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Dispatch From the Front Lines

funeral director

This morning I waited in line to stock up on groceries, feeling thankful that in our home, none of us have lost our jobs.  I stand in the sunshine feeling grateful that I know I can stock up on what we need, and we don’t have to worry about how to pay for it.

As a last responder, my days are filled with assisting the bereaved navigate the uncharted waters of grief in the time of COVID. Other than those who harass us over and over with demands to breach mandated gathering numbers, I feel for each and every family who has to say good bye during such stressful times. The phone rings non-stop on top of the additional work of caring for those who have died from COVID 19. Despite the stress, I feel thankful that we share a strong camaraderie as funeral directors.

My days off are like a lifeline for me.  I need time to recharge and rest. I don’t stand in line to get necessities because I’m bored and need to leave the house. I do it because I have to.  This might be why I became irritated today by the  woman cruising through the store having a video chat with her gal-pal;  a precious face mask flipped down on her neck. A mask that a health care worker needs, and knows how to use.

selfie“Ooooooh! Should I get these?” She says, taking a video of the munchies on display, like her knob of a best friend hasn’t seen a bag of potato chips before.  And then she giggles, puts back the bag she just touched, and grabs another one for the camera.

I know, I know. You’re going to judge me and say that perhaps this woman needs some mental health compassion. To you, I bid a sincere, ‘pull your head out of your ass’.  This is not a time to social-media-up your ridiculous sense of self importance. As a matter of fact, it’s a time to get what you need and get the hell out of everyone’s way.

The mental toll of work has left me exhausted at the end of each day.  I haven’t had energy to talk to my pals or the focus to sit down and write in what feels like too long.

On Friday, changing from my uniform into my jeans and t-shirt before going home, I gave myself a stern talking to. It was a pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps chat about getting my head right and devoting time every day to something energizing.  Walk. Read. Write. Call a friend.

People on the front lines are marching in to work every day despite feeling overwhelmed, frightened, and mentally fatigued.  People like me who care for the dead and the bereaved, bear witness to the pain and suffering that this disease leaves in it’s wake. It’s a lonely, hollow, grief that no one should have to go through.

self care

Please don’t be the asshat at the store treating this like a joke.

More importantly, if you are a front-line worker right now, I hope you have the energy to be just a little bit selfish; take time to let your body feel vibrant and alive, get some fresh air, make love, make art, sing in the shower…cry if you need to, and be vulnerable enough to let someone care for you.

 

 

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Five Proper Ways to Feel Yourself

First of all, you will have needed to feel yourself prior to this.

You know, when you were feeling yourself. Or rather, when you were feeling most like yourself.

For me, feeling myself means being a little loosey goosey, you know, flower-crown-wearing-sipping-a-mai-tai and talking about poetry or politics, while trying to make my way into the ocean without spilling my drink.

Feeling myself means walking into the office without dragging in a big-invisible-bag-of-suck with me every day.  It means having enough energy at the end of the day to create a new, yummy recipe, while I sip a glass of wine and listen to the CBC.

If you’re not quite ‘feeling yourself’ yet, this new year, perhaps you need to get back in touch with what you feel like.  For me, that means a hefty dose of self-care.

You’re right, ‘self-care’ has more recently become bastardized by marketing mavens as a great excuse to pay too much for spa services, luxury grooming products, and even booze. But I’m talking about real self care. The kind that doesn’t blow the budget, or require a trip to the nearest outlet mall.

In order to ‘feel yourself’ you need to get quiet. Super quiet. You need to patch the cracks in the wall of your boundaries, and put up a big freaking sign pointing to those walls. Mywould read; TRESPASS AND RISK THE MOST SEVERE TONGUE LASHING YOU’VE EVER HAD (and I’m not being sexy)!!!

Don’t rush the boundary setting part. Sometimes it takes a little quite time to figure out what that looks like.

The following are some of the things that help me find quiet within a buzzing mind, busy life and relationship commitments;

  1. Spend time alone. Not necessarily alone, alone, but on your own. For me this looks a lot like going to my favourite coffee shop and writing, or reading, or journalling. I catch up on email. I love it because there’s life humming around me, but I don’t have to interact. I can interact or withdraw as I please; no expectations. This is often the time that you can quietly reflect on what your boundaries actually are, and how you can facilitate your dear ones respecting them.

dineen

 

2. Reconnect with your spirituality, or the people, places and things that touch on the deepest part of your humanity. No, not your go-to-good-time-guy-from-2005, although that can certainly bring back a little of the way you feel.  But let’s not digress. Spirituality sometimes comes in the form of  a book, sometimes it’s going to a temple, and sometimes it’s listening to a podcast.

this is it

3. Get a hobby. Find something new, or go back to something that relaxes you. I tend to stitch or sew or create some culinary masterpiece (for example elaborate sugar cookies, or the world’s best amaretti). Whatever it is, get a hobby and do it. Get lost in it. My aunt builds teeny-tiny little doll houses with the most exquisite details and when she does it, that’s where she is-in the present moment. When I stitch fine embroidery pieces, my mind gets lost in the meditative rhythm of the stitches. That’s it. That’s where I am. There is nothing else, just the present moment.

shit happens

4. Love your body. No, this is not where I get into how to ‘feel yourself’. I’m talking about simple stuff that doesn’t require an anatomical map. Have a long soak. Shave whatever bits you want smooth, soak in hot water, remember how good it feels to let your body relax. Trim your nails, paint your toes, blow out your locks so they feel soft against your skin when you finally lay your head on the pillow at night. Give yourself time to remember how good it feels to feel good.

 

5. Learn something new; take a free class on-line (check out skillssuccessor khanacademy  or eventbrite – often they have offers for free courses or trial periods). Get a library card and go to the library. Take a walk or run in a part of the city you’ve never been to before. Download a language app. Go to a community seminar (often free and offered through the library). Sit yourself down at a cafe (see #1), and remind yourself that the world has so much to offer that you don’t even know about yet.

library

 

If like me, you’ve been not feeling yourself lately, sometimes you have to go back to square one. Yourself. Alone time. Reminding yourself of all of the things you love, not just what you’re supposed to love.

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Christmas Is: Time to Cheer for Change

So I’ve been writing a lot about Christmas. I love Christmas, it’s easy to get lost in the merriment and let’s face it, I’m easily distracted by shiny things.

What I haven’t been writing about is how burnt out I am. How I have let things go so long, that now it feels like it’s gone to shit. And I don’t have the inclination to fix it, fake it, or take it.

I’m not a sissy at burn out. I’ve been there before, but now I’m too old for it. I feel like a toddler with my chubby arms crossed against my old-lady chest, lip stuck out, emphatically letting the world know that, ” I don’t have to.” It’s not cute, and it’s not pretty, but it is what it is.

I may look sad, but trust me, I’m pissed. And I will not tolerate anyone’s shit. Not for love or money.

I’m not a nervous breakdown burn-out. I’m a pissed off, middle-aged burn out.  And when I’m pissed off I cry. Then I get frustrated with myself, and I get angrier, and then I cry.

I constantly tell myself everything is rosy when it’s not. I can do it for years. It’s a long-standing type of self-preservation that only people who come from a history of abuse will understand. Take it from me, you know when it’s time to move on from any kind of toxic relationship; career, friendship, romance, family…whatever.

If your burnout is from work, try to reframe it until you can leave. Through coaching and experience, I have learned that sometimes work can give us what we need ( a pay cheque) until we find a pay cheque that stresses us less. Nothing lasts forever. And that’s a good thing.

Recently I was speaking to one of my friends who has her own counselling practice. She said that people come to her on a regular basis terrified of crying at work, totally victims of harassment and workplace bullying, the ugly step-daughters of corporate greed. I do believe that working until we have nothing left to give is one of the great social diseases of our time.  It eats away at the good things in our life, until it’s the only thing we can think about. Not cool. Not sexy. Not impossible to extricate yourself from either.

I have been very lucky in the past to have meaningful work that didn’t feel so much like work.  And that gives me hope, and I hope it gives you hope as well.

The end of the year often lends itself to retrospection, which goes hand in hand with setting goals for the new year. What was great about my year? What wasn’t so great? How am I going to change that? How am I going to make my life better?

stuckOnce upon a time my Mumster told me to go home and just look at job sites. She said knowing that so many opportunities are out there would cheer me up. She’s right. It was the same feeling I had as I drove through the city streets from our island airport. I looked up at all of the tall buildings, at all the lights, the ads, and I knew that there was opportunity if only I got out and let the world know that I was interested.

If you’re feeling burnt out, I hope you don’t get comfy in the cushy sofa of despair.  I hope that you set coffee dates with people who are doing what you want to do and are open to sharing their experience.  Spend time with people who love you and want you to be successful. Start small if you have to. Offer your services on fiverr, take free classes at the local library, be curious.

There are plenty of resources out there for you. My sweetie loves,  What Colour is Your Parachute, but I prefer Careergasm. I’m a fan of Sara Smeaton and think that in 2020 I need to spend more time at her workshops.  Last year I started off the year going to seminars, setting goals and putting myself out there. It fizzled at the end, but I gained some momentum…and I’m convinced that that momentum will continue.

As one of my  hippy dippy friends said, “Put it out to the universe.”  She was right. Put it out there. Let the world know you are open to opportunity, and it will find you.

 

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Setting Yourself on Cruise Control

If you happen to be an adult woman with a vacant stare and princess-entitlement mentality, this post won’t make sense to you. If you are an adult man who unconsciously stands two inches closer to someone when speaking to try and elevate your power, you’re outta luck. If you think the world owes you something because you’re experiencing some slight hardship, please, for the love of all that’s holy, stop whining, raising your voice and acting like a toddler to get your way. You’re just being an asshole and making life miserable for the people around you. We won’t be treated with disrespect because you have no respect for yourself. 

zen-quotes-when-you-realize-nothing-is-lacking-the-whole-world-belongs-to-you-lao-tzu-wisdom-quotes

I think it finally happened. I think I’ve finally snapped.

And it happened in a way that I could never imagined. It was a gentle uncoiling, a beautiful unravelling, and a metaphorical metamorphosis. It was a gentle cracking and falling away of a chrysalis of habit, and spiritual spreading of my wings.

It was the ultimate in letting go. The not-giving-a-shit without having to cuss. In essence, it was a new levelling-up of realizing my own power. It felt like I had put my own heart-rate and reactions on cruise control, floating above the  mad demands that were crushing me from the outside.

With people asking me every time I turned around if I was, ‘ok’, I could actually answer with a smile and shifu-like chuckle, that yes, indeed, I was just fine. Wonderful actually. Free.

After years of buddhist training from monastics, working in crisis and trauma situations, and general life experience, I still have found myself letting the actions of selfish, spoiled, and general fuck-wits ruin my day. Or at least distract me from all of the beauty of my day.

I’d carry their nastiness with me, and mull it over, my mind would jump back to conversations and situations without me realizing how much energy I was taking away from my very happy self.

This was all until I snapped, and something came over me. It really felt like I had the peddle to the floor, let off it for a bit, hit cruise, and just checked in to a mode of complete zen. It was flipping amazing.

After being sworn at, yelled at, sitting through difficult situations, and working in a high volume, high-demand atmosphere for days, I realized that I really don’t have to deal with it. Seriously. I’m not independently wealthy. I don’t have the resources to walk through my place of work with my middle finger raised or pass by jerks and regale them with a full moon of my fat white ass, but I do have enough self respect to simply and calmly walk away from abusive people. And in Canada, they can’t fire you for that.

So I hereby cling (because I’m human after all) to my cruise control mode of being. Calmly floating above the bullshit of other people’s creation, and enjoying all of the positive things in my life. J

Just try to put it on cruise, and float above it my darling. Life really is that simple.

 

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Mid-Life: Sleep is like Sex – You Have to Make it a Priority

sleeping lady

 

Sleep.

It has become a very, sexy, and alluring idea.

Admittedly, I have become too busy to fall asleep with ease. I don’t find slumber as easily as I find the perfect shade for my first pedicure of autumn or the words to change a dull passage to something memorable. Usually it’s exhaustion or mother’s little helper that guides me to sleep these days.

I’m a lover of life.  A funeral director convinced that the only way to live life is to L I V E it. Full strength, embracing everything I love with abandon, and enthusiasm. My to-do piles are a little overwhelming though, and yesterday, as I pushed my chair away from my keyboard and succumbed to the warm, sunlit cushions on my couch, a strange new reality came over me.

I take on too much. What?!

I have two desks. One filled with research for novels. One I use as command central for household concerns, travel itineraries, family gathering menus and activity planning (yes, I’m very Type A, don’t judge me). I have Christmas gift making headquarters set up in the basement next to the shelves of preserves that I fussed with all summer long. My bed is upstairs, unmade, with a pile of books, ear plugs, sleep masks, and lavender linen spray beside it.  Somethin’s gotta give.

Sleep has fallen somewhere behind my piles of fabric for homemade Christmas gifts, the books piled up for ‘research’ (and count toward my 2019 reading goal which I’ve increased by 50%), the last edit of novel number two, and the outline of novel number three. Although sleep may definitely be hiding behind the piles of jars that I have filled and have yet to fill with delights of the harvest. It could also be somewhere in the pages of itineraries for the last few trips of 2019, wedged between schedules to obtain hard-to-get dinner reservations in NYC, the best cenotes near Tulum and autumn pumpkin festivals in the Ottawa valley.

Yesterday before my weekly weigh in I drank two glasses of wine and ate trail mix topped with cool whip. What can I say, I was feeling overwhelmed. How could I not question my priorities in that moment of sweet, crunchy, wine soaked loveliness? I haven’t lost a pound in 6 months. Thanks Sonoma Valley, with a special mention to anxiety. Thank you very much.

This weekend was a rare weekend at home. Even more rare, I was able to sleep in, undisturbed two mornings in a row. I awoke refreshed and relaxed with no real agenda. It was like old times.

After soothing my scale time with a healthy dinner and one more glass of wine, I came home, packed up my editing, sorted through a pile of books to be read on my upcoming getaways, meal prepped and climbed back on the couch with re-runs of 90’s sitcoms and did some critical thinking about what to do next – how on earth to accomplish everything I had set out to do.  Not the least of which is reporting to meeting number two with my writing accountability group next Tuesday after working what we fondly refer to in the business as, “Hell Weekend”.  I have half of a damn novel to edit between now and then. Gulp…

By 8:30pm I was in the bath, covered to the chin with bubbles, sipping herbal tea, and letting my body feel tired.  I slipped my freshly washed body between the  sheets, and read until my eyes felt tired. I slept. For hours and hours uninterrupted. And I woke feeling refreshed – on a work day no less!

A year ago my immune system took a holiday, and I was sick for months. For two months I was barely able to function.  This year after rounds of tests, I was asked; are you under any stress, has your sleep been disrupted? Of course the answer was yes and yes.  I have lost a significant amount of vision due to stress and lack of sleep, and goodness only knows if it’s coming back without some kind of alien probe into my eyeball. My body is screaming for rest.

As I snuggled under the covers in the peace and quiet of morning, I reflected on how much I put on my own plate to do. It’s all good stuff, but the reality is, I only have so much time to do it in, and the time I spend relaxing is just as important as the time I spend rushing through everything.

My hobbies are too joyful to rush through. Sleep allows me to slow down, savour every moment and bring my best to each interaction, whether it’s with colleagues, family, or the characters in my book.

Sleep, much like sex at this age is something that we can often let slide down the list of priorities. After a weekend of getting some (sleep)  I’m going to make it a priority again.

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Wonder: As a Verb

wonderEven if it’s just holding space while you let yourself remember what it feels like to actively wonder, I hope this post is a gift to you…to reignite your sense of wonder.

The first time I went to Paris, I spent an entire afternoon, from lunch time to the beginning of the dinner rush, sitting at a cafe table at Les Deux Magots in wonder.

 

wonder.won·der
/ˈwəndər/Submit
noun
1.
a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.
“he had stood in front of it, observing the intricacy of the ironwork with the wonder of a child”
synonyms: awe, admiration, wonderment, fascination

I marvelled at St. Germain Church across the street, and the way that the french could grow such perfect red geraniums in those iron window enclosures.  How did they water them? Dead head them?

My intention that day was to treat myself to a piece of cake and a cup of coffee and do a little bit of writing like Hemingway and the great writers of the last century.  There were so many things to see from that little cafe chair though! I felt like I needed to stay, to observe, to figure out how the French made everything so, well, French. After the cake I ordered an entree. The waiter, in his black clothes and calf length crisp, white apron, was not impressed. It just made the entire experience that much more enjoyable for me. For kicks, I had him pose for a picture with me…and then I ordered an hors d’heurve and a glass of wine. The second shift of waiters came on, and the new waiter was lovely. He took great joy from my own, and we had a few laughs at the expense of my mediocre, but very enthusiastic french vocabulary.

That afternoon, and many others while I was in my 20’s, I wondered.

won·der
/ˈwəndər/Submitverb
1.
desire or be curious to know something.
“how many times have I written that, I wonder?”
synonyms: ponder, think about, meditate on, reflect on, muse on, puzzle over, speculate about, conjecture; be curious about
“I wondered what was on her mind”

I love that we have a  verb in the English language such as wonder.  Speculate, think, conjecture, disbelieve, inquire, meditate, puzzle, query, question; all synonyms, and yet none have the positive connotation of wonder.

To wonder is to stay young at heart. It does not judge like disbelieve, query or question. It is not out to unveil deliberately hidden truths like inquire or disbelieve.

Wonder is innocent. It is about wonder as a noun carrying over into developing an understanding of; no judgement or tinkering. Just wonder.

This year I hope to exercise my wonder. I think there is a dangerous den to be avoided at mid-life and in old age that looks comfortable, warm and safe. It has a radius of what is familiar.  I’m not attracted to that den at all, or the people in it.

This year I am wondering about;

img_0143-1.jpgFun, new, wine reviewers. For years I followed Billy’s Best Bottles, bought the annual book that reviewed primarily LCBO wines, and sought out the bottles that were highly recommended. Especially the bargain wines. I wondered at his knowledge and the way he incorporated fun and wonder into his work.  I admired him for it. It inspired me. I am loyal if nothing else, and I still follow Billy, and I want to add something new as well.

Writing meet-ups, new restaurants, travel destinations, new friends of every age, these are all things that I will actively wonder about in 2019.

Most of all I’m wondering about what I don’t already wonder about. Those are the things that will be the most important for all of us.  Those are the things that will keep us young at heart.

 

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How Full is Your Cup & What’s With the Heavy Breathing Guy?

yogaIf you don’t already know, I’ve been captive in my own home, caregiving. As much as I have come to appreciate my mobility, I also miss it. The big kind of mobility. The kind of mobility that finds me doing  completely selfish, self-care. The kind that involves hot yoga every day I’m not working the night shift.

I like to think of self-care as part of what any good social liberal would call boundaries; the things I need to maintain balance and health.  Let there be no mistaking it, these boundaries are for the privileged. Before you go all first-world-problems on my ass, I’ve not always been so privileged. I appreciate it, and in order to live my best life, I will pursue these things. Hot yoga, time to write, and dates that inspire creativity.

A mere week before I unexpectedly had to change course and stay home to caregive, I sustained my own injury, which required physiotherapy (which I haven’t had) in order to heal. Today, with the help of some respite at home, I was able to make it back to a one hour class to get my sweat on.

The first thing that I noticed was the stink. The unique odour of an unwashed yoga towel.   Actually, that’s a lie. The first thing I noticed was annoying heavy breathing guy. If you’ve ever gone to a yoga class, you know exactly who I mean; the one person in the room who is the equivalent of the asshole on the train who sits with his legs spread, crotch on display, taking up the width of three seats.  His clear sinuses infect the room like a swarm of mosquitoes.

He was already in the room when I went in to place my mat on the floor. He was actually in my spot, breathing like, look-at-me-I-was-raised-in-the-sacred-culture-of-yoga-and-I’m-going-to-breathe-in-all-of-the-heat-and oxygen-and-I-want-you-to-hear-my-dominance.  I’m nothing if not flexible, so I moved to my third favourite spot (on the opposite side of the room) and took to my stinky mat. By the way, heavy breather also farts through the entire class.  My third-favourite spot is now my second favourite spot. Sans farts and annoying noise.

I had to baby my injury, but it felt soooo good to get back to something normal. Something that has become a huge part of my self care. Part of what today’s instructor referred to as ‘my cup’. Before we began, she asked us to evaluate how full our cup was. Flat on my back, breathing deeply into my chubby belly, I decided I was at about 75%. And and I was pretty damn happy with that. Not so bad under the circumstances, especially considering that I knew what I needed to add the 26% which would create a convex surface atop  the cup, making it dangerously close to overflowing…

Sweat dripping onto my turquoise  towel, I felt hot, sweaty, healthy, radiant and for the first time in a long, long, time, more like myself.

Today I welcomed the inappropriate presence of  heavy breathing guy, hipster-shirtless-beard guy and the Asian business lady who was oblivious of the silent rule who interrupted my mojo by asking me questions at the beginning of the class while I was clearly getting down to it in Savasana. She also moaned painful ‘Oh God’s’ as she transitioned into each new position. Come to think of it, maybe that middle-aged lady knows a little trick that I don’t know. A little Oh God moaning might do me a world of good…

Regardless of your situation in life, I urge you, as I urge myself, to maintain your boundaries. Ensure you know how to refill your cup, even if you’re going through a stage where it’s not full. Know your boundaries, and skedaddle like hell when you get the chance to give yourself some of that self-love that you need. If you don’t get time, fight the good fight to make the time.