Monkey Mind

UnknownSome of you may remember Alison Parrott.  She was abducted, raped and murdered in Toronto in 1986.   She had become quite a good little runner and was to leave the day following her abduction to compete internationally.  However, she was lured from her home by a man posing as a photographer for the upcoming competition.  Alison was just eleven years old.

This week I was fortunate enough to participate in an intimate forum with her mother, Lesley , who bravely shared with us her journey through the darkest times of grief, self-loathing and fear.  But she also spoke about resiliency and how she found a way to not only survive, but thrive, after Alison’s death.

There are so many things she said that struck me, but one in particular was a message I needed to be reminded of this week. She spoke of taming our “monkey mind”.  This expression was new to me but I’ve since discovered that it was Buddha who described the human mind as being filled with drunken monkeys, jumping around, screeching, chattering–endlessly clamouring for attention. Hence, we have the term.

In Lesley’s case, the ‘monkey mind’ she most needed to tame was that of recreating Alison’s death and the terrifying things she must have suffered.  I could certainly relate as I have recreated Stefanie’s last agonizing moments over and over until every cell in my body aches.

What she shared next was pivotal.  She said that whatever images we create in our minds, whatever details we use to fill in the blanks are not reality.  I have, as most people do, a fantastic imagination and can recreate the vilest images. But they aren’t real.  The emotion associated with them is, but the only reality is what we are living right here and right now.   Lesley suggested that if we pay attention to the feelings rather than the images we create in our minds, we will fare much better.

Allowing ourselves to acknowledge and experience the waves of pain will eventually soothe the waters and the swells will not be as intense.

I have learned to turn those thoughts off purely out of self-preservation and the only way I know how to do it is by sheer force of will.  Once there, it’s very hard to stop thinking about it.

Recently, during a presentation from Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit, there was a clip from a CCTV camera of a stabbing.   This wasn’t TV or fiction. It was real, raw and wretched. I felt terribly sick, and it took everything I had to maintain my composure. I was, of course, battling those demons once again.

These relapses will happen, but it takes a conscious effort—a decision  to not allow these thoughts to consume us.

This is not exclusive to violence.  Many times we assign meaning to the actions of others and interpret them through our own lenses, creating a false reality, and then we suffer needlessly as a result.  How many times do we replay a conversation with someone and then later think about it so much that it takes on a life of its own—one that was never real at all?

We need to let go of our “monkey minds” and allow ourselves some peace.  Life can exist only in this very moment.  This is our only true reality.

We must stop wishing for a different yesterday and stop projecting into the future.   It takes effort at first, and at times, reverting back to our ‘monkey minds’ is inevitable.  But each time we find ourselves listening to the chatter, we need to gently remind ourselves to come back to the present and just be.



Posted in closure, Hope, Positive thoughts | 6 Comments

A Need For Privacy

busshootingIn Toronto this week there was an 18 year old male armed with a knife on a bus. Sadly, he was shot and killed by police. As expected, the media is up in arms with scathing reports condemning police action, heightening and sensationalizing a tragic incident, stirring up an already outraged public.

I am not qualified to comment on how the events unfolded or the mindset of the officers who were there.  I do have a perspective that the media doesn’t, but still, it’s not my place to opine.

I am not a fan of The Toronto Star. There is, however, one journalist at the Star—Rosie DiManno—for whom I have a great deal of respect. We have met many times and she was fair and kind to us during Stefanie’s homicide trial. By some twist of fate, I was given a free copy of the Star this morning with my coffee, and her article was on the cover, so I accepted it graciously, genuinely interested in what she had to say.

Little of what she wrote surprised or upset me, except for one small comment that needs to be addressed. I wish desperately someone could make the media understand why this kind of thinking is so upsetting to victims of crime.

For a few short hours, the victim’s name had not been released.  For a few short hours, the victim’s family were given time to absorb the shock, horror and grief in private with some modicum of peace.

DiManno writes:

“…. neither the cops nor the Special Investigations Unit have yet released the victim’s name.  This, just for starters, in unacceptable.  Death by cop, or in any violent circumstances, is not a private matter.”

“The nameless are also the faceless and too easy to ignore.  Further, the whole community has something at stake.”

This makes my blood boil and my brain scream, “Why?”

Why? Seriously—why is it not a private matter? Is the life of the average citizen going to change if he or she doesn’t know, right this minute, the name and address of the victim? Will it make some monumental difference in your life or mine if we aren’t informed immediately about the victim’s poor family? Will we be placed in imminent danger? Are we afraid that if we don’t know every single juicy detail within five minutes of the event that cops everywhere will start shooting people on buses? The truth is, it won’t change our lives one iota, but it will make a terrible difference to the victim’s family.

I understand the purpose and importance of responsible media—without a doubt.  But if, as a city, we truly cared about what happened to this young man, we would support his family’s right to privacy and shield them from those who think they have a right to insert themselves into something that has nothing to do with them. Allow the family to grieve in private or to speak, if they choose to do so.

As far as the officer is concerned, there is no doubt in my mind that he or she did not wake up that fateful morning hoping for the worst this job has to throw at him or her.  That officer now faces ridicule from all sides and it will take someone with a very strong character to overcome this.  They are also a victim because, as I’ve said before, that bullet goes both ways.

DiManno extrapolates not releasing the name of the victim to never getting the truth from police about the incident. Certainly we must hold the police to a high standard of honestly and transparency. I’m the first to expect that.  Perhaps relentless media coverage helps to bring this about, but it has little to do with needing a name and invading the private hell that family is now living.

In the first few days following Stefanie’s death, the media was inescapable, and some of what took place was unforgivable. I know this invasive behaviour is born out of relentless pressure to get the juiciest scoop. Perhaps, also, there is simply blissful ignorance about the needs of a grieving family, but whatever—it is quite simply, wrong.

Once Stefanie’s funeral had taken place, and I had finished testifying at the homicide trial of another little girl, we were fortunate.  My entire family and support system packed up their lives and boarded a plane with us to a place of anonymity.  But how many people can do that? I suspect very few.

As a society, we profess to care about the victim(s) and their families. We set up trust funds and do fundraising for the family—all of which is wonderful.  However, if someone had offered me either ten million dollars or a chance to be media-free those first days, I would not have hesitated for a moment.   Anything that can take some of the stress away during those days is priceless.

By now, we know many sordid details of the victim’s family including siblings, a divorce, ethnic background, neighbours’ opinions of the type of people they are, schools attended, classmates etc…  We know a lot about the personal lives of these people.  Shame on us.

Does it change anything, help us solve anything, make us feel better because we are different from them thereby shielding us from possibly becoming future victims?

The answer, of course, to all of these questions, is ‘no’.

For this family it’s too late, but if we all ban together and show the media we don’t need to know everything immediately, we can make it better for the next family.



Posted in The Media | 3 Comments

Yes, I’m a control freak!

UnknownAnyone know any control freaks, or do you suffer from this problem yourself?  Needing to feel in control has been one of the biggest struggles of my life, particularly since Stefanie’s death. For the longest time, I thought it was just James and I dealing with the fallout of having all control taken from us and chalked it up to being neurotic—particularly about the safety of the kids. This I accept, forgive, and even embrace—like a badge of honour.

However, it doesn’t stop there and this is where things start to go off the rails.

The positive side of trying to figure this out has been some fantastic discussions with friends who have similar struggles around control, each from their own unique perspective. Thank goodness I’m not alone.  We try to control things in our lives to protect ourselves from being hurt.  There might be times when we push people away because we’re afraid they’re getting too close, or we become somewhat O.C.D. or take up some sort of behaviour that we feel we can control—dieting, exercise, etc…  One thing I do is fill my life with so much stuff that I spend 99% of my time trying to keep everyone and everything organized—controlling, always controlling, which seems to feed the beast that lives inside me.

Recently there has been a significant amount of change in my life, personally and professionally, which, as one might guess, makes the need to be in control that much more pronounced.  Add to that recent news about the final appeal in Stefanie’s homicide trial (coming up in November) and it became obvious that it was time to get my neuroticism under control (how ironic is that?).

The very best way, albeit requiring a conscious effort, is to remain, as much as possible, in the present moment.  For anyone who hasn’t read the book “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle, I highly suggest it.

Tolle writes about how the mind has continual conversations with itself that are difficult to turn off and they are all based on what has happened in the past.  To free ourselves from this, we need to try and watch the thoughts we are having as if they were someone else’s thoughts.  When we think of them in that way, they stop controlling us and we can disconnect ourselves from the constant chatter.   Obviously we need to use our thinking minds to solve problems and survive, but by getting some perspective we can enjoy the present moment and bring more peace to our lives.

In his summary Tom Butler-Bowdon writes:

“Tolle’s basic law is that the more we resist our current situation, the more painful it is. Obviously, if we are thinking “This can’t be happening”, the fact that it is makes it unbearable. Waiting and looking forward to the day when you will be happy or prosperous, for instance, only makes resistance to the present situation stronger. The thought that we could be somewhere else, be with someone else, doing something else can turn our life into a living hell. Is there a way out? The author provides a paradoxical solution: you have to forgive the situation and accept its right to be; even if you hate the situation, accept your hatred as part of it, but don’t keep saying to yourself, ‘This is not happening, this can’t be’.

The present moment, Tolle dares us to consider, is actually problem-free. Problems need to exist in time, so the more you live in the present the less life you give them. “

As far as forgiving a situation and accepting its right to be, even if you hate it, owning that hatred and allowing yourself to feel it, is healthy.  Many times we’re not ready to forgive or accept and feel desperate.  Grief and despair are the darkest and most dangerous emotions, whereas anger is actually further up the emotional scale with joy and enlightenment at the top.

The best I can do right now is one day at a time.  When we stop thinking about yesterday and what “might” happen tomorrow, it’s easier to let go of that need to control a future outcome.  I, of all people, know that what we think our tomorrows will hold may not be what we expect.

Posted in Need for control | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Feeling Vulnerable

Unknown…Anyone afraid of feeling vulnerable?  Anyone equate vulnerability to weakness?

Recently at an event primarily made up of other police officers, I felt I had no choice but to step out of my comfort zone and ask a personal favour of all those in the room.  A few—not many—in that auditorium knew of Stefanie’s murder, but we didn’t speak of it. That’s not why we were there. In that instance, however, it was important to the request I was about to make that they all understand the history behind the appeal.

First, I had to speak up—something I rarely do well. In this case my discomfort was compounded by the topic I was about to raise, which was bound to make everyone else uncomfortable. Then I needed to ask for help, a very difficult thing for me.  When I finally found the nerve to speak, the absolute worst thing happened. I broke down and couldn’t articulate what I wanted to say.  It was so embarrassing I wanted to die. This was a room full of my co-workers for heaven’s sake.

Fortunately it was the very end of the session, and I could run out the door and skip the luncheon to avoid bringing my newly resurrected elephant into the room to trample everyone.

As I packed up my car to leave, the most beautiful giant of a man walked up to me and gave me an enormous hug and told me how courageous he thought I had been to speak up.  He had walked past me and could have continued, but instead he made a point of turning around, walked back and hugged me.  I have no idea who he was, but I love him!

He made me feel so much better because he allowed himself to become just as vulnerable with me as I had been earlier in that auditorium.  A conscious decision to accept vulnerability takes an unusual kind of courage. It’s not easy overcoming our natural inclination to protect ourselves from embarrassment, indignity and ridicule. This adorable man must certainly have been worried about my reaction. I had, after all, just cried in front of a whole room full of coppers—and there’s no crying in policing!  What if he set me off again? What man wants some crazed female bawling on his shoulder, especially one he doesn’t know?

But those few moments of vulnerability gave us a connection.  It allowed us to see each other as we truly were, without the façade—just two very human people.   So many of us walk around forever putting on an act, so very afraid others might catch a glimpse of our real selves.

When we do this, we stifle the true joy that can come from being vulnerable because although it’s uncomfortable, it’s also the birthplace of courage, joy, happiness and gratitude.  Courage says it’s okay to be imperfect and authentic, and that gives us a connection to others.

Connection to others is what allows us to both give and receive happiness, joy and gratitude, surely the reason we are on this earth to begin with. I am so grateful for the brief connection I had with that gentleman and for the reminder that letting others see in me that which I perceive as weakness, might, in fact, be just the opposite.

There are so many times we are vulnerable.  When we do anything for the first time, when our emotions overrule our ability to suppress them, when we start a new job, begin a new relationship, when we begin anew (and sometimes alone) after the loss of a loved one.   Being vulnerable is part of life and it’s often very frightening!

But when we truly see others and allow them to see us deeply and vulnerably then we are free to love with our whole hearts, even when there are no guarantees.


Posted in anxiety, gratitude, shame | 8 Comments

Annual “report cards” on inmates.

imagesLast week I presented at a symposium for the Department of Justice and was honoured to be invited to be part of a forum with the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime.  What an amazing group of people!

Frankly, I never saw myself as a victim’s advocate and still can’t imagine myself as a protester demanding changes to our legal system, but something happened this week that leaves me with second thoughts.

We received an annual “report card” on David Bagshaw and Melissa Todorovic—the two who murdered our daughter—from the Victim Services arm of Corrections Canada.  Let me first explain that access to this information is extremely new and comes with the caveat that some kinks are still to be worked out.

This report provides us with details about any education they are receiving and if they have had any serious disciplinary issues.    Both reports came back with no serious issues.

This was interesting to us because David was charged with attempted murder of another inmate while in prison and was shot by guards during this attempt. In a separate event, he was injured by another inmate and, as a result required medical attention.  On another occasion, he assaulted a staff member.

How then, could his report card be missing all those issues that we consider to be somewhat serious?

Well, the attempted murder we heard about from the media (they are allowed to report on it) but because he was charged by an outside agency, no one within the government is able to tell us.

After further examination and a few phone calls, we were told that minor incidents, like the assault on a staff member couldn’t have been serious enough to make it into his report card.  What confidence it gave us to realize that any assaults on staff are quite acceptable and not considered serious.  This is prison, right?

Too serious—no one tells us…not serious enough, and we still are not informed.

Fortunately, we heard about the new charges through the media and have more confidence that he will not be eligible for parole once his 10 years are up.  Had we not known about this and only read his report card, we might be fretting that within a couple of years, he would be free.

We do realize that it is going to happen at some point, but we want to be well-informed once the parole board hearings start.

Melissa also had a good report, but how accurate it is we cannot tell. It will only be about a year and a half and she’ll be eligible for parole.

These are things that I never thought I would ever have to think about, much less fight the government to improve.   Bill C-10, which is very new, has given victims much more access to information than they ever did before, but we still have a long way to go.

I would like to know if Melissa is taking any steps—i.e. counseling etc. toward accepting responsibility for what she did and working to make sure it NEVER happens again.   However, that information is not available to us because it falls under “medical” information, which is private.

I understand the rules around privacy but I think that when a person commits cold-blooded premeditated murder, he or she should no longer expect to enjoy the great privilege of all our Canadian human rights. Surely the most basic right of all is the right to life, and any person who takes that from another has, in my opinion, forfeited his or her “rights” for the duration of incarceration.

Perhaps that is not very charitable of me and as time passes, I may soften my views, but for now, this is where I sit.

What I want more than anything is for David and Melissa to acknowledge their responsibility, work on the very serious issues they must have and to heal so that no other family ever has to face what we are facing by their hands.

Victims give up all control once they enter the criminal justice system and the best way to give that back to them is with information.


Posted in Beginnings | 6 Comments

That Bullet Goes Both Ways

220px-Cartridges_comparisonA good friend of mine, a retired SEAL, has taught me many things.  I’m fairly certain that the majority of them haven’t been terribly profound, such as the intricacies of Californian language structure (i.e. ‘whew hew’ versus ‘woo woo’) but once in a while, he comes up with a thought that just sticks.

We met at the Grief Coach Academy where we were both studying to be Grief Coaches, each for our own reasons. Shortly after we met, he told me a story about an incident near Seattle where he resides.

I’m sure to get the details wrong (no need to correct me, Dave) but the overall message was clear.  An ex-marine, employed as a police officer in a small town near Seattle, surely suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and with little or no support, turned his service weapon on a group of people in a park.  His platoon mates were the ones who responded to the call and ended up killing him.

This story is tragic from any angle. What made it worse at the time was that in the aftermath, the officers involved in the shooting were only given 24 hours off, expected to “get over it” and return to work the next day. This included the officer who shot his friend.

In telling me this story, my friend, whose mission is to create a better support system for military personnel, said to me “…what they need to understand is that that the bullet goes both ways.”

Now that may sound like just stating the obvious, but I think it’s something we can all understand in very simple terms. Because the concept is so easy to understand, it’s a good example of how our actions cause a reaction and that if it is true for the negative, it must also hold true for the positive.  

There are careers that are inherently negative—including policing.  They have higher rates of alcoholism, prescription drug abuse, divorce, and even suicide.  I’m fairly certain this isn’t by happenstance.

There are coping mechanisms, of course—one being a very warped sense of humor—but once a person has been touched personally by violence, it’s not very funny anymore. There’s a crack in the armour.

There are so many incredible people doing fantastic things within policing but the public only hears and perhaps expects the negative.   I read a comment in the National Post following an article about firefighters and police officers who jumped into the dirty freezing waters of Lake Ontario trying to save a teenager trapped in a vehicle.  The comment was “what heroics…isn’t that their job?” 

Sadly that teenager died and those human beings who risked their own lives will have to live with that memory. Maybe they have teenagers themselves. 

Of course, their jobs are to fight fires and keep the peace, but that person didn’t even want to hear of something that significant.  Perhaps if one of the would-be rescuers had died in the attempt, then it would have been newsworthy.   It makes me wonder why we are so addicted to drama?

Regardless, that tragedy goes both ways.

I believe, in my heart of hearts, that just as that bullet also goes both ways, an act of kindness or simply acknowledging the good in others, does too – it has to.

This concept does somewhat go against the grain in policing.  Officers need to be tough, and they are. Showing emotion or weakness can be a bad thing in law enforcement, if for no other reason than one becomes the target of that warped sense of humour.

Nevertheless, it is possible to inject positivity into the work day, without becoming weak or maudlin, and this positive approach can only improve the lives of every person who is touched by it.   

Although not recognized by the media and therefore unknown to the public, there are amazing officers who dedicate many hours of their time to better the community in which they police.  These officers have learned how to find a light in the cesspool of negativity that is inherent to police work.  For every negative news article written, there are a hundred other stories that will never be told. 

In my immediate circle I can tell of rock climbing programs for youth, guitar lessons, ice fishing expeditions, hockey lessons, summer camping programs for at-risk youth—all run by officers who volunteer their time and often their own money because they believe in what they are doing. There are hundreds of others in other places, other towns and cities doing the same. 

I also have no doubt that the joy they bring to the lives of others returns to them ten fold which is, of course, the polar opposite of that bullet in a Seattle park.  

Making an effort to inject positivity into our professional and personal lives is paramount for the well-being of others as well as our own mental health. Does it involve more work? Certainly. Is it worth it? I am reminded of that old adage, “nothing succeeds like success”. When we see the delight or quiet gratitude on the face of someone we have praised or helped, we know beyond doubt that this happiness has already been returned to us.

Posted in Giving of yourself, gratitude | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Trauma and Growth

imagesOver the next two months, I will be speaking at various events about the benefits and personal growth associated with trauma.  Did I just say benefits, personal growth and trauma in the same sentence?  That might sound impossible or rare when in fact it’s more common than we think.

Trauma is unexpected, unpredictable and uncontrollable.  At first there is stunned confusion when the thoughts and images are so overwhelming that the brain mobilizes defence mechanisms to force it from our minds.  But, this protection can only work for so long and then the more we try to force against those thoughts and images, the more intrusive they become.

If we can unpack these emotions a little at a time, unpacking and repacking, slowly and having patience with ourselves, they can move them from active memory to long term memory and we can heal.

Studies have shown that people who cope poorly with trauma drink 73%, smoke 44% and take tranquilizers 21% more often than those who cope well.  Many times, these people are diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

One would be hard pressed to find anyone who hasn’t heard of PTSD as there has been extensive research, studies and papers written on the devastating effects.  Certainly, at least in the beginning, I suffered quite extensively with many symptoms of PTSD.  Thankfully over time they have diminished and I’m only left with a few lingering characteristics that I still struggle with, but that’s not uncommon.

However, there is new research emerging that supports that even in the midst of great psychological pain, some people gain a new perspective and not only survive but then lead a more meaningful life, including new recognition of one’s personal qualities and a deeper more satisfying connection to others.   There is also evidence to support the idea that these people may be stronger in the face of future adversity.

One might assume that these cases are few and far between, but in the relatively new field of Post Traumatic Growth, there is good news and maybe surprising data.  Some studies show that to those who have suffered a major traumatic event, almost 45%  report having a more positive outlook on life afterwards.

The recent focus of PTG in the world of psychology is promising.  Promising because up until recently it has been unfashionable to speak of the positive outcomes after a traumatic experience and the focus has only been on moving from the emotional turmoil after the event to a neutral state.  But, the emerging field of PTG is focused on moving the victims or survivors of trauma not only from a negative state to neutral one, but then further to a positive, productive, healthy and joyful life.

This is much like the difference between grief counseling and grief coaching.

The research suggests that the primary factor in determining who will grow rather than deteriorate is the amount of social support available after the traumatic event and how people feel about the incident – like feelings of guilt.

Victims of crime need support. Period! The lifeline the support provides them is vital for the recovery of everyone, particularly those who are marginalized.  But it’s not only the victims they are helping.  There is a snowball effect that is initiated because of this support. Victims either grow into better, stronger, more compassionate citizens, able to be a positive influence on succeeding generations, or they can spiral downwards, often bringing their offspring with them, who then become another burden on society, and that Ladies and Gentlemen, means you and me.

We all have a role to play, but expecting growth rather than life long suffering is the first step in changing the psychology of trauma.   The human condition is an amazing, beautiful and resilient one that only needs love and support to thrive even in the worst situations.

Posted in Grief coaching, Hope, Post Traumatic Growth | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Want to sleep better?

imagesI wonder how many of us wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep?

There are hundreds of reasons that might prompt us to waken from sleep—the inevitable call of nature, nightmares, snores coming from the other side of the bed, a kid who has any number of problems, etc… Oh wait, those are just mine.  Then again, maybe I’m not alone ???

For those of us who wake after a nightmare, it can take a long time to quiet our racing hearts, calm our electrically charged cells, and banish those terrifying images from our minds.

Nightmares have taken their toll on me and have led to chronic sleep deprivation, forcing me to find ways of coping. Hopefully, no one else is having such vivid nightmares but what I’ve learned might help others who are awake at night thinking about all the demands of the following day that they can do absolutely nothing about in that moment.

Although meditation is usually done awake and in a sitting position, I have been using this basic concept to help me get back to sleep.  When I’m lying in bed with every nerve on fire, I begin to think about my breathing.  I focus only on each breath.  Inevitably, this lasts about ten seconds and then my mind wanders back to my nightmare.  As soon as I realize what I’m doing, I remind myself to focus on my breathing again.  I do this over and over until I begin to feel more relaxed. This helps bring my heart rate back to normal and takes away that “crawling skin” sensation.

Recently I read about a technique using alternate nostril breathing.  There are claims that the left nostril connects to one side of the brain and the right to the other, a fact I certainly can’t substantiate, but what I can attest to is that it is easier to stay focused when using this technique, to concentrate on my breathing and stop my wandering mind.

Lying on my side, I close one nostril with my thumb and breathe in through the other, switch, and block the other nostril, exhale and repeat. This is much more effective for staying in the present moment because it takes more concentration.

Mastering meditation has been a goal of mine for some time.  The benefits of giving our minds a rest is very powerful especially in someone whose brain is drowning in incessant internal chatter.

In his book “Proof of Heaven” neurosurgeon, Eben Alexander, introduces the reader to Hemi-Sync.  Simply put, it is a system used to enhance deep conscious exploration based on audio technology.  It uses specific patterns of stereo sound waves to induce synchronized brain activities.  The science behind it is exciting but too complicated to explain here.  Suffice to say, it is just music with beats below the normal threshold of human hearing.  It is not subliminal messages, but it does work—at least for me.

Due to my desire to master meditation, I listen to one for that purpose, but there are others to help with sleeplessness.

To my surprise there has been a completely unexpected side effect from listening to just ten minutes of Hemi-Sync before bedtime. The nightmares that have been my constant companion since Stefanie died have all but disappeared. There were no claims that this technique would be beneficial in this way.  Hopefully they do some research in this area as well.

Sleep is so vital to our mental and physical health.  Do yourself a favour and don’t settle for sleepless nights. Try to find a natural way to have a restful sleep so that your body can help to heal and rejuvenate itself and you can be your very best when you’re awake.

If any of these techniques work for you, I’ll be thrilled.  If you have another successful method, please share.




Posted in anxiety, Relieving stress | Leave a comment

What are your goals?

imagesGoals are what propel us forward, give us something to work toward, something to fill us with enthusiasm and give us a reason to feel proud of our accomplishments. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have many projects and ideas constantly on the go. If I don’t take enough time to organize my priorities, nothing would ever get done.

One of the best ways to do this is to make a list (dream big) of everything you want to accomplish, do or have. Maybe it’s skydiving, or running a marathon. Perhaps it’s mastering meditation, yoga, or taking a course. It could be earning “x” amount of dollars, having financial freedom, learning a new language or just getting through the day being the best partner, parent, friend, child etc… that you can be.  Whatever your goals, write them down. Now pick the top twenty.

Once you have these down, take a moment to ask yourself why they are important to you. List the top three about which you feel the most passionate. What are you doing to achieve those goals? What have you done? What things do you have to put in place to make them happen?  If you feel tired just thinking about it, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate that goal because when we’re truly passionate about something, we are invigorated to push forward.

Being realistic about a time frame for each of these goals is paramount.  Some might be immediate and others may take ten years.  Regardless, it is necessary to have a plan in place and to review that plan every once in a while.

When life is overwhelming for any reason—death, divorce, lost promotion, job loss, bad news from a friend or family member, illness—whatever the reason, it may be all we can do just to get through the day.   This is where a plan helps most.

At first, after Stefanie’s death, I could barely breathe, let alone think about the future.  My future was the next hour, the next five minutes, anything to make it to bedtime so I could escape into at least a few hours of exhausted sleep.

What drove me was a painfully simple plan. I would reward myself daily for just getting by.  A latte here, a chocolate bar there, a couple of days away, alone with James—anything that worked.  I just needed to look forward to something, anything, no matter how small.

Now that I’m in a better place and have grown into what I hope is a better person, having a plan to obtain my goals has proven invaluable.

When my girlfriend took her life coaching coarse and spoke of the work involved and the time commitment, I felt a little sorry for myself because I knew I would never be able to carve out the time.  I had five kids and she only had two. Her spouse didn’t work shifts.  It wouldn’t be possible at this point in my life I had decided.

Was that ever a limiting belief!!  All I had to do was to make a plan, and stick to it.  Yes, it meant sacrifices, not just for me, but for James, Lilibeth (our amazing caregiver) and the kids, but I’m confident the end justified the means for all of us.  I was a happier person, a more invested wife and mother because I felt positive about what I was doing, which, of course, improved my overall outlook on life.

Now I’m a Certified Coach specializing in grief and can continue moving forward with my overall plan of supporting other people, some who find themselves in the same hell we went through or just those who are suffering the everyday losses we all experience.  I needed a goal, enough passion to stick with it and a plan to make it come to fruition.

What is there in your lives that you are passionate about?  Try the above exercise and see if your dreams don’t become a reality!


Posted in Relieving stress, sucess | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Finding Ways to Combat Anxiety

As the unrelenting anxiety continues to grow, my best defense is to sit and write and focus my mind on something unrelated to the sadness and emptiness that inevitably grows inside me at that this time of the year.

This morning, as I reviewed the passages that the boys (9 and 7) are going to read in church this evening, James and I started to discuss all the benefits for our children—aside from spiritual—there are in going to church.

Tonight, the boys will both practice reading (something other than Pokemon) and public speaking.  This is the first year that Eric has done any presenting in school and it was a book report in front of his classmates.  However, he has been reading something called the Minute for Mission in church for two years now.  They are short stories about the problems people must deal with in different parts of the world, and the efforts by others to make a difference.  He is learning integrity, caring and all of this through the real life examples of others.  This is particularly important because the boys are in French school and this gives them a chance to practise in English.

The kids learn so many other important skills that truthfully I don’t always have time to teach them because I am often too busy.  Sometimes they set up for coffee time after church, help serve the treats, pour coffee, tea or juice, do the clean up afterwards and put away chairs.  They seem to do this enthusiastically and with no complaining—even when it comes to washing countless dishes.

They learn to be respectful of their elders and how to interact with all ages, including seniors. Working together in the church gives them something in common, and helps them to get to know each other.

Most importantly, they are appreciated for their efforts.  They are recognized and made to feel like an important part of the group—not just the little ones who are dismissed.  They are listened to and heard because people truly care about them.

Feeling important is the deepest non-biological need we have as humans and our children always feel like important members of our little church.

Their reading improves as they sing along to the hymns and Christmas Carols. Confidence is boosted as they participate in plays put on by the youth. Being surrounded by kind people simply rubs off.

Kids won’t go to church on their own. They need their parents to take them.  James and I thoroughly enjoy one hour on the weekend when the kids are busy doing all of the above and we have time to center ourselves and refocus our thoughts.

Church doesn’t have to be a place where we are made to feel guilty or as if we are being judged.  I have never felt that way nor would I ever make anyone else feel that way—another fantastic lesson for the children to learn.

As adults we can learn all these skills as well, but usually won’t be motivated enough to do it for ourselves, but might for our children.   Most of us put our children in sports for the exercise and life lessons learned through team sports.  But when Eric is as confident to stand up in front of a bunch of adults and speak as he is to take the faceoff in hockey, I am proud to have given him equal opportunities in both.  With less and less being offered in school these days, as parents we need to find ways to help our children become well rounded adults, from sports to math, to basic human decency.

There are many types of churches and most do not fit my life.  I need one that is inclusive and open, that is relevant today and not just 2000 years ago, one that offers realistic advice and doesn’t expect me to follow blindly.  I don’t want to be told what to do or what to think, but rather to have some guidelines pointed out and then choose how to best implement those in my life and the lives of my children.

I’m not trying to “sell” the idea of church to anyone, but I wonder if many people see it differently than what it actually is, and don’t realize the benefits.  Check it out. Try a few different ones and see what you think.  What do you have to lose?

Tonight I will sit in the warmth of a familiar place surrounded by people who truly love me and the anxiety I am feeling now will lessen knowing that I can trust them to hold me up, if I can’t stand alone.

Our service is at 7pm tonight at Presteign-Woodbine United Church, 16 Presteign Ave at St. Clair and O’Connor and you’re all welcome.  If you do come, be sure to seek me out and say “hello”.

To everyone else, from my family to yours, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and the best for 2013.


Posted in anxiety, Grief and the holidays, Relieving stress | 10 Comments