Diary

I'm (Still) Here.

SENSITIVITY WARNING: THIS POST ADDRESSES THEMES OF DEPRESSION, ANXIETY, BURNOUT AND SUICIDAL THOUGHTS

It’s been over a year since I posted, and I have to say, it’s been over a year since I’ve felt like myself. It’s been over a year since I’ve done a LOT of things that I consider important, things that I thought gave meaning and colour to my life. The truth is, that since my last post in June 2018, and probably for a very long while before that, if I’m honest, I was dealing with what started as mild, then became pretty-darn-severe depression, escalating anxiety to go along with it, and a nice side of professional burnout to really round out the situation.

It Begins With Burnout

The mental health issues started at work and started as far back as the summer of 2017, several months after I had started in that particular position. I had too much work to do, was working at a feverish pace to churn out huge amounts of work product, and was doing so in an emotionally charged, stressful, often toxic (for me) environment. I don’t want to say much more than that about the specifics of the situation, but it really began there. I expended so much emotional and intellectual energy to get through each workday, that when the day finished, I had no desire to do anything but lie on the bed, talk to Curriecat, maybe stare at a YouTube video or two. I didn’t feel a lot of job security, which meant I never relaxed at the office, was always trying to prove myself, was always working with worries in the back of my head that I had to keep this job, otherwise how would I pay my mortgage? How would I live? I took those laundry lists of worries home with me each night, and ran through them relentlessly.

So the depression really started as intellectual, emotional, and physical fatigue that I just couldn’t seem to recover from. Leaving one job, moving to another, establishing myself at that job, becoming disenchanted then horrified with the realities of that job, then frantically searching for another job, trying to actually engage in the practice of law, which is totally brain-taxing, at the same time that this was going on - well, it was just too much. I was operating at the highest level of stress, uncertainty and anxiety that I possibly could. And it wore me out, in every way possible.

All By Myself

I would tell myself it was temporary. “I’m too tired to go to dance class tonight, but I’ll go next week,” I’d think. When that friend’s birthday party rolled around, and I didn’t feel up for smiling and small talk, I would make an excuse as to why I couldn’t attend. “I’ll catch them another time,” I’d think. When Friday rolled around and I didn’t have plans, I was happy. I could go home, sit in my shower to decompress from the day, then go to bed. I would tell myself these were one-off occasions, as I dragged myself through another day of work, and felt too tired to do anything to improve the situation. One day became another, which became another, until I was quitting dance altogether because the thought of performance was giving me (ME!) anxiety. I was failing to renew my gym membership because I just couldn’t work up the energy to go. I didn’t audition for shows and I left burlesque behind and didn’t hear a peep from anyone in those communities, which made me feel righteously justified about my decision to walk away from them. I was not bothering to call friends or family for help, because, they’re not calling me, why should I go to the effort of calling them? I exited social media, mostly for moral reasons (damn you Zuckerberg) but also because I was tired of entertaining people with funny posts when those people saw nothing of what I felt I was suffering, and never reached out (of course, please know, there are a few good friends who are exceptions to this rule and have stuck with me through all of this, for which I am forever grateful). Life felt extremely hard and I didn’t feel like fighting anymore. And I resented that no one was stepping up to fight for me. I was tired, pissed at how much more difficult my life seemed than other people’s, and really really REALLY angry that I had seemingly done all the right things, my whole life, and ended up in this life, alone with a cat, with this job, with seemingly no way out.

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

Last summer was when it felt like the darkness that had been bubbling really set in, or rather, that I allowed myself to surrender to it. Last summer was when I started thinking thoughts like, “Curriecat’s 12 years old. She’s really the only reason I have to stay alive. When she passes away, I’m not sure what I’m good for. There isn’t really a reason to be around once Curriecat’s gone.” If you’d asked me then, I would have never called that kind of thinking suicidal, because, I wasn’t like, plotting my own death. There were no plans to actually die. These were just thoughts I was thinking, and hey, weren’t they just the truth? Wasn’t I just being honest?

Now, a year and a few months later, I know better. Those kind of thoughts, even questioning the whys of your existence, lead you down a dark path where suddenly you can start thinking very comfortably about how exactly you might make that happen. I never got there, but I know now that even standing at the start of that path was a dangerous place for me to be.

The Lifeline…or Rock Bottom?

Somehow, in the middle of this, last summer and fall, I managed to interview for a number of jobs, which resulted in me having number of opportunities to choose from. that would allow me to exit the work situation I was in. How I got through those interviews, I still don’t know, but I suppose I’m a better actor than I give myself credit for, or, that the people offering me those opportunities saw how desperate I was and were throwing me a lifeline. I thought a new job would fix everything: I just needed to get out of the job I was in, and everything would be fine. I chose the job that was the closest to home, that seemed to have the nicest people to work with, that had the most job security, and put all my mental, physical and emotional-health eggs in that particular basket.

I started at the new job last November, and found that well, yes, despite nice people and a quick walk to work, there were still stresses to be dealt with. There were and are still difficult clients, leadership failures that make my work extra tough, frustrating personalities, high-conflict situations that erupt on a daily basis, so, so, so, so much work to be done, and unreasonable deadlines to be met. Don’t get me wrong - I am still in this new job and it is not that my employer is awful, my team is actually great - it’s just that this is the nature of my field, and the work I do. I was naive to think that I could escape the demands that naturally come with my professional territory. I still believe the move was the right one, professionally, and that for right now, I am where I need to be, professionally. It is not my employer that is the problem, it is the nature of the career I’ve chosen for myself. I also think that, given that I was well into the Depression Zone already, trying to make a move and establish myself in a new position was probably the most batshit crazy thing I could try to do at that time. And, beginning fairly soon after this past Christmas, I started having full blown anxiety attacks on my way to work each day. Shaking, sweating, crying, gasping for air, anxiety attacks.

But, somehow I showed up for work, most days. My hair might barely be brushed, I wouldn’t have any makeup on, I wouldn’t have eaten anything before I got there, but I showed up. The worries about job security and desperate desire to avoid conflict came along with me every day. I continued to become more and more solitary outside of work, and less and less active, but it was starting to feel less like a choice and more like an inevitability. I was no longer interested in the things that I normally loved, like cooking, clothing, makeup, sewing, music, dance and theatre, let alone capable of participating in them. And then, the health menace that always strikes me down when I’m at my absolute lowest showed up.

The Nuclear Option

Ever since I was a kid, my lungs have been a big indicator of my stress level. Breathing problems always seem to show up when I’m at my weakest, emotionally speaking. And since I started my new job this past November, I’ve been down with pneumonia and bronchitis twice. It was after the second bout, this past May, that I really, really, knew that I had dug myself into a hole that I couldn’t get out of. I hated everything about my life. Everything. And I physically felt so sick and tired that I fantasized about being one of those characters in books who disappears to Switzerland to “take the air” or checks into a sanatorium full of nurses in fluttering white hats who would speak to me in hushed tones and wheel me about perfectly manicured grounds in a wheelchair as I recovered from “nervous exhaustion.”

I knew I couldn’t go on as I was, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do, what I needed to change, or how to fix anything, nor did I have the energy to fix it. I would spend hours sobbing on the phone to my parents, devastated at where I felt like life had dropped me, desperate for change. I was ready to quit my job, sell my home, move in with my parents, and maybe start life over again. Go to school, retrain for a new career, work in retail, maybe a bookstore, or a clothing shop, because retail was the last job where I could remember being happy. My brother actually invited me to come live in his basement suite while I got my shit together. And I actually considered it.

Still, despite the darkness that was telling me I was good for nothing, that I had nothing of value in my life, that I had no friends, no talent, that I was ugly, and difficult to love, and had nothing to contribute, that I might as well walk away from it all and try again, there was a small voice of reason that somehow prevailed. “If I’m going to hit the nuclear button on my life,” I thought, “I had better make sure I’m in my right mind before I do it.”

Say It Out Loud

I went to my family doctor, who I had avoided for over a year, even through my bouts of pneumonia and bronchitis (I would visit walk-in clinics and ERs only when I absolutely had to) because I had already given up on my health - and, truth be told, when I hesitantly had told her, two years ago, that I thought I was too anxious and needed some support she told me to “suck it up” (I love my doctor, please don’t judge her for this, she is a fierce warrior mama of a physician who sees me as the strong person who I usually am and she genuinely felt at that time that I could get through it on my own). I told her the thoughts I’d been thinking. I told her how I had stopped performing, stopped working out. All of it. She took one look at me and said, “Danielle…you’re not you. You’re not here.” She was right. I wasn’t there.

So. I said it out loud. She said it out loud. I was clinically depressed. I had severe anxiety, which was being exacerbated by my professional life. I was malnourished, because most days I couldn’t bring myself to eat, or if I did, I ate crap. We made a deal that I would see her every two weeks, and if I didn’t show up for that appointment she was going to charge me anyway, just to make sure I showed up. She gave me weekly homework. The first homework was to pay for a meal delivery service so that I would actually eat. “It’s not a splurge,” she said. “This is your health.” The second homework task was to start on iron and vitamins. And the third was to be cast in a play and be onstage by the fall. I had the summer to get my shit together, and then I needed to get onstage (you see why I love my doctor?! That third homework item was entirely her idea).

And she started me on meds. Yep, better living through pharmaceuticals. “You need a little get up and go,” she said, and prescribed an anti-depressant, as well as anxiety meds that I could take to avoid the weekly morning anxiety attack, along with some treatments for my poor battle-scarred lungs. The “little get up and go” was IMMEDIATE. Within two days I had more energy than I had had in months, more focus at work, more ability to get tasks done at home and on the weekends (which had long ago been reserved for sleeping all day). I actually felt manic compared to how I had been feeling, when I saw how much I was accomplishing as opposed to even a week before.

Steps Forward

I won’t lie and say I am cured. I won’t lie and say everything is fine now, that I took some meds and it made everything better. I won’t lie and say that I’m not still thinking about whether I need to change everything about my life, from my job, to how many belongings I have, to the city I live in. I won’t lie and say my job isn’t extremely stressful, not just for me but my whole team. But I will say that every day that I am able to get up, go to work, see a friend, do something caring for someone else, or whip through a to-do list in mere hours when it would have taken me a month before, I celebrate. I feel a huge sense of accomplishment. The need to evacuate my life doesn’t feel as immediate; rather, something to consider carefully, with the luxury of time.

Prescription drugs have not made everything OK. My doctor ramped up the dosage of some of my daily meds in the first weeks after I saw her so much that I suffered horrendous side effects - I was so nauseous that I couldn’t drive my own car without throwing up and had to be put on the nausea medication they give to chemo patients. One of my meds induces hot flashes so I always feel sweaty and gross, and I no longer bother to straighten my hair, because one hot flash and it’s instantly curly thanks to sweat (ew). This particular side effect is the one I hate the most, because I hate fulfilling that stereotype of the sweaty fat person. I like to be well put together, I like to take care with my makeup, and sweating it all off several times a day, sucks. I still expend my energy supply too easily and have “crash” days that I need to spend sleeping.

The Benefits of a Health Crisis

Sometimes hitting your own personal rock bottom in terms of your physical and mental health and speaking your truth about it, leads to interesting results.

My parents, who I admit I felt had always pressured me to be the best and to succeed and to overachieve, and who I felt valued my economic security and achievement more than my emotional health, proved that their thinking was unequivocally the opposite. “We’re on Team Dani,” my mother said to me on the phone one night. “Whatever is going to make you happy, we are going to support. If that means selling up, going back to school, and working in a bookstore, you should do it.” The pressure I’ve felt for 39 years to be, and to do, and to have, so many things that they approved, suddenly melted away and I just felt loved and supported. On my birthday, I was having a conversation with my mom where I half-jokingly said, “You know, despite evidence to the contrary, I do try to do things that make you happy.” She replied, “Live your life well - that’s the only thing that will make me happy.” And for the first time, I actually believed her.

I started being honest, with at least my few close friends (some of whom are also my family members) about the fact that I wasn’t OK. And I found that…they didn’t seem to like me any less. It was OK that I was pretty much a mess in every way that I could be. They still listened to me muse about different programs I might like to apply for, as I waxed poetic about moving to Victoria, or selling all my stuff and getting a tiny house, and they remain wholly supportive of whatever it is I decide to do. I also recently connected with several dearly loved, close friends from Pearson College at our 20 year reunion last week, where I also tried to talk openly about what I’ve been going through, and these people who have known me since I was 17 showed a compassion and insight I am so lucky to still have after all these years, and they reminded me of who I am and who I have always been.

And, I’m so excited to say, I completed my third homework assignment from my doctor, and will be getting onstage this fall, my first foray into the Vancouver theatre community since I performed in the Threepenny Opera in the fall of 2017, and over a year since my last participation in the Lawyer Show, in May 2018. As soon as I can share details I will, but I will be working with a creative team I have really wanted to work with for awhile, and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity.

Naming the Elephant

One of the reasons this blog has been so neglected is because, I felt like I couldn’t say any of the things I just did without repercussion or judgment. But they were the only things I wanted to say, the things I needed to say to explain myself, about what’s driven me and destroyed me over the past few years. I was afraid if I opened my mouth (or my blog), the words would come tumbling out.

But I have a desire to tell stories again and to share my adventures again, and I had to free myself to do that. I had to let down my guard, accept whatever judgment or consequences might come my way for speaking this out loud, in order to allow the rest of the stories inside of me to come out, too.

So I hope this isn’t my last blog post for a year. I hope that now that this not-so-secret secret is out I can live truthfully and authentically, whether that means working through more lows or celebrating new highs. So, I’m still here. And if you still are, thank you for reading.

A Love Letter.

Dear Body,

I often feel like I am alone in life, but even when no one else was here for me, you've been here.  Through thick and thin, literally and figuratively.  And instead of always treating you with the love and kindness you deserve for such loyalty, at times I've been a terrible partner.  I've ignored you, starved you, neglected you, and even punished you, for things that have never been your fault.  I've been so critical of you, despite the amazing things you do for me every day.

I'm sorry that I've often put you last.  I'm sorry that I've treated you with indifference at best, and cruelty at worst.  I'm sorry that I've made you feel that nothing you do is ever good enough.  I'm sorry that I've tried to hide you, or apologize for you, agreed with the bullies who have hated you, and I'm sorry that I've blamed you.  I've blamed you for things that have gone wrong, for things I don't have, and for things I am too scared to be.  I blamed you, I still blame you, and I shouldn't.  You're working your ass off, and it's not your fault.  I'll try to do better.  

Because the truth is, there are a lot of things about you that I really love.   Your beautiful voice that lets me sing, feels like the reason I exist.  You love to dance, even if you look silly.  I think your short little legs and tiny feet are pretty cute.  Your nose is adorable, and your ass is well, bootylicious is the only word I can really use.   And you are so, so strong.  I love when people at the gym are surprised at how much weight you can carry, or how heavy a kettle bell you can swing.  You climb mountains, run races, snowboard, swim in lakes - you've never faced a challenge you didn't meet head on.   You always ignore the noise and get the job done, even when I haven't helped you do it. 

It's Thanksgiving today, and it's important that you know how grateful I am for you.  I need you to know that I really want to work things out with you.  You don't need to be "fixed," you aren't holding me back; in fact, you've been the one carrying me forward, step by step, day after day.  Thank you.  

I know I'm too critical of you.  I want you to know that I'm going to work on celebrating your successes rather than punishing you for my failures, or what I see as your shortcomings. Please be patient with me as it's going to take a lot of work for me to get there, and I'm going to make mistakes along the way.  Please know that I think you're amazing, even when I can't show it.

Love, 

Me

How the Stuff Happens (A Lesson In My Brain)

For people who do not comprehend exactly *why* it has been so hard for me to implement the Shopping Ban consistently, or why exactly the Stuff seems to be so needed, here is a little insight into how my brain works.  I'm not saying this isn't flawed thinking -  but it's presented here for insight on how the Stuff happens.  This illustration of my sometimes-awful thought processes should explain why this is Shopping Ban is a difficult exercise for me, for better or worse.   And hopefully reassure someone reading this, who might think similarly, that they are not alone.

For the past few weeks, part of my brain (Brain Part 1) has been saying this to me: "We need new sandals for when we're camping and swimming.  Our flip flops always fall off, so we need new sandals.  Remember how much it hurt when we had to struggle across barnacled rocks at Porteau Cove?  And then when we were in the water our flip flops came right off and floated away and we had to go chasing them.  Maybe we should get some Tevas since they're all the rage again.  Those would be cool.   And they're trendy so people will think we are trendy!  We always feel good when people compliment us!  Then our feet will not be hurt when we walk across rocky beaches,  we can swim without worrying about our flip flops floating away, and people will think we are super cool and then they want to be friends with us or maybe think we're cute.  We may be the most unattractive person on the beach but we can have the coolest shoes.  If we have the coolest shoes, people might not notice all the other things that are wrong with us, like how we love being alone and don't suffer fools gladly and are impatient and feel insecure and shy around people but still want to be the centre of attention and come on too strong when we just want to be a part of things and belong.  Maybe people won't notice our frizzy hair and wrinkly skin and peeling nose and horrible chubby arms and just see our cool shoes.  Maybe strangers maybe won't comment on our size, for once (because that always seems to happen.  Why does that always happen? Why do people say that stuff to strangers?!). Yeah, that's the ticket.  Get the Tevas. "

So Brain Part 1 says: convenience, comfort, coolness - and added bonus armour protection against hurtful people judging us or figuring out how awful we really are? This isn't a want, it's a need!  Green light, people!  This is the deal of the century!  $65 for inner peace!

But part of my brain hasn't completely forgotten the Shopping Ban.  So then Brain Part 2 wades in and goes:  "OK, 1, but - don't we have water shoes?  Remember that time we went to Mexico with our friends?  We bought water shoes for that fun day we went exploring in the jungle and the cenotes.  We should just wear those in the water.  No need to go buy the Tevas."

Brain Part 1 replies, "Yeah, but the Tevas are COOL.  There's nothing COOL about water shoes. People might think we're uncool and we are DEFINITELY COOL, right? We need people to think we're cool.  And also? Our bathing suit this year is a super cute pink and navy bikini with PINEAPPLES on it and cool parrots.  Those water shoes are black and red.  They so don't match.  People will notice they don't match and then they will notice all the other not-so-perfect-and-in-fact- terrible-unloveable things about us too.  DANGER! DANGER, WILL ROBINSON!"

The super cute parrots-and-pineapples bikini.  Not a hint of red or black to be seen.

The super cute parrots-and-pineapples bikini.  Not a hint of red or black to be seen.

Brain 2 replies: THEY DON'T MATCH? ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? We're going to the beach with people we love, we get to go swimming which is our favourite thing ever, and you're telling me that the fact that our shoes don't match might ruin any fun we have today?

Brain 1:  Yeah.  And I will genuinely feel uncomfortable and like something is not right if our beach shoes don't match our suit. We have a reputation to uphold.  We are stylish, we are always put together.  We have the best outfits.  Then people can't call us slobby, or ugly, or fat, or bossy or unlikeable.  Because we're stylish and cool.  

Brain 2:  *heavy sigh*

---

So.  That's usually how this would go, and Brain 1 would win, and we'd go buy the Tevas, and feel good again, until the next thing came up that we needed.

This weekend, I let Brain 2 do some of the heavy lifting.  

I was going to the beach with two of my favourite people. Yes. This was true.  The shoe dilemma was still bothering me.  This was also true.  It didn't matter that I was hanging out with the two people who would judge me least for my shoes.  I couldn't stand that the shoes didn't match. But I just let myself sit with the discomfort.  Brain 1 was screaming, but I tuned 1 out as much as I could.   

And when I didn't give in to 1, what I found was, Brain 2 got creative.  Brain 2 was looking for something, anything, to shut Brain 1 up.  

Brain 1 (anxious and uncomfortable and mad all at the same time and just unhappy): WWWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIL let's just stay home where everything is OK always.  WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIL.

Brain 2 (looking frantically for anything to shut Brain 1 up): Shut up shut up shut up.  OH HEY LOOK, 1!  Look what I found! Our boat shoes!  They are pink! And green!  And perfectly match our suit!

Brain 1 (sniffling):  Oh, yeah.  Those are cute.  I forgot we had those.

The boat shoes.  That perfectly match our suit.

The boat shoes.  That perfectly match our suit.

So, 2 found a solution.  It took some time, and some battling.  And, part of my brain which you haven't met here but I promise actually exists, Brain 3, which is super practical and smart and stubborn and logical, brought both sets of shoes to the beach just in case.  3 resolutely put on those damn water shoes and frolicked in the ocean and said fuck it, we're at the beach with the girls, who gives a shit, and had a grand old time.  And no one noticed that the water shoes didn't match our suit.  2 was happy to have stuck to the Shopping Ban.  And Brain 1, while not completely satisfied, felt comfortable enough to have fun and enjoy the day.

Red and black shoes quickly became so sandy that you couldn't tell what colour they were.  

Red and black shoes quickly became so sandy that you couldn't tell what colour they were.  

So, that battle, between Brain 1 and Brain 2 and Brain 3 and any gosh darn other voices that are there in my head (I wish it was more like a soap-opera multiple personality disorder but it's not - they're all me), is what goes on, every day, all day.  Sometimes, the Stuff happens because 1 is a whiny little insecure child that just needs to be comforted and knows no other way, and 2, 3 and whoever else can't figure out another way to give that comfort, so they give in, because it's easy.  

But this is what the Shopping Ban was all about.  It's about doing the not-easy thing, and about finding other ways to feel joy and comfort and confidence and acceptance.   

But dammit, does it get loud inside my head sometimes.  

Half Way Through the Shopping Ban. Or, How I Utterly Failed at the Shopping Ban.

So, I lasted until the end of February.  

Up until then, I'd been really focused on the three "goals" of the Year of Enough, which are:

  1. I've had enough -  I want to contribute to positive change in our world. 
  2. I have enough -  I need to learn to be mindful with how I spend my money and in my consumption of things.
  3. I am enough - I don't need stuff, or accomplishments, more money, or less weight, to be a worthy, lovable, person.

I really focused on my goals.  I volunteered my time with the Canadian Cross-Border Legal Coalition, and hung out at the airport providing pro bono advice to people affected by Trump's Muslim ban.  I went to marches.  I joined the Conservative political party just so I could have a say in their leadership contest and help thwart racist politicians like Kellie Leitch becoming their leader and potentially Trump 2.0.  I realized how tired I was from shows and started saying no to auditions, something I haven't done since 2010 because I've been so terrified of being forgotten or losing my right to identify as an artist.  I went on a lovely holiday to Maui and resisted the urge to shop.    I felt like I was really living my goals.

But then, the "stuff" started to creep back in.   The Ban disappeared, without me even consciously knowing it had disappeared. It's taken me forever to write about this,  because I'm still not really sure why it happened, but it became important to me to say that the Ban has, for the past several months, been a failure. 

I had a big life change in the beginning of February when I changed jobs.  I went from an office where I didn't feel understood or appreciated, where there was little socializing, to my dream job, in terms of the work, people and culture.  My job went from being a place that I went for 7.5 hours a day to being the centre of my life, in a very positive way.  I suddenly felt more supported and happy in my professional life than I ever had before.  I'd found my "forever" job.   

You'd think being so happy would make it easier to stick to my goals, but it hasn't made it easier.  Every day I have wonderful people tell me that I'm OK.  That I'm more than OK, I'm pretty great, and a valued member of the team.   I feel like I belong.  I feel accepted.  So suddenly the need to change hasn't seemed so urgent.  Maybe that's a positive.  It probably is.   But it's also caused me to get lazy with my goals.

That initial feeling of joy and belonging is how the Stuff first happened:  I shopped in celebration.  I was happy, joyful, even, in my new role, and shopping is a way that I celebrate.  So, that seemed OK by me.   Treating myself to a new outfit to celebrate a new beginning felt fine.  I was liked, so I liked myself, so I deserved the Stuff.   The reasons for the Stuff had changed: it was less about making myself feel better about myself, my life, or the world, and more to treat myself, show myself "love", to reflect the love and acceptance I was feeling in my life. 

But the Stuff has started creeping in not just for positive, encouraging reasons.   It's a convoluted explanation, but stay with me. 

While this career move has been a joyous one, it's created some change in my life that has caused some stress that I think I'm only really starting to process.   IMPORTANT IMPORTANT NOTE: This stress is almost entirely self-inflicted.  It's not that my new bosses are suddenly insisting on certain things that are stressing me out.  They have high but reasonable expectations, and don't ask me to do anything that they don't do themselves.   And more than that, they genuinely care about me and my well being.  It's just that I, as usual, want to throw myself in and do a good job, make them happy, and go above and beyond, so everything feels very high stakes, very do-or-die. As a result, there are changes that I have made to meet expectations - my own, or perceived expectations, which are maybe not the healthiest choices for me.

For instance, I used to work from home quite a bit (and least one day a week, since 2011), and go home for lunch every day.  Being able to go home for a healthy lunch but also do a little meal prep for a healthy dinner, and maybe tidy up around my house (as tidiness and order are a big part of my mental wellness), was great. Working from home one day a week allowed me to throw on loads of laundry while I worked on my laptop.  At my new job, I'm in the office full time, 5 days a week.  While my most recent previous gig was usually finished by 4:30 or 5 at the latest, I'm staying much later at work now, and working through lunch, which is quite a common practice in my new office.  So the time I had every day to do some of the mundane things I need to do to help me feel calm and healthy, is gone.  It is really only a small increase in working hours, but its impact currently feels huge.  I'm often working through the hours I would normally go to my TRX gym, for instance.  Or, something will happen at work and I'll stick around and miss the class I reserved.  As it's a small gym, you get charged if you miss a class you reserved, so rather than getting charged for classes I wasn't making, I just...stopped reserving.  After a busy day surrounded by people in our open plan office, this introvert is often exhausted, and the thought of going home to meal plan and cook Whole30 meals is the last thing I want to do, so I go home and eat what's easy.  It also means that weeknight socializing is almost impossible for me, because I'm just too tired.  Weekends feel more for sleep and recovering from the business of my week than going out, or putting my house in order.  Suddenly a lot of the healthy habits I've been working on for the past few years, in terms of doing the things I know I need to do in order to feel love for myself, seem very far away. 

To say that I am aware of the fact that I am not seeing friends as much, that my training regime has been thrown off, that my house isn't as tidy as I need, that I don't have as much time or energy to meal plan, is an understatement.  I carry around this awful feeling of failure about it, while at the same time still feeling the joy, satisfaction and excitement that I do about my job. The conflict between those two feelings is so, so uncomfortable. And rather than deal with it, because the effort seems overwhelming and I am still concentrating all of my energy on my new job, I need to medicate it, numb the discomfort.  I medicate with...the Stuff.  Shopping once again is the replacement for the workout.  It's a reassurance that I'm OK, even if I know I don't feel OK.

So, that's not the greatest thing.  And like I say - it's self-inflicted.  Which makes it actually feel worse, because there's nothing a perfectionist-in-recovery hates more than knowing that the not-so-great situation they find themselves in is entirely their own fault.  That they fucked up.  Because then you PUNISH YOURSELF MORE.    

That's why writing about what I've failed at and how it's made me feel is important for me, although it's excruciating.  I need to say I failed and not have the world collapse.  So. yeah.  I failed at the Shopping Ban.  In order for me to not fail at Goal #3 ("I Am Enough"), I have to be OK with having failed at the Shopping Ban.   I have to be OK with admitting my failure, picking myself back up, dusting myself off, and trying again.  Half of the year has gone by, but that means I have half of the year to centre, re-focus, and try to do better.  My goals haven't changed.   But my attitude needs an adjustment.

 

Shopping Ban Check-In: Gravy Boats and Other Delights

I'm 18 days into my year-long shopping ban and so far, no slip ups.  For fun, I have started keeping a list of all the things I even briefly think about buying, and sometimes I'll post the sillier ones to Facebook.  On New Year's Day I hosted a dinner for friends, and a myriad of "when will I ever use this"-type items suddenly seemed to be essential: a gravy boat.  A round tablecloth for my round dining table (my previous tables have all been squares, and so are my existing linens).  An electric carving knife for the turkey.  My iPhone, now 4 years old,  has more-than-occasional tantrums, and I desperately want a new one.

The funny way the world works, is that when you publicly post that you want things, even jokingly and with self-deprecation, as I did, your friends and family suddenly want to give them to you.  My mother brought me three round tablecloths. My aunt found me not one, but two gravy boats.  My mother had another iPhone lying around, which she had unlocked for me so I can transfer my SIM card into it and once again enjoy shut-down free texting.  "But that's not the point, Dani," you may say.  "The point wasn't to get more stuff!"  But I feel like these little gifts and giveaways are still in the spirit of the Shopping Ban.  I didn't ask anyone specifically for the things, they were offered to me.  Nothing new was purchased, either by me as the recipient, or by the generous aunt and mother who offered them.  Let's call it a microscopic version of the sharing economy. To me, what was important was that I didn't spend money, didn't buy new stuff, or support the manufacturing of more things.   Still, I'm not going to get into the habit of asking people to give me the things I feel are lacking in my life: an important part of this exercise is to be comfortable with what I have.  However, I still feel like I learned something, through the arrival of these gifts.  Ask, and you receive.  Even if it's a gravy boat.  Imagine learning that lesson on a grander scale:  If I can ask the universe for a gravy boat, and get it, what else can I ask for?  If you're taking orders, Infinite Cosmos, I ask for creative fulfillment, satisfying friendships, unconditional love. Oh, and a puppy.

While I always assumed my shopping triggers were negative feelings or events, it turns out, happy times can be a shopping trigger, too.  This past weekend I went to Doe Bay for a yoga retreat, one of my favourite places and my favourite activities in my year.  I found I suddenly needed, badly, a certain kind of yoga top that turns into a blanket.  I used to have one, I don't anymore, and dammit, I needed this in order to be able to do yoga on this retreat!   I found out last Tuesday that I am nominated for an Ovation Award this year, for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical, for my work in Shine.  My immediate thought was that I simply had to have a new dress in order to attend the awards ceremony.  

I went on my yoga retreat, without a yoga top/blanket hybrid, and I think I did fine.  I am planning to wear a dress that I've only worn once to the Ovations, and maybe do something nice with my hair.  When I visited my favourite bookstore while I was on retreat, I carried a few items around with me, then took a picture of them and put them back.  The mental gymnastics I was doing in my head to justify the purchases were exhausting, and frankly took the joy out of the intended purchases anyway.   So, I'm not suddenly a changed person.  I still want stuff.  But I am finding great satisfaction in listening to those wants carefully, then turning back to my own things, to see what I have that will satisfy that need.  So far, there's always something that can.  It's just a matter of slowing down and taking stock.  I'm learning.  

I am the proud owner of not one, but two gravy boats.  One is plenty, two is...err...nevermind.

I am the proud owner of not one, but two gravy boats.  One is plenty, two is...err...nevermind.

Project Enough: The Shopping Ban Rules

As  one part of the Year of Enough, I'm choosing to focus on mindful consumption.  I am not throwing away all my stuff and becoming a minimalist - I like my stuff too much for that.  I love stuff.  So much.  But I want to enjoy and appreciate the stuff that I have, rather than adding to my growing pile of possessions.  It's a soothing, numbing thing for me, to shop.  I love finding deals.  I am the queen of bargains.  I am an expert thrifter.  Despite these mad shopping skills, the amount of stuff I buy? Well, it ultimately makes me feel bad, to be spending money that could be saved for something else, to think of the environmental impact that my, and everyone else's stuff has, to think of the people who have much, much less than I do.  Aren't there more useful things I can do with my time than shop?  Don't I aspire to more than to simply have stuff?  Clothes are my joy, a way to self express.  Books are my lifeline.  I enjoy having a pretty home.  But surely, I'm at the "enough" point now, with what I have?  I've gone past "stuff that makes me happy," almost past "stuff that makes me feel kind of OK."  Surely, I do not need to more stuff to my stuff to feel complete.  And yet, it feels like a never-ending cycle.  Buy stuff, feel good, then start to feel bad, buy more stuff, feel good, then start to feel bad, buy more stuff...I don't know when it stops.  It's time to take away that crutch,  which isn't serving me anyway, and do the emotional work that I need to do to self-soothe, and really be aware of what my consumption means, for me, and for the world I live in.  To that end, it's time to introduce the rules of the Shopping Ban:

  1. Clothing Purchases: no clothes, accessories or shoes will be bought.  The exceptions are athletic wear, tights and underwear which need (need being the operative word) to be replaced because they are worn out, have holes, or are too gross from overuse.  Costume/performancewear needs will also be considered on a case-by-case basis.  I have also lost quite a bit of weight over the past year and am down 2 clothing sizes.  If I lose more sizes, I may need to buy more clothes, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. There will have to be rules set in that situation as well:  consignment of perfectly good too-big items, for example, before I can purchase new,.
  2. Housewares and Books:  no housewares, books or other decorator-y tchotckes.  The exceptions are pieces of essential household equipment that have broken, cannot be repaired, and for which I have no suitable replacement.  Example: my red teapot breaks - I still have 4 others in other colours - no need to replace the broken teapot.  No books (I love the library anyway), and no magazines, with the exception of my all-time fave, Vanity Fair, because this isn't about self-denial, it's about mindfulness: when I asked myself what one magazine I would choose over all others, Vanity Fair won by a mile.  I chose to subscribe for a year, which is approximately 1/2 the cost of buying each issue on the newsstand.
  3. Makeup and Toiletries:  no makeup or toiletries except to replace finished items for which there is no suitable replacement.  For instance, oops, I'm out of my favourite Kat Von D lipstick, Cathedral.  But I do have a full tube of MAC Twig, which, well, they're close enough in colour.  No need to re-up on Kat Von D until Twig is done.  Same with my eleventy-seven different shades of red lipstick.  WHO NEEDS ELEVENTY-SEVEN DIFFERENT SHADES OF RED, I ask you?  Here are some of the reds I currently possess:  NARS Cruella, MAC Red Rock, Besame Red, Besame Noir Red, Besame Red Velvet, Benefit Matthew Williamson Limited Edition Red Gloss,  Kat Von D Vampira - those are the ones I can name OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD.  Just for fun, here's some more. Purples?  Got 'em.  MAC Rebel, MAC Men Love Mystery.  Pinks?  Don't be silly:  MAC Twig, MAC Girl About Town, Clinique All Heart, Smashbox Posy Pink...Whew.  sorry about that lipstick tangent. I just really like makeup.
  4. Coffee:  No solo designer coffee runs.  Coffee with friends as part of a social outing, totally OK.  But no more "I'll just pop by Starbucks on my way to work."  I have a Nespresso, a Keurig, a Bialetti AND a French Press.  And a really really cute Kate Spade travel mug.  There is no earthly reason why I shouldn't manage to make coffee myself on my way out the door in the morning.  

Acceptable Purchases:  In addition to the exceptions listed above, there are some purchases which will be acceptable during the year.  

  1. Nails: I get my nails done once a month.  I like the way my fingers look with nails, which I can't grow myself (I like biting them too much), so acrylics it is. 
  2. Hair:  I will get my hair cut and coloured at regular intervals, but no crazy experimental colours which I have done to be uber trendy in the past - just enough to cover the greys which are infuriatingly showing up with more regularity

In case you were wondering, I am totally terrified that I am going to fail at this.  That within a week I'll be surfing the online sales or planning a new spring wardrobe.  That I'll make a sneaky trip to the mall to pick up just one thing.   I am trying to prepare myself for this by avoiding temptation - I used the service unroll.me to unsubscribe from all the retailers' newsletters that hit my inbox every morning.  I am contemplating unsubscribing from all the cool plus-size fashion bloggers I follow on Instagram and Twitter, but I am hoping I can use these folks for inspiration rather than seeing each post as a directive to Go Forth and Shop.  We'll see how that goes.

I also have created an inventory of my stuff, to remind myself just how many options I actually have, from a clothing perspective, and reinforce the message that I do not need more.  I used Google Spreadsheets, and created a tab for each category of clothing: Shoes, Tops, Bottoms, Dresses, Skirts - and within each tab items are broken down even more by sub-category: Pencil Skirts, Full Skirts, Long Dresses, Sweatshirts, etc.  I also created a Pinterest Board of all the clothes I have from my favorite fashion site, Eloquii, where I buy 90% of my clothes.  This is a nice visual reminder of everything that's in my closet, so if I'm stuck for inspiration I can just take a quick look at my board for an idea.   I've also inventoried textiles and furniture on my Google Spreadsheet, and will be tackling makeup, books and housewares next.  My insurers will love me!

So, those are the rules of the ban.  And the ban is...for all of 2017.   Bring on the inevitable tears, tantrums and frustrations.  I'm excited and scared to see what happens next.

2017: The Year of Enough

My cousin Sarah and I often talk about what our annual "themes" will be for the coming year.  The idea is to set some goals related to that theme, that we can hold each other accountable for as the year progresses.  In one of our first years, we set a goal related to hours of exercise and number of kilometres clocked.  One year I focused on learning to love myself a little more.  Another year I focused on saying "yes" to things less often, to leave time to relax and recharge. 

I've been thinking hard about what 2017's theme will be.  I'll admit, it's been hard to be optimistic enough to even set a goal.  Maybe that's the seasonal depression talking, but boy, 2016 has been a dumpster fire of a year from my standpoint here on good  ol' planet Earth:  Trump.  Brexit.  The rise of the Alt-right.  Devastation in Aleppo.  Standing Rock.  Kinder-Morgan.  Zika.   Philando Castile's death live-streamed on Facebook.  An ongoing fentanyl crisis in our own backyard.   Terrorist attacks in too many places to name.  The earth warming up an alarming rate.  Freakin' David Bowie.   It's hard not to peer into the future of 2017 and see more of the same darkness.  It's hard not to feel helpless in the face of the challenges that we know are in store for us.

Enough is enough.  I am appalled at the direction this world is going, but I do not want to go down without a fight.  I want to take action.  I no longer want to feel numb to the injustices that happen down the street, or across the world.  So that's how I started thinking about 2017, as the Year of Action.  The problem was, where to start?  How do I change, and also help bring about change?  I'm just one insignificant person - how do I make a difference?  For me, one of the things I have realized I can do is understand how privileged I am,  at the opportunities I am afforded, and also learn to be content with what I have. 

I have always had two soothing or numbing behaviours in the face of fear, stress or pain:  food, and shopping.   One thing I am so grateful for this year is that I found the Whole 30 and eliminated most garbage food from my life.  I replaced junk food with exercise and good eating habits, became healthier, and lost a good amount of weight in the process.  That's an ongoing journey, one that will take time, but it's become a part of my life.  So, coping unhealthy mechanism number one, gone.

Which brings me to the shopping.  It's no secret I like nice things.  I love clothes, love dressing up, love making my home beautiful.  I'm a girly girl and a secret wannabe homemaker.  I collect books, retro housewares, pretty shiny things.  This year, when I took away food as a crutch, I found I was turning more and more to shopping as a cure for whatever uncomfortable emotion I was feeling.  If I felt it, it meant I deserved a new dress.  Or a new lipstick.  Or that new book.  If I didn't feel it - the confidence, the happiness, the love, that also meant I needed the new dress.   If I just got this one thing, I'd be perfect.  I'd be lovable.  I'd be happy.  I'd be worthy.   Most of the time, it worked.  The buying of the things worked.  Until one day, it didn't.

You see, I've become aware of the gross disconnect between my social conscience, which is increasingly loud in its concern for others, for our environment, and for building a world that is sustainable for us now and for our kids in the future, and my consumption of...well, stuff.    I live in a house of nice things.  I have a closet full of beautiful things to put on every day.  Why do I keep needing more?  And what do these things really add up to, in terms of a life well lived?  Will I be remembered, and do I want to be remembered, for having the cutest outfit, and the prettiest house, or for my actions, and the things I put out into the world?   When will I have enough?

So, the theme has become clear.  It's the Year of Enough:

  1. I've had enough -  I want to contribute to positive change in our world. 
  2. I have enough -  I need to learn to be mindful with how I spend my money and in my consumption of things.
  3. I am enough - I don't need stuff, or accomplishments, more money, or less weight, to be a worthy, lovable, person.  This one is my ongoing battle, against perfectionism, feelings of insecurity, of being different, incomplete somehow. Who I am and the good I do is enough.  

I have my theme.  In terms of concrete actions, there are a few things I am committing to:

  1. Community Work:  I'm going to make an active effort to offer more volunteer hours this year.  I've sat on boards for the past several years, and offered pro bono legal advice on an ad hoc basis when people really needed it.  I've contributed financially to charities.  I'll continue to do that, but I want to commit to actually offering myself to be of service to more organizations, in different ways, in 2017.  
  2. Shopping Ban:  Here's the big one guys.  I can't even believe I am saying this, but - I am committing to a Shopping Ban, in order to learn how to be more mindful with my money, and with my consumption.  I don't intend on giving away my possessions and becoming a minimalist - I like stuff too much for that - but I want to learn how to use and appreciate the stuff I've already got.  I'll be posting my Shopping Ban rules later, for more accountability, but this is gonna be a big one.  Big ups to Cait Flanders whose website, and Mindfulness Budget Journal, are a huge inspiration and resource for this endeavor. I don't know how long it'll last, if I will set a goal of three - six months or try to stick it out the whole year, but it's got to be a long enough challenge to do some real change to my current spending habits.
  3. Work on Me:  thetrial of learning to feel more worthy as a person continues.  I'm committing to devoting more time to my well-being, and not leaving this as the last priority on my to-do list.  I'm committing to building free time into my schedule, rather than filling my schedule to the brim with other commitments so that I don't have to sit with this stuff and work through it.  I'm building in the "me" time.

So, there's my 2017 for you.  It's the Year of Enough.  What does 2017 mean for you?

 

Be Here Now.

Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of my life and wonder how I got here.  It can happen driving down a Richmond street where I realize I recognize nothing, or waking up in my own room and seeing it as if for the first time. I will suddenly feel disoriented and disconnected from everything around me.   I'll look around and marvel at how alien everything feels to me, like I'm an astronaut, or a deep sea diver, floating, an observer in an unfamiliar landscape.  In that same instant, I feel the distance I've travelled, from a bedroom in a blue house on a cul-de-sac in the shadow of a small tree-covered mountain, to now, and wonder how on earth I find the path to turn around to go back.  

 

 

 

"What am I doing here?"  I will whisper to myself.  To ease the panic I can feel growing, I say reassuring things to ground me to this spot and this moment with some sort of logic or tie that my heart understands.  "You were born here, a few blocks away.  Your dad was born here.  Your grandmother lived down the road.  Your parents' first house was five minutes away."  It helps.  Sometimes I go to my aunt's house, a short drive through a tunnel. because it's the same house that it always was: so many things are different, but its sameness reminds me that the things and places that have disappeared were real.  They happened.   They existed. I didn't dream them and wake up just this second to my actual reality.  

 

It's not that this reality is bad, lord no.  It feels sweeter now, and more consistently sweet, than it has in a long time.  This afternoon I sat happily in my own library, surrounded by books, my beloved cat in my lap, and listened to the rain fall on the trees outside.  I tried to read, but looked up constantly to survey this home that I have bought and made, all on my own.  The feeling of calm and of pride was so great it almost made me cry.   But I so often these days find myself not quite being able to connect the dots, from Home to Here.

 

If I had to guess, I'd say this sense of disorientation is part of growing older, when your story becomes so long that you can't easily connect the first chapters to the middle.  Or, it's part of having wandered for the better part of 15 years and made a place for myself in multiple cities, continents, workplaces, friendships.  Maybe it's part of having travelled so much of this journey solo.  It makes me understand why people who have long ago left their hometowns sell up, move back, and settle down, send their kids to the schools they went to, reconnect with childhood friends.  It has to do with wanting to feel a sense of belonging to a place, a time, a community, a past self.  

 

This alienness also makes me realize that this life I'm leading now, as unfamiliar as it may seem in this instant, is the only life I have to lead.  I'm not going to "finish", or graduate, and return home to some past life.  Those echoes of the past are really just that - a recollection, an intangible, unreachable suggestion.  There is only one direction: forward. This realization makes me mournful and nostalgic and energized and driven and empowered, all at the same time.  Time to get up. get on with it, make something happen.   There are no ties that bind, so anything, anywhere, is possible.

 

I'm not sure what the remedy to this feeling of unfamiliarity can be, other than to live exactly this moment, now, here, and nowhere else.  To not dwell too long on times past, or on the time that is running (or running out), and simply live this chosen second, this mindful minute, in peace, with purpose, and most importantly, with gratitude.   

More Love.

I haven't had a lot to say lately.  

It's not because things aren't happening in my life - they are.  In fact, almost too many things have been happening.  I bought my own home, I moved to the 'burbs (barely), I settled in at my new job, I made peace with leaving the old job, I played a dream role in Hairspray,  I began my first steps towards an academic teaching career, I committed myself again to being the athlete I secretly am underneath my chubbiness, and, oh yeah, I agreed to do a burlesque show.  Things are happening. Lots of things.  I race from one place to another, from the moment I wake up until I collapse back into bed, exhausted, after 12+ hours away from home, then I wake up and do it all again the next day, with no reprieve.

But these things have felt really, really insignificant in the face of what is happening outside my very privileged bubble.

Since I last blogged?

There's been over 500 terrorist attacks around the world.    In places we assume are safe, like Brussels, and in places where fear is now a way of life, like Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Israel. Syrian death tolls are now estimated to be well over 400,000.  Scores of families displaced, destroyed.    

Ghomeshi walked.

Brock Turner got off with three months in a county jail and a lifetime ban on competitive swimming.

Fort Mac burned. 

Jo Cox was murdered for being committed to uniting her constituents and her country.  

Trump continues to get away with spewing bigoted, misogynist, ignorant hate with no signs of it letting up, while Hillary is vilified as the anti-christ. 

And Orlando.  Oh, Orlando.  My heart literally aches with sadness and with a white-hot fury that America can still not make the connection between gun control and the prevention of horrific massacres. 

It's hard for me to think I have anything worth saying, in the face of the trouble our world is in.  Now, more than ever, I'm finding it difficult to see the good, amongst the war and the hate and the climate destruction, and no amount of cute animal videos shared on Facebook is going to fix this, for me or for any of us.    

It's tough to feel helpless.  It's tough to feel like the life I have built for myself is frivolous, ephemeral, compared to the suffering that also exists in this world.  It's hard to know where to begin to make changes in my own life that can actually have a positive impact on our wounded world. Sure, I can (and do) throw money at the problem(s).  I can volunteer more, recycle more, protest more, be more aware of my privilege, understand more, listen more, forgive more.  Yes, there's so much more. And also,  I can be, and do, less: buy less, judge less, talk less, be less focused on myself, be less complacent in the face of injustice. There's so much more, and so much less, that I can do, and be, that I don't really know where to start.

But I think where it has to begin for me, right now, is with love.  49 people died in Orlando for being brave enough to love who they wanted to love, to love themselves for who they were.  The only response to Trump's hate rhetoric, his ridiculous visions of walls, of deportation and banning of those who are "other", the only response to the madman that killed Jo Cox over a fear of difference, to governments who will not welcome refugees fleeing for their lives, is love. Unity, not division.  Love, love, love.  I commit to being brave enough to love more, every day.  Love my family, my friends, my colleagues, my community, strangers near and far, of stepping outside my comfort zone to show more love.  If we can all commit to being a little more loving every day - to consciously acting in a loving way towards our fellow human beings and our world - even doing one small, deliberate, loving thing each day, then maybe we can drown out the evil, the hatred, the sorrow.  

Lin-Manuel Miranda (as Benedict Cumberbatch is my husband, so Lin is my best friend) shared, in verse, his thoughts on our world, at this time, at the Tonys last week, during one of his many acceptance speeches for Hamilton.  His sonnet has now been shared millions of times, but there a few lines that have stuck with me every day:


We chase the melodies that seem to find us

Until they're finished songs and start to play

When senseless acts of tragedy remind us

That nothing here is promised, not one day.

This show is proof that history remembers

We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger;

We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope and love last longer

And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.


What can you do to be more loving?  And when will you start? For me, it starts now.  I won't say love is all we need (with sincere apologies to John and Paul), but it is where we need to start.

Tuning Out the Noise.

As all three devoted readers of this blog will know, this past year has been the "Year of Dani": a year of self-care, of becoming more comfortable in my own life and my own skin, and concentrating on what has meaning for me and makes me happy, healthy and whole.  I'm still a work in progress, but I feel like I have made some important steps forward and made changes in my own thinking that made a real difference to my own sense of well being and self-worth. 

No small part of this has been working on accepting myself for who I am, at the size I am.  Weight has been an issue for me since I was a kid. I can't pinpoint when exactly I started to feel different and unworthy because of my weight - it goes that far back. I remember being called fat by kids in elementary school.  I can remember my mom and I out walking when I was younger and some stranger yelling at us that we were two cows who SHOULD go out for a walk.  I don't remember a time when I didn't know in the core of my being that fat was bad, that I was fat, and therefore I was bad.  Naturally, I equated not-fatness with goodness.  If only I could just be thin, life would go my way.  I wouldn't feel different, or like an outsider.  I first went on Weight Watchers when I was 13.  I went back to WW a number of times, and have tried numerous other fad diets over the years, sometimes with tremendous success.  Dr. Phil's crazy Texan diet + running 5K every single day for five months = 60 pounds gone.  Dr. Bernstein + heartbreak + obsessive CrossFit = 90 pounds gone.   Dr. Bernstein (again) +  hot yoga 6 days a week = another 75 gone.  I've lost my own body weight probably multiple times in my life, sometimes by very unhealthy means.

Part of this year's focus has been on living in the present.  I quickly came to the realization that I couldn't genuinely live in the present without accepting myself for who I am in the present, all of me: the double chin, the chubby arms, the Size 16 clothing - every last large, chubby, round part of me.   I didn't know where to begin that acceptance, I really didn't.  I have been so conditioned to believe thin is good (for me - ironically I think most other people look good a little chubbier) that I had to start with a very narrow focus.  I found I liked myself more and could look at myself proudly in the mirror when I had cooked myself a healthy meal that day.  So that went into the rotation: healthy cooking.  I also noticed that I felt better about myself when I exercised -  I liked the way I looked in running clothes, and I liked how it felt to run.  OK, so it was time to start running more regularly.  I liked going to the pool - I bought the cutest vintage swim caps you have EVER seen and went and did Aqua-Fit with the old ladies at the Y.   I liked lifting weights - time to join an exercise crew - my dear friend April had told me about her sister-in-law's bootcamp program for plus size women, Body Exchange , so I started doing that two to three times a week, in addition to my running - and you should see me swing a kettlebell now.  

No small part of my growing acceptance and the beginning of falling in love with who I am, right now, came from the growing movement online that celebrates bodies of all sizes - including plus size bodies.  Models were a big part of that - seeing someone like Tess Holliday get on the cover of People Magazine in May was a big thing - but it was Ericka Shenck on the cover of Women's Running in August that made me literally howl with joy.  YES!  I am a runner! She is a runner! We are runners!  I cannot tell you how empowered that cover made me feel.  All I can say is my running laps at bootcamp that week were extra-fast, and extra-proud.  

I also discovered a whole world on Instagram of plus-size fashion beyond the two messy racks in the corner of H & M and the senior-citizens approved plus section of the Bay.   There were young professional women like me posting OOTD on IG, rocking fierce clothes that I needed right. now. There were even people I knew setting an example, like local amazing supermodel Ruby Roxx, looking so damn heart stoppingly sexy that she puts Victoria's Secret to shame.  Thanks to this social media takeover by beautiful, empowered, healthy, fashionable, smart, successful and LARGE women, plus size was becoming, for me, the new normal.  Finally, at 35, I felt normal.  I felt more deserving of being healthy, loved and beautiful - because here were these examples of women being these things, doing fabulous things, that I could look at everyday.

Cut to yesterday.  I was inundated, on TV and radio, with news stories relating to this study co-authored by Brent McFerran, a professor of marketing at SFU, saying that acceptance of larger body types in media (such as the now-iconic Dove campaign) result in greater consumption of food and less motivation to exercise. In other words, showing people images of fat people made them fat.  It made them lazy, and it made them eat more.  They refer in their conclusions to "overly large" bodies as "unhealthy" but do not refer to overly thin bodies in the same way.  They conclude that it would be "optimal" for people's well-being for marketers to use images of people of a "healthy weight and refrain entirely from drawing attention to the body size issue."  They suggest we ignore the elephant in the room - even if that elephant is me.  Or you.  The authors of this study seem to be fretting that we can't "normalize" people who are overweight, even though it's well established that the average woman in North America is a Size 14, and also well established, in the work of experts like Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, that dieting isn't working.  People are not getting smaller.  Bigger is the new normal.  Instead of suggesting that the media show healthy bigger bodies - show people that they can love themselves and be good to themselves at any size, and show them how to be healthy at any size, the authors of this study suggest that we be erased from the picture.  

To make matters worse, in giving publicity to this study, the media once again opened the floodgates for people to make judgments about others (as always, like they needed an invitation) based on size. On my way to bootcamp with my large lady-friends last night, I heard the following public comments on the CBC radio show On the Coast:

1)  Obesity is an epidemic, it is unhealthy and costs the taxpayers money so let's not celebrate that.

2)  I have fat friends and when I hang out with them I do eat more and I do make poor choices so I try to encourage us not to just go out to dinner when we socialize.

Imagine comment number 1 starting like so:

"Islam is an epidemic."

Or comment number 2:

"I have gay friends and when I hang out with them I do feel more homosexual."

 You may think, "Oh hang on Dani, being fat isn't the same as being Muslim, or gay.  People can't help being Muslim or gay."  And I am telling you, based on personal experience and the experience of many others I know, that the psychology of weight and our relationships with food, not to mention genetics and hormones, make it as difficult for some people to change their body shape as it is difficult to change the colour of your skin.  I have 35 years of obsessive exercise, diets, cycles of starvation, and more self-loathing than you can even imagine to prove it.  The fact that the study didn't even start to address that complication shows just how flawed, and harmful, it is.

In making a huge, oversimplified news story out of a controversial study that does not even scratch the surface of the psychology of food, weight, body image and media influence,the media is once again giving voice and validation to judgement, bigotry and shaming as legitimate opinion.

And I won't stand for it.  

Seeing myself reflected in the media over the past year has made me feel worthy: of love, of admiration, of health.  OF HEALTH.  Shaming me into trying to lose weight by only making clothes up to a certain size (I'm looking at you, Abercrombie & Fitch and Lululemon) didn't make me feel those things.  Publishing glowing articles about Gwyneth Paltrow's latest cleanse didn't make me feel those things.  Fat jokes on YouTube by dude comedians didn't make me feel those things.  It was seeing myself, or someone who I could identify with, on a cover, in a story, in an Instagram post, that made me want to love myself.  And doesn't everybody deserve that?  Shouldn't our media reflect who we really are, whether that's thin, fat, tall, short, able-bodied, or 

not,

cis or transgendered?  And every colour under the rainbow?  And wearing a hijab, or a burqa, or a turban?  

So,

TL/DR:

1.  I am a hot, sexy, athletic, healthy, plus sized woman who can do more push-ups than you and has the most fierce style ever EVER.

2.  Magazines, TV and marketing couldn't shame me into loving myself, the only way that happened was by seeing myself reflected in the media: by showing me that I existed, was worthy of depiction, and could be part of the story.

3.  Size shaming appears to be one of the last acceptable forms of prejudice disguised as health concern-trolling, and it's not OK.  Just as we won't let Donald Trump's hatred make a comeback, we won't let shaming of people for

any

aspect of their body go unaddressed.  

4. Fat is not contagious.  Nor is it monstrous, or deserving of being "othered."

5. Diversity is good.

6.  Health is good, and we need to celebrate and applaud those actions we take for our health, which can come in many different packages.

7.  Don't let stupid hateful people be on the radio.  This includes Donald Trump.  I'm tuning out the noise and focusing, in the immortal words of Crystal Waters, on

100% pure love

.  

The Work of Being Happy.

Back in January, I decided this would be the year of self-care.  The year of not setting ambitious goals or striving outrageously to accomplish things.  The year of being a bit kinder to myself.  I was so so tired.  I was tired of feeling disappointed in myself when I didn't achieve superstardom, unlimited wealth, Olympic-level fitness, true love, a family, and professional accolades.  I was tired of feeling like I was struggling to succeed - when really by most people's standards I was doing just fine.  I figured there had to be an easier way to live.  Or, maybe there wasn't, maybe I was/am a perfectionist for life - but at least I could make peace with that way of living, if I spent a year being "ordinary" and still couldn't be happy.  Maybe the struggle would be sweeter if I knew I was happier struggling than going with the flow.  Weird, but that's what I was thinking. 

I did (and did not do) a number of things during this "Year of Dani."  They were, for the most part, seemingly small "no brainer" things to me, really - basic life skills that I had just forgotten to do in my pursuit of "greatness".  

I moved, to a neighbourhood less bustling than Gastown, where I could sleep, and read, and go for walks on tree lined streets.  I started cooking at home and taking my lunch to work.  I didn't audition for shows I didn't want to be in (sounds easy, is actually hard, when you are desperately afraid of being forgotten).  I said no to volunteer opportunities I was presented with if they didn't make my heart sing.  I stayed at home and read books - real books, from the library, with pages, rather then e-books on my Kobo.  

I went for walks, and sometimes I ran. I gardened on my little balcony.  I didn't shop when I was sad or lonely (because shoes make you less lonely!), I wrote it down in my journal, or admitted to someone that I was sad and received a flood of support in return.  I went to yoga, but not obsessively, as I have in the past.  I meditated.  I napped.  And I made one gigantic life decision: I changed jobs, leaving a job I loved and was completely emotionally invested in, to one with a shorter commute and a less frenetic workday pace, where I became responsible for a smaller portfolio of work, that I could leave on my desk at the end of the day rather than carrying home in my heart.  

These lifestyle changes have been accompanied by really hard work in terms of changing my attitude.  In smothering my negative inner voices, in actively choosing a different way to be, every day.  In choosing not to be critical of myself, in taking one day at a time, in choosing love over negativity. In convincing myself I am entitled to be happy, even without the perfect career, the perfect body, the perfect wardrobe, the perfect house, husband, baby.  It's a conversation I have to have with myself every day.  That I am wonderful as I am.  That every day is wonderful exactly as it unfolds.  That I am exactly who I am meant to be, and exactly where I am meant to be.  I write these words to myself on post-its at work, that only I can see.  I set my alarm on my phone for random times of the day, so that when the alarm goes off, I repeat these loving thoughts to myself.  I say them out loud to friends, who respond with resounding celebration when I say "I deserve to be happy."  

Now, as we head into the last months of the year, it feels like all of the very tiny incremental changes that I have been making over the year are crystallizing into one great gigantic big ball of happiness.  It's actually kind of magical.   Work is going well and I am valued for my contributions.  I saved enough money to buy my first home, a quiet place on a street lined with trees that looks out onto the Fraser River, which will be mine in November.  I've lost enough weight (20 lbs, give or take) that I notice, even if no one else does.  I'm singing as much as I want, with the people I want, when I want.  I sleep well.  It's work, absolutely, but the weird thing is, when you put in the work, things feel...effortless.  I can't explain that paradox, but I understand it now.

The other day, my mom said to me, "It's like you've said, 'Oh, sod it.  I am going to try happy.'"  And it's true - in trying to be happy, I've made myself happy.  It is so much work, every single day, but I'm happy.  Imperfect, sometimes frustrated, sometimes lonely - but happy.  I'm choosing happy.  I can't wait to see what miracles unfold as we head into the close of this Year of Dani.

Imperfect, unremarkable, happy me, at this very minute.

7:26 pm.

It feels like it's been a long time since I cried.  Yet this month seems to have been filled with a lot of tears, both of hurt and happiness, but also when the beauty of something has been too much to bear. 

I feel things.  

Sometimes too many things.

But I am feeling them, without fear.

It feels raw, and I feel like I should flinch to avoid being hurt.  I need to find some resilience.  Or find some peace in that fragility.

It is dusk, and I am sitting alone and content, the last vestiges of sunlight pouring in from all sides.  The doors are wide open, and Currie is perched on the deck outside, staring intently at me as I write.

"What are you doing?" I ask her, when I look up to see her yellow-green eyes fixed on me.  She meows a reply, then yawns, stretches, and steps back inside, and past me.  

We are happy here, in this moment. 

There is still so much hurt.  And sadness.  And loneliness.  But it is accompanied by a visiting peace, and a growing awareness of moments of joy.  And grief in the moments that have passed without it.