Category Archives: Personally Yours

On homelessness, mental health & Robin Williams

Every time I see a homeless person on the street my heart hurts. I try not to stare too hard, partly for their benefit (so they don’t feel like a pariah) and partly for my own (to limit my emotional involvement so I don’t have to do anything). Sometimes I smile, the way I do at little old men so they think, “still got it”.

I mouth-breathe automatically to avoid the putrid smell that often accompanies them. One time, I had to vacate a subway cart due to the oppressive odor that made my breakfast churn. How inconvenient (I wasn’t the only one either).  I give roughly 25% of the time to those who ask but it’s almost like the more desperate the plea, the more I want to rush past. In short, I’m sort of a shitty human.

I can’t help but wonder what their stories are? How did they end up on the streets? Do their parents know or care? Did they endure something horrific as a kid? Are they someone’s husband or ex-wife? Are they someone’s parent? Did they leave a career behind? What talents stayed bottled up inside? Have they ever tried to get off the streets?

Ironically, some homeless people seem happier than the vacant-eyed suits wandering around Corporate America. They offer blessings and gratitude in exchange for coins. Sometimes they sing. I wonder if it’s because they have fully accepted their life choices. Perhaps there is some comfort in living life at rock bottom.

But what separates the forgotten, local homeless man from the late and great Robin Williams? Addiction is addiction. Pain is pain. It doesn’t discriminate based on age, race, occupation, family status, or meaningful contributions to society. Countless actors have proven this time and again. And we are always shocked by it. The suicide rate among famous types seems higher than average but maybe that’s because we hear about it more, care more. We expect that coveted life to be enough, as we strive for our own definition of external success. I heard the phrase, “all comedy is pain” and it is clear that we all feel immense gratitude towards Robin for sharing his beautiful pain with us.

Robin spread magic to Gen Y kids, their parents & anyone he crossed.

Robin spread magic to Gen Y kids, their parents & anyone he crossed.

It just goes to show that you can never ever compare yourself to someone else. You never ever know what is going on internally. We rarely ever share those ugly parts of ourselves and when we do, it is only after we have “conquered” them. Some people craft careers out of that (side eye at Gabrielle Bernstein). These self help gurus make happiness sound so easy and it is, while remaining complex. The message of hope is great but what happens when someone falls from grace again?  I imagine their feelings of guilt and shame, in those moments of numb reckoning, would be overwhelming.

As far as I’m concerned, if society and the media treated mental health issues with as much urgency and publicity as the Ebola virus, we’d all be better off.  I’ve had my own struggles and I know a lot of others who have to. It is our common ground and a sign of our times.  So what can we take away from this tragedy?

  1. Engage in a daily practice of self care & self love, regardless of what others think of you, how others treat you and whatever external rewards you acquire
  2. Engage in real and meaningful conversations with others – from your friends or spouse, to the person in front of you at Starbucks, if the opportunity presents itself.
  3. When someone reaches out for support, offer whatever you can and guide them towards even more helpful sources
  4. Don’t cross the street or play with your phone when another human reaches out. Perhaps take proactive action to aid suffering on this planet.

I have been thinking about lending time and energy to a cause (mental health, homelessness or mentorship) for a while, but a psychic advised me to wait until I had more inner peace, until my cup is full enough to spill over and fill someone else’s.

How full is your cup and what are you going to do about it?   

Think Twice Before You Label, Judge or Envy Someone As Skinny

Recently my life coach brought up how I am not standing in my power after I confided feelings of shrinking and hiding from life. It seemed like everyone had an unsolicited opinion to give, which made me feel small. Do you ever feel that way? 

Why are you so skinny? You should eat more. When are you going to get drunk? When are you going to get a new man? 

Every time I went out on the town, I was exposed to beautiful souls completely in their power, as if to reinforce the message: this could be you. From the empowered drag queens at El Convento Rico on College, to the tell-it-like-it-is, hips don’t lie gay man in Yorkville, to the overwhelming energy from an enigma at The Drake (we danced grade 6 styles and tore up No Scrubs).

Lady Gage Born This Way #werkit

Lady Gage Born This Way #weskit

It inspired me to wax poetic rant on some truthful subjects I haven’t touched on before. I hope it comes across less as complaining and more as tough love to get us all more in our power!

A History of Feeling Self Conscious About Being Underweight

I am perpetually trying to gain 5 lbs and contrary to popular belief (“everything looks good on you”), finding clothes that fit well can be a challenge on my petite, 5 “1” frame. Before you get all “poor little rich girl”, hear me out.

I’ve been underweight since birth. In my toddler days, people accused my mom of starving me, which is far from the truth (I just refused to eat, a post for another day). My mom developed such anxiety over what people thought of us, that I developed social eating anxiety disorder by osmosis. I would worry that people assumed I was anorexic and that I had to prove them wrong by eating a lot, which ruined my appetite, creating a self fulfilling prophecy. Many restaurant visits ended in feelings of shame, frustration, anger and long periods of hiding out in the bathroom stall.

In my tweens I developed lactose intolerance. Acid reflux and IBS came in my late teens. I felt a lot of shame around my IBS symptoms, which were exacerbated by stress or anytime I lied to myself really.  I didn’t accept them and in turn, neither did those around me (like my mom or first serious boyfriend), so the symptoms worsened.

I tried to control my diet to avoid digestive upset – it literally ruled my life up until February of this year. Anytime someone commented on my size, I felt like crying. I worried about wearing shorts and a tank to yoga, imagining fellow yogis silently judging (“she must be obsessed with working out“), which really defeats the point of being all “namaste”. I bought clothes that made me look fuller.

let it all hang out #poorpear

let it all hang out #poorpear

The Naked Truth (or Potentially Awkward Causes) Behind The Skinny

To make a long story short, after many medical tests that ruled out conditions like Crohns or Colitis, I focused on the psychological and nutritional components. I am more or less forced to eat clean: coffee, chocolate, milk products, alcohol and fried foods bother me and my metabolism is either German or Japanese engineered because that sh*t is efficient. Literally.

What bothers me the most is that society is too politically correct to voice when someone is overweight but has no qualms when someone is underweight, when both can be caused by mental or physical health conditions.

Barbie Girl falls into the psychological category...

Barbie Girl falls into the psychological category…

Call it a compliment or passive-aggressive bullsh*t but it puts me on the offensive.I feel compelled to comfort the “I want to feed you a burger” commentator with tales of my hyperactive metabolism but really, it’s not my job to make strangers feel better and no one has to know my personal business (except you my dear readers).

The Solution: Accept Your Own Body Shape & Discard The Rest

The point is to think twice before you comment about that skinny b*tch in yoga (or silently admonish that large person). Rarely is anything what it seems and everyone struggles with their shape and appearance. Where is the value in trying to relate to others based on external appearance (“You’re so pretty“. “No you are!“). What matters most is relating via heart and soul…

Anytime we make a judgement, it is generally an indication of suppressed shame or pain within us. Believe me, I learned this the hard way through shadow work post recent break up. Let’s focus instead on sending love and compassion to our own bodies, just as they are. And to everyone we come across.

And while we are at, let’s not support media outlets or brands that prey on our insecurities by cultivating a narrowly defined body image ideal.

So tell me, Am I alone on this one? Add to the conversation, whether you agree or not, in the comments!

Review: Stories We Tell and the questions it raises

Stories We Tell is a documentary on love lost and found. The subject matter is Sarah Polley’s vivacious, deceased mom Diane and her love as a wife, lover and mother. The stories are told by those she touched (all but Sarah) and expand upon the theme of love to include friends and acquaintances. At its core the film studies Diane’s love for herself and life at large, letting us gawk at one family’s dirty laundry. You can google reviews on proper filmmaking matters; this account is visceral and personal.

Stories We Tell

Through Diane’s life choices, we examine our own what ifs. What would make us leave or stay? How would we have handled divided loyalties? Would we rather hurt someone we love or ourselves? Would we label our heart and soul’s yearning as wrong?

How often have we created assumptions in our minds about how others would react to our truths? Too afraid to reveal our inner vulnerabilities and secrets, we stifle the truth and suffer the consequences. Which raises the question of how well can you ever really know someone? Have you seen them with their mask off for realz?

The part that really got to me is how you can die without ever really knowing your impact on someone else’s life, whether you knew them for 5 minutes, a day, 5 years or a lifetime.

Lately I’ve found myself mulling over the past and desperately trying to make peace with it. The guilt and shame I carried went largely unnoticed until experiences like watching Stories We Tell would trigger it, sweeping me up in a tsunami of suppressed emotions.

I was forced to develop compassion for my former self and the relationships I had in those self-loathing times. In the case of my former best friend, I was able to reach out and share my new perspective and it was such a lovely and healing exchange. In the case of my now married EX, I just have to trust that on some level he knows how sorry I am for past transgressions and that I’ve finally changed for the better (that’s the word on the street :P).

You see, the love I had for these people got caught up in my own shit until it was unrecognizable and I thought I was better off without them. I’m not even talking “romantic” love just “no name brand” human being love. On some level, the separations were necessary for growth. That’s just how life goes sometimes.

All we can really do is love ourselves a little more each day and try to apply lessons learned from the past to our present day relationships.

Like life, Stories We Tell is heartbreaking and victorious all at once. Definitely worth watching and deserving of the accolades it has garnered.

How well do you know yourself and those around you?

The year of WTF but also of new beginnings

2013 will be remembered as the year when everything I believed to be true turned out not to be. Only life can throw curve balls that teach control freaks like me to let go of the reins a bit, since it laughs in the face of plans.

When you feel the tide turning, no matter how strong you fight it, you sense your power dwindling. We like to think that sheer will power, tenacity and hard work can make anything fly, but sometimes you have to cut your losses and back away without viewing yourself as a quitter or the situation as a failure.

Putting good energy behind something that isn’t working is only exhausting.  It took a risky stock market decision, the demise of a two-year romance and the pursuit of an internship in production for me to realize this.

All those decisions were accompanied by a giant feeling of trepidation. I could not tell if I was running away from something or running towards something.  My body and emotions were screeching that something was off but I had trouble identifying the source and thus made somewhat random choices to stay, leave or start.

My life in 2013 - minus the paddle

My life in 2013 – minus the paddle

In 2014 I hope to:

  1. Better distinguish between a gut feeling that says “RUN FOSTER RUN” and a fearful mind. The goal is to listen to the former without second-guessing, while observing, thanking and respectfully ignoring the latter.
  2. Stop rationalizing decisions to myself; stop rationalizing actions to others.
  3. Only say yes to people and opportunities that make me say “F*ck Yes”. We are entitled to say no, when our hearts don’t sing.
  4. Try to keep an open heart and an open mind, without compromising my own values or judging others harshly for how they lead their lives.
  5. On that note, establish my core values.
  6. Put hard work behind meaningful pursuits. I secretly fear putting effort behind something and not getting the results I want in the end.
  7. Extend compassion to myself, especially during perceived falls from grace to others; extend to other by not always assuming the worst intentions.
  8. That being said, when it comes to others, actions speak louder than words. Observe the actions.
  9. Behave in a respectfully assertive manner, instead of oscillating between outbursts of aggression and bouts of doormat passivity. This will teach others how I want to be treated without all the drama.
  10. Engage in relationships where efforts are balanced, without keeping score
  11. Let go of expectations wherever possible; focus on the Now and flow with life. Trust that I can handle whatever comes my way. And stop asking others for advice and help in handling my sh*t.
Getting to spend NYE with this fine Greek import a.k.a yia yia!

Getting to spend NYE with this fine Greek import a.k.a yia yia!

2013 began with a list of goals and some of them happened, while others did not. I kept searching for things outside myself to feel fulfilled and at peace.  The real culprit was leading a dishonest life.

2013 ended on a quest for physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, seeking out teachers and taking baby steps including cooking. I’m excited to have my life back again and time to give myself what I need. I tend to let romantic relationships rob me of that.

In 2014 I hope to get over the writer’s block that plagued me this year, by knowing myself better and accepting all facets of my psyche not just the good parts.

I hope to do something truly independent, be it solo travel, moving out or both. I hope for more fun and adventures, planned and unplanned. To become the partner I want to meet, you know, when the time is right. There is no rush.

Feeling grateful for the space and time to ponder all this next week on a beach. So tell me, what did you learn this year?  

Why Letting Go Of The Past Can Be Just As Sad As Hanging Onto It

Us 2 years ago, in brighter colours

Us 2 years ago, in brighter colours

I saw her after two years, thankful to still have the opportunity. She was smaller than I remembered; a new fragility present. Her huge trademark eyeglasses were missing, her blue eyes more exposed.

Those eyes.

Instantly recognizable like déjà view, with a vulnerability and expressive quality most adults manage to hide. At 90 years old, Zia Franca’s eyes spoke to me. She was, after all, my late grandfather’s sister.

In that moment, at her son’s house in the beautiful Canadian countryside it dawned on me. I haven’t seen those eyes in 10 years. Where did the time go and how could I have forget?

A sadness gripped me, a cocktail of guilt and longing, and maybe a few tears right there on the patio. Stomach clenched, I suddenly realized how much I missed his presence. Franca made him feel real and tangible again. She shared his child-like sense of humour, warmth and unconditional love.

We sat beside each other, drawn. She hugged me with surprising strength. I struggled to understand her broken English mixed with Italian. She struggled to hear me with her one good ear (he had a hearing aid too). She ate like a fiend and drank a glass of wine (he used to make it). With her thick accent, she told me she liked me.

I wondered whether he was watching.

Nonno rescued me from school bullying; his home was a safe haven when I was sick. I earned an education in TV on that couch, from I Love Lucy and Bewitched to The Golden Girls and 90210. He kept my secrets from Nonna, we were on the same team. Loonies appeared out of nowhere, corny jokes happened regularly and gardening was his thing.

Nonno an Italian Grandfather

I couldn’t find one of us together…

At the age of 75 he suffered an unexpected stroke and died three months later. I was 17.

I’m all for living in the present and letting go of the past. But sometimes we need reminders of where we came from. We need to remember our former selves and connect with that less tainted version. If only to realize how far we have come and how not so bad the past really was.

I have only hung out with Zia Franca a handful of times over the past 27 years, at least from what I can remember.  And yet there is something deep that has always connected us, especially after his passing.

At the end of our visit I promised to visit her in Toronto, where she still cooks and lives independently with some help. It wasn’t the first time I made her this promise. I only hope this time I follow through.