Are you Really Listening to your Child?

A few month’s ago, my ten-year old daughter was behaving badly. She is typically very restrained and is not prone to outward displays of emotion or drama. She was irritable, mean to her sister, and stubborn in following our instructions. In response, we shouted at her and applied punishments that are typically around restricting screen time or dessert.

One night, I deviated from our normal pattern at bedtime and I decided to sit with her and talk to her on her bed for about half an hour. I asked her what was happening at school, what she was worried about and what subjects she most enjoyed. I took special care not to offer solutions and to avoid passing judgement on her or anything she said. I asked a lot of questions about what she said and we had a very calm and loving exchange. As the conversation unfolded, I discovered that she was very stressed about what was happening at school.

For the past few years, she has struggled with the pace of work. She understands all of the content but she takes a long time to complete tests, worksheets and exercises in her books. This creates great frustration for the teachers because they know she understands the material and it holds up the rest of the class. At her previous school, she was belittled and humiliated by her teacher and we eventually left the school after all attempts to address the problem failed.

At her new school, the culture is a lot more compassionate and the well-being of the child is more important than finishing a maths worksheet in time. We moved both our daughters there and we feel a much better fit between our family and the culture of the school. However, my oldest is still struggling to complete work on time and the teachers are trying a variety of strategies to push her to do so. I think this brings back her negative experiences at the previous school and leads to an increase in anxiety. This further exacerbates her concentration difficulties.

The previous school suggested that she be medicated, but in having her evaluated by numerous medical practitioners, the consensus was that she is not suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In the past few years, we have tried a number of things to help her to focus and to complete her work. We have sent her to a psychologist to address her anxiety triggered by the bully teacher. We include protein in her diet, especially in the morning. We increased her intake of Omega supplements. She already has a diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables. These interventions were marginally effective but the fundamental problem persists.

I then started to wonder whether she required occupational therapy since she was quite sensitive as a baby and we did not understand its benefits until her sister needed intensive OT in her first year of school. I called an occupational therapist to ask her whether the difficulty concentrating could be aided by OT. She recommended that I investigate Tomatis SoListen. This therapy re-calibrates the auditory system, altering the neural pathways that carry the messages to the right place in the brain for processing.

I set up a meeting with a specialist in this therapy and explained my daughter’s history, including her challenges related to concentration and pace. She explained in detail how the therapy works and it appears to be a great match for my child. We have started the therapy and we are seeing some improvements already. It is a long process that takes several months to do properly. I am confident that this will be the right solution for her.

It occurred to me that we often don’t stop to see what’s happening for our children underneath their behavior. I sat with her each night for about three weeks and listened to her fears, her worries and the things that bring her joy. It’s not necessary every night now but occasionally we have a long chat if she seems quiet or unhappy. We talk in the car on the way home from school, we do homework together and we eat at the dinner table as a family. Even with those opportunities to connect, she only felt comfortable one-on-one to share what was happening for her.

I wonder how many children are struggling through issues that they don’t communicate to their parents, parents that are eager and willing to listen. I’m not sure if we have resolved this pace issue yet, but we are actively investing in a solution to support her. What’s probably more valuable is how our relationship has improved and how I’m now aware of what stress looks like for her. Instead of reprimanding her, I can now take her aside and listen to what’s worrying her.

Have you made space to communicate with your children in a way that allows them to open up? Can you listen without judgement or offering solutions so that they can find their way through difficult challenges? Do your children know how much you love them and how willing you are to support them through their difficulties?

So, this is how Joy feels

I spent most of my life having no idea how joy feels. Ever since my burnout at the end of 2014, I’ve been struggling to find my way. Writing this blog helped me to figure out that I am a writer and it led to my first book, Avoiding Burnout. It became clear that I needed to extend my offerings in order to build my brand, attract more customers and make more money.

Avoiding Burnout book launch

When I recovered enough to manage evening outings, I joined Toastmasters and honed my public speaking skills. This made sense since addressing audiences is a good way to promote books and to further engage with one’s audience.It was a great experience because I got to connect with new people, work on a skill and receive support and inspiration at every meeting. I did a bit of speaking for some clients, and I enjoyed it. However, my message was not quite distilled and I started to feel that I might be doing the wrong thing.

As I wrote about last time, I’ve created a keynote speech that I love. It’s possible to make the speech shorter and to introduce customisable pieces that pertain to the audience. I’m very excited about it and can’t wait to start marketing it. I plan to address company staff, school students, teachers and anyone who can benefit from stress management.

I’m more than half way through my second book, Mastering Stress, and I’m so enjoying it. I’m writing it in an agile way, releasing one chapter per month to my beta audience and I receive wonderful feedback. The process has become a collaborative effort with those who contribute and I’m loving it. I’m excited about this book and I’m very happy with the core message in it.

I’ve been working on my workshops and have developed a foundation one and three advanced workshops for individuals. I also have one that is suitable for companies to train their staff in effective stress management. I’m really excited about taking this forward and I feel that I can confidently sell offerings that are meaningful.

For the first time in years, I feel so aligned. I am clear on my purpose and my message to the world. I’m excited about my offerings and I’ve never had such clarity. This allows me to decline opportunities that don’t align with what I’m doing and how I want to spend my time. Somehow, I seem to be attracting all sorts of opportunities. I think there are a number of reasons for this, primarily all the work I have done in personal growth, as well as space clearing.

I got very inspired by Marie Kondo’s show Tidying Up on Netflix. My ten year old daughter got so excited by watching her show that she promptly emptied her cupboards and spend a whole day tidying her room. Systematically, I’m working through the house each weekend, tackling the various categories and I have cleared so much clutter. I have given away so many toys and a lot of old clothing, to charity. I have said goodbye and thank you to the things I no longer need in my life. My cupboards look so sparse but I don’t miss anything. I have full shelves that are vacant and it has left me with such a feeling of freedom.

We surround ourselves with so much stuff that we don’t truly need. Entering a room that is messy and cluttered causes a physical reaction in me. I feel tense and unhappy. But when I look at my beautifully organised clothing drawers and my open shelves, I feel relaxed and at peace. Things now have a place where they belong and it’s so much easier to put them away. Marie Kondo advises us to keep what ‘sparks joy’, such a beautiful choice of words.

The process of tidying is remarkably rewarding. Even if I’m feeling tired when I begin tidying, by the end I feel energized and happy. In this journey of recovery, I have made a point of listening to my own thoughts. I had very negative and harsh thoughts about myself before I got sick. I have changed these actively, and have learnt to speak in a kinder way to myself. After tidying up, I notice that my thoughts are ‘I’m so happy’ repeatedly.

I believe that this process of tidying has had a greater impact on our family than we expected. I now look at our home with new eyes and I’m tackling small maintenance projects because I want my home to be beautiful. I want to be proud of my space and happy to be in it. For many years, I didn’t have the energy or the money to work on our home and it was a source of sadness. I often felt embarrassed when we had visitors because it was untidy and poorly maintained. Now, I feel so inspired to make our home beautiful again.

Yesterday, I spent a few hours working on my workshops. I had so much fun and I loved every moment of it. I didn’t want to stop working but I had to, to cook dinner for my family. When I went inside and started cooking, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. What usually feels like a chore, didn’t feel difficult at all. I didn’t mind doing all the things I usually grumble about. It’s so clear to me that when you’re happy inside, obstacles tend to appear smaller and life just seems easier. When I’m in a great mood, it rubs off on my family and my children feel happy and calm. We often feel that following our own path is selfish, but it’s clear to me what a positive impact it has on my loved ones.

It’s hard to explain this sensation, of how joy feels. It’s like an unshakable contentment that permeates all aspects of my life and my day. It is not only as a result of having a tidier house, but because I’m doing the work that I love. I’m aligned to my life purpose and I’m making choices every day that keep me aligned. I’m taking good care of myself, I’m doing the work I’m meant to be doing and as a result, I get to live a life of joy.

How joy feels

I’d love you to live this way too. It’s very hard to explain how to get there because we all have our own journeys to travel, but if I had to summarise it:

  • Invest in yourself through whatever means works for you: books, workshops, seminars, study.
  • Heal your wounds – we carry around such heavy emotional baggage. Do this by psychotherapy, counselling, prayer, coaching, Reiki, body stress release, kinesiology, whatever works for you.
  • Forgive – let go of all the grudges and hurt you are carrying around because it holds you back from living your best life. Forgiving people doesn’t have to involve letting them know. Do it for you.
  • De-clutter – give away things that you don’t want to take into your future. Make space for more opportunities and people in your life who lift you up. They can’t make their way into your life if you’re holding onto so much junk.
  • Be brave – take the leap and do the things you’ve always dreamed about. Take a chance and back yourself because once you align with your inner compass, life becomes effortless.

Following your dreams can be a tricky and confusing path and it can take years to find your way through. It has been five years since my life fell apart and I’m so grateful that it did. I find myself in a place where I now understand how joy feels. I’m so happy and blessed with the life I lead. I want to share this with the world. Imagine spending everyday doing work that is so much fun it makes you smile from ear to ear. Imagine feeling that you can’t wait to get out of bed because you’re going to love what you spend time on in the day. I’m aware that I will have tough days and I’ll experience struggles again, but it feels as though I’ve broken through to a layer of clarity and joy that I haven’t had before. And I love it.

Refining my Key Offerings

Lately, things are going really well with my work. It has taken me a long time to be comfortable in seeing what I do as work and I think many others don’t truly see it that way. But I carry on, regardless, because it makes sense to me.

My job right now is to write my second book, Mastering Stress. I’m writing it in an agile way, releasing a chapter a month to my beta audience. I get wonderful feedback and incorporate that back into the book. I’m also doing interviews to learn from people how they manage stress and to get a window into people’s lives.

Refining my book, Mastering Stress

The other things that keep me busy are writing blog posts for FutureFemales which I really enjoy, preparing a training course for Udemy on mastering stress, speeches to audiences who want to learn about managing their stress better, and holding workshops to practice these tools.

I am the master of my destiny in many ways because I can choose when I want to work on each component and I can schedule my meetings around my deadlines. April, however, seemed very strained as I went away for eight days, had to support my oldest daughter with an onerous therapy that lasted thirteen days and had a lot of things to deliver. In one week I had to prepare for my first Dealing with Stress workshop and release a chapter. Having my children home for the school holidays made it difficult to focus on my work, with many interruptions and social engagements.

I was stressed to deliver a lot in a short time and I could feel it in my body. Since I have learnt so much about stress lately and have changed my mindset to be a much more positive one, I understood that this stress was healthy. I acknowledged that I was feeling stretched and that it was because I cared about everything I was involved in. I want to serve my customers well, keep my word and be an engaged parent. I realized that I was feeling the challenge response, the stress response that pushes us to deliver and makes us feel pumped and energized.

The good news is that I got everything done. I sent my chapter out on time and met my commitment. I delivered my workshop with confidence and figured out how to tweak it for next time. My daughter and I got through the therapy and we are waiting for the impacts to integrate. I pushed myself and since going through my burnout, I am aware that I need to take time to relax and rest. I thought I would spend the first week of May refining my workshop to prepare one version for companies for a full day and improve the half day one for individuals. That’s what this past week was supposed to be.

And then, on Monday I received the opportunity to do a speech on Friday. I could not pass up an opportunity to share my message and to practice my speaking. So I embraced the challenge and pushed forward. I developed a 40-minute keynote speech and practiced it in between my other work. The speech went so well and I’m very happy with the content and the message. This coming week has very few appointments and I’m excited to spend it refining my workshop and my keynote. Unless, of course, I get some great opportunity…

Refining my keynote speech

Last year I held my first workshop on knowing yourself. It was inspired by the first of my seven principles of self-preservation from my first book, Avoiding Burnout. There were very few participants and although it went well and they loved it, I could not help but feel like a failure. Something was just not right. And yet this year, I had the same number of participants and I feel so inspired. I feel that this is the right workshop and I want to take this forward to spread my message to as many people as I can. My keynote also feels right. I am so keen to spend time refining these and to take them to the world.

I’m not sure what’s changed to make me feel so sure of my direction now. Of course, I continue my many different types of personal growth and perhaps I’ve unlocked something that was blocking my clarity or success. Also, it takes time to dabble and to test things out. When this is happening, we don’t feel successful and we get frustrated and want to quit. But I think this is a necessary part of figuring out our path. I experimented with many talks and ideas about workshops and they didn’t feel right. I have come to a place where I’m content to promote these offerings and to charge my customers for them.

I’m really excited about refining my key offerings and I feel like I’m on the precipice of success with this new career. I love writing and will always see myself as a writer but I also enjoy engaging with people in workshops and talks so this all blends well into my desire to guide people towards their best lives possible.

I Choose Joy

Those who have been following my blog for a while would know that I suffered a significant health incident a few years ago. I burnt out. Medically, that meant my adrenal glands were not operating optimally and I developed an autoimmune disease of the thyroid. From a lifestyle point-of-view, that meant chronic fatigue for several years, so bad that I could not work or function normally for a long time.

fatigue

I had to make a lot of changes. I had to learn how to function with reduced energy, which is somewhat challenging for an achievement-seeking A-type personality. I had to learn to be patient with myself and my body while recovering. I changed almost every aspect of my life: my career, my relationships, my beliefs and my behavior. My life looks very different now and I’m grateful for that as I’m a lot happier overall.

I was an achiever without goals which is an unnatural state of affairs. I could not focus on ultra marathon achievements or professional success because I could not exercise at all initially and I could not work. So, I set my focus and determination on getting better. I treated it like a project. I subscribed to newsletters, I listened to podcasts, I registered for summits and I read anything I could find online about thyroid and adrenal health.

I found wonderful groups of supportive people. Others in my network recommended treatments, tonics, supplements and healing. I did almost everything that was recommended by a credible source. I changed my diet on the advice of my doctor and the recommendations of friends and online sources. I discovered spirituality and dabbled in healing on the emotional, spiritual and mental levels. I learnt how to meditate and embraced mindfulness which was somewhat of a struggle. I found a therapist who specializes in burnout who helped me to make sense of getting so sick.

I also sought the support of multiple types of medicine and practitioners. I have a homeopath, an endocrinologist and an integrated (functional) practitioner in my panel of doctors. I am open to trying alternative treatments that support my recovery. I have taken ownership of my own health and not left it up to any medical practitioner. No one can accuse me of being complacent with my health as I believe that I have done everything reasonable I can do to recover as quickly as possible. Of course there is more that can be done but we also need balance. At some point one starts to feel it’s too much in terms of time, energy and money spent on more interventions.

On my most recent batch of blood tests, the results showed something very interesting. My adrenal glands have recovered and I no longer need to take any medication for them. I have felt incrementally better over the past few years and I’m so pleased to be at the point where I don’t need to support my adrenals with medication any longer. This shows great progress.

However, my thyroid results were worrying. Most people who have my illness, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, do not have a working thyroid any longer. The thyroid function is damaged by years of attack by the immune system. My thyroid works which means it produces the hormones that give the body energy and enable metabolism to work. I’m one of the few people with this disease who doesn’t take medication for it.

However, my antibody levels are very high which means that my immune system is attacking my thyroid more than it ever has before. If that continues, my thyroid won’t work any longer and I’ll be forced to take medication to simulate what the thyroid does. Millions of people take this medication and it’s not the end of the world. However, it is my aim to allow my body to work optimally and all the work I have done for the past few years is aligned to that. If the attack continues I am at a higher risk for other autoimmune diseases such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

I really want to avoid my immune system from ravaging my body. There is the possibility that my immune system has spikes and dips and is mostly working fine. I have young children who bring home colds and flu. When I had the blood tests done I had one child sick with the flu and I came down with it shortly afterwards. So, were my antibodies elevated from that? Or is it an ongoing attack?

I’m telling you all this because I’ve made a decision that is quite unusual and significant for me. My endocrinologist put me on medication to calm down the immune system. His aim is to prevent me from losing my thyroid and developing other autoimmune diseases. This is also my aim of course. The medication tastes terrible, is administered at an inconvenient time of day and has to be stored in the fridge. It ramps up every week and by the time I reached week four, I was a different person.

The side effects include depression, hopelessness, worthlessness and inability to feel joy. I lost any interest in writing, I felt completely worthless and I could not feel joy. I grappled with what to do for a while and eventually decided to stop taking the medication. I know I stand the risk of losing my thyroid. I am also risking developing more illnesses. But I cannot live without joy. I am all about joy. It’s absolutely everything to me.

joy

It was a hard decision to make but at the end of the day it is my decision. I’ve stopped the medication and instead, I’ll use a homeopathic equivalent. I want to give myself and my body the best chance to be as healthy as possible. But if I have to choose between health and joy, I choose joy. I believe that I’ve done as much as I can do towards living a healthy life and recovering as much as I can. At some point, I need to let go and trust that things will turn out the way they need to.

Belonging Everywhere and Nowhere

I never feel that I belong. I am in a constant state of not belonging. I don’t belong around the school mothers who knock back gin and wine to numb whatever it is that troubles them. I don’t belong in the spiritual tribe who all know what each crystal is and what it does. I don’t belong in the corporate environment because I’ve changed too much since my burnout.

Part of the reason I burnt out was that I wanted to be liked and accepted. My childhood experiences led me to believe that I needed to be nice and considerate to everyone and to put everyone’s needs first. I had to be interesting and I had to know about current affairs and what’s trending. Since recovering from burnout, I don’t feel the need to be liked and accepted by anyone other than myself anymore. I am free to meet my needs and to pursue my dreams,even if it seems weird to others.

I do belong at home though. I love my children and my husband and we have a beautiful home and a happy family. I feel at peace in my sanctuary, writing or working on my other projects. I feel relaxed around my children, mostly. But when I venture into the outside world, I feel that I am so different from pre-burnout Kathy and the rest of the people in the world, that I feel isolated.

I can’t eat gluten on the insistence of my specialist, since it aggravates my autoimmune thyroid disease. This means that I can’t join in with meals and snacks like other people can. I don’t drink because alcohol aggravated my ailing adrenal glands over the past few years and it interfered with my sleep. Once you’ve suffered from chronic fatigue for a few years, sleep and rest are of supreme importance and I don’t mess around with them.

So, cheese and wine evenings are not an option. I can’t just tuck into the pizza that people order after the netball or snack on the eats at a party. I have to be very selective of what I eat since gluten is often hidden in the seasoning and stock cubes within foods. I can’t eat stews or even soy sauce or crisps without checking the ingredients on the packaging. You can see how that might make me feel very much on the outskirts of social gatherings as participation around meals is difficult. I bring my own snacks and I don’t feel that I’m missing much but sometimes the host feels offended if one doesn’t dig into the food that has been prepared with love and effort.

My whole world changed when I got sick. I couldn’t go out and I was stuck at home a lot. I learnt to entertain myself with books and to feed my mind. I could not make use of crutches like alcohol and cookies. I had to learn self-compassion, I had to forgive myself for wrecking my life and I had to change many relationships. I distance myself from people and situations that are negative and that affect me negatively. I don’t watch the news because there’s too much suffering. I don’t want to indulge in blaming the government or making fun of Donald Trump. It’s boring.

What I care about are things that people don’t often talk about. I am interested in growth and how adversity shapes us. I’m interested in how the body and brain work in union to help us. I want to talk about things like deliberate practice and self-compassion. I want to hear about how people have grown from the suffering in their lives. I don’t want to talk about the weather, the economy or corruption. I’m more interested in how people have mastered skills and found happiness in the simple things in life.

I often feel disconnected with those around me because my outlook is so different and it’s hard to relate to the experiences of people in corporate jobs or those chasing something they’ll never catch. My version of success looks different from that of the average person. It makes me sad at times that I’m not like other people and that I can’t just slot into conversations freely. I often feel lonely and that I can’t belong anywhere.

Brené Brown writes about belonging in her book, Braving the Wilderness. She quotes Maya Angelou in the book who suggests that we learn to belong everywhere and nowhere. Today I felt that. I usually go to social functions with a sense of dread that I’ll feel left out and I won’t be able to engage in any conversation with anyone. I don’t like small talk and I insist on being authentic. I find it tiring to feign interest in things that don’t appeal to me.

But today I went somewhere with my kids and I had no expectations. I went with them and spent time with them and went home with them. I didn’t expect to see anyone I knew or to be included anywhere or invited to join in any group. I saw dozens of people I knew and I treated everyone with respect and politeness. I was invited to join in and to drink wine with some. I genuinely enjoyed being there and was so glad to be out and in the company of people. My kids wanted to get home so I left before I was even keen to leave, which is quite rare for me. Usually I can’t wait to get home where I feel that sense of belonging.

I think it all depends on the energy we put out and our expectations. I don’t expect anyone to include me in anything because it’s no-one’s job. I am happy to be me and I continue to be authentic in all environments and at all times. I’m clear that I might never feel a deep sense of belonging in any particular place but that’s okay. I feel content with that because I’m very happy being me. I belong to me. And I feel at peace.

A Self-Righteousness Guide?

It’s my life goal to become a guide, leading people towards their best life possible. This is my calling, my reason for getting up everyday and something I feel passionate about. I strive to inspire people to make lifestyle changes that move them away from the burdens and ills of stress and towards a life of joy.

guide

I have a learnt a great deal in the last few years since my burnout. I gained a lot of self-knowledge – what works for me and what I needed to change in my life to live a life of joy. I also gained knowledge in a multitude of areas including thyroid and adrenal health, as well as the science of happiness. I’ve learnt about deliberate practice, gratitude, awe and willpower. I’ve learnt about grit and how to become a successful giver without burning out.

Learning is one of my top strengths and I will continue to invest in my own growth and development for as long as I live. I love to share what I have learnt in the hope that others can gain and enrich their lives. I think we often learn through the stories of others. Sharing knowledge, however, can be tricky.

There are those who don’t want to know about aspects of their lifestyles that are harming them. People don’t want to hear that they’re not getting enough sleep or that gluten is worsening their thyroid disease. I am quite cautious when it comes to discussions such as these because I’m aware that everyone needs to buy into the changes they want to make in there lives and it is completely their choice as to when or if they change.

I would never have made the life changes I’ve made if it weren’t absolutely necessary. But I wonder how much better life could be if we were willing to look after ourselves properly. I feel fantastic after I get enough sleep. Waking up naturally, knowing that I’ve had about nine hours feels incredible. I’m able to function fully and to tackle any challenge. It’s such a pity that we resist sleep and we find many other pressing things to do instead of going to bed early.

People need to be ready to make the changes they want to make. But the trouble is that I’m so eager to share what I’ve learnt. I know that I can come across as self-righteous in my attempt to share what I’ve learnt. I certainly don’t have all the answers and my life is not perfect. I just get a little overexcited to share what I’ve discovered.

I wish that someone had told me that I was wrecking my health and my life. The burnout I experienced robbed me of so much. I lost my sport, many relationships, my health and my income for years. I am still not completely well and I wish I could rid my body of the disease I developed from stress. I wish I could go back in time and tell that Kathy that she’s an idiot. She’s chasing success and pushing herself far too hard.

I thought I was invincible. I thought limitations were only in the mind and that I could push beyond all physical setbacks. I thought that I would always be without chronic illness. I often see people on a similar trajectory and I want to be that person who didn’t tell me where I was headed.

But it’s not always well received. I know that people are all on their own journey and perhaps it’s unfair to rob people of the learning that comes with such a health collapse. I did learn a lot and I know that I would not have changed my life so radically had I not become so ill. I needed the total and utter destruction of my life as I knew it, in order to change.

guide

Please forgive me if I come across as a know-it-all. Forgive me for wanting to help and wanting to prevent the level of suffering I endured. I don’t mean to offend or to annoy anyone. I’m just eager to reduce the suffering in the world. And it is sad that not everyone is ready to hear it or ready to accept that it’s possible to change your life.

I would love to be the person who is responsible for others living lives to the full. Imagine a world where people are fully rested, and are eating healthy food to the point where their bodies are functioning almost to perfection. Imagine the productivity and creativity that would unfold in a world where people operate like this. Imagine the reduction in crimes of passion, road rage and violence if people were healthy and happy. Imagine a world where millions of people stop taking anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication because they are healthy and happy. This is the world I strive to create.

A world like this needs us to change our habits. We need to get more sleep, drink more water, exercise, meditate and eat healthy greens. We need to engage in healing – our bodies, minds, emotions and our souls. We need to face our traumas and to heal. We need to be present, in the moment and tell our loved ones we care. If I could get a few families to shift in this way, I would have succeeded in my life’s work.

I aim to guide people towards their best life possible. What would yours look like?

Struggling to be Me

Lately, I’ve been struggling a lot. I’m working hard on my book, Mastering Stress and I’m preparing for a new experience of speaking. It’s fun work and I enjoy it but I do spend most of my time alone, in my sanctuary, working.

Last year I interviewed a lot of people for my book and I found it really energizing. I loved connecting with new people and hearing about their stress-related stories. As an introvert, I don’t do small talk well. I prefer meaningful, deeper conversations about things that really matter. And these interviews served a real need to connect and have a shared human experience with others.

I think I’m quite lonely spending all day writing or preparing a speech. I need to connect with others and to infuse their energy into my life and my day. I want to schedule more interviews but it is a struggle to phone a stranger and ask for an hour of their time. I will overcome this but it is just difficult for me in the place where I am.

Struggling with loneliness

When I attend a function with a lot of people, it feels strange to me. I don’t watch the news and I’m not interested in commiserating about the government’s failings or the economy. I find I have little to say when it comes to current affairs as I have no interest and I’m not willing to fake it. I am interested in real people, personal growth and hard challenges. I’m interested in adversity and how it shapes people. This is not often dinner time conversation.

I’m not in a corporate job and I feel very removed from the politics and challenges that take place in large organizations. To be honest, I’m happy to be free from all of that and I don’t see myself ever going back to work at a corporate. It’s hard for me to comment or connect with what happens in the workplace these days and much of it feels inauthentic and so removed from what matters most to me. It’s hard for me to participate in these conversations.

I don’t feel that I belong anywhere. I don’t belong in the working world and I don’t belong with the parents at school functions and parties who want to drink tequila until the early hours of the morning. I have been so sick that I had to learn how to take care of myself and my body. I honor my body and what it needs. It doesn’t need tequila.

I don’t belong around my extended family because they don’t know what I’m all about. They don’t see my struggle, my journey or my calling. They can’t understand what I’m trying to achieve. I don’t belong with school friends because I’ve change too much.
The only place I really belong is at home, with my children. I love my children and they have struggles that are real and challenging. But I feel like a housewife if I spend all night talking about my children’s challenges.

I don’t even belong at my yoga studio. Over the years I’ve improved a lot and I’m now comfortable with the postures. I’m always friendly and I show an interest in people’s lives. But lately, I’ve realized that no-one shows an interest in me or my life. In fact, I’m often ignored and it feels awful. I would like to be my usual cheerful, open self. If I do that, I feel rejected but if I don’t (and close up to protect myself), I’m not being authentic. You would think that a yoga studio of all places would be somewhere one felt comfortable having an open heart, or maybe just good manners.

I recently read Brené Brown’s Braving the Wilderness, about true belonging. She says this: “Belonging to ourselves means being called to stand alone – to brave the wilderness of uncertainty, vulnerability and criticism.” I guess I need to learn to stand alone and to belong to myself.

I often wonder if people look at me and wonder what happened. I used to be a top performer at work. I used to be really good at my job and I held such promise. I used to be ambitious and have dreams of rising through the ranks in large corporations. That doesn’t interest me anymore but it doesn’t mean I don’t have big dreams.

I want to reach a lot of people with my message about living your best life possible. I want to speak to large audiences and sell millions of books. It’s easier said than done. Building a name and a brand takes time and I often feel frustrated that it’s going so slowly. It has taken time for me to crystallize my message and to be clear on who I serve. And of course, that might change slightly over time depending on opportunities that come my way and that fit with my life purpose.

So at the moment, it looks like I’m a mom who doesn’t work or do much. It looks like I’m failing and to be honest, it feels like that a lot too. I mess up in social settings because I’m rusty and I’m lonely. I try too hard, I say stupid things and I offend people. When that happens, I just want to retreat into my little hole and never come out.

I try to be kind to myself and to practice what I preach, but it’s hard. I try to focus on the work at hand (my book) and maintain hope that it will be more successful than the last one. But, what if it’s not? What if I’m looking at many more years of obscurity and loneliness? What if I’ll never attain any level of success in what I’m doing?

I can’t go back to who I was before I burnt out. I’m changed. I can’t be inauthentic or do work that I don’t like. I’m too far gone. I’ve moved down this path too far to go back to my former self. So, how do I move forward knowing that I might never be successful or accomplish what feels like the impossible?

Struggling with Connection

I know I’m feeling sorry for myself and the energy I put out impacts how others respond to me. Maybe it’s all a mirror of what’s happening inside. Maybe I need to learn to belong to myself, to love myself and to accept the whole package, flawed and all. Maybe I need to find ways of connecting with people again that feels authentic and rewarding.

The Beauty of Life is in the Small Things

My cousin passed away recently and the grief offered me a wonderful gift. It helped me to realise that the beauty of life is in the small things. I went for a walk in my neighbourhood on the Monday morning after his funeral. The world looked different to me, and I was able to appreciate the smallest details that I often overlook.

the beauty of life is in the small things

I noticed the insects, scurrying around doing their very important work. I noticed the community workers cleaning up the bridge from debris after heavy rains the week before. People were mowing lawns, trimming their edges and driving to important meetings. These things may seem mundane, but it occurred to me that this is the very point of life. My cousin wouldn’t get to do any of these things again.

As much as I love routine, I often get very bored by the monotony of life. I get frustrated that I have to make the school lunches and sit through homework with my daughters. I tell them over and over again to lay out their school uniforms, set the table and pour their juice for supper. The same instructions again and again, every single night.

My cousin didn’t get married, or have children. He didn’t have a successful career. He didn’t get to sit in traffic in the gridlocked school parking lot. He didn’t get to argue over the method of solving a math problem. He didn’t get to negotiate later bedtimes or what his children spent their pocket money on.

We often spend our lives waiting for something big to happen. We know we will have made it in life when x happens. We dream about Nobel prizes, best-selling books and Oprah calling us up for an interview. We imagine that some big event will happen and that will show the world how truly valuable we are. Only then, we will have had a significant life.

Death and grief are great teachers. They give us perspective. They make us think about our legacy and how we want to be remembered. It often spurs us on to live a better life, to make changes and to reach for our dreams. When someone we love dies, we think about these things and hopefully take action on them.

It’s important to have big dreams and to reach for our goals. But life is really lived in the everyday monotony that we often grumble about. My recent grief offered me the gift of appreciating the mundane, irritating daily tasks that I usually complain about. Now, I’m grateful that I get to make the same sandwiches day after day. I’m grateful that I get to engage with these beautiful little people who live in my house. I’m grateful for the small things like cutting their toenails and washing their hair. It’s a true blessing to have other people to care for, people who need me and who want me around.

We need meaning for our lives to be worth living. We need a reason to get up in the morning. Sometimes, that’s as simple as having a pet to feed. We often feel burdened by those who depend on us. Obligation feels heavy sometimes and we resist the responsibilities of parenting, caring for aging relatives and serving our clients. We moan about having to show up at work everyday to meet the expectations of our leaders or team members. But this is often the essence of life. It’s a privilege to have people depending on us, because it drives us to keep going.

Hugs are one of the best parts of parenting

I love my cousin and I’m sad he’s not here anymore. But I’m grateful that losing him offered me something. I’ve been able to appreciate the beauty of life and I’d like to continue to savour every moment. He has shown me that life is so precious and that I’m so very lucky to have the life I have, and the people who are in it.

The Consequence of Boundaries

Last week my cousin passed away. He was only 36 and it was traumatic for the whole family. He was very unhappy and had struggled with mental illness and addiction for a number of years. Finally, he committed suicide. That left a wake of reactions in our family and I’m sure for his friends.

Grief

My brother was very close to him and tried to help him to navigate the difficulties he was experiencing. They spent many nights together and had shopping adventures, sharing much along the way. My cousin’s death hit my brother hard.

My mother lives in another city and was making plans to come for the funeral, along with my grandmother and aunt and uncle. She started making all sorts of plans for who will do what on the day of the funeral. Finally, when the date and time were set, she told my cousin and my brother that I would take them to the funeral. That was not something I wanted or asked for and it created a bunch of challenges for me.

My husband travels a lot and the Friday afternoon of the funeral, he would be away. I have two little girls, aged seven and ten and I wasn’t sure what I would do about them. I didn’t want to take them to the funeral since it’s upsetting for them to be in an environment of such sadness and to see their relatives crying. I know many cultures include the children but I was concerned about exposing them to so much grief and having to explain suicide to them.

I’m a recovering people pleaser and in the past, I would have bent over backwards to accommodate a request like the one that my mother placed on me. But after my health collapse from stress, I am changed. I am aware of what I have to do and what I don’t have to do and this was one of those situations where I needed to push back. It’s really not my job to drive my family to the funeral.

I called my mother and told her to stop making commitments on my behalf. I told my cousin that it would not be suitable for me to take her to the funeral and I called my brother. I explained that it would be very difficult for me to lift him there and back and to navigate the logistics of picking up my children. He wanted to leave directly after placing the coffin in the hearse and my cousin wanted to stay and chat to the out-of-town relatives. It would have been impossible for me to meet two opposing needs at the same time.

I made arrangements for a friend at school to take my kids home after school and I could fetch them both from their house on the way home. Finally, I had managed to make plans and I assumed that my brother could take an Uber and my cousin’s husband could drive her there. I’m not sure why I became the person to drive everyone there when my husband was away and my children need to be taken care of.

But this was the pattern of my life for a long time. People expecting me to do all the hosting of family functions, to be there to prop everyone up. I’m the strong one but people forget that I have feelings too. I’m also grieving and I also struggle at times. I’m the one who experienced a monumental burnout that took three years of my life, and yet people are still pushing things on me that I didn’t want.

On the day of the funeral, my oldest daughter woke up sick. She had to stay off school and I couldn’t take a sick child into the home of people who were already doing us a favor. I had to take her along to the funeral, adding a last minute complication. At the funeral, my brother refused to greet me and embarrassed me in front of about 500 people. He was so angry that I refused to drive him to and from the funeral, something I didn’t volunteer for and something that was pushed on me by my mother.

Boundaries come with consequences
Boundaries come with consequences

It’s very clear to me that this was a case of implementing a boundary. The logistics of looking after a sick child, finding the church, dropping people off and fetching my other child were just too much for me on a day when I was grieving and struggling. Once home, I had to make food for my children, brush teeth and get them to bed before I could allow my grief to flow. I had to hold it together enough to make polite conversation with the family who looked after my child, to listen to my kids talk about things that didn’t feel important at a time when I was consumed my grief.

I’m clear that I’m responsible for my own life and the consequences of my decisions. I put up a boundary to protect myself and to be able to manage on the day. The people around me didn’t accept it. My brother is ending our relationship because I was not there for him. I know that I did the right thing for me and that I can’t be responsible for other people’s happiness. It’s just so frustrating that I can’t make it clear to people that I only have so much to give. Caring for myself has become perceived as selfishness.

I believe in having compassion and understanding. I know that my brother’s grief is clouding his judgement and behavior. But I also don’t deserve to be publicly humiliated and rejected like that. I’m able to separate out my emotions from my behavior. Do I just walk away from this relationship that is co-dependent until he learns how not to be a victim? Do I bring compassion and just let him treat me badly?

I’m hoping that my family has learnt not to push things on me anymore. We can only be responsible for our own behavior and we have to accept the consequences of what we do. Looking back, I don’t believe I acted selfishly in refusing what was forced on me. I would do that again. I can’t control the way other people see that situation and I can’t control their perception of me being selfish and unkind. I have to surrender to the knowledge that I did the best I could in that situation. What other people do or think is not within my control and is also not my responsibility.

Are your rules working for you?

Often without being aware of it, we have constructed a lot of rules for ourselves in our lives. Some of them were put in place to help us to make sense of the world, protect ourselves or be successful. At some point, however, we need to assess these rules to make sure that they are still working for us.

Rules
Rules, rules, rules…

Let me give you some examples. You might have decided that you can’t function without a cup of coffee to start each day. You might have a rule that says you need to read before going to sleep. Sometimes, these rules are challenged. For example, you develop a thyroid disease and need to take medication first thing on an empty stomach and that cup of coffee has to wait for at least thirty minutes.

When our rules are challenged, it can be a source of stress. We become unsettled and even panicked about how we will maintain the status quo. We know that change is a constant and as we get older, more and more of these rules will be challenged. Some of them are easy enough to change. Some, however send us off kilter for a while and we need to find a new way of being that fits into our new reality. That might mean making new or different rules in order to cope with what’s changing in our lives.

We have rules about so many things. We have rules about how work should look and what is work and what is not work. The world is changing and people are making money in completely unique and interesting ways that were unheard of twenty years ago. Maybe you have a rule about what your career needs to look like. Sometimes when we get attached to our expectations, it can lead to a lot of stress and disappointment when things don’t turn out as planned. Sometimes, the best things come from unexpected places, like retrenchment. Being open to possibilities and accepting something different from what we expect, helps to reduce stress.

We have rules about relationships. When I do this, my partner must do that. When I say this, my kids must do that. But people aren’t robots and expecting people to act and respond the way we want, also leads to stress and disappointment. Dropping those expectations and just loving the people in our lives leads to much more happiness. What would happen if you let go of those relationship rules you’ve been living by all this time?

We are often compelled to conform, to fit in to our environments, be it at work, or socially. Our families expect certain things from us and often we get trapped in a cycle of fulfilling the expectations of others while we suppress what we really want to do and who we really want to be. Mark Manson, the successful blogger writes about admiration for the ” willingness to be different, an outcast, a pariah, all for the sake of one’s own values.” Maybe we need to break the patterns we have set in motion and stop worrying about meeting the expectations and needs of others.

We also have rules for ourselves. You allow yourself to do some things and you don’t allow yourself to do other things. Do you allow yourself to have fun? To rest or to be silly? Do you allow yourself to spend time on creativity or things that don’t lead to income or ‘productive’ outcomes? Sometimes breaking the rules you made for yourself can be enormously liberating. I’m not in any way encouraging you to break the law. Just to be clear.

Some rules we have put in place are no longer useful or relevant and when we are inflexible and cannot adapt to the change, we suffer. When I developed my autoimmune disease, I had to give up gluten. That meant a cascade of changes in my life, starting with the daily rusk and tea. I had to start reading the ingredients in all the food I ate and bought. I had to notify hosts of any functions or meals I attended that I cannot eat gluten.

It was hard and I was really grumpy about it for a long time. But I adjusted and now I have a new normal. The more change we encounter, the better we get at adjusting and the easier it becomes when we need to take on a new challenge.

Perhaps I’m lucky in a way that my burnout was so severe that I really had to make a lot of changes. I changed my diet, relationships and career. I learnt to relax and to be kind to myself which was tricky to get right. I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered anything but I had to let go of a lot of my rules I had in place.

I create rules for my children to guide them in terms of their behavior and our expectations of them. My youngest adheres to the rules so fastidiously that it can be harmful. She gets overwhelmed if a rule doesn’t work or she needs to bend it for a practical reason. I’m trying to figure out how to show her that some rules can be bent and others are non-negotiable. That’s a balance we all need to learn.

I’m wondering what rules exist in your life and your mind that are no longer serving you? Maybe it’s time to challenge some of those rules and ask yourself what would happen if you didn’t follow this rule that you made for yourself? Would it really be so bad? Do you need to upgrade some rules for your life to work better?