The futility and stress of anger

I have a tendency to react before I think through events that have happened. My mom used to say I was "cutting off my nose to spite my face," and I pretty much ignored what that meant until I was well into the process of adulting my way through life.

I'm trying to remember at least one situation that I made a choice in the heat of the moment that I later regretted. I know it happened - more often than I'd like to admit back in my teens - but I can't seem to dredge up any examples from the depths of my brain. After all, this year, my teens are officially over 20 years ago. (Whoa.)

The thing is, I learned this response from both my parents. My mom and dad both had strong views and reacted with equal strength at times. They weren't hotheads, getting angry at the least little thing. There was usually a good reason, but their reactions weren't as measured as I believe either of them would have preferred to be. It didn't help that my mother had to take steroids as part of her treatment for neurosarcoidosis. I'm pretty sure we're kinda wired to have strong feelings, too. That doesn't mean it has to be the default reaction, though.

Mom eventually mellowed, partly due to a therapist that helped her figure out how to look at things differently so that anger and irritation weren't the default response. (Frankly, when you're chronically ill, is it all that shocking when there are bursts of anger from time to time? Because that's a sucky way to live.) My dad has mellowed, too. I think living just gives you a different perspective in these situations if you're open to it.

Being with Matt for the past 19+ years, I've mellowed too. Matt is ridiculously slow to anger - in fact, I've only seen him get truly angry a couple times and it comes nowhere close to what most people think of as an anger response. It's been humbling to watch how he reacts and compare myself to him. I never went to therapy but watching others in potentially charged situations has helped me learn the value of taking a step back to breathe and think.

My son has been the best possible teacher in this. He does such frustrating things. Try to imagine someone who's more stubborn than my son and you probably won't succeed. (Well, unless you know someone who thinks very literally, black-and-white, wrong-and-right about the world.) Communicating with him about various issues and events can feel like you're driving in circles and can't find a single exit that goes to your destination - or even close to it. 

I've had to remind myself that there's a reason for his response to every situation. When I remember to stop and talk to him about it, I get to understand him better so I can help him navigate similar circumstances when he experiences them in the future. And I've reinforced those ideas for myself in the process. 

One thing I've started to do is go to trusted friends for a gut check. That one step of describing a situation and asking for their input has made an enormous difference. Especially when I'm advocating for my child. 

Report cards came home recently and I have yet to sign and send his back because of one teacher's grades and comments. They're infuriating, particularly since I had no warning, despite meeting with her just a few weeks prior. I've done several gut checks. Described the situation to friends who are removed from it. I've talked to a friend who has two children in classes with this teacher - one is Brandon's best friend. 

My view has been validated, but I haven't gotten to the point where I don't want to swear when I talk about it, so I'm waiting a bit longer to address it. Because I've learned how much anger stresses me out and that it won't help me to get what B needs from school. Instead, I want to use it to drive the right actions to make things better for him. 

Anger's not a bad thing. But I think we have to be careful how we express it and when. You never want anger to undermine your ability to get the right response and you certainly don't want to regret decisions, actions, or words you make, take, or say in anger.

Overcoming creative paralysis

When I started the year, I had every intention of spending a lot of time writing. And I have, but pretty much only for work. Not that I don't love writing for work because I do. It helps that I'm still somewhat ridiculously happy to have the title "writer" in an official capacity instead of being an assumed role. It's not like this is the first time I've ever been paid to write, so it's a little silly that I'm so happy about it. But I am and I'll enjoy it until the shine wears off.

The thing is, I feel so weird about the world right now. My anxiety spikes when I look at the news for very long. So I avoid it. Then I feel guilty for being uninformed. So I go back to looking at the news and I feel scared, sad, disappointed, scared, and anxious. 

Even engaging in conversations with friends about current events feels like a minefield I don't want to go near. Emotions are high. Opinions are strong. People are hurt and scared and so very divided, even where intentions are good.

I have so many thoughts that I'm uncomfortable sharing because of the charged atmosphere we live in today. It took me a while to be okay with that. I think it's important to speak up but if it's going to create even more anxiety than reading the news because of the divisive nature of these discussions then I can't be the one to speak up. And I can live with that. 

Now that I've gotten past the constant tug of war in my head, I feel like I can finally write again. I can't use most of the ideas I've had over the past two months but more will come. Besides, I've had some ideas for bigger projects that I'm excited about in the long-term. The kind of projects that end with many words on many pages surrounded by a cover and secured with binding. 

I need to find and focus on the positive. If I don't, I get blocked and anxious. I love that so many people are speaking up about the wrongs being done, though. We need them. And I appreciate them more than I can say. 

I just can't do what they do.

Three words to define my 2017

I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've ever picked three words for the year for myself. Yay me! For the uninitiated, here's what the whole picking three words concept is all about.

To be honest, I didn't think that hard about the words for this year. They came to me pretty easily. Then I started second guessing them, so I waited to write about my choices until I was sure they were the right fit. These three words are all about me taking action but in very different ways. The meanings (for me) are also multi-faceted, but you'll see what I mean.

Write.

So, I'm a writer - just in case you weren't aware. That's my actual job title and I was (and still am) pretty excited (read: stupidly giddy) to be able to say that, even if I've been calling myself a writer for years now.

Choosing this word felt like cheating at first - of COURSE, I'm going to write this year and likely every year for the rest of my days on this twirling rock. And, as mentioned above, it's my job. However, in my eagerness to get up to speed at my new job and improve my health, I've let my personal writing projects fall by the wayside. I don't regret this; it was a conscious decision and it was the right decision but only for the short term. The short term is officially over, but I always planned for it to be over with the holidays anyway. I'm right on schedule. :) 

Journaling has been an important part of my life for nearly 30 years. (Oy, 30 years!!! I guess you get to say that phrase more and more often when you hit the year of the big 4-0!) A friend of mine inspired me to get back to the habit of daily journaling over the holidays - or, uh, last week. I had a run of committed daily journaling for several weeks a few months ago, but as I ramped up my self-care, I found it difficult to make time to keep up the amount of journaling I was doing. So, as my coach urged me to do, I'm being kinder to myself by loosening my standards about when and how much I do. I'd rather keep the habit that I find so valuable and do less of it daily than drop it entirely and lose the benefit. 

My fingers have been so restless to fly over my keyboard and get words out on a blank page on the screen. It's the strangest, but most wonderful feeling to have ideas and words piling up in your head so much that your hands practically vibrate with the need to release them. That's a good sign to me that it's time to blog more and spend time writing the books that are in my head. 

Create.

This is closely related to "write" in some ways, but there's a difference. I've got several book ideas that I've been working on at varying stages. There's a lot of creating that needs to happen. The worlds. The characters. But that can only happen as I excavate the story. I need to make time to create these things. It's invigorating. It's not unusual for me to lose massive amounts of sleep when I get deep into the creating process. It's not unlike reading a really good book. 

The other part of this word is an idea that has been germinating for about six months. I don't know if I'm going to take the steps to pursue this idea yet. I only know I have to start taking steps to decide if it addresses a need and if it's the right time to pursue it. I think it could, but I need to know for sure before it starts to move past the idea stage.

Advocate.

The second part of "create"? That idea has a bit to do with this intention. It's going to be up in the air until spring no matter what. 

Generally, advocacy is always going to be important to me. It is for any parent of a child with special needs. But it isn't solely about supporting my son or the charities that support kids with autism. It's also about advocating for myself and my family. It means saying no to the requests that don't move me in the right direction. It means saying yes to those that do when I can make the time. It means considering the whole picture - my family, my work, me, my goals, our goals.

I'm a strong supporter of Ottawa businesswomen in addition to the occasional work I do for autism charities. I love these things and I want to always contribute to them, but my level of commitment will vary over time as my focus changes. This is part of advocating for me and my family and maintaining balance in the work I do for the causes I'm passionate about.

Choosing these words got me excited about 2017 and the possibilities that exist. One of my favorite quotes for the New Year is this from Brad Paisley:

We're down to 361 pages now, but it's never too late to jump in. 

Ch-ch-ch-changes ... good ones, too

Back in June of this year, I was working at home one day. Sitting here at my desk and listening to music while doing a task by rote. I didn't need to concentrate on what I was doing, so I started singing away to whatever I was listening to. It was one of those moments when I felt both productive and free.

Then I sort of woke up from my haze of bliss to realize a few things:

  1. I was very out of practice singing. Not surprising since I quit the choir I used to sing in over 13 years ago when I took a course that conflicted with rehearsals. But I've been missing it for a while and getting back into singing has been on my mind a lot.
  2. Being out of practice, I didn't have much stamina for holding out long notes. This fact hurts my technical perfectionist heart. It's embarrassing, even when I'm the only witness.
  3. Also, being out of shape, I wasn't going to get far in building up stamina without making some changes.

And something clicked for me. Something I've wanted to click into place for pretty much my entire life.

This minor life-shifting event happened right around lunch time and my stomach was starting to protest its empty state. So, I went in the kitchen, knowing as I did that I would prepare something that would truly nourish me. I also knew I was going to be more careful from that point on. 

The click had happened. I finally flipped the switch I'd been trying to reach for decades. 

I started to care about what I was doing to my body day in and day out because I could no longer do something that was once second nature and easy. I could no longer do something to the level of quality that I achieved when I was younger. I could no longer do something well that I really, truly love to do.

I made big changes right away. I dusted off my Fitbit Force and started wearing it every day. I struggled to get 4,000 steps in every day. Then I worked myself up to 5,000. Eventually, I got to 8,000 a day. Then I hit 10,000 and I was thrilled, but I knew I wanted to do more. I pushed harder and started hitting 12K every day for a week before a friend invited me to join a challenge in the Fitbit app. I left my goal at 12K, but it was pretty clear that this group had some high step achievers in it, which motivated me to push even harder. I get in 15K steps most days now, but I've gone as high as 30K, too, and I'm feeling amazing. 

I know myself and getting my workout completed in the morning is the best possible scenario for getting it done at all - I actually wake up at 4:00am (!!) most days to make it happen. Evenings are far too full of getting dinner, homework, play time, reading, and all the other end-of-day minutiae completed. So, I get 10-12K steps in before I even set foot out of the house. I am careful to eat well but not deprive myself so I never feel like I'm missing out. 

The result is that I've lost 30 pounds ... so far. I'm also stronger, have more energy, am happier in general and I've got a sizable pile of clothes to donate to someone that needs them. (I recommend Suits Me if you're in Ottawa and looking for a good place to donate work clothes.)

The benefit is that I can hold those long notes again. My voice is stronger and I love singing more than I have in a really long time. I even sang a bit of an Italian aria to some WBN Executive members when we were meeting in a restaurant a few weeks ago. (True story - it's a song that I sang for my music school audition 20 years ago!!! I still remember some of it.) I have never broken out in song in the middle of a public place before in my life. It was exhilarating and kind of terrifying but in a good way.

If I had to report on how I'm doing with my promise to myself to really live in this fortieth year of mine, I'd say I'm thrilled with how it's going. There's more to it than getting healthy (my new normal), but I'll save the rest for future blog fodder. 

Life is good - and I'm gonna keep living it to the fullest and healthiest possible.

A perfect moment of joy between friends

Brandon has a friend at school whom he adores. This other little boy, who I'll call Dennis, kinda reminds me of Dennis the Menace, but in the best possible way - we really like him. He also seems to get Brandon like no one else. They've been in the same class for three years, and they've been mostly inseparable for the past two years.

Dennis has been out from time to time this school year - I think his family must be having one of those cursed years of one sickness after another after another. (I really feel for them on this!) On one occasion, he returned to school the same day Brandon asked me to pick him up early. I was able to get him early, but I found out later that Brandon had a really hard time leaving Dennis behind. He wanted to be with me, but he didn't want to miss a single minute of his friend being back. He actually got teary-eyed when he hugged Dennis goodbye. They have a really sweet and special relationship.

Brandon often comes home telling me plans that he and Dennis have made. We take them with a grain of salt. If moms or dads haven't been in touch, there aren't any actual plans. But a couple weeks ago the boys decided they were going to meet at the school playground to play after dinner. Matt picked Brandon up, heard the plan, and was able to take him at the time they said. Dennis wasn't there. 

A week later, I was doing pickup. Once again, a plan had been made. But I had a work commitment and I told Brandon I wasn't sure we'd make it back in time. He went with me, helped me, and I rushed to finish so we could get back to the school as soon as possible. We were 15 minutes late and Dennis was once again not there. 

While Brandon and I rushed to get to the school, I called Matt and begged him to meet me at the school so I could go home and change out of the shirt I spilled chipotle sauce all over (I was a literal hot mess). He met us, as promised, as we were walking back to the car and offered to stay with Brandon so he could play even though Dennis wasn't there. I got about 20 feet away, heading back to my car, when Matt called out to me.

I turned around and saw Brandon running for all his might toward Dennis, who was running just as eagerly to hug his friend. 

Their faces radiated happiness and their little bodies practically vibrated with joy. 

Even though I didn't have a camera ready, that image is etched in my brain as one of the sweetest things I've ever seen. 

Later, I found out that Dennis had to work pretty hard to convince his parents to let him go and I'm so thankful they humoured him.

The stories that come out of schools about mean kids and bullying (even some of what Brandon has experienced) can make us sad, depressed, and angry.

But those aren't the only stories, thank goodness. There are stories of kids who meet and form a bond that has the potential to last if life circumstances work in their favour. Whatever happens, I hope these boys will always remember the years of their friendship as happy times growing up knowing they have a friend to lean on no matter what.