when you're uncoupled. It's hard not to roll your eyes at couples holding hands or commercials for diamond rings. But I do still have the love of my life -- Michelle -- and she made me a sweet Valentine's Day card long before Valentine's Day. She likes drawing us as hearts -- the big Mama heart and the little baby heart, holding hands. So sweet. And I am so grateful for her. Michelle's love and her joy and her irrepressible spirit is what keeps me going even on days when I'm falling apart.

Michelle loves the snow. Well she loves everything really. She will laugh in the rain and splash in the puddles. She laughs in the snow and builds snowmen. She loves the fresh air of Spring and playing in the park, the heat of Summer and going to the beach.

It's different for me. I do need fresh air and sunshine and I love them when the weather is warm but I really struggle with Winter. The cold gets to me. The dark and cold feel oppressive and especially when I already feel fragile. I certainly did not miss the long perilous commutes in bad weather (though sometimes I did have to drive distances to see my doctor etc.) I was grateful to be home most of the time though. Some days it was so bitterly cold you could get frost bite in minutes so I told Michelle we had to go in right away after school. Other days I let her play for a bit.

Writing is therapeutic for me. It has always gotten me through my life's darkest periods -- whether writing poetry, songs, fiction, a journal, this blog -- writing is my release. It helps me to express and to process what I'm going through. I wrote a song about my breakdown: "Enough is enough" and finally got around to posting it on Youtube:

Therapy was also helping me. My therapist told me I was her best patient, or at least the most eager. She would give me homework assignments and I actually did them. (It never occurred to me not to do them. Even when they were as tedious and difficult as pages of math homework.) I filled pages and pages. I was treating it like school -- I was going to ace this. I wanted to get well. I wanted to be "cured." She tried to explain that it's not "pass/fail" and that my perfectionism was just another of my negative thought patterns/traps. No one's life is perfect. It's not possible. Even if they can make it look that way on Instagram. Everyone struggles with their own issues. It's not like I was going to magically solve everything in a day or a week or a month. It was going to be a gradual process -- learning to relax, taking better care of myself, challenging unhelpful thought patterns, becoming more resilient.

Recording my thoughts and emotions, making note of physical sensations etc and then challenging them with alternative balanced, more rational thoughts was a powerful exercise for me. I saw how I was over-reacting to everything. I needed to chill. Some of my alternative thoughts were very positive (I didn't actually believe them when I wrote them I was just putting what I figured you're supposed to say.) She asked me to collect those thoughts and turn them into a list of positive affirmations. Maybe I could train myself to look at things in a more positive light. To not be so hard on myself (and others.) To not be so reactive -- angry and anxious over everything. The thing is when you're IN the stressful situation it's very hard to be objective, to stand back from it and say "Stop it! This isn't helpful or necessary! Why am I letting this get to me?" but I was trying to learn to do that. Even in bad traffic. Even when things went wrong. I didn't have to let everything affect me. Maybe I could learn not to.

Some of my alternative thoughts/affirmations were:
"Be kind and patient -- with yourself and others."
"You can't control everything."
"Focus on the positive."
"You've got this."
"You are safe."
"Life isn't perfect."
"All you need is love."
"It's not the end of the world!"
That last one Michelle actually helped me with. One of the "upsetting events" I recorded was Michelle smashing a glass in the family room. Shit happens but I blamed myself for leaving the glass there and felt guilty. I was upset because her toe was bleeding and everything. In the middle of me freaking out Michelle goes "Mama, it's not the end of the world." OMG I thought, my five year old is more wise than I am. She is zen to my frazzled. I could learn from her. Chillax, Mama. Sheesh.

Social butterfly that she is, Michelle had another birthday party to go to. She had a ball again. I stuck around even though I'd just had dental surgery -- when I kept getting abscesses the dentist suggested I have a portion of my gums removed to prevent it from happening. So I had an appointment with the periodontist. I was surprised my gums didn't even bleed that much. I was on soft foods for a couple of days though which meant I had to say no to pizza when it was offered -- which was not easy let me tell you!

It was nice to talk to a couple of the other Moms while the kids played in the indoor playground, with slides and a climbing wall. I didn't even get to take that many pictures of Michelle because I wound up socializing which was a nice change.

Not having a social network and being home most of the time now I don't have much interaction with other grown ups. It's mostly just Michelle and me. Sometimes it's nice to talk to other parents. Some of them are really nice. Of course there is still that part of me that feels like an outsider because I am still the only single Mom. I know there must be other single parents out there but they don't seem to be at Michelle's school or anywhere else we go. Or if they are they're not wearing signs saying "I'm a single parent!" (Then again, neither am I. Though I think the fact that I'm NEVER WITH A MAN is a bit of a clue! LOL)

When it snows and it's packing snow, I think as a parent you are morally obligated to build a snowman with your child! At least that's how I feel. As much as I hate snow I force myself to endure it for her sake. She was quite happy building our own Frosty the snowman. Ours had a baby carrot nose, stone eyes, mouth and buttons and a turquoise toque for a hat. I was surprised no one else built a snowman but most people probably wouldn't have time. Also most people are probably sensibly indoors. A lot of people, even kids these days are so hooked on their devices that spending time outdoors isn't even an option. Glued to their cells and tablets and video games and God knows what. Of course I'm not modern. I don't have those gadgets. I'm still old school. We play analog games of Scrabble, Monopoly, ball and building snowmen. Now on stress leave I was trying to limit my computer time even more. I didn't want to see what was trending on Twitter. I didn't want to read what idiotic things Trump was doing. (I just keep hoping he gets impeached.)

We built a snowman in the front yard and a snow kitty in the backyard. And I pulled Michelle around on her little deer sled. She loves it but it's Hell on me. It's hard on my back and shoulders and it knocks the wind right out of me. Sometimes I'll be pulling and huffing and puffing and then suddenly the sled seems really light and I'll see that she's fallen off and is laughing her head off.
"Again Mama!" she laughs mercilessly even as I tell her that Mama CAN'T BREATHE.
"OK but this..." huffing and puffing, "is the LAST TIME!" I say. Then she still says "AGAIN!" mercilessly right afterward.
"What part of THIS IS THE LAST TIME did you not--"
Oh well. It's a workout. At least I got a picture of her smiling, waiting for her next ride around the yard.

As much as I hate the snow, I do love the snowmen and snow kitties once they're done. It's like when I was in school, I HATED writing essays but I loved having written them. I like when things are DONE. I like going inside and having a hot chocolate and looking out the window to see the cute snow creature that you built together. They say you're supposed to be mindful and present in the moment but when it's a moment you don't particularly like, when it's cold or difficult, sometimes the moment after is the best. When it's over with and you got through it and now you're safe and warm inside...

I adore children's books and can never resist getting them for Michelle. We got this set of Brad Meltzer books from her Scholastic book order and I LOVED THEM! They were challenging for Michelle to read but very inspiring and she loved them too. She even did a book report about Jane Goodall. It was beautiful to see Michelle take an interest in these extraordinary courageous women who dared to pursue their dreams and to do what people said was impossible. She was fascinated by the braille alphabet in the Helen Keller book as well and wrote a few phrases in braille (just drawing the dots on paper.) Brad Meltzer has a whole series of these books for children and I think they're wonderful. "Mama," Michelle asked. "Could they make a book like this about me someday?"
"Maybe sweetheart," I told her, "if you do something great to change the world for the better." And she just might. I'm so proud of my girl.

More than doing yoga, aromatherapy, breathing techniques or going for massages, one of the best ways to de-stress was spending time with Michelle. She is my happy place and I love when we can share good times together.

When I was working so much, not having time with her added to my stress. Michelle loved having me home again. I worried how she would deal with it when I went back to work. For now we were enjoying the time together. We were both looking forward to seeing the new "Peter Rabbit" movie. It looked hilarious from the previews. Movies are an escape. Being caught up in a make believe, magical world was a nice change from the real and horrifying world that I had been immersed in at work, watching the news etc.

Peter Rabbit was AMAZING and we loved it. It was as hilarious as I'd expected and more heart-warming than I'd hoped.

I realized how much I loved being in Michelle's world -- reading children's books, watching kids' movies -- I wanted to focus on that sweet, funny, magical, beautiful world. I wanted talking animals. I wanted sunshine and unicorns and rainbows. I didn't want murder and mayhem. Some people are drawn to drama and horror in shows and movies. There were times in my life when I loved them too, but right now, when I'm trying to be gentle with myself, when I'm trying to heal mentally and physically, I am glad to inhabit a child's world for now.

We already had one snow kitty in the yard but it was another good day for packing snow and Michelle wanted to build more cats. She wanted to try one entirely on her own. Hers is on the left, mine on the right. She actually did really well! She rolled the balls herself, smoothed and shaped it herself. She wouldn't let me help her at all. As usual I was more excited to go in afterward but it is good to get some fresh air once in a while even if it is cold winter air.

Though my cold symptoms became less severe (I didn't have the constant runny nose and cough) they never entirely went away either. The only thing worse than being sick myself was when Michelle was sick. Then again she'd pretty much been sick since she started school in September. Whether it was the same never-ending cold or a thousand different ones it seemed almost endless. Sometimes it would seem to get better only to get worse again. Any time I took her to the doctor she just said it's natural for kids to get sick all the time. It helps to build up their immunity. She suggested a puffer but Michelle didn't want it so we just sort of put up with it. Kids are magnets for germs. Every time she's around other kids (which is ALWAYS since she started school) she picks something up. At least it wasn't going to put a damper on Valentine's Day.

I spoiled Michelle because it's what I do. I can't help it. I see something cute or pretty and I can't resist. If she'd been a boy there would have been a lot less temptation to buy things but I love girl's toys. I'm still just a big kid myself so it's hard not to get things for her when I love them too.

She got toys and stuffies and chocolates of course. I don't mind not getting presents. I have more fun giving things to her. And she did make me beautiful cards and pictures. We ordered a heart shaped pizza to celebrate as well.

Yet another birthday party. Michelle was a popular girl. This time a boy's party where she was the ONLY GIRL THERE! There were a couple of others invited but she was the only one brave enough to show up I guess! I was afraid she wouldn't survive and wasn't sure what I'd find when I went to pick her up. Michelle had a ball. Boys can be pretty wild but Michelle held her own. I'm glad that she's both a girlie girl and able to be tough tomboy too sometimes. It was nice to have a couple of hours to myself but it wasn't really enough time to get anything done. Somehow even when I'm home there don't seem to be enough hours in the day. Of course when you're a single Mom you don't actually get much time to yourself except when your child is in school but even that's only a few hours. (Six hours FLIES BY. Then again six months flies by so it's no wonder!)

I love these animal headbands Michelle has! She gets a kick out of them too. The cat ears are my fave. She also has flowers, butterflies, Princess tiaras. She has one for just about every occasion and to match any outfit. On this day she was all about kittens and rainbows (with a t-shirt to match!)

I asked Michelle what she wanted to do that day and she wanted a trip to Play Place. We hadn't been in a while. My Mom wanted a visit as well. Now that I wasn't working I wasn't seeing her nearly as often. My Mom was actually relieved she didn't have to watch Michelle now because my Mom hasn't been feeling well and Michelle can be exhausting. Still, my Mom was missing us and wanted a visit. I decided we could come for the day and stay over then visit with May for Family Day. So I took my Mom shopping, let Michelle play at Play Place and then we stayed at Grandma's. Michelle was happy to have me there with her for a change. Usually going to Grandma's meant that I was rushing off to work and leaving her.

Michelle loved Play Place. She had a blast and made new friends as she always does, even with much older girls. As I watch Michelle I'm always in awe of how easily she talks to other girls. She is so confident and comfortable with herself that she can just approach anyone and say hi and ask them to play.

In a million years I can't imagine going up to a total stranger and saying "Hi!" Even as a child. If they didn't come to me, I just didn't meet them.

I enjoy just living vicariously through Michelle and watching her have fun. I'm more comfortable on the sidelines watching her and snapping photos.

Michelle made this adorable portrait at my sister's place for Family Day. My brothers couldn't make it but it was just as well because they never would have fit in the family portrait! It was quite a squeeze as it was. I love that she subconsciously made us larger than the rest of the family (or maybe she just ran out of room as she went on.) I love that every time she draws my dad (with his tiny tufts of hair) it actually looks just like him!
Of course I had to get the group photo of us as well. I was so grateful to May having us over for Family Day. Normally we don't celebrate it together (I can't even remember other years -- I was probably working anyway or something.) Apparently Family Day started in Alberta in 1990. Saskatchewan followed suit in 2007 and Ontario in 2008. Corresponding with President's Day in the U.S. it gives people a holiday to spend time with family and to break the monotony of a miserable month like February I guess.

Even the rain can't dampen Michelle's spirit. The weather was warming up at least. It seemed like Spring. Unfortunately it was grey and raining. Michelle asked if she could splash in the puddles. It was after school and I knew she could just change afterward so I said sure. I didn't want her splashing in puddles on the road and there wasn't much on the sidewalk. There were some puddles in the backyard so that seemed perfect.

I was thinking it was just going to be water. No biggie. What I hadn't counted on was the MUD. Michelle wound up with wet, muddy pants and boots. Muddy water INSIDE her boots. But she had a ball so it was worth it. I just had to put her boots upside down and wash her pants.

Michelle loves making books. At one point she made a book about feelings. I love her sweet, simple explanations for the emotions: "Sad is an emotion if you have a scrape or cut." Luckily Michelle only gets a little bit sad when she falls and gets hurt. Sometimes not even then. The rest of the time she's happy. "Mad is like someone says something mean to you." Yeah, that made me mad too. Unfortunately a lot of other things made me angry -- bad drivers in traffic, bad weather, bad things in general -- all the things I couldn't control. Anger and anxiety became so much a part of me while I was working but I know now from working with the therapist that this was because of my basic needs not being met. I sank to a primitive level. Fight or flight took over. Everything was a threat. With time to heal now hopefully I'm softening and not so on edge all the time.

In Michelle's world of hearts and rainbows, everyone is happy. Life is perfect. I want to live in that world. Of course my therapist reminds me -- life isn't perfect. There will always be problems, there will always be bad days. No one is happy ALL THE TIME. Even those living the good life experience sadness as well as happiness, they have a sense of purpose and playfulness. They are resilient. The don't feel helpless. They feel ultimately in control of their own fate. I want to get there.

One day it was warm enough to go for a bike ride. (Well not really but Michelle wanted to go and I said OK just around the block.) Her head has grown since last year. We could barely squeeze her helmet onto her head! I figured I'd have to get her a new one.

I was debating whether this would be the year we'd take her training wheels off and have Michelle learn to ride on two wheels. I want her to learn of course and to feel independent, but at the same time of course the control freak in me is TERRIFIED! I can imagine nervously running along side her while she tries to get her balance. I will have to get her some really good knee and shoulder pads as well! I can't remember who taught me to ride a bike. I guess it was my Mom and dad. It will be hard for me to let go. To have Michelle try (and possibly fail) to ride a two wheeler on her own. Maybe we'll wait til next year...

Michelle has an agenda for school and every week there is space to mark off how many books you read and to list them. Then you can choose one to do a book report on. Last year she would just draw the picture and tell me what she wanted to write. Now she can draw and illustrate her own report. I love her adorable drawings. I cherish her agenda. I always look forward to seeing her work. I keep all of her school work too. I'm sentimental that way. There is already so much art and she's only 5. I can't imagine how I'll store it all as she gets older but I can't bear to part with any of her drawings.

Every time we go to the indoor playground, or anywhere, Michelle either meets a friend or makes a friend. This time she ran into an old friend from her class last year. And they were both in polka dots! What are the odds?!

I love to see Michelle running around and having fun. After the incident the last time we went to the playground Michelle knew to check in with me periodically so I wouldn't worry. She was pretty good about coming over to say Hey Mom every so often. (Of course she was also usually dying of thirst from running around and wanted a sip of her water so it wasn't JUST to calm Mama's nerves!) I love watching her play and getting pictures of her. A lot of the other parents don't even seem to watch their kids, unless they're very young. Most people are glued to their cellphones/tablets.

Michelle and me, riding on a rainbow. I love this picture. I love all of her pictures but this one especially. She did two drawings, one of us in the rain and the next us riding a rainbow. I guess that the message is not to worry about the rain. It will be OK and we will be riding rainbows in no time.

I try not to pay attention to the horrors in the news anymore. Sometimes my Mom calls me to tell me when something has happened or I may catch a disturbing Twitter trend when I'm online for a few minutes. But mostly I don't want to know. I limit my Twitter time to a few minutes here and there. And I have one show a week that I watch/tweet. (Usually just reality TV -- the Bachelor franchise and Survivor.) Most people watch like 10 shows. I usually only have one at a time. At work I was in front of a computer for 12 hours. I think the less time I spend in front of a screen the better. The times I feel the most zen -- while doing yoga, reading, writing and painting, playing guitar, going somewhere beautiful with Michelle -- are when I am not glued to a screen. Though admittedly writing this blog is therapeutic as well so I do spend some time on the computer. This has taken me months to write though -- a little bit here and there rather than all at once.

Someone recommended I read Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning" months ago. I finally got around to it. It was a powerful book. Though a depressing subject it winds up being inspiring and illuminating. Frankl shares his harrowing experiences living in the Auschwitz concentration camp and shows that one thing can never be taken from you -- your inner freedom to chose how you react to situations. You can choose to keep your human dignity no matter what. Yes when your needs aren't met it's hard not to sink to a primitive level. It's hard to be positive in a negative world. But you can. If you have hope and something to live for. If you still believe in love and beauty even amid so much ugliness. Nietzsche said "He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how." Frankl developed a branch of psychotherapy called "logotherapy" -- basically therapy based on your meaning and purpose in life. When your life is meaningful you feel much happier. Of course for me, Michelle is my reason for being. She is what keeps me going. When I was working so much that I couldn't even see her it was especially stressful. Reading the book I could relate to much of what he was saying. Of course nothing I ever went through could compare to being in a concentration camp yet I was routinely exposed to horrors and human suffering through my work. Some people react to the onslaught of anguish by shutting down, they become desensitized, inhuman. Others break down, physically or mentally. Someone warned me many years ago, if you care too much the world will break your heart. The job did toughen me up to a point but I never lost my sensitivity or compassion. And in the end I'd had enough and couldn't take it anymore. One thing Frankl's book illustrates though is that no matter how bleak it seems, no matter what you are going through, if you have a reason, a purpose then you can keep going. And your life always has meaning. Even in suffering. You can never lose sight of that.

Sunshine is always a welcome change from dark days. Michelle and I both loved the nice weather. She asked if we could go to the park and she was thrilled when I said yes. It's amazing how much just a little fresh air can lift your spirit. In the winter, cooped up for so long without any fresh air (especially at work where there are no windows that even open. Just the same stale recirculated air coming through a loud oppressive fan) you can feel trapped, stifled. Long, cold grey winter days seem bleak. Then suddenly the hope of Spring helps you to feel alive again. You can be outside in the sun.
Lack of sunshine and vitamin D can drag you down. That on top of sleep deprivation and stress didn't help. I was so depleted. Having time off to repair and recharge was a godsend. I was so grateful for it. I was doing everything that I could to get well. I was trying to think more positively. Trying to catch myself when I fell into negative patterns. It comes so naturally that it's hard to reprogram. I wish I could just be happy effortlessly like Michelle. Life is a beautiful adventure to her. Nothing gets her down for very long, if at all. It's all good. She has boundless energy and enthusiasm. She can run and jump and climb and never get tired. Of course it's easier when you're a kid. What does she have to worry about? She couldn't be more loved. She gets all of my attention. She gets spoiled rotten. She has no worries or responsibilities. Life is sweet. Even as a child I don't think I ever quite had that. I always felt like I had to compete for attention and love and never really got it. And being introverted made it harder to connect with others.

I told her you're supposed to go DOWN slides, not up them but she was determined. She kept slipping and laughing until finally she made it up. I managed to capture this moment while she was halfway up, grinning ear to ear. Sitting in the sunshine, watching Michelle laugh and have fun I could feel the knot in my stomach loosen. I could feel my breathing slow down. I could be mindful for a few moments and just take it all in. Life is good. For a few moments here and there I manage to stop worrying, stop thinking and just BE PRESENT to enjoy the moment. But then I'm right back to thinking again from the trivial questions: "What am I going to make for dinner?" to the bigger more stressful ones: "What am I going to do with my life?!"

The nice weather didn't last. Winter would come back with a vengeance like an icy slap in the face but at least we had our day in the sun. I even wore pink. A walk in the woods in the fresh air nourishes the soul.

For moments here and there I can find my zen. When I'm in the sunshine with Michelle, or at the Butterfly Conservatory, or doing yoga. For moments I can feel strong, safe, at peace. And life is beautiful and I'm OK. But it's the unpleasant moments that I struggle with. When things go wrong, in stressful situations, in bad traffic, when faced with the ugliness of the world. I have to find a way to keep my peace, even in the midst of chaos. That's the hardest thing to learn and I'm not there yet. I'm hoping to get there. Because life is not perfect and it's not all sunshine and rainbows and you have to be able to face difficulties head on without falling apart.

I knew that I relied on therapy but I didn't realize just how much until one day at the end of the month I showed up for my session and the office was in darkness and there was a note on the door that my appointment was cancelled. My therapist had a personal emergency and couldn't make it. I was in shock. The office had tried to call but I was already on my way. That session each week really helped to ground me. Now I was kind of in limbo. I left the building in a daze. It felt like I was cast adrift, rudderless. I realized how much I depended on those sessions. To have someone really listen, a detached observer, a wise and sympathetic ear to tell me everything would be OK. I needed that. Now I just felt lost. Hollow. I didn't know what to do with myself. I needed some groceries so I went to No Frills but I wandered around like a zombie. I felt alien to everything around me. I didn't even know what I was doing. One of my exes, a Scientologist, would have called it "not being in Present Time." It was the opposite of Mindful. I was Mindless. I was just floating in a daze. Somehow I made it home.

Talking to my sister helped. Whenever I call her somehow she always makes me laugh in spite of myself. She reminded me about the movie "What about Bob?" I wasn't about to follow my psychologist to wherever she might be. I just hoped that she was OK and that she'd be back the following week. I came to appreciate her even more. I watched "What About Bob?" with Michelle and she liked it too. (She was already a Bill Murray fan after "Ghostbusters" and "Garfield.") I hadn't seen it in so long. It was good to watch again. Especially now that I'm going through my own psychological issues. "What About Bob?" is such a cute movie. Bill Murray's character may be a neurotic mess but he's still lovable. I'm not quite as OCD as he is but I have my moments. And like him, I need to take baby steps to get over my anxiety. Michelle and I also watched "Groundhog Day" which in a way is about mindfulness. Sometimes we plow through our days too just to get through them, too wrapped up in ourselves to really notice or care about the world around us. We don't take the time to live to the fullest and enjoy each moment. When he has to live the same day over and over he eventually learns that life is precious and that you might as well put your heart into everything you do. If you only had one day to live, wouldn't you want to make it the best day ever? Once he learns that lesson, the cycle is broken. Of course we never know when a day may be our last so shouldn't we always strive to make it a good day?

Luckily writing (and art) is a great therapist and is always there at all hours of the day. I can always pick up a pen (or pencil) and spill my guts if/when I need too. I can scribble down my thoughts, write a song, paint a picture and then, for a few moments at least, I'm free of it. This blog helps me. Even when it's tough to find the time. It helps to vent. To get it all out. To spill it onto the page or the screen. I've never been very good at holding things in. I probably share WAY too much on here but I've got to be me! Open book. Heart on my sleeve. It's preferable to having my head explode trying to hold it all in. And when I log in to blogger and look at the statistics on my dashboard (view count/sources/audience by country etc) I'm always amazed to see readers all around the world reading my blog. So thank you if you are one of them and I hope that if you're going through anything similar that my story helps in some way. We each think that we're alone falling apart and that everyone else has their shit together. Hint: they probably don't! Some people are just better at holding it all in or looking like they do anyway.

We're into April now as I finish this post. I will try to write a post about March and April by May. Hopefully it will be with good news. It's supposed to be Spring now although Winter seems to be lingering lately. We even had SNOW again. IN APRIL! But it can't last forever. Hope springs eternal. Better and brighter days ahead. The weather is just one of the many things beyond my control. I have to remember the Serenity prayer and to just accept those uncontrollable things without stressing about them. To be brave enough to take control of the few things I can, to make changes I need to make, even though it scares me. To be wise enough to realize what I can and can't control. Also I need to cut myself some slack. Life is not black and white, pass or fail. It's not perfect and no one has all their shit together no matter how happy they may look in their online photos! I don't take photos of my worst moments either. None of us do. It's the smiles that we show. Of course in this blog I'm sharing my tears too, in words rather than pictures. I need this. Writing is therapy. It has always been there for me and has gotten me through my darkest moments.

I am a work in progress. I'm not perfect. Right now I feel like a mess. I've been through a rough time but I'm trying to get better. I'm hoping to figure things out but I'm not quite there yet. It's scary because the future is uncertain. It's one thing to admit when something isn't working. It's quite another to find and commit to a workable solution. As a creature of habit change, even a change for the better, is always terrifying for me. I have been struggling for a long time. I know that getting help is a step in the right direction but it's still scary as hell. I tend to be impatient. I want answers, resolutions, cures instantaneously. I just want everything to be OK. I want my ducks in a row. I want to have it all figured out. But it doesn't work that way. Life is a journey not a destination. You learn and grow as you go. It's not always easy but you have to find a way to endure the bad and enjoy the good along the way. We roll our eyes at cliches but they're usually right. The only way out is through. The life that you're meant to have is on the other side of your greatest fear. Breakdown. Breakthrough. Crisis. Opportunity. I'm not perfect but I'm trying to learn, grow and become a better person. And I'm grateful for the chance to do so...