Tuesday, 19 June 2012

"You've Got a Friend"

Winter, spring, summer, or fall
All you have to do is call
And I'll be there, yeah, yeah, yeah
You've got a friend.

"You've Got a Friend" James Taylor

Friendship. What a powerful and all important word. To me it means more than words can possibly express, although I am going to give it a shot.

Friends have gotten me through my most difficult difficult times, times with my depression when I felt hopeless. What kept me alive in my darkest moments was the knowledge that I was, in fact, loved by my family and friends. That's pretty important because when you are suffering from deep depression you start to feel unworthy of love and friendship. Luckily, I was reminded by my friends that they were there for me. You know how they did that? Through technology and social media.

For a few days I have been thinking about this post. I knew that I wanted to write about the positive impact that social media has had on me but I wasn't quite sure how to link it to my illness and subsequent recovery. As I lay in bed this morning I knew that today was the day I would write it but I still hadn't come up with that connection, the element that would help me communicate my thoughts and feelings. So I sat down at my computer and opened up facebook. There were a few comments on my photos from my recent vacation - from my Aunt in Port Hardy, a lifelong friend in Alberta, cousins in Medicine Hat, and a new friend in Maple Ridge. But I also had a message. As I opened the message and began to read, I started to cry. It was from a long-time friend in another city who was reaching out to me. She was recently diagnosed with anxiety and depression and was struggling with illness that I know all too well. Quite simply, it broke my heart. But I was also happy that she had chosen not to suffer alone.

If it hadn't been for social media, facebook in this case, we very likely wouldn't be connected. We wouldn't be able to share similar experiences and, as a result, create another level of friendship. That's a gift, in my mind.

Mental illness very often isolates people. By nature of the disease, a person suffering withdraws from social interaction. Sadly, this is usually one of the worst things that we can do. In the book Your Depression Map by Randy J. Paterson, Ph.D., Paterson writes, "When people become emotionally overwhelmed, their social lives are usually among the first areas to be affected. In depression, for example, social isolation is one of the primary symptoms. Unfortunately, it only makes the depression worse."

This was certainly the situation in my case. As I have written before, I lost some friends over the years as a result of this. But others were amazing and recognized that I needed time and space to heal and were there when I needed them. And when I needed them I often turned to facebook or email. Because one on one interaction, never mind group interaction, was simply overwhelming to me most of the time, social media allowed me the distance, yet connection, that I needed. I could open up facebook and find a message of love or a silly joke that never failed to help me make it to the next hour. Facebook, quite literally, was a lifeline to me.

As I slowly became well, I thought about how I could share my experiences with depression, to make others feel less alone and, hopefully, break down the walls of stigma and misunderstanding. From that, Adventures of a Survivor was born and I have never looked back.

Many people find social media overwhelming or scary or a combination of both. But you can make it what you need it to be. I am very conscious of what I allow into my brain these days so my rule is "no negative content"! If I am following someone on Twitter or a friend on facebook sends out hateful words or uses lots of profanity, that's a deal breaker for me. As a result, I am pretty happy with the connections that I have cultivated through social media - they feed my soul, provide inspiration, and nurture my mental health. And yes, I have made new like-minded friends - for that I am really grateful!

I have attached a link below to an article in the June 19th Vancouver Sun written by Daphne Bramham. In it, Bramham writes about the power of social media to create community. No longer do we turn to our neighbours for help, we turn to social media and the communities that we create there.

In the message that my friend sent me, she said that when she was in her dark moments she would open facebook and look at the pages of a few friends who offered inspiration and hope - she found comfort in this because she knew that she wasn't alone.  If that doesn't speak to the power of social media as a connector, then I don't know what does.

To my dear, beautiful friend, this is dedicated to you. Thank you for reaching out and thank you for your friendship all these years.

KB xo

Monday, 11 June 2012

"New Rules"

"I don't want to get to the end of my life and find that I just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well." ~ Diane Ackerman

What does it mean to truly "live" your life? Does it mean surviving the ups and downs? Does it mean following the rules? Or does it mean something else?

I am inclined to agree with Ms. Ackerman - there is something more to it than simply the years lived. But how do we live the width of it and what does that really mean? Well, I think that the road that we each choose to get there will look different but in the end, it's all the same - living a truly authentic life, one in which we make up our own rules.

How often in life do we do things simply because we "should" or because "it's expected of me"? Too many times to count. In my last post I must have touched a nerve because it was one of my most popular, one that lots of you contacted me about. You told me that it resonated with you and that you were trying to find ways to become more YOU - not someone else's version of who you should be. I think that another step in that direction, in the search for authenticity, is to challenge the rules. What feels right to you? What doesn't? Bend the rules. Break some. And completely rewrite others.

I am going to use my mom as an example (pretty sure she won't mind!). She is the mom of adult children and a grandmother and she defies all expectations of what that should look like. She loves Bruno Mars and Adam Levine from Maroon 5. She's super silly. She loves a good debate about politics or religion. And she didn't put aside her hobbies and opinions when she got married 43 years ago, like many from her generation seemed to do. Kudos to my dad who didn't ask her to. She didn't let the expectations of society in the late '60's hold her back and she still follows her own path.

I recently stumbled across something on Pinterest that caught my attention: "Incomplete Manifesto For Change" by Bruce Mau. I have no idea who Bruce Mau is or what his complete manifesto (!) might look like but I kinda like what I saw:
#14: Don't Be Cool
#15: Ask Stupid Questions
#18: Stay up Late

Pretty sure that Mau is on to something. If I were to have my own manifesto, it might look something like this:
#1: Be Silly and Don't Apologize For It
#7: Be an Awesome Version of YOU
#16: Write Your Own Rules (then break some!)

If you follow the rules that others set for you, you might live long. But doesn't living the width of your life sound pretty fun? As the great American writer and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Do your thing."

KB xo

P.S. For the record, my dad hasn't let rules define him either. He was often the family cook when my brother and I were growing up and he does a mean load of laundry!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

"Popeye The Sailor Man"

"I yam what I yam and that's all that I yam!" ~ Popeye The Sailor Man

You have to hand it to that Popeye. He was pretty clear about who he was (a Sailor Man) and what he liked (Olive Oyl, Sweet Pea, and spinach!). I admire that. How many of us really know who we are? Do you? How many of us know and are OK with it? Are you? That's the million dollar question.

Our society constantly bombards us with reminders that we actually aren't OK as we are. We need to look younger, be fitter, eat better, be funnier, be less funny, have better clothes, spend more money on clothes, spend less money on clothes, get married, don't get married, drive a better car, no - bike to work! And on and on and on. It can feel a bit like being stuck between a rock and hard place at times. Any way you turn you seem to be getting it all wrong. What is the right thing to do? What is the right thing for ME? If you don't know who you are to begin with it's kind of a hard question to answer.

"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be."

I came across this quote from the author Kurt Vonnegut and it stopped me in my tracks. Pretty powerful. We seem to spend a lot of time in our society pretending. It made me ask myself, am I pretending? Sometimes it feels like it. Sometimes I feel like I am playing at my job, like when I was a little girl and used to like to play "office" (boring, I know!). I feel that way because occasionally I simply lack confidence. But there's another reason, too.

I have often said that living with and surviving depression, although awful, has also been a gift. It's a gift because it has forced my hand, so to speak. It has made me examine things such as my life purpose - what is truly important to me? I have had to begin the task of peeling back the layers of the onion, discovering who I really am. Some days I love what I discover, such as the increased creativity and my newly found love of writing. Or a higher level of compassion. Other days I am not so enamoured with what I see - I could do with less of my instant irritability and how that shapes my interactions with people (pretty sure others could happily do without that as well - just a hunch).

As I peel away layer after layer, I feel like I am getting closer and closer to the real me. Because I refuse to believe that my experience with mental illness has been all for nought, I have embraced the opposite - that we all have a purpose and that hard times are there for opportunity, opportunity to grow. And this is why sometimes I feel like I am pretending at life. Because as I get closer to the real me, I get closer to authenticity. The times that aren't quite authentic feel more so.

So how do we recognize those moments when we feel less than authentic? It starts with listening to your heart and your intuition - what feels good and what simply doesn't? About ten years ago when my friends and my younger brother started getting married and having kids I felt like I should, too. That there was something wrong with me that I wasn't. Quite honestly, I felt pretty miserable. But then I realized something. That was never my dream. Never. Once I recognized that I could let it go. I did and I was free to move on without regret.

Practise telling yourself that you are OK as you are and not beating yourself up for your less than perfect moments. Remind yourself what makes you unique and embrace that. I'll go first. I have a sarcastic sense of humour. Absolutely, without a doubt, it is sometimes less than fully appreciated (!). But you know what? I kind of like my sense of humour anyway. I am tall - 5'11". Some women would hate that. It has never bothered me, even when I was always the tallest kid in school. I kind of like my height because it makes me unique.

Oh, and I suffer from mental illness. Now "that", I am still attempting to "embrace". It certainly makes me different from many, but not all. It's debilitating at times and has also been almost life-ending. But it has given me those gifts that I spoke about earlier. So I guess the journey that it has taken me on has been worth it after all.

So who am I? I am ME: a human being, far from perfect, who is moving steadily closer to realizing my potential. And, like Popeye, I enjoy spinach.

KB xo

P.S. This post, like many things in my life, was inspired by my Mother and my Grandma Pringle, the original Sweet Pea!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

"Do You Believe In Magic?"

"Magic is believing in yourself. If you can do that, you can make anything happen." ~ Wolfgang Von Goethe

I did something new last night, something that I may have done as a child or perhaps on a visit to Las Vegas. I watched a magic show. There were three magicians. The first one was entertaining but a bit predictable - the standard magic tricks with a side serving of silly, slightly corny jokes. The second magician performed a series of illusions involving photographs that were pretty cool and definitely left me scratching my head as to how he did them. The third was my friend Jamie.

Jamie isn't just a magician, he's an entertainer creating illusions but also weaving a story about his own journey in following his love for magic. With the other two magicians I was entertained but I mostly sat back in my seat. As soon as Jamie took the stage I was on the edge of my seat - I was as riveted by his sense of humour and fun stories as I was by his very cool magic. I could feel his energy and pleasure in what he was doing. He created a connection with the audience by letting us peak behind the curtain. No, he wouldn't budge on sharing his secrets to his magic (!) but he did share stories that made us feel like we were all friends.  The line between entertainer and audience became blurred.

Any performer or artist who gets up on stage is really taking a risk. When you share something of yourself you risk rejection. I so strongly admire these people who put themselves out there. We see this a lot in life but we might not always recognize it. Yes, it's an obvious example when a singer steps onstage or an artist displays a painting - the potential risks for rejection and criticism are obvious. But as human beings we put ourselves out there to varying degrees every day. Sometimes people get us and sometimes they don't.

I had a reminder of this recently when my actions and words were misinterpreted. I voiced my opinion and shared how I was feeling about something but with not such great results - no rounds of applause or standing ovations, sadly! Kind of the opposite, in fact. As part of my struggle with depression, I don't always have complete control of my moods. It's not an excuse, it's a reality of mental illness. It's something that I am quite aware of but in the moment I can't always control. If I am happy, I am usually pretty darn happy. If I am down, angry, or frustrated then guess what? It's usually amplified. Bipolar? Yes. I am still working on managing this aspect of my depression and sometimes I am pretty good at it, sometimes not so much. When I talk about my illness or even share an opinion or thought, I am putting myself out there and opening myself up to critique.

But here's the thing, I am kind of OK with that. Sure, it never feels good to have conflict of any sort and I always regret if I hurt someones feelings with a hasty word. The thing that I am OK with, is learning from my mistakes and growing from them. The risks are worth the rewards in choosing to be open and expressive in all aspects of my life. The value is in recognizing your less than finer moments in life, owning them, and then moving forward that much stronger.

Back to Jamie. I mentioned that he wove a story throughout his performance. He did this by asking a simple question, "When? When did I become a magician?" I have been thinking about that question since he posed it last night and I have adapted it to me. My question is, "When? When will I reach my full potential?" The answer for me is simple - not anytime soon, I hope. The fun is in putting myself out there, accepting the risks, and reaping the rewards. I hope to have a long life full of challenge and passion. I think it's all over the moment we stop learning and growing.

So, as Jamie continues to hone his craft and live his passion, I'm going to do the same. In the end, our magic will be the same: believing in ourselves.

KB xo

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