My sister, Celeste, recently posted a blog that I am sure all of you will relate to on some level. Enjoy:
My sister, Celeste, recently posted a blog that I am sure all of you will relate to on some level. Enjoy:
“You are the cause of about 90% of your own mental anguish and suffering!”
When I make that statement at one of my group therapy sessions or stress management presentations, I usually get the evil eye. But by the end of my session, every head in the group is nodding in agreement.
Look around you right now. Are you safe? Are you comfortable? Is there anything happening to you right at this moment that is causing you mental anguish? At least ninety-nine percent of you will answer “no” to that last question. When you think about it, NOW is a good moment. In fact, most of your moments are good moments. Yet you suffer from worry, fear, frustration, sadness, regret, guilt and a host of other unpleasant emotions and mental suffering.
Why? Because most of the time, you are not truly in the present moment. Most of the mental suffering that you experience is not caused by what is happening in your life right at this moment. It is caused by you allowing your mind to go to the past: recalling that cancer diagnosis; reliving your divorce; replaying the fight you had with your sister; or going back to your dysfunctional childhood. Or, for many of you, mental suffering is caused by allowing your mind to go to the future: what if the cancer comes back?; What if my son gets into a car crash tonight?; What if I can’t pay the bills next month?
Living in the past causes depression. Living in the future causes anxiety. Only in the present moment can you find peace.
So how do you bring yourself back to the present moment? The best way I have found is by tuning in to my senses, a technique which is known as mindfulness. Stop what you are doing right now and take one moment to look around you. Notice everything you see in your surroundings. What grabs your attention? Now take a moment to listen. Just be mindful of what you hear. Next, if you have a nice body lotion, apply it slowly and mindfully to your hands, just enjoy the sensation of touch. Now, if your lotion is scented, take a deep sniff and savor the smell. Finally, if you have a small food item, such as a candy, eat it, very slowly and very mindfully, enjoying the sensation of taste. (Every time I do this session with a group of students, one of them will say, “Miss Strang, that is the best Skittle I have ever eaten!” That is true because most of the time we are not mindful of eating and so we miss out on the pleasure of our food.)
The exercise you just did is a technique I use to demonstrate HOW to be mindful. Practicing mindfulness however, does not mean sitting down with a bag of Skittles and a bottle of hand lotion to tune in to your senses for five minutes. Mindfulness is really all about using your senses to bring you back to the present moment in your everyday life. For example, you can be mindful of taking a shower, just by turning off your thoughts for a few minutes and really paying attention to the feel of the water on your skin and the smell of the soap. Practicing mindfulness just means having more mindful moments during the day; more moments where you get out of your head and simply pay attention to what you see, hear, feel, smell, and taste.
I once had a client who came to me because she was a constant worrier. She worried about her children, she worried about her health, she worried about her husband and so on. I think if she didn’t have something to worry about, she would make something up! I suggested that during her lunch break she take a walk around a beautiful trail that was near her work, since spending time in nature is such good medicine for the soul. The following week however, she reported that it did her no good. She spent her entire walk worrying and overthinking. I suggested that on her next walk she just listen and come back to tell me everything she heard on her walk. The next week a very different client came to my office. She was smiling and very eager to tell me all that she had heard on her walk: children laughing; rocks crunching under her feet; the wind in the trees; the water lapping on shore; birds singing; cars driving by; etc., sounds that she had never before been aware of.
“Was your mind occupied with your worries?” I asked.
“No”, she laughed, “I was too busy listening to worry about anything.”
That is mindfulness.
Not every moment is going to be a good moment. If you recently experienced a loss you can’t just eat a skittle mindfully and make it go away. But if you find that you are spending much of your mental energy in the past or in the future, it will cause you suffering. Peace can only be found in the present moment.
I wish you a peaceful day, filled with many mindful moments!
So it seems that I recently earned myself a new nickname: Dory. The Dory that is my namesake is the delightful, yet very forgetful fish from “Finding Nemo” and of course its sequel, “Finding Dory”. No offence to you, Ellen, but if I were to choose to model myself around an animated character, Dory would not make my top ten list. I envision myself as more of a smoking hot Jessica Rabbit, a dignified and regal Pocohontas, or even a smart and sassy Lois Griffin. But Dory? Come on! You know I can do better than that!
Ok, so I guess you are wondering HOW I earned the nickname. Well, I guess it is pretty obvious. I forget stuff. Not just the normal stuff that people forget, like the names of colleagues, friend’s birthdays or the whereabouts of keys, but big stuff, like entire conversations and the whereabouts of my car. You may be thinking, “Who doesn’t forget where they parked their car from time to time!” That’s not what I mean. What I mean is, I almost called the cops once and reported my car stolen because I forgot that I had loaned it to my daughter the night before.
I was pretty excited when my sister, Lessy, told me that she was coming home from Alberta to visit. I was equally as excited the second time she told me, the third time she told me, and even the fourth time she told me. That’s when I earned my nickname. “Mom, for God sakes, you have the memory of Dory”, said my daughter, Kaitlyn, “That is the fourth time that Aunt Lessy has told you that she is coming to visit, and each time you act as if you are hearing it for the first time!” That’s because it IS like I am hearing it for the first time.
It has gotten so bad that my carpool partner, Khyla, has made a sign that says, “Heard it before!”, which she pulls out from under her seat and flashes at me each time I begin to repeat a story.
Many times my partner, Steve, has made the comment, “Flo I’m getting worried about you,” whenever I repeat a question that he has already answered about a dozen times. And then there are the embarrassing times at work when I fail to remember details of conversations. I once thought that one of my colleagues was psychic because she could name the very book that was sitting on my night stand at home. Not only did I forget that we had discussed the book the day before, but I was also oblivious to the fact that she is a member of my book club! Don’t even ask me her name.
I am proud to say that I have come up with some pretty ingenious ways of getting around my memory deficits. For example, remembering passwords used to be a real pain in the ass for me. So I changed all of my passwords to the word “incorrect.” That way, I am guaranteed a reminder each time I mess up: “Your password is incorrect.” I also find it useful to write little reminders on the back of my hand. Not only do these markings remind me that I have to do something, but trying to figure out what the abbreviations mean has turned into a great game between me and my kids.
“Hey Donovan, I have the letters b.b. written on the back of my hand. Any idea what that might mean?”
“Yeah, that’s it, I need to pick up some black beans on the way home from work. Thanks!”
Another strategy that has served me well is one I call “fake a memory”. It goes something like this:
Kaitlyn: Mom, what movie would you like to watch on Netflix tonight?
Me: I’ve been dying to see “Daddy’s Home”, let’s watch that.
Kaitlyn: Mooooom! We watched that last month.
Me: Oh riiiiiggghttt! I remember now (barefaced lie). It’s the one about the dad who comes home. Yeah, we watched it together, I remember.
I also have a little technique, which is similar to “fake a memory” in which I actually pull the desired information from the person I am talking to. It goes something like this:
Steve: Hey Flo, where would you like to go for dinner tonight?
Me: How about Oliver’s? We haven’t been there in ages.
Steve: We were there just last week. Don’t you remember?
Me: Ha ha (nervous laugh). Of course I remember. We had that delicious little appetizer.
Steve: Right, bruschetta.
Me: Yeah, I really enjoyed that bruschetta. And you ordered the special. (He usually does)
Steve: I sure did. The cod was delicious.
Me: Of course, I over-did it on the wine again. (Pretty safe guess there)
Steve: Thank God you remember. I was starting to get worried about you!
I know it is normal to get more forgetful with age and wine consumption, but my sketchy memory was becoming really worrisome. After watching the movie, “Still Alice”, I had myself convinced that I was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. That’s when I started to talk to some of my survivor sisters at my breast cancer support group and I learned that many of them are dealing with the same issue. We have the memory robbing culprits narrowed down to two things: chemo-brain and Tamoxifen (a drug I take to reduce the chances of having a cancer recurrence).
Despite the fact that both chemo and Tamoxifen have debilitating side effects, not the least of which is memory loss and cognitive impairments, they also have another, more desirable side effect: Life. While I am a firm believer in natural, complementary and holistic approaches to treating cancer, I also have faith in conventional treatments. Chemo destroyed the cancer cells that were invading my body, while Tamoxifen and my lifestyle changes have kept the cancer from coming back (at least to this point in time). So the benefits for me outweigh the side effects. Besides, despite my memory problems, I am enjoying life to the fullest. Right now, for example, I am over the moon with excitement! My sister, Lessy just called to tell me that she is coming home for a visit. YAY! I can’t wait to tell Kaitlyn the good news!
Recently, I was contacted by a young woman who is reaching out to help those going through treatments for cancer. Rather than me tell you her story, I will let her tell it. So here is Holly:
Hi! My name is Holly Porath. In 2010, cancer rocked my family’s world when it struck my Mom with Triple Negative Breast Cancer. When my Mom was first diagnosed, I was living in California, which felt like a world away from our hometown in Michigan. I felt so helpless. All I wanted to do was sit next to her during her lengthy chemo treatments but all I could do was be a support for her from afar. That’s when I came up with an idea of how I could send my love and support, even though I could not be with her physically.
If you’ve ever had a loved one with cancer, you know all too well there are limited items out there to help them feel better. To be honest, it’s a near impossible uphill battle to feel comfortable during treatment. I found my Mom was soon overwhelmed with pink ribbon branded items: t-shirts, socks, key chains, etc. But none of these items helped her feel better in a practical way, when she needed it most. I took to the Internet and searched for anything and everything that might take away even a little bit of her discomfort from nausea, dry skin and dry mouth. That’s when I came up with the idea of “Brave Box”. Brave Box is a care package for those going through chemo, which contains practical items to help them feel better.
Sadly, my Mom lost her battle in May 2014. However, to honor my mom’s memory, I took the idea of a cancer care package and ran with it. Through lots of hard work, Brave Box is now a real, tangible, product that eases the discomfort of those still fighting.
Six years ago when my Mom was first diagnosed, the idea of a care package to help ease her discomfort was just an idea. For four years, I thought about ways I could ease her struggle. I took note of her favorite products, and the items that brought her comfort. Then, finally, I took the plunge. I built up the courage, ignored all the reasons why it wouldn’t work, brainstormed a name, designed a box, built my own website and ordered in bulk. Finally, my dream is a reality!
Two years ago, when my mom passed away, my world came crashing down. Today, I’m in a MUCH better place hoping to provide a presence (through Brave Box, my blog, and community involvement) that allows me to help as many people afflicted by cancer as possible. Not only am I honoring my mom’s memory, but Brave Box also allows me to ease the discomfort of those who are still fighting.
It’s incredibly easy to feel helpless when watching a loved one fight this disease. Let’s work together, as a team, to take some of that helplessness away and bring back some strength to the fight. Let’s help one another be BRAVE!
You can learn more about Brave Box here: www.bravebox.org
“What room is Dana in?” was the question on nearly every woman’s lips at our annual breast cancer retreat. We all knew that where there was Dana, there was fun, laughter and music. With more than 200 women attending the retreat each year, it is impossible to get to know everyone. Over the years, we have formed our own little groups, or cliques you could say. But everyone seemed to know Dana and she was considered a part of every group. She “belonged” to all of us. She was our Rock Star!
“Believe” was Dana’s motto.
Dana was the first of my survivor sisters to reach out to me after I was diagnosed. Soon after discovering my blog, she messaged me on Facebook to assure me that everything would be ok. She had battled and beaten stage 2 breast cancer just one year prior to my diagnosis. I cannot tell you what a relief it was to read the words of encouragement from her. At 44 years old, my experience of breast cancer was, for the most part, hearing about little old ladies, who eventually succumbed to the disease. But there was Dana, a survivor at just 32 years old. “Just because you have cancer doesn’t mean that you have to die, Flo,” she encouraged me. “We have lots of years left to live!”
Dana and I at our annual breast cancer retreat.
Over the following months, as I underwent chemotherapy, radiation treatments and a mastectomy, Dana was always there, cheering me on. Although we had not met in person at that time, she became my mentor. I opened her emails and Facebook messages as if they were a gift: The gift of hope.
Then, just three months after she first contacted me, she sent me a message that turned my world upside down. Her cancer had come back and this time it was stage 4. I was devastated! At that point, I was still going through my treatments and I didn’t know what the outcome would be for me. Dana was my hope and my inspiration. Because she had beaten cancer, I believed that I too could beat it. But with her stage 4 diagnosis, I lost faith in my own ability to survive. However Dana remained positive even in the face of this terminal diagnosis. She never lost hope, and she never, ever lost her faith and will to live. Seeing her strength and her will to survive gave me back mine.
Dana was a friend to all, and a better friend you could never ask for. I was privileged to meet some of her family and through them, I learned how Dana excelled, not just at being a friend, but also at being a mother, a wife, a daughter and a sister. Sometimes when I was worried about Dana, I would creep her Facebook page to see what she was posting. Like me, she was very open about her disease and would sometimes post about her health status. One night, just about a week before she died, I could not get her off my mind. I checked her Facebook page and there was a post, “Dollhouse for sale.” I smiled believing that death could not be close if she was still dealing with mundane, day to day things like de-cluttering her home. But that was Dana; being a good mom right to the end. Her husband, Todd, told me that after she passed, he was becoming frustrated with some paper work that he had to do. Then he discovered that she had filled out these papers before she died, to save him the frustration. Even in the face of death, Dana continued to take care of her children and her beloved husband.
Dana and her beautiful family.
Although I could see Dana getting sicker and weaker over the past several months, she continued to live every moment to the fullest and spread love and joy everywhere she went. What continues to inspire me most about Dana however, is not how she lived her life, but how she faced her death. I recently read this passage, written by Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl:
The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he picks up his cross, gives him ample opportunity-even under the most difficult circumstances-to add deeper meaning to his life. He may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal…….It is true that only a few are capable of reaching such high moral standards.
Dana is one of the few who was truly capable of reaching these high moral standards. I can only imagine the anguish that I would suffer at the thought of leaving three children and a loving husband. But just weeks before her passing, Dana said that she was not afraid, nor was she bitter or resentful. She told her friends that she experienced a peace that was beyond understanding. She remained brave, dignified and unselfish to the very end. Dana died just as she lived her life: with grace.
There is an old expression, “Only the good die young.” I believe that there is some truth to that. I believe that our souls come to this earthly plane to achieve greater levels of goodness (or Godliness), and to help other souls to grow and to evolve. There is a key truth that our souls must learn, but not only learn, we also must live this truth before we are ready to leave this world. Some learn to live that simple truth in a short life span, while others die after living a long life without ever having discovered it. The truth is this: Love is all that matters. Dana lived that truth every day. The love that she showed to her friends, her family, Johnny Reid, (who was as much a fan of hers as she was to him), and all who she met, was so pure and genuine. Dana just had that way of spreading love and joy everywhere she went. And that is why we, her survivor sisters, swarmed to her like bees to honey. Just to be in her presence was a gift.
Dana was a great fan of Johnny Reid, and he was a fan of hers.
The last words I spoke to Dana were through the same medium as the first words we spoke, a Facebook message.
-“Sending you lots of love, Dana.”
-“I love you too, Florence. Xoxo”
Thank you for the gift of your friendship and for the gift of your love, my friend. Rest in peace.
Dana singing her song at the launch of “100 Perks of Having Cancer”
It took me two days to mentally prepare to take Ben for a haircut. There have been a lot of changes for him lately with moving from a small town to the city. New house. New school. New bus. New routines. Change is not easy for anyone, but for a kid with Autism, it can cause extreme anxiety. I am happy to say that for the most part, Ben has been adjusting very well. However I was worried about his first hair cut in the city. Miss Goldie gave him his very first hair cut as a baby, and pretty much every one he has had since then. He doesn’t like to get his hair cut and will sometimes get upset and resist. Miss Goldie knows how to get the job done, but I wasn’t so sure about a city slicker hair stylist! Surprisingly, Ben was very cooperative, which I can only attribute to the fact that I bribed him: “First hair cut, then a new DVD at Walmart.”
Although the hair cut went well, my palms were sweating as we headed towards the DVD display. I know Ben’s pattern very well. He will have his heart set on a particular DVD and if it is not there, watch out! As feared, Ben took a quick look at the DVD display and let out a blood curdling scream, “THOMAS DVD! THOMAS DVD!” There were no Thomas DVD’s. An unexpected change. Panic for Ben! I noticed people moving away from us, even the sales associates seemed to suddenly disappear. In his state of heightened anxiety, Ben started to cry while flapping his hands and jumping around. Knowing what a commotion Ben’s meltdowns can cause, I just wanted to get him out the store as quickly as possible.
As I dragged him through the main aisle of Walmart, people darted out of our way, giving me that “bad mommy” look; some of them blatantly staring and pointing. They seemed to look at Ben as if he was a dangerous lunatic wielding a weapon, as opposed to an 11 year old boy brandishing the lollipop that he had just earned for being well behaved at the hair dresser’s. I held my head high. I was used to the judgemental stares and dirty looks. I had grown a thick skin over the years. They weren’t going to get to me!
As we neared the exit, Ben decided that he deserved another treat, a pack of hubba bubba bubble gum. With bated breath, I took him to the gum display, terrified that his preferred flavor was not there, which would certainly result in another melt down. People waiting in the line behind us impatiently tapped their debit cards, as Ben took his time to browse the display.
“Hurry up, Ben. There are people waiting”, I said, feeling more and more anxious with each passing second.
The elderly lady working the cash smiled at me and said, “That’s fine. Let him take his time and choose his treat.”
When he finally picked his gum, she spoke to Ben very kindly, “Would you like me to put this in a bag for you? My grandson has autism too. He likes to have his things put in a bag that he can carry himself.”
I paid the cashier, but with the big lump in my throat, I was barely able to speak to her.
As I walked to the car, I could no longer hold back my tears. I cried. Not because of the rude way that Ben was treated by the strangers that we encountered on our outing. I was used to that. I experience it nearly every time I take Ben out in public. I don’t let them get to me. What moved me to tears was the kindness of this lady who, despite Ben’s unusual behaviors, treated him with the dignity and respect that he deserves. That is what finally got to me.
If you enjoyed this post, you will love Florence’s new book: Calm the Fuck Down! A Day in the Life of an Autism Mom.
Learn more HERE
I am now the proud owner of an antique Enterprise stove (thanks Sherry and Bob)! For those of you reading this who are not from Newfoundland, you may be thinking, “What’s the big deal about an Enterprise stove?” However, those of you who grew up in Newfoundland (before the 1980’s when things went modern) are probably thinking, “Ya lucky bastard! How did you get your hands on that?”
Growing up in outport Newfoundland, wood and oil stoves such as these were the very heart of the home. One of my earliest memories is of waking on cold winter mornings, with at least 2 of my sisters in the bed with me, to the sound of Dad starting the stove to heat the house before we got up. Soon we would hear the crackling of burning wood and the heat would fill the house, slowly erasing the magical patterns that Jack Frost had painted on our windows overnight. My sisters and I would make our way to the kitchen where mom would be making home-made bread toast, using a grill placed directly on top of the stove. Stacks of this delicious toast, saturated with Eversweet margarine, would be placed at the back of the stove to keep warm, along with a pot of hot, sweet, Tetley Tea. Toast and tea was the traditional breakfast of outport Newfoundland, sometimes with a bit of molasses or blueberry jam to sweeten the toast.
Although the stove was run by both oil and wood, oil was considered “dear” (meaning expensive), while wood was practically free. On crisp, white winter mornings, the ringing of the horse’s bells would break the silence of the harbour, as they headed out, sleigh in tow, for a load of wood to fuel the stove.
Since the stove was used to both heat the house and cook the food, the temperature in the house was often determined by what was being cooked. On bread baking days, the house was at its warmest. There is nothing that can compare to the comforting smell of mom’s freshly baked bread taken from the oven of the old wood stove. My favorite part of the bread was the “heel” or end piece. My mom complained that taking the heel when the bread was still hot would dry it out. But I simply could not resist this crunchy treat with melted butter and molasses……and of course a cup of tea.
This stove, belonging to Mrs. Sarah Edwards of my hometown, Lawn, Newfoundland, is no longer in use, but still holds a special place in the home.
The stove is where we gathered on long winter evenings to listen to stories of ghosts and fairies from our parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. My Grandmother Kearney, who is still “smart as a top” at 93 years old, is a skilled story teller. Although I lived right next door, that run to my house at night seemed a long and scary one after listening to Nan tell stories of children who were taken by the fairies, never to be seen again.
My favorite memory of the old stove, is coming home, feet frozen after an evening of sledding down the hill by my house with my sisters and cousins. My woolen mittens, knit by my Nan with “real wool”, would be knobby with little snowballs. It was a pleasure to beat them out on top of the stove to dry them, and watch the water droplets dance across the top of the hot stove. Best of all, was opening the oven door to stick my cold feet inside and warm up, while having a “mug up”. Mug up is the Newfoundland word for snack, and the traditional mug up before bed was……..you guessed it….toast and tea.
This stove is my retirement gift to me. In five years, God willing, I will retire from my work as an Educational Psychologist. A dream that I share with my partner, Steve, is to have a cottage on the water where we will indulge in our passion for writing. We are not sure where this cottage will be located…..it may be in Lewin’s Cove, Newfoundland, or at the other end of the country, on Gabriola Island, British Columbia. Where ever it is located, you can be sure that my old stove will be the heart of this home. It is here that I will sit with my feet in the oven, while my rose tea pot simmers on the back of the stove, and I will write my stories. When I am blessed with grandchildren of my own, I will scare them with stories of ghosts and fairies, while gathered around my old wood stove, eating toast and drinking tea.
This stove still stands at the family home of the late Adolf and Evelyn Jarvis, of Lawn.