Me and being intentionally single

I was thinking the other day about how I’ve never really talked about being single for seven years. Yes, before I met my current boyfriend, who I’ve been involved with for almost four years now, I was intentionally single for over seven years. I know that the people around me noticed that I was single for a long time, but I don’t think anyone realized that I was doing it on purpose. I’d guess that many assumed I was single due to a lack of opportunities, but that’s actually not correct. I did have a few offers for set-ups and other opportunities; however, during those years, being single was the right thing for me.

I started my single journey when I was 26. I was working on my Masters degree and I had just gotten out of an “it’s complicated” that was toxic and bad for my self esteem (which has always been remarkably low regardless). At the time, I was spending a lot of time thinking about my history with relationships. I noticed that, despite having been involed with one person or another for over 10 years with no real breaks, all of my relationships and flirtations had either ended badly or had been completely unsatisfying. I also came to understand that I was the common denominator in these shitty romantic encounters and that I was making some consistent errors, but I wasn’t able to identify exactly where I was going wrong.

Once I realized that I was making all kinds of bad relationship decisions, I decided that I needed to be alone for awhile. I had always been a hypocritical proponent of taking breaks between relationships: I thought it was a great idea, but would never actually do it myself. I had also been a hypocritical proponent of being alone in general. I am definitely a person who has always needed (and enjoyed) spending a lot of time alone day-to-day, but I had no idea to how be alone without the support and comfort of a romantic partner in the background.

My original plan at the time was to avoid any romantic entanglements until after I finished my Masters degree. I thought that this would be enough time to figure a few things out and help me keep my life drama free while I finished up at school. Once I got a job and figured out where I would be living, I would start my romantic life again. Unfortunately, after finishing graduate school, I was never quite able to make it to the place I wanted to be professionally. I was only ever able to get short term contract jobs and in between those contacts I was mostly stuck at home and volunteering a few hours a week.

Staying single had started off as a way for me to take a break and figure things out, but as my career stalled it became a necessity. In my late 20s and early 30s, I wanted to date an adult: someone with a full time job and at least a little ambition. With my career floundering, I felt like I couldn’t start dating again — how could I possibly set criteria for potential partners that I couldn’t meet myself? I knew that I couldn’t have the kind of relationship that I wanted to have if I couldn’t get some traction with my career.

It probably sounds like I was forcing myself to stay single, but in reality I was happy being on my own. I had, for many years, been certain that I didn’t want to have children, which allowed me the freedom of not worrying about finding a stable relationship by a certain age. I was also enjoying the astonishing lack of drama in my life. For a great deal of my early and mid-20s, I was bombarded with oodles of family and relationship drama. Most of my romantic relationships weren’t particularly stable and generally caused me a lot of stress; my parents’ split was difficult; my grandparents all became ill and died in the span of 8 years. During the time I was single, my life was relatively stable, apart from the difficulties in my career.

And I learned a lot about life and about myself while I was single. It was an enormous period of personal growth for me and I couldn’t have accomplished even half of it had I been in a relationship. I finished my Masters degree; I moved to Alberta on 10 days’ notice by myself and lived and worked there for a year; I learned how to play video games and all about Japanese culture and manga and anime; I read loads of books and manga; I watched loads of TV series, movies and anime; I learned how to cook, to bake, to knit; I wrote thousands of words for my blog; I participated in writing challenges; I learned about feminism and social justice; I learned how to set goals and how to work on myself.

Most importantly, by a long shot, I learned how to be emotionally independent. Before starting that journey, I couldn’t deal with any of my problems on my own. If something bad happened, I couldn’t cope and needed to tell everyone I knew about it. I couldn’t help myself — I just didn’t know how to manage my emotional pain and struggle. Being single for so long taught me how to reach inward, how to keep my own secrets, and when it’s appropriate to reach out for help.

The only thing I wasn’t able to work out was what I was doing wrong in my relationships — I didn’t learn that until awhile after I met my current boyfriend. I’m not sure I’ll have the courage to write about that any time soon, but you never know! What I do know for sure is that being single for seven years is one of the best things I have ever done for myself. No regrets whatsoever.

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Tips and Techniques for Self Improvement: Getting Back on Track

Since I discussed goal setting two weeks ago, I thought it might be interesting to look at how I get back on track with my goals if I find myself not really working at them or if I’m not making as much progress as I\d like.

In my opinion, getting back on track is one of the most difficult aspects of self improvement.  Setting goals and acting on them can be quite easy at first, especially if you set goals annually: we all have lots of energy at the beginning of the year when everything seems fresh and new.  As the year wears on, however, it becomes more and more difficult to stay consistent, especially when unexpected roadblocks or personal issues arise.  Here is the step-by-step process that I use when I need to get back on track after letting one or more of my goals fall by the wayside:

1. Ask yourself: is this goal important to me?

Everyone should be changing and evolving continuously.  Sometimes the main reason why we get off track with working on something is that it just isn’t as important to us in April as it was in January.  This was a significant issue for me in 2017, when I set several goals around social and political issues that I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about several months later.  When I sat down and thought about why I wasn’t making progress on those goals, I realized that there were other ways to accomplish what I had set out to accomplish in January that were more approachable and interesting for me.

In my opinion, there is absolutely nothing wrong with letting go of goals that you realize aren’t getting you anywhere.  Giving yourself permission to let those goals go will give you more time and energy to work on the tasks that are still important to you.

2. Ask yourself: is this goal realistic?

While it can be easy to roll your eyes at the SMART method (make goals Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely), it really is important to ensure that your goals are realistic.  If your goals aren’t realistic and you routinely aren’t able to accomplish them, it’s easy to get discouraged and give up on trying to make progress.  Setting realistic goals can be difficult, because it’s always easy to imagine things we might want to do without thinking about how we will actually achieve them.  It’s important to have a good understanding of your limits and then challenging them in a way where you can set yourself up for success.

I’ll use a personal example to illustrate.  One of my main goals for this year was to write as much as possible.  Of all the goals I set for 2018, this has probably been my greatest area of success.  The goal isn’t particularly specific, but I felt that the easiest way to guarantee that this goal was realistic for me was to leave it a little more open-ended.  Of course, I have a posting schedule that I’ve been able to stick with, but I also have cancer treatments to deal with, a relationship, a parent who can use a bit of help around the house and a puppy to train.  By going easy on myself and not stating my goal as “I will blog three times per week” I’ve taken a lot of the stress out of the equation and allowed myself to just write as much as I’m able.  My desire to keep writing naturally keeps me on track and I don’t have to punish myself if I’m not able to stick with my schedule.

3. Where are the barriers?

If you’ve determined that your goal is still important to you and that it is realistic, it’s time to try and find the barriers that are getting in your way.  Do you have all the materials you need to accomplish the goal?  Are you giving yourself the time you need to work on the goal?

For me, my most common barrier is time.  I can be terrible at giving myself enough time to accomplish what I want to accomplish and I’m an artist at letting it happen in a lot of different ways.  In general, I am very good at making room in my life to be consistent at one thing at a time.  Right now, it’s writing the blog, but I need to give myself time to accomplish all the other things I want to accomplish as well.

4. Brainstorm tools and strategies

Once you’ve figured out what may be impeding your progress, it’s time to brainstorm and find strategies to help you get back on track.  I usually write this down in the notebook I use to record my goals and monthly review.  Having my raw ideas written down is always helpful for me because even if I don’t use all of the ideas immediately, I will sometimes revisit them and find them useful later on.

The strategies you brainstorm can be very simple.  I generally find that it’s best make use of tools that you’re already using for other tasks.  For example, I recently started using my planner, which I bought at the beginning of the year to keep track of my writing schedule and my appointments, as a kind of project planner.  I have quite a few small business and de-cluttering projects that I am currently working on and, since my planner has a substantial set of “notes” pages at the back, I’ve been using those pages to track those projects.  It’s been a great help to write everything down in a resource that I’m already looking at and using on a regular basis.

5. Schedule time and give it to yourself

As I said above, time is usually a huge impediment to my making good progress on my goals and I think most folks are probably in the same boat.  If accomplishing a goal is really important to you, you have to give yourself permission to make time in your life for it.  I’ve found that a great way to do this is to schedule the time in advance.  It doesn’t have to be daily — you could schedule a few hours once per month or once per week.  Once you’ve chosen how much time you want to spend, write it down in your calendar (digital or physical) and set up reminders that pester you to work on it.  It actually works!

I’ve found this overall strategy to be super helpful for me over the years.  If you try it out, please let me know if it works for you!

Vacation time!

Hello!  I just wanted to write a quick post to let everyone know that I will be taking a little hiatus this week to enjoy a much-needed visit with my boyfriend.  I will be resuming my posting schedule next Tuesday (March 27, 2018).  I hope you all have a wonderful week and thank you for taking the time to read my blog when you can.  If you have a chance, please let me know what you think!  Your feedback means a lot to me!

Take care and see you next week!

Media Round-up for 18/03/2018

Sylvia Plath – The Bell Jar

the bell jarThe March theme for my ONTD reading challenge was to read a book by a female author who is considered to be influential and has had a significant influence in literature, culture and/or society.  Some of the other participants had been planning to read The Bell Jar and, since I had never read it, I thought it might be a good choice.  Unfortunately, due to the new puppy, I read the book over quite a long span of time, which I find often diminishes my enthusiasm a little bit.

I’ve always thought that The Bell Jar was a bit like The Catcher in the Rye: it’s a book that you should probably read before you reach a certain age or you won’t get the most out of it.  I read The Catcher in the Rye when I was 15 years old, which was perfect.  I was an angry, angsty little shit and all of the talk of phonies was something I could identify with.  Having read The Bell Jar now, at 37 years old, I’m glad I didn’t read it as a teenager: there’s no way I would have or could have understood it at that time.

The Bell Jar is generally regarded as a roman a clef (a novel that depicts real life events overlaid with the facade of fiction) and depicts the decline of the protagonist’s mental health.  The events in the book are said to be similar to events in the life of Plath.  At the beginning of the novel Esther Greenwood, a 19-year-old college student, is working on an internship at a famous women’s magazine based in New York city.  Once she returns home after the internship, she receives the news that she was not accepted to a famous writing seminar.  From there, Esther’s condition takes a downward turn and we see her experiences with electroshock therapy and institutionalization.

The Bell Jar is one of those great books where it’s possible to dislike the main character and still like the book.  Esther is difficult and not particularly likeable, but there’s a great deal to admire in her rejection of the men who try to oppress her.  The writing style is fantastic: raw, simple and easy to read.  The tone of The Bell Jar is definitely dark, particularly knowing how Plath ended her own life, but I found that it was easy to identify with Esther’s experiences, even though my own struggles with depression aren’t nearly as severe.  While I wish I had been able to finish it more quickly, as I feel that the emotional weight of the novel would have hit me a bit harder, I am glad to have read The Bell Jar.

Dirty Money

dirty money netflixNetflix original series have been a bit hit-or-miss for me.  Some I love and others I don’t and, in my opinion, their offerings aren’t consistent in terms of quality.  Where they seem to be hitting it out of the park recently for me is with documentaries.  I love The Chef’s Table, Strong Island, The Keepers, Joan Didion: the Center Will Not Hold, Audrie and Daisy, and Amanda Knox.  It wasn’t as exciting as I had imagined it would be, but I even enjoyed Lady Gaga: Five Foot TwoDirty Money continues this trend of quality Netflix documentaries: it’s well-produced and fascinating.

Dirty Money has six episodes (all the episodes are all a little over an hour long).  Each episode is a different story about corporate greed and corruption.  The featured corporations/phenomena are:

  • the Volkswagen emissions scandal
  • Scott Tucker and Payday loans
  • Valeant Pharmaceuticals
  • HSBC money laundering for drug cartels
  • the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers
  • Donald Trump

All of the episodes are great, but for me the Payday loans and Valeant Pharmaceuticals episodes were the most interesting.  I had always known that payday loan companies were sketchy, but I didn’t realize how many folks out there were relying on them for day-to-day survival and how easily the companies could take advantage of that.  The Valeant Pharmaceuticals episode also showed me how insane the market can be for prescription drugs.  I’m not sure how the actions of Valeant affected Canadian customers, but I was astonished at how easy it was for them to markedly increase drug prices for consumers with so little regulation and oversight.  This is doubly interesting when considering the recent Martin Shkreli conviction: he has gone to jail only because he pissed off a bunch of rich people and not because he cheated sick folks out of life-saving medication.

If you haven’t watched Dirty Money yet, you might want to check it out soon.  There’s a lot to learn and it’s very entertaining.  I loved it.

Me and Burning Out

I’m burning out. After months of propping myself up, telling myself that everything is going to be okay, and a few weeks of struggling with a new puppy, I’m starting to get exhausted in a way that I don’t know how to recover from. This is a dangerous place for me because it’s prime depression ground. I know that after I was first diagnosed with cancer I entered a kind of hyper-vigilant phase. This often happens to me during times of personal or family crisis. I step up, I do what needs to be done and I manage. I take care of whoever needs taking care of, I provide the shoulder to cry on, I neglect myself.

Generally speaking, this kind of behaviour isn’t particularly destructive. Most of us will have to step up and manage personal crises, care for loved ones etc… and there will always be some combination of adrenaline or sense of personal duty to keep us going. The problem is, eventually that runs out — or at least it does for me. In 2013-2014, when I had to act as a caregiver for my mother, I looked after everything. I did all the housework, cooking, driving to and from appointments, grocery shopping and ran all the errands. I also went back to school part time and managed my coursework. It was familiar territory for me in many ways, because I also had to care a great deal for two of my grandparents when I was in my 20s, but it was difficult. It’s never easy to see your parents suffering — it is the definitive indicator of your finally becoming an independent adult. I think, no matter how old we get, we tend to see our parents as people who should be looking after us and not the other way around.

My mother needed surgery and once she began to recover from that, I truly began to fall apart. I fell down into a deep, depressive pit and could not claw my way out: I spent about 18 months playing Final Fantasy XIV (the MMO sickness finally hit me) and taking one easy course in my certificate program at a time. I convinced myself that as long as I could complete the courses, I was totally fine.

I wasn’t totally fine. I was anything but totally fine. I needed help and (probably) medication. While depression is a consistent issue for me, I have had sustained periods where my depression worsens to the point of my not being able to function. Over the years I’ve come to recognize that significant burnout is one of my major triggers. A crisis occurs, I step up and go at it until I run out of steam, and then I fall apart.

So, right now, I’m a little terrified. My dog, Daisy, died on October 20, 2017. Two weeks later, during the first week of November 2017, I was hospitalized. A few weeks later, I was diagnosed with cancer. By the end of 2017, I had had a port installed and started chemotherapy. Despite some fairly minor fear and nervousness, I have stood up and faced these issues head on. I haven’t been on the floor crying, as some expected me to be. I’ve been productive and I’ve made an effort to enjoy myself, despite side effects that limit what I can do with my spare time.

But then we were stupid and we got a puppy. The greatest piece of advice I could ever offer someone right now is that you should not get a puppy when there are things going on in your life that are stressful and potentially life-changing. People will always tell you that puppies are hard, but reading/hearing that and then actually living it are two totally different things. Puppies are much more difficult than anyone will ever tell you and the fatigue from cancer treatment certainly doesn’t make things any easier and any other major stressors in your life won’t help you either.

When we first got Frankie, I went through another short phase of hyper-vigilance. My adrenaline got going and I was able to manage everything again. I trained her when I was able, became much more mobile, and generally felt physically stronger. A few bad days later, however, and I’m starting to feel all that strength leaving me. I just don’t have the energy right now to sustain the kind of consistency that Frankie needs. I’m tired and I’m sick and I get lazy sometimes.

I know that things will get better with Frankie and I know that, eventually, we will bond properly and I will love her more than anything, but I’m scared right now that all of this new stress might push me somewhere that I don’t want to go. I’m going to make an appointment with my social worker as soon as I can so that I can talk with her about how to avoid falling into another dark and awful pit. I’m hoping that talking about it with a professional will help me a great deal. I think also, a little vacation will help. Next week, my boyfriend is coming for a visit and, hopefully, that will be a nice break where I can be a little selfish for a few days and recharge my batteries.

Tips & Techniques for Self Improvement: Setting Goals

For me, setting my annual goals is the foundation of my self improvement regime: it’s tough to try to work on yourself and your life if you don’t know what you want to work on. I’m going to start with a more general discussion about goal setting and some different strategies that I’ve taken note of over the years, and then I’ll get in to my process in particular. Hopefully you’ll be able to find something in this post that will help you to set your goals for this year!

Recently I’ve noticed that there are at least two fundamentally different methodologies for self improvement. The first is introspective, which is what I feel works best for me. With a more introspective approach to goal setting, you would generally use a tool to evaluate both your previous year and your current circumstances and then set goals based on where you would like to make improvements. I will discuss how I do this in more detail below.

The second general methodology for self improvement that I have noticed recently has more to do with aspirations and, for lack of a better term, the “power of positive thinking.” For this methodology, you would review your previous year, think about what you want to achieve in the next year, and then write goals based on what you want to accomplish. When writing your goals down, you would write them in such a way that it seems like they have already been achieved. For example, if you wanted to save $5000 over the course of the year, you would write your goal out like this:

“I have saved $5000 in 2018.”

Based on the research and reading I’ve done so far, it is believed that writing your goals in such a way can essentially trick your mind into believing that they are more obtainable. I’m not sure how well this technique would work for me, but I’ve noticed that there are many writers out there advocating that this is an effective way to not only set goals, but also to use gratitude journals and affirmations. The gratitude journal that I initially tried out, for example, was formatted entirely on this methodology.

Being a fairly logical and realistic thinker, I tend to prefer an introspective approach to goal setting. My aim with goal setting is to make real and measurable improvements to my life and thus I have to carefully examine what isn’t working for me and then set goals that I feel will help me improve in those areas. I assess my current circumstances using a Wellness Wheel. I will be discussing wellness wheels in more detail in a later post, but essentially a wellness wheel divides your life into particular categories, and you assign a numerical score to those categories. I also write a narrative that accompanies each score, but this isn’t necessary unless you find it helpful.

Once I’ve completed and analyzed my wellness wheel, I think about ways that I might be able to improve in the categories where my scores are low. Because I want my goals to be specific and at least somewhat measurable, I tend to avoid setting goals like “improve my health score” or “improve my social score.” I try to think of smaller tasks that I can work on over the course of the year to slowly bring my scores up. I’m always looking for modest improvements that can be maintained over the long term. The whole point of using a wellness wheel is to gradually balance it out so that you have a decent score for all of the different aspects of your life.

After considering how I’d like to try to raise my lower scores and also how I’d like to work on balancing out my wheel over the course of the year, I then start formulating those ideas into goals. Generally speaking, I try to not make more than 10 main goals per year, because trying to change too much too quickly doesn’t work for me. Usually those 10 goals are a combination of elements in my life that I think are suffering and need improvement and new things that I’m interested in trying out.

The last step in my goal setting process that I’ll discuss today is writing everything down. In my opinion, writing down my goals is the most important part of the process for several reasons, but mostly because it allows me to efficiently review my progress on a regular basis and develop better strategies for staying on track. I use an inexpensive notebook and write one goal at the top of each page. On that page, I brainstorm strategies and ideas for how I can accomplish that goal and break the goal into smaller tasks if appropriate.

After recording all of my goals in the notebook, I use the rest of the pages to record my monthly review process. It’s important to set goals, but I’ve found that I often don’t stick with them particularly well unless I spend time reviewing them and tracking my progress on a regular basis. I will be discussing my review process in a later post, so I hope you might find that interesting as well.

Did you set any goals for 2018? How are you progressing? Message me or leave a comment below! I’d love to know how you’re doing!

Media Round-up for 11/03/2018

Altered Carbon

altered carbonAltered Carbon is a new Cyberpunk science fiction series on Netflix starring Joel Kinnaman as Takeshi Kovacs, a former cop and rebel who has been in prison for over 200 years. In the world of Altered Carbon, human beings have become practically immortal: each person’s personality is stored in a disc in their neck (called a Stack) and that personality, unless killed in a particular way, can continue living as long as they can afford to purchase and maintain a body (sleeve). Sleeves are outrageously expensive, however, and lengthy lifespans are only really possible for the extraordinarily wealthy. Kovacs is freed from prison by one of the wealthiest people on earth in order to work on a murder case and we slowly learn his backstory as he is working to solve the mystery.

I wanted to like Altered Carbon, but I didn’t. Aesthetically, it’s incredible. The visual style of the world is gorgeous to look at but, in my opinion, it fails in most other aspects. I loved Joel Kinnanan in The Killing, but I found his accent work to be pretty bad in Altered Carbon and, while he’s been praised for his performance in the series, I thought it was mediocre at best. In fact, the quality of the acting in Altered Carbon was poor overall, though I think that Martha Higareda’s performance as Kristin Ortega was particularly egregious. Her line delivery is so consistently wooden that it’s a little embarrassing. Acting-wise, the best performances came from Will Yun Lee (as past Kovacs in a different sleeve) and Renee Elise Goldsberry (as Quillcrist Falconer and former love interest of Kovacs).

The story of Altered Carbon also failed to maintain my interest. I kept watching the show hoping for a real mystery plot to unfold, but I was ultimately disappointed. The development of the show’s main villain was handled particularly poorly as their motivations were so ridiculous and psychotic that I just couldn’t identify or sympathize with any of it.  If my boyfriend and I hadn’t been watching this show together, I would have scrubbed through at least half of it.

Jake Buvala – I Got a Dog, What was I Thinking

It’s no secret that my mother and I have been more than a little overwhelmed with our new puppy, Frankie. During out first week together, I had several ugly days where I hardly slept and my anxiety was getting the best of me.  I didn’t like Frankie, I wanted to send her back, and having her in the house was uncomfortable.  These negative feelings were making me feel horribly guilty.  I love dogs, I love animals and, right now, popular culture is telling me that Frankie and I should be having a magical relationship.

During that first week I spent a lot of time googling.  Unfortunately, a lot of the resources I found were just making me feel worse — like I wasn’t being consistent enough and generally like I was a jerk for having the negative feelings.  And then I found I Got a Dog, What was I Thinking.  Jake Buvala is a dog trainer and blogger over at 3LostDogs.  His e-book is an easy-to-read, quick and dirty guide to some of the more challenging aspects of bringing a new dog into your home, such as biting and chewing, crate training, potty training and other behavioural adjustments and issues.  The information in his book isn’t new and you can probably get it for free elsewhere, but the tone and attitude of the book were an enormous help to me and it’s probably the best $13 I’ve ever spent.

What Jake gets right is that he acknowledges that you and your new dog won’t be super best buddies immediately and that your relationship with your dog needs to be built over time.  It doesn’t make you feel guilty for making mistakes or for not loving your dog as soon as you bring them home and he provides a lot of useful information that has been terribly helpful to us.  If you find yourself in a difficult situation with a new dog, I’d recommend that you check it out!