Don’t hold me down

Today’s emotion of the day is oppression.

Nothing specifically happened. It’s just that I’m starting to notice some things. I’m pondering my sense of self and my personal boundaries. I’m questioning labels and ideas of identity and who decided that certain “truths” about me are not open for discussion. 

Who has permission to define me? Maybe I’m really the only one that can.

There are a few labels that are glued to me. Woman, mother, bipolar. I can accept these labels if can define what they mean. And I don’t want to have to be ashamed of my labels. If I’m going to wear them, I want to wear them with pride. (Why not?)

Why do I feel a little bit like I have to apologize for being a woman? Why do I feel embarrassed of my vagina? Why am I supposed to be ashamed of my period? It’s a sign of physical health. Something that’s pretty miraculous if you ask me.

Why did my friend practically whisper to me “I guess I’m a feminist.“?

Here is an accomplished and respected professional woman who still feels somewhat ashamed to identify with the ‘f’ word. She’s not alone.

I think that I would no sooner stand up in a boardroom at work and say “I’m a feminist” as I would say “I’m bipolar”. But, one is an illness that, truly, could/does impact my ability to do my job. The other is saying that I will not allow myself to be oppressed (subtly or openly).

Shame. I keep coming back to shame. What a powerful emotion/tool/weapon. I spent my childhood being shamed by my mother. I grew to accept that it was okay for people to make me feel ashamed of my very presence. I’m honestly not sure to what extent other people who had healthy mothers feel this way.

Last week, my brother sent me an email subtly shaming me for:

  1. not welcoming my father’s too little, too late, effort to connect. And,
  2. for wanting to find out more about my late grandmother’s mental illness (and suicide).

I didn’t even realize that he was shaming me. I just realized that I felt embarrassed for having thought that it was okay to want these things. Even now that I understand, I can’t help doubting myself about these decisions.

I’m sick of being sorry for being me. I’m sick of looking for an annotated handbook telling me who I am.

I am who I feel. I change from one moment to the next. I am inconsistent. I am impulsive. I know exactly what I want. I have no idea what I want. I am decisive. I can’t decide which foot to step with first. As soon as I let myself be defined, I accept that I should not change. Just because I don’t fit perfectly into a predictable personality type, doesn’t mean I don’t really exist.

My self worth has to come from inside. It can’t be crowd-sourced.

colourful woman

I am woman, hear me roar

I have been trying to find the words to describe to you how magical it was to have the opportunity to bond with 11 beautiful women on my canoe trip. But then one of them wrote it for me and I read this on her facebook wall (I think it’s from dailyom.com):

When any woman honors herself, all women collectively move closer to becoming what they are truly capable of being.

There are many ways and myriad reasons for women to honor and embrace all that they are. And when any individual woman chooses to do so, all women collectively move closer to becoming what they are truly capable of being.

By honoring her experience and being willing to share it with others, both male and female. She teaches as she learns. When she can trust herself and her inner voice, she teaches those around her to trust her as well. Clasping hands with family members and friends, coworkers and strangers in a shared walk through the journey of life, she allows all to see the self-respect she possesses and accepts their respect, too, that is offered through look, word, and deed.

When a woman can look back into her past, doing so without regret and instead seeing only lessons that brought her to her current strength and wisdom, she embraces the fullness of her experience. She helps those around her to build upon the past as she does. And when she chooses to create her desires, she places her power in the present and moves forward with life into the future.

Seeing her own divinity, a woman learns to recognize the divinity in all women. She then can see her body as a temple, appreciating its feminine form and function, regardless of what age or stage of life she finds herself. She can enjoy all that it brings to her experience and appreciate other women and their experiences as well.

Rather than seeing other women as competition, she can look around her to see the cycle of life reflected in the beauty of her sisters, reminding her of her own radiance should she ever forget. She can then celebrate all the many aspects that make her a being worthy of praise, dancing to express the physical, speaking proudly to express her intellect, sharing her emotions, and leading the way with her spiritual guidance.

Embracing her womanhood, she reveals the facets that allow her to shine with the beauty and strength of a diamond to illuminate her world.

I am learning that the line between sister and stranger is really just a line in the sand. The more I look for love in the eyes of the women I meet, the more I find it… and the more they help me see the kindness and beauty that I refuse to see in myself.

sisterhood_ecard

Fighting for control

It is very traumatic to lose your mind…but it can also be really fun.

Recognizing that losing your mind, no matter how fun it seems, is hurting those around you is a process. Committing to do whatever it takes to keep control of your mind is also a process. The kind of process that involves lots of clawing out of mud and falling back into it and climbing up again until you are black and blue and your knuckles are bloody from fighting so hard.

For me, this involves dealing with side effects of intense medications, therapy, psychiatrist visits, avoiding over stimulating environments, avoiding caffeine, getting 10 hours of sleep, exercise, limiting work, being constantly on alert and basically structuring my life to cater to the needs of my ‘fragile little mind’.

I think that for some people, keeping control of their mind means struggling against addictions to mind altering substances.

So, when I see recent videos of the mayor of Toronto ranting and raging in a manic high (drug induced), it is really hard to have to watch him deny over and over that it’s a problem. I have worked hard to learn how damaging this behaviour is (and will always be fighting to overcome it). To have to watch a politician ‘get away’ with this and not even be fired from his job is very painful. 

This struggle is not something that is easy to continue. Mayor Ford and others who claim  publicly that this out of control behaviour is reasonable, are doing a deep disservice to anyone who is struggling with understanding the serious implications of their similar actions. 

Hugs if you understand what I’m talking about.

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If you haven’t any coal in the stove and you freeze in the winter

All of my screwed up life experiences helped me qualify for the amazing Outward Bound Women of Courage canoe trip course in northern Ontario for survivors of trauma.

One aspect of the trip was a 24 hour solo in the woods. 1 day and 1 night alone in the woods. Just me. I did a lot of thinking and I collected a lot of firewood (for the fire that I couldn’t start). I thought about needs vs wants, about the relationship between effort and reward, and I tried to wrap my head around the concept of money. Obviously this led to thinking about my mother…

My mother taught me some valuable life lessons:

  1. Life is war.
  2. Feeling hunger, warmth and comfort are weaknesses that will distract you on the battlefield.
  3. If you choose to listen to these needs, standing on the backs of others is the only way to get them met.
  4. I deserve everything because I am here.

She had no understanding that working hard could lead towards a goal, that being loving could lead to being loved. She wanted unconditional love and one-sided giving from the entire world. Maybe because she never got to feel these things from her mother. She spent her life feeling like the world owed her and expecting it from the wrong places.

The idea of working for possesions, as opposed to just living without them or demanding them from others is something I have been working on. (Item # 134 out of 436 stupid lessons that I need to unlearn).

In the woods, I looked around and thought about living off of the land. I realized that I would be very cold without my warm clothes and very uncomfortable without my tent. I imagined that if I was going to live off the land with no tent, I would probably build myself a shelter using trees and leaves. I thought about whether or not this was a good enough reason to have a tent. Comfort… a silly notion or a reasonable need?

I picked up a rock and saw bugs scurry away. Every creature wants some shelter. Maybe it’s okay if I do too.

It would take me some time, effort and trial and error to figure out how to build a shelter out of the trees and leaves around me. But once I figured it out, I would pass that knowledge on to my children who would build similar structures. But, one child would take this knowledge and use it as a starting point to innovate from. He would innovate and add animal skin or heavy rocks to make the home more resistant to the elements.

He would work harder than his siblings (but not at their expense) to gather these materials and try to figure out a new system. But he would be rewarded for his hard and smart work by having a more comfortable home.

The combination of working hard and fortunate circumstance is crucial here. In order to succeed he needed luck that he had parents who taught him the basic skills, luck that the storm didn’t wash away his food while he focused on building, luck that he didn’t get eaten by the bear or crushed by a boulder and luck that his crazy idea actually worked.

Back to the city, I won’t actually be building my own home (*shock*) so the relationship between work and shelter is more theoretical. But I think it’s essentially the same relationship. Like, whether I build a house with my own hands or do other work that is be helpful to someone else so that they could build a house for me, the result is the same: I’ve done some work and I have a house. The intensity and creativity of my effort combined with the luck of my circumstance will yield a better house. This is where money comes into play. It’s just a representation of work done. In itself, it’s meaningless, but what it can give you does have value.

I think that there is a random but helpful comparison to draw here with the difference between canoes and pedal boats. I like canoes because I can see and feel the connection between putting my paddle into the water and the boat going forward. Pedal boats are different because I can’t actually see my pedaling pushing the water. But essentially, whether I can see it or not, the intensity of my paddling or my pedaling combined with the luck of good weather and strong limbs, will both yield a faster boat ride. I need to learn to embrace the pedal boat, and trust that my pedaling is exactly what is moving the boat of my life forward.

When you are living in the woods, you start to appreciate the importance of the need for shelter, the need for comfort, the need for nourishment, the need for warmth and the need for friendship. These are all needs that have been deeply buried in shame for me.

Here’s to digging them out, washing them in the lake and letting them dry in the sun.

canoetripvista