2018: Self-Care & Social Media

When I last posted, it felt good to write out what I was feeling. But I had no idea how many people would respond — on Facebook, through email, even in the comments section of this blog.

Thank you. It means a lot. I know I’m not the only one who has ever felt this way, but it’s good to be reminded that I’m not alone.

So … another reason that I think I’ve felt overwhelmed and a bit withdrawn, is because of some forms of social media.

Before Twitter and Instagram, I was solely on Facebook. I posted almost every day — sometimes multiple times per day. Articles I’d come across, photos from trips, the occasional funny video, whatever my heart desired.

But in the last couple of years (perhaps earlier than that), the tone … shifted.

As news events intensified, so did posts, discussions and arguments amongst people I knew and those I didn’t. Some things I’d read seemed sharp; others, almost scolding; others still, borderline mean.

So I’d manage it by muting or unfollowing for my personal mental health.

On a few occasions, friends would come into my DMs to espouse their opinions on a post where I’d left a one-word response … or vent about someone they’d locked horns with on a thread in my timeline … or intiate a conversation about a hot topic, out of the blue.

Here’s the thing: I know things can get heated, but I shouldn’t ever have to play referee in online chats. And sometimes I wish people sliding into DMs for opinion-based heart-to-hearts would check to see if I actually want to engage … not just because they need to unload their thoughts.

In this day and age, yes, we should have a more critical eye about what we read, and conversations should incorporate different points of view. Note the word “should”.  And some people do try to be civil in online discussions. But others don’t … not really.

I think things finally struck a nerve with me last spring.

One day, I posted a news article about something to a world figure. It was probably the second article I managed to look up. It didn’t take long for a Facebook friend to pipe up, asking why the media was so biased in its coverage of certain individuals.

Honestly, when I found the article, the thought didn’t even occur to me – only that the event had happened. And perhaps I misread the tone of the comment, but it came across as a bit harsh.

So after posting another article on the same subject written in a different manner and pointing that out to the critical Facebook friend (it’s a big planet, friend), something in my head simply said, enoughI’m out.

The online sniping, and having to be aware of (potentially) emotionally-draining news events as part of my job, had finally taken its toll. So last year, I posted far less. I don’t think folks have noticed, because friends still tag me in posts and photos.

These days, I find comfort in Instagram, where all I post are things I do, places I go, and occasionally things I make for myself.

Ironically, I also go to Twitter – which yes, can be more of a cesspool than Facebook … but also a place where lots of genuinely great people share fun, funny, educational, useful, poignant things — which provide some levity and perspective on days I feel more introverted.

But I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Last year, a couple of my friends scaled back on time they spent on sites like Twitter. At least one of them said they actually didn’t miss being online as much. Even recently, I’ve seen colleagues announce that they’re taking social media breaks.

Right now, I don’t think I need to take a break of my own. But the more I see people do it, the more I think it’s a smart idea.

As this year goes forward, I will try to remind myself that it’s okay to occasionally unplug from the chatter as needed, in the name of self-care.

Because things can get you down. And in times like these, my mental health is more valuable than any tweet, post or meme.

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2018: Self-Care & A Safe Space

I’ve been trying to write this for about a week now.

But every time I try to finish, life and work seem to interrupt … which, I suppose, is part of the theme of this post.

So if you’ll indulge me for a bit, let me get this out of my system — and I am a bit cranky, so you’ve been warned.

I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed for the past week and half.

December — which, if you celebrate the holidays, can be a stressful time for anyone — just felt more exhausting than usual.

For starters, my workplace has been going through considerable changes over the past few months. What I originally thought could be a chance to take on a little more work and improve my skills, has become a frustrating grind. It’s a struggle to keep up at times, and occasionally I’m finding it tricky to concentrate on multiple tasks at once. This could just be a bumpy adjustment period which still could turn out to be positive. But right now, it doesn’t feel that way.

I was also psyching myself up for Christmas … but when I wasn’t procrastinating, I was  rushing around and running errands. And it was also holiday party season, so I felt like I was pushing myself to be social – even on days when I wasn’t in the mood and preoccupied with all the tasks I had to get done before Christmas.

Then, add several days of jury selection to the mix. In hindsight, it wasn’t as bad as I thought, but it definitely threw me off schedule.

So I’m currently having a bit of mental fatigue. I’m genuinely wondering if I’m mildly burned out.

In an ideal world, I’d take some sort of leave of absence. But as a household of one, and with the cost of living continuing to rise, the economics to do so isn’t really in my favour.

So, how to deal?

Well … I wanted to start the year with a self-imposed social moratorium (excluding a previous commitment) for a week or two — just to collect my thoughts, rest and recharge, and re-organize. I need to start taking care of myself again, so I can get my act together. Perhaps this might be something I’ll have to do more than once this year. But we’ll see how this month goes.

Speaking of re-organizing …

From time to time, people ask me from time to time how my apartment is. I mean, it’s still in a good location, and it serves its function by giving me shelter and the things I need on days I don’t have to go out into the world. But when I look around, my surroundings aren’t exactly inspiring. A more fitting word would be “underwhelming”.

Recently I came across this skit (on one of my favourite late-night programs), and it’s giving me a bit of inspiration:

I like the idea of a safe space, of being able to escape the harsh, tiresome world — in real life or online — by turning my apartment key and opening the door to my own little oasis.

If you think about it, that’s what your living quarters should be – not just the space that holds your crap but your home and, what’s more, a safe space or an oasis.

Of course, part of having an oasis or refuge is having a space that’s relatively clean. I started 2018 with my apartment looking like this:

If cluttered spaces denote cluttered minds and cause stress, then it’s no wonder my apartment looks like what happens when mild anxiety vomits up Christmas.

Currently, it looks something like this:

Slightly less crap, but still very much a bit of a hot mess.

I’m not looking to redecorate (yet), but I think de-cluttering and purging, a bit at a time over the next little while, would be a practical start in helping me decompress.

Even putting on my big girl pants, getting on my knees and scrubbing my oven and fridge would probably make a world of difference.

If I’m going to be a little less stressed, then perhaps coming home to a cleaner space would help me decompress.

Baby steps.

 

 

2018: Back to Square One.

So. That last year felt a little long, yeah?

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I think my 2017 was pretty decent.

But where I excelled at and achieved some things, others – particularly the objectives that were of the “everyday” variety – I let completely slide off course.

It’s not a bad thing. But I could do better.

So, like a lot of people do every January, I’m hitting the reset button and starting again.

I don’t set resolutions because I know myself — the moment I say the word “resolution”, I’ve already played myself.

I like and appreciate the concept of a vision board. But if you saw the state of my apartment (which you will in my next post), you’d know why I don’t have one.

So, this blog will serve as the place where I’ll set my intentions. Based on personal experience, putting them out into the universe (or the ether — your mileage may vary) seems to have worked in the past — sort of like a cosmic Post-It. If I write them down, maybe they’ll settle into my subconscious.

**cracks knuckles**

I’m going to make a better effort to practice self-care when I need it, whether to re-group, rest or recover. And I’m going to create the safe space in which to do so.

I’m going to start taking better care of myself, health-wise. (I could lump this under “self-care”, but in this case, I won’t.)

I’m going to find another creative outlet, in addition to the podcast.

I’m going to find — and participate in — a special project at work. It will be something I enjoy, and perhaps yield some pleasantly surprising results/benefits. 

I will not travel anywhere this winter, but I will make the best of this harsh weather, and will make up for it later. (Don’t ask me where or when. I don’t know, and I’m going to let things happen organically.)

After a bit of a dry spell, I’m going to have a couple of breakthroughs in my family research. Perhaps it’s actual facts related to ancestors, or maybe a new resource that proves to be extremely useful. But it’s going to give me hope and set my brain on fire.

Whatever else that will be, will be. I expect to learn lessons that will be character-building (in a positive way), and I hope to still enjoy the year as it goes along.

Considering what might be coming down the pipe on parts of this planet (and I sincerely hope there are better things in store than in 2017), I need to find things that make me genuinely excited.

Here goes nothing.

2017: Where I’ve Been.

Almost a year ago, I took up my annual tradition of typing out what I wanted to do in the months ahead.

I had a freezer full of food. I had plans to go places. I was cautiously hopeful, but confident that I was going to be Doing The Things and writing about them as I went along.

And then … I ghosted.

Yeah. I’m afraid it’s become a trend for me the past couple of years.

So, what did I do with all that time away from this blog?

Well, to start on a positive note, I did go places.

The last time I posted, I was making plans to head to Montreal for my 40th birthday – and I did, with six of my friends. It was a low-key sightseeing-and-eating affair. No complaints here – at least, not from me.

A few weeks later, I took off to Cambodia for two weeks, seeing new towns and temples, side-stepping scooters, riding down long, winding rivers, taking in as much of Angkor Wat in a day and a half as was humanly possible, eating great food, exploring a cave or two, losing my handbag and getting it back — all while travelling in the company of six other human beings.

That probably would have satisfied my travel bug for the year.

But I also squeezed in a short hop to Las Vegas in May for a few days of drinking, slot-playing, canyon-hiking and club-hopping, and I finally visited Prince Edward County with one of my good friends — small towns, wineries and scenery packed into a few days.

What else?

Work’s been … okay. It’s been okay. I set out to change things, and over the course of the year, things have gone through their own set of changes. It’s affected what I do a little, but I’m fumbling along and trying to adjust like everyone else.

My main creative outlet turned out to be this podcast that I’ve done with my friends for the past couple of years. It’s still a work in progress, and we’ve come a considerable way from where we first started. But it’s turned out to be my only creative outlet. My motivation to write – which I’d hoped would catch fire, or at least start smoldering – was pushed to the back burner.

Okay, who am I kidding? I shoved it at the back of the freezer, next to that 8-month-old piece of apple pie I forgot to eat.

Speaking of freezers …

I did try to batch-cook a number of my meals ahead of time. But just as often – if not more – I was throwing my wallet at fast-food joints. Especially this month. I did exercise – and still try to – but it’s been in fits and starts. Sometimes, I’d hit a groove with exercise, but then strain something … which meant scaling back on the workouts … which then gave way to my disinterest regular in exercise.

And my sugar monster is enormous and just as present as ever.

One step forward, four steps back.

Well. I did say I was going to fail. Hell, I’m failing now.

But I’m not going to beat myself up over what I did and didn’t do.

Today, I’m going to get myself to work and try to take things one moment at a time, and do the best I can.

I’m sure it’ll be just fine. And if it’s not, I’ll just remind myself that I never have to repeat it.

After all, tomorrow’s a new day – and a new year.

 

Haggis, Anyone?

Scotland_HaggisThe first time I heard the name “Robbie Burns”, I was eight years old, and my parents were signing me up for piano lessons at a local music school.

I guess it came up when the head of the school – testing my aptitude – was chatting with my folks, and they mentioned when I was born.

“Oh!” he said. “Do you know who else shares your birthday? Robbie Burns!”

As a little black girl growing up in the 1980s, the only Burns I’d heard of was George. I can only imagine what facial expression I wore as this man told me about this guy I was clearly supposed to recognize.

Through the years, I came to learn bits and pieces about the man whose birthday I happened to share, and the little nerd in me found it interesting.

So to simply say Robert Burns is A Big Deal for people of Scottish descent, is a wee bit of an understatement.

In several days’ time, dinners (all over Canada and abroad) will be held in honour of the Scottish bard, filled with music and poetry. There will be scotch, even whiskey tastings. But it won’t be a Rabbie Burns night without one signature dish served:

Haggis.

Yep, that most Scottish of dishes, consisting of lamb or sheep parts, oats, and spices, mixed together in a type of pudding (not the dessert kind), and encased in a sheep’s stomach.

(There are even vegetarian and vegan versions out there, for a different spin. And these lovely folks are hosting a vegan Robbie Burns Day here in Toronto – they’re just about sold out!)

For people like me who’ve never had haggis (the meat-filled version, at least), that doesn’t sound — or look — all that appetizing.

But yesterday, I came across this article by writer Andrea Chiu, in defence of the dish.

She makes a valid point:

“We will pay high prices to taste rich and creamy foie gras, but wrap some lamb liver and hearts with a sheep’s stomach and diners of all ages are finding ways to politely decline the dish.”

I mean, if I can try a camel burger or freshly-caught-and-prepared conch salad (with comically terrible results, in the case of the latter), surely I should give haggis a try?

It’s probably too late this time ’round, but maybe I can give haggis a go at a later date, or perhaps on one of my future birthdays.

It’s the least I could do for Robbie.

 

D’s 2016 Travel Shortlist

As the new year unfolds and I sock a little money away in my bank account, my mind swims with thoughts of travel.

I want to be a little more ambitious with this year’s destinations. But given the direction the Canadian dollar seems to be sliding, I’m not sure how successful I’ll be.

(Eh. I’ve always had lousy timing.)

Maybe a series of fortunate events will lead me to a one-time gift from one of those Powerball winners? Ehhhh?  **shrugs**

Anyway … here are some places I’ve thought about visiting this year:

Sri Lanka. Very high on my list. I’ve never been to Asia, but a conversation with a friend who went there 7 or 8 years ago left me interested in finding out more. And why not? It would be a good place to start. I’d be aiming to go in the fall.

Cuba. I was last there in 2005. A friend and I stayed at an all-inclusive resort in Veradero in mid-July. (Never do that. Unless you really don’t mind feeling like rotisserie chicken.) It was nice getting away for a week. But when we booked a day-trip to Havana through our resort, the results were, well … mediocre. I felt a bit short-changed. I like to move around a country if I’m going to visit. Winter’s finally arrived, but it’d be nice to take a break in, say, March — maybe book a tour and go for 8 or 9 days — and see the sites before big changes sweep the island.*

Colombia. There’s been an uptick in travel here in the past few years. And I have this secret attraction to Fernando Botero‘s artwork and sculptures. Plus, I have a friend who lived there for a good year and a half. I always told myself I wouldn’t go to South America without properly learning some Spanish beforehand. But I’m willing to make an exception.

Washington, D.C. It’s not that far. I’ve never seen the White House in person (but know where its limestone came from), and the number of museums in one place is a nerd’s dream come true.

New Orleans. Other than visiting family in Florida, I’ve never really been to the South. Of the people I know who’ve been to NOLA, I can’t recall anyone saying they left disappointed. And it just seems like a really interesting place to visit, historically and culturally.

Louisville, Kentucky. Okay, this one’s a bit random. I first read about it a few years ago on a list of “underrated places to visit”. A couple of my friends took a road trip down to Louisville and they had a good time. Also: bourbon.

New York. Like Cuba, I’ve been here before. I never seem to get enough of it. There’s no such thing as “not enough to do” here, so it always seems like there’s unfinished business. If I went this year, it would be for these reasons: Hamilton (c’mon, wealthy Powerball benefactor) or Eclipsed, and a meal at Red Rooster Harlem. I’M NOT PLAYING.

Montreal. The last time I set foot in this city, I was 26, my friend Dave lived and worked there, and the Jazz Festival was in full swing. Montreal in the summer is magic. But honestly, I don’t need it to be summer for me to visit, and see some of the sites I missed last time. Added incentive: If you recall my family research  (no? start here), my mysterious, elusive great-aunt lived and worked here. It’d be neat to physically see some of the streets (and maybe some of the houses), perhaps do a day or two of sleuthing, in the flesh.

Vancouver. Straight up, I’ve never been to the West Coast or seen the Rockies. This would tick off both boxes.

Manitoulin Island or Pelee Island. One requires you to take a ferry called the Chi-Cheemaun to get to it. The other boasts the southernmost point in Canada. Both are beautiful, and are right here in Ontario. Visiting either location would be lovely.

There’s NO WAY I intend to knock all of these off my list. But if I manage to do at least two, even with a low loonie, I’ll be pleased.

*A recent check of some tour companies tell me this is probably not possible.

**Reminder: I’m part of a one-month writing challenge, as are my friends Renée and Kath – just click on their names to check out their excellent work!**

“Why Are You So Weird?”

Several years ago (maybe five or six), I was at a downtown bar, where a work colleague (who produces music in his off-hours) was spinning vinyl and had invited a whole scad of us to come check him out.

The place was packed, and I remember flitting around, saying hi to friends, and dancing in the tiny designated dance space in this narrow establishment.

At one point, I remember spotting a work colleague who was slightly older than me – who, I suppose, I admired and respected – and went over to say hello.

I think it’d been one of those weeks where I’d been working all day, then making myself go out in the evenings … and I think it had started to take its toll, because I think he asked me how I was doing, and instead of answering with fully formed, enunciated words, stuttering babble tumbled out instead.

(Most of the time, my brain moves faster and far more eloquently than my tongue and lips do. It’s something I’ve learned to work with.)

I caught myself, and I remember stopping, closing my eyes, and beginning again – this time, in actual English.

His response?

“Why are you so weird?”

The rest of it, I really don’t remember. Just that.

Looking back on it, I can now say he was being a dick to me. Straight up.

And for what reason? Because I stuttered?

Over time, the word “weird” (in the context of human interaction) has come to be a source of irritation for me. And it’s got me thinking:

What defines “not weird”, exactly?

Who on earth gets to set the benchmark for what constitutes “normal”?

We live at a time when, thanks to social media, we can find whole communities of people with whom we share interests, opinions, insecurities, fears and so on, without having to travel very far from the comforts of our homes.

At the same time, the way we interact and communicate with each other as human beings has changed, even gotten more difficult. Just saying hi or smiling at a stranger in some places elicits a reaction which might be reserved for a dog walking around on its hind legs speaking Czech.

This type of environment might make it challenging for introverts, socially-awkward types and other labelled “misfits” to engage with people or find real-life flocks to join, if they do venture outside.

What about folks who might be dealing with mental health issues? Some of the funniest, unique, most interesting people I know, or have met, or encountered online, struggle with things such as anxiety or depression – and some of them speak about that struggle.

What about people who march to the beat of their own drummer, who just see and do things differently? Or who are just really excitable about things or life in general?

None of these aspects of people’s lives or personalities make them weird. It makes them multi-dimensional human beings. And I think all these folks deserve a modicum of understanding and open-mindedness, as opposed being held at arm’s-length because they’re rhomboid-shaped pegs that don’t fit into the round-shaped holes that are the “standard” for social behaviour.

Why should they have to fit?

The example I mentioned at the beginning sticks with me still. A little bit of it has to do with the way I was made to feel. Mostly, I was annoyed at myself for letting that question slide past me without an appropriate answer.

Because if I had the chance for a do-over, and I was once again asked, “Why are you so weird?”

My answer should have been:

“Define ‘normal’.”

**Hey kids! If you have time, head on over to my friend Renée’s blog and check out why she enjoys a good steak dinner every so often.**