“Feeling Challenged on my Letting Go Journey”

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I’ve been on a journey of learning how to let go for a long time now. In fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that letting go is my life lesson. It has shown up in so many different places, it’s hard to account for them all and difficult to identify when it began.

One thing I know for sure is that this lesson surfaces for me whenever I face a new health challenge. When I was diagnosed with Diabetes I had to let go of my ideas on eating and being a free spirit, unrestrained by routines. Eating regular meals and planning became an important part of my management. I had to let go of my discomfort with needles and embrace having to inject myself daily. It hasn’t been a linear learning curve. I’ve had to make many adjustments along the way, continuously letting go of regimens that are no longer effective and developing new strategies to manage my blood sugars. I’m still working at it, doing my best.

When I experienced depression for the first time I had to let go of a definition of myself that didn’t allow me to accept what I was feeling. I had a concept of myself as a positive, optimistic and happy person and that just didn’t seem to fit with what I was feeling. On that journey of letting go I came to understand that there are different experiences of depression. What I suffered from was situational in nature, not chronic. When I identified the triggers and dealt with them I no longer suffered from depression. The in-depth story of that journey is the theme of the novel I am currently writing, Darkness to Dawn.

In 2014 I was diagnosed with Lyme’s Disease, but it was the almost two years before my diagnosis when I had no idea what was wrong with me that was the most challenging. I was told I might have Lupus, among other auto-immune diseases. I struggled with the pain and the worry of not knowing. I had to let go of an image of myself as strong and vital. At one point I could barely walk up the stairs I was so weak, let alone practice yoga or work-out at the gym. I had to quit my teaching position because I couldn’t manage the demanding work load. I couldn’t even keep my arm raised long enough to write on the whiteboard. I let go of the mainstream approaches to curing Lyme’s and embraced a naturopathic/homeopathic/western medicine integrated approach that was completely off the grid and totally individualized and now, two years later, I am cured.

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During one of my periods of feeling challenged my oldest daughter bought me a copy of Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart. Reading that book helped me to recognize the value in letting go of all of my limiting ideas about how and who I should be. Pema wrote that when you feel fear you should feel lucky, for it is an opportunity to grow. Furthermore, she postulated that you need to let go of your old identities in order to become someone new. It comforts me to meditate on this wisdom and recognize how illness brings up our ultimate fear of death. I believe that working through fear with grace, resilience and faith is key to achieving happiness.

All of these health challenges had something else in common. They pushed me to let go of all limiting ideologies. In order to achieve wellness, I had to be open to all points of view, including sometimes conflicting western and eastern approaches to well-being. Self-help books provided some insights, but it in the end, I had to create my own individual path. I had to trust my intuition and recognize that I know myself best. I had to take the time to be silent, so that I could hear the whisperings of my heart.

Becoming a parent has been another facet of my letting go journey. I discovered I was pregnant with my first child when I was still a child myself. I was sixteen in fact, and unmarried. I had to let go of my idea of what it meant to be a single teenage mom, because quite frankly most of the role models and societal views were limiting and negative. I had to let go of the discouraging associations and learn how to create an image of myself in that role that was strong, resourceful and capable.

That journey began with yet another letting go. I had wanted to pursue a career in journalism. Trying to support a child on your own with the unpredictable pay and hours of a beginning journalist seemed unrealistic to me. So, I chose to go to university to become a teacher, knowing that I loved education, loved working with children, and that the work hours would support me in raising my little girl. It was a perfect choice and I cherished being a teacher for many years.

My father’s death in 2000 was another pivotal moment in my letting go journey. Losing him was like losing a reflection of myself where the image projected was perfect. My father and I shared such an incredible bond that it took me seven years of grieving my loss to truly accept his death and move on. Letting go of his physical presence and learning to connect with his spirit took time, patience, and determination on my part, but it happened. I recently finished writing a novel based on my relationship with my dad titled My Father’s Hands and I’m looking for an agent to represent me.

As each of my children have made the transition to adulthood, my letting go journey has been challenged yet again. When they have made decisions as adults that I don’t agree with, I have had to accept their choices. It is no longer appropriate for me to tell them how to live nor advise them, without their requesting my advice. I have had to summon all of my strength to have the courage to allow them to live their own life journey, even when I’ve been scared of the possible outcomes. The truth is, there are no guarantees in life.

Which brings me to the current situation that is having me feeling challenged on my letting go journey. I have someone in my life whom I love dearly who is struggling with mental health. I feel that from my position of relative objectivity, experience and wisdom, I have the opportunity to make a difference. I feel like if my advice could be listened to and followed, there would be a greater chance of success in managing the illness effectively. I have felt a need to have control, fooling myself into believing that I have the power to keep her safe. I have felt so scared of losing her that I have allowed myself to forget my letting go lesson. I have come to understand, from a place deep in my soul, that her journey is hers to live. It isn’t my cupboard. I need to find the strength and courage to allow her the opportunity to discover her own self. I need to have faith. I need to remember that the only thing I really have to give is love. Loving her is easy.

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So yeah, I am feeling challenged. I’m also feeling the power of hope, prayer, faith and love.

Feeling Concerned about Media-influenced Ideas on Women and Beauty

 

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A few days ago I was scrolling through Facebook when I came upon a video that caught my eye. It was posted by OSKARTBRAND.com and was titled, Stay Beautiful: Ugly Truth in Beauty Magazines. Watching this video, I couldn’t help but feel a deep sadness and concern for the self-image of women and young girls in first world society.

 

 

“85% of beauty magazines’ content is dedicated to making you feel imperfect and inadequate,” was one of the quotes that got me thinking. I’ve never been a huge beauty magazine consumer, but I do pick them up here and again, looking for the newest fashion or styles. I have found the colourful and glossy pages of ultra-thin models and outrageous fashion designs to be more amusing than having anything to do with me and my self-image. At the same time, I know I have felt pressure, especially in my younger days, to look as perfect as the women depicted. In my opinion, magazines aren’t the only culprits. Music videos, television commercials and other forms of media often portray unrealistic and sexist imagery of women.

“70% of women feel guilty, ashamed and depressed after only 3 minutes or reading a fashion magazine,” is another quote from the video. It saddens me to think of women altering their feelings of self based on reading a magazine, and I have to wonder what kind of self-sabotaging behaviour it is to continue to buy and read material that has that effect on you. At the same time, you can’t always escape all of the media pressure to look a certain way. I have talked to so many women, especially young women, who feel inadequate or even disgusted by their bodies.

“In the US and EU 50 million women suffer from eating disorders.” What a mind-boggling statistic! Though horrific, it is not surprising at all. Almost every young woman I know personally struggles on some level with body image and eating. I will leave their stories for them to tell, but I will share my own personal history.

The first time I consciously remember questioning the perfection of my body was in grade one. I was six years old. My teacher casually suggested I sit beside another girl in the class who was “chubby too”. I hadn’t realized I was chubby until she labeled me as so.

I officially started dieting to change my body when I was fourteen. I was five foot four and 110 lbs. Obviously not fat. But I didn’t have the body shape of a long, lean torso with a flat stomach and I thought I could diet my way to achieve that. Of course, I couldn’t, so it failed. Instead of recognizing the futility of dieting, I began a long and self-deprecating journey trying to find the right diet and exercise program that would have me looking good enough.

Over the years I struggled with poor eating behaviours, using food to fill up other voids and then dieting to take off the extra pounds. I’m pretty sure I messed up my body’s natural metabolism. It’s likely why I went from having a full, thick head of hair to hair that is fine and thin. I never achieved the unattainable model-inspired body I hoped for, even at my best.

I’d like to say it was the wisdom that accompanies maturity that changed things for me. And although that certainly contributed, the real change came for me after I had a mental breakdown in my early forties. I made a decision to change my life, and part of my journey toward health included a new attitude towards myself of love and acceptance. It is my belief that my relationship with God and my focus on my spiritual self created the opportunity for a new vision of myself to unfold.

I’m 50 years old now. I don’t weigh the least I’ve ever weighed nor do I weigh the most. Frankly, I’m not all that interested in a number on the scale anymore. I’m more attuned to how I feel. Even though I’m not as fit as I’d like to be currently, I’m gentle with myself. I just finished battling Lyme’s disease for two years. I’ve had Type 1 Diabetes since I was 24. I have Thyroid Disease. And I am a self-proclaimed Foodie and Wine-lover. Instead of focusing on myself and how I look, I cherish every single moment of my life and focus on how I can fulfill a higher purpose of spreading love and light to others.

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my 50th birthday

This seems like a great place to transition into a more positive discussion. After-all, it’s wise to address the issues, not put your head in the sand. Still, there is always a silver lining, even if sometimes you have to look for it. I set out to find examples of changing attitudes and I wasn’t disappointed. What follows are just a few.

At Refinery29.com they are “actively and powerfully spreading the message of body positivity… (stating) stretch mark and scars, rolls of skin, indicate what a body has been through and what it can do.” That had me remembering how hard I cried when I discovered the multitudes of stretch marks covering my stomach after I birthed my first child. Now my vision of those marks has been transformed into a sort of warrior pride. I feel the ropey skin and recall with fondness the birth of my children and experience deep gratitude for my abundant blessings.

The Dove beauty campaign states as it’s vision: “We want women and girls of all ages to see beauty as a source of confidence, not anxiety.” They believe in the power of education and deliver in-school programs to young people to address the growing concern of poor body image in young girls. I can’t help but concur that the solution is education, not just of women and girls, but as a society as whole.

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“We equip women and girls of all ages with tools to understand and resist harmful media messages that affect their self-esteem and body image,” says the About-face.org site mission statement. The site deals with body image, health and weight, mental health, and eating disorders. It provides education and resources with a click of a button, on-line.

The bottom line is that there is a growing awareness of the unhealthy images of women in media and the increase in poor self-esteem and body image in women and young girls. There are people speaking out about it. There are educational campaigns aimed at changing it. So yeah, I’m feeling concerned about media-influenced ideas on women and beauty. I’m also feeling hopeful and optimistic that the future of humanity will evolve into one of greater understanding, equality and liberty for all.

 

Feeling Nostalgic About the Glory Days of Travel

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Drinking wine at the Frankfurt International Airport 🙂

Since moving to Saudi Arabia in May of 2015 I have had the opportunity to travel more than I ever have. Before making that first long and arduous 20+ hour journey from Canada to Saudi Arabia I had a wide-eyed, romantic and somewhat naive vision. It has since been tempered by some hard doses of reality.

I don’t want anyone to think I don’t appreciate the gift of being able to go back to Canada three times a year to connect with all of my family and friends. Especially my children and grandson. I am truly grateful. Still, there is a dark side.

Air travel isn’t like it used to be. Back in my glory days, the airlines treated you like valued customers. You weren’t crammed in like sardines. Beverages and meals were a complimentary part of the service. There was more of everything enjoyable and less of everything uncomfortable.

Let’s face it, in the anti-terrorism age, the headaches of travel begin at the airport. Going through security can be a nightmare of travel sized liquids in plastic bags, laptops, belts and jewelry removal. My husband was once chastised for not removing an old tissue from his trouser pockets. I have been repeatedly hassled for my various medications, including extra insulin and ice packs to keep it chilled. And then of course there are the random pat-downs.

To illustrate, I shall regale you with the details from my husband’s and my most recent trip.  As we stood at our gate waiting to board our flight from Florence to Rome the screen suddenly changed to show a delay from a 12:10 departure to 1:00, making our connection in Rome tight but doable. Moments later it was revised once again, due to thunderstorms in the area, to 3:00, making our departure in Rome at 4:00 impossible.

We had to switch gears and accept our fate. We walked over to the Food Court where we thrilled to discover that in Italy even food courts serve wine. Sipping wine and munching on Caprese salad while engaging in interesting conversation with one another seemed a civilized way to pass the time.

Back at our gate, there were further delays. We got chatting with a lovely couple from Virginia. Somehow the conversation turned to politics and Donald Trump. Some Trump supporters in the line behind us overheard and it all got a bit heated. But that’s a whole other long, controversial and emotionally elevated story.

Back to our travel woes. They finally boarded us. I conked out immediately. David dozed off for a few minutes and informed me later that he woke up to discover our plane still parked on the ramp with the stairs leading up to the open cabin door. We never did get an explanation, or perhaps we just slept through it.

We arrived in Rome around 5:30 and upon deplaning and entering the terminal we were greeted by the sight of a massive throng of people in the same unfortunate circumstances as us, lined up at the Alitalia transfer counter. It took five and a half hours, standing in line with impatient and occasionally hostile passengers only to be told that all flights out the next day bound for Riyadh from all transfer cities were fully booked.

We were given instructions to board a shuttle bus to the Ergife Palace Hotel, which was most definitely non-palatial. A half hour bumpy ride later we arrived. Our adventures in Rome is another story for another day, but just let me remind you that I hadn’t packed my insulin in my carry-on and my checked luggage was still at the airport. Apparently in Italy, as a non-Italian, you cannot purchase insulin at either a pharmacy or the hospital. So I had to cross my fingers and hope I had enough. We spent two days in our palace in Rome and then it was back to the airport to start over again.

We had been advised to arrive at the airport three hours earlier so we arrived with three and a half, just to be safe. Of course, the Aegean ticket counter, our new airline, wasn’t open until two hours before the flights departure. But my quick-thinking husband suggested we use the self-check-in machines. Tickets in hand, we went through security (where David’s study notes binder caused the traditional open your suitcase for a search routine). We used our handy Lounge Key App and located a lounge to wile away the time until boarding.

Upon arrival at our posted gate,D3, we found the gate had been changed to D7. We walked to D7 where the plane was then announced delayed for half an hour. Really? Another delay? Then the gate was changed again, to D2. I tried not to feel frustrated and impatient. I tried not to worry. Secretly I felt that if I had to spend a night at a hotel in Athens I might lose it.

Finally, we boarded our flight. I was disappointed to find the configuration of seating even tighter than usual. And no TV screens. I buckled into my cramped quarters and peered out the window at the pouring rain and felt despondent as I noticed we were in a long line of planes awaiting take-off. My ears were accosted by the loud, obnoxious and constant laughing and shouting of a group of overly-enthusiastic young Greeks. Eventually we started down the run-way and lifted off into a dark and ominous-looking sky.

We arrived in Athens and our plane to Riyadh was already being boarded. An Airport Ambassador corralled the group of us destined for Riyadh and guided us through the fast track at Customs, but then abandoned us at security where they still felt compelled to rummage through our luggage. Frustrated, I wondered, not for the first time, how we could possibly have procured an inappropriate item since going through security last in Rome. Grr….

We made it! We boarded our plane and despite the same cramped quarters as always I was thrilled to finally be on the last leg towards home. I was given the extra bonus of an airline meal I could actually consume, that did not consist of wheat products. Did I mention I have a wheat allergy? Well, I hadn’t eaten anything for twelve hours, since lunch, other than a few bites of chocolate. It was midnight and I was starving and exhausted, so the otherwise mediocre rice and chicken tasted heavenly.

The fasten your seat belt light came on. It was time to descend so David retrieved my Abaya from my carry-on bag and I draped it over me. We deplaned and turned the corner and beheld the spectacle of a next to non-existent line-up at customs! Hooray! I almost clicked my weary heels! It felt like a silver lining, but alas, it quickly turned to grey. All of the luggage from our plane was dispensed and the belt stopped moving and there was no luggage belonging to us.

Off we traipsed to the Baggage Claims counter where a porter led us to a different terminal where apparently our luggage awaited, having arrived ahead of us from Jeddah the day before. Mine was there, and I almost hugged it, but thought better of it seeing as how David’s was still missing in action. It’s been three days and it is still missing.

Suffice to say, the ordeal was draining. Even I, who scored 23/24 on a Test Your Optimism quiz sound like a Negative Nancy. It’s like I said, I’m feeling nostalgic about the glory days of travel.