Sunday, 20 April 2014

Too Picky? Or Too Complacent?



My dad always told me, “Stephanie, you’ll pick and pick until you pick shit.”

It was hard to hear, but certainly provided me with the wake-up call I needed to differentiate my wants from my needs when it came to choosing a partner.

So the other day, when a reader asked me to write a post about how we know when we’re being assertive with our standards or whether we’re just being too picky, I couldn’t believe I didn’t think of it first.

One time, my sister suggested I write a list of everything I could ever want in a partner. Everything. From his background to his bad habits to his interests and his hobbies. Then she suggested I draw a picture of him on the other side of the page. Well aware of my inability to draw, I figured my imagination would suffice. Trust me; I had already seen his face a thousand times over in my head.

During the process of composing my list, I wrote down pretty generic things. I tucked my list into a drawer and kept it there.

Then, a few months ago, perhaps the most thought-provoking and empowering professor I might ever encounter gave an interesting anecdote during a journalism lecture. She discussed her lifestyle choices that made everyone question her sanity; pursuing a higher education, getting married a little later on in life and deciding not to have kids.

She told us about how people always asked her and her husband when they were going to have kids. People would tell her, “You two would have the most beautiful children!” But it wasn’t a part of her agenda.

Keyword: her.

She said that if she cared about what people thought, she would have gotten pregnant and reluctantly had children, only to result in her having a mid-life crisis in a few years’ time because she didn’t stick to her plan. The lesson she wanted us to take was to always differentiate between self-agency and performance.

When I got home, I revised my list. I didn’t want to be with someone who I had to perform for just to be in a relationship with them, and I certainly didn’t want to be with someone who was performing for me.  So I changed “able to hold a conversation” to “able to discuss things that I find important”. I changed “a good listener” to “someone who cares about the things I talk about”. I crossed some of the things off, like “someone with similar cultural interests”. I could live with someone who wouldn’t follow me to a steel pan performance. And after that class, I held on to “someone who wants children around the same time I do”.

Truthfully, there are a lot of things we just can’t live with. And while some of them can sound frivolous to other people, only we know how deeply it will affect us in our relationship. For instance, I couldn’t date someone with a child. I knew I wasn’t ready to for that much responsibility at this point in my life. I also couldn’t live with someone who wasn’t passionate about something, anything! While some people take these things on, I had to accept that I could not.

At this moment, I realized that the only way for me to not follow what my father thought would be my fate was to distinguish between my needs and my wants. Otherwise, I would continue to pick guys I knew were defying my list.

Sometimes, we find ourselves so desperate for companionship that we settle for less than what we deserve, and we stick it out just for the sake of being part of the population with a partner. This is a performance.

But when will we learn that life is not a theater production? We don’t have to act like we don’t have our own agenda, our own plan, and our own list of what we want and need in our partner and what we want and need from our life. But for some reason, we feel the need to, only to disappoint ourselves and wake up in the middle of the night ten years from now wondering where we went wrong.

We go wrong in not listening to ourselves when we make important decisions. Sometimes we feel like we’re being picky because we have yet to meet someone who looks like the human version of our list. We are then faced with a pressing decision: do we change our list, ourselves, or settle?

So the answer to the question of when we’re being too picky is simple. It is to distinguish between your wants and you needs. You have to decide what is and is not a deal-breaker.  

The thing is, you have every right to be selective of what you want in a partner. And yes, you even have the right to be picky. But in being picky, you must also be realistic. When you encounter someone you think you could become romantically involved with, you need to be aware of what could make or break it for you.


Keyword: you.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

3 Things You're Gonna Have to Be Honest About in Your New Relationship


At the beginning of a relationship, everyone wants to impress the other person. So we say we can cook with our eyes closed and that yeah, we’re totally interested in that sport. But before you know it, you’re blindfolded in the kitchen or sitting in the bleachers being asked for the run-down of what happened while they were in the washroom.

Thankfully, my ability to see into the future (short distance only) allowed me to see that this is just not the path to take when you’re with someone you intend to be with for a long time. Here are three things you’re just gonna have to be honest about in your relationship.

1. Your past.

Two people meet at certain points of their lives, and if they like each other, they move forward together. Inevitably, there are bound to be a ton of things that happened, whether we like it or not, before our lives crossed paths, at least romantically.

While I can empathize with wanting to erase certain memories, and certainly the people the memories happened with, we have to be honest. I know we probably weren’t thinking that when we agreed to go streaking or do that other crazy thing, but if it made you who you are today, it’s a part of your identity.

So the best thing to do, as I had to learn myself, is to be honest. Don’t put on a façade, don’t under or over-exaggerate things you don’t need to. Be yourself, and if they like you, and definitely if they love you, believe me, they’ll stick around.

2. Your agenda.

The one thing my new relationship taught me is that I do have an agenda. When certain questions came up, I had answers to them. I knew that I wanted to travel after graduating from university, I knew where I wanted to settle down, and I knew that at some point, I wanted to get married and have kids.

As generic as my agenda sounds, these are things that I want to achieve for myself.

Sometimes, relationships bring out the people-pleasing side of us that we grow to hate so much in such a short period of time. The best way to avoid all of that is to let your partner know what you want to accomplish, and when you want to do it. If you don’t, you run the risk of being dragged along on someone else’s journey of life and can miss your stops altogether.

The best thing about you and your partner sharing your agendas is that here, you can begin to plan your life together (cringe). As scary as this might sound, everyone knows that questions about marriage and kids and home-ownership aren’t usually out of mere curiosity. If you had an agenda before this person entered your life; don’t throw it out the window. Hold on to it even tighter.

3. Your habits. Good and bad.

Maybe your room is clean to you, but it might look like chaos to your partner. Is that something that could break you up?

Maybe going out once a week isn’t a lot to you, but your partner might think you’re a party animal. Is that something that could break you up?

One thing I’ve learned is that relationships are relative. This means that what you do doesn’t only affect you anymore, but your partner as well. Plus, our habits offer insight into what our future selves might be like.

Sit down and have a talk with your partner about some of your priorities. They could be anything from smoking to watching that silly reality show every Wednesday. These are things that really might not be a big deal to you or your partner right now but are still important to discuss so that the untouched areas of life don’t rear their ugly heads into your beautiful and blossoming relationship later on down the road.

Besides thinking about what not to lie about, I also thought about why we lie in the first place. Two words came to mind: social media. While it has done a lot for us, it has also worked against us in terms of being accepting and honest. It allows us to hide behind a shield of carefully constructed and edited images, posts, and profiles.

One thing we have to always remember is that there are 7 billion people in the world. That is a lot of people. We shouldn’t have to lie, adjust our truths, or manipulate people into liking us or thinking we are a different version of ourselves. They might not like the real us, but 1, at least 1 of those 7 billion people will.

So while lying is sometimes the easy thing to do; we have to think long-term. Do we really want to create something that might be impossible to fix? But perhaps the most important question to ask is whether we want to be with someone we feel we need to lie to just to get them to be with us.

Hopefully your answer is no.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Thinking of Getting Back With Your Ex? Read This First.


I am the queen of regret.

It’s not the kind of regret that would stop me from doing something terribly stupid like getting tattooed without my parents permission or sneaking out of the house late at night as a teen.

It’s the kind of regret that drove me back to the doors of my exes after I had shut them loudly behind me a few months prior.

If you were to ask me what it was about my life in the weeks and months after a break up that made it feel necessary to perform the walk of shame, I would tell you I had no clue. But after noticing the cycle repeat itself for more than a year, I knew I had to make a change. One day, scrolling through photos, I saw one that said:

“How do you know you’re over someone? When you miss the memories more than the person.”

In that moment, I knew that I wasn’t going back because I actually missed these guys. Believe me, they were different people when I went back. And I was a different person as well. But trying to get back a memory is 
like trying to imitate a candid photo.

It just can’t happen. Not without force.

In my humanities class, we learned about the formation of habits, and how to put a stop to them. It was a three step process, referred to as a habit loop in which we acknowledge the cue, recognize the routine, and reap the reward.

So I asked myself, what’s my habit loop?

For me, my cue was loneliness. Right after a break up, I’d have this celebratory phase where I felt this fierce independence and loved sleeping alone. I loved the fact that my phone didn’t ring as much. I loved that I didn’t have to spend twice as much on anything, I loved being free.

But after a few weeks of this, I would get lonely again.

My routine was always marked by that first phone call to my most recent ex from a blocked number with nothing at all to say at strange times during the night. I would send carefully constructed text messages to re-integrate myself into his life, slowly but surely. And then finally, I would somehow become his girlfriend again.

But the reward, at least not the reward that I had hoped for, would never come. I was somehow under the impression that maybe if I just got back with the guy everything would be perfect. Whatever issues we had before had surely just disappeared by the grace of God or magic, or both. We could have a brief discussion about the problems that haunted us and led to our initial departure out of each other’s lives and things would be perfect.

Or so I thought.

If you’re thinking about getting back with your ex, here are three things that I, as a professional get-back-togetherer, implore you to consider.

Be logical.
If it didn’t work out the first time, what makes you so sure it will work out the second? Not to say  that second chances never prevail, but walking away from a messy room and returning to it a few days later doesn’t mean it’s clean.

You have to seriously consider the issues that you and your ex had. Are the two of you as a couple damaged beyond repair? If so, why go back? If the only reason for your return is the loneliness you feel from an empty void that hasn’t yet been filled by anyone else, that isn’t fair to you or your former partner. Suck it up buttercup, move it along, and just be patient.

Which brings me to my next point…

There are plenty fish in the sea.
I hate to be all cliché and mainstream, but this is probably one of the most overlooked facts when we’re in that post-break up phase. Get out there! Try new ways of dating; online, speed-dating, going to new parties in new places, network. Even if you don’t find new love, you might find new friends. And they might even be so cool that you’re too pre-occupied doing fun stuff with them that dating goes on to the back burner.

Also, keep your eyes open for people who are already in your life. We can’t always see someone’s potential when we have our relationship goggles on. But once they’re off, people become a lot more (or a lot less) appealing. Go for coffee, go for dinner. But don’t go to the movies. There is no time to talk in a theater. And conversation is the best way to really get to know whether you’re compatible with someone.

And lastly…

You survived. Remember that.
Everytime I was clear-headed enough to look back and reflect on why I went back to this guy or that guy, I always laughed at myself.

“Why did I go back to him after I proved to myself I was able to survive without him?” I would ask.

It’s like a person who has successfully swam a third of the way to the shore, then decides to turn around to get to a paddleboat. You’re almost there, you don’t need the paddleboat.

If you did, you wouldn’t have made it this far.

So whether you go back or not is entirely up to you. This post wasn’t to shackle you to the wall or confine you to your current circumstances. But it was definitely written with the aim of giving you a little more hope in your current circumstances.

Ultimately, you still have to make the final decision. And I don’t believe that any decision we make is the wrong decision. It may not be the best, but there is no such thing as a wrong choice.

But just remember what I said about the swimmer and the paddleboat.

Just keep swimming.

The tides might get high, and you might get some salty water in your nose or your throat, you might even feel like it gets hard to breathe sometimes.

So keep your head above the water.

That way, you can at least see the beautiful shore you’re on your way too, which isn’t too far in the distance. 

Close enough that regardless of whether there’s anyone there, you can look forward to the warm and welcoming sand at your feet.

But until you get there, and even when you do…

Don’t look back. Because you’re not going that way.

And there are much, much more unbelievably and remarkably beautiful things ahead.


Sunday, 12 January 2014

Asking (and Answering) This Simple Question Can Really Change Your Life



When I moved into my sister’s room almost a year ago, I hadn’t done much to personalize the space other than smother the walls in posters and paintings I had brought with me from my old room.

After sitting in it for months and months trying to decide what the space was missing, I came to the conclusion that a fresh coat of paint was just what it needed.

I knew that choosing the paint color would be the first hurdle because the last time I painted my room I spent $75.00 on paint, and an entire day painting only for the walls to go not even one shade darker than what they were before. But I knew the wonders a change of scenery could do for my aching psyche that had been promised an update for the new year.

So I called my two friends, Rebekah and Jasmine, and they agreed to help me get the job done.
I went in there with a pretty clear picture of what I wanted in my head. I wanted some sort of beige, not too light, not too dark.

But warm. The most important thing was that the color be warm.

But as I stood in the paint section of Home Depot, with about 1000 different shades in front of me, it became increasingly difficult to stick to my original vision.

Rebekah and Jasmine looked diligently through each paint swatch, bringing them to me in hopes of approval, selling each color to me as if it were a car.

Rebekah, who I personally believed missed her calling to be on the HGTV network, talked about “tones” and “shades” and “accent walls” and stuff. Jasmine on the other hand simply kept saying, “What about this one?”

It seemed that the more they talked, the less I knew.

Half an hour passed by before I felt myself losing hope. I wanted to call off Operation Paint.

Until

Jasmine and Rebekah were off to the side looking at another brand of paint, getting ready to collect a handful of swatches and pitch their ideas to me, yet again.

But in their absence, I decided to ask myself:

“What do I want?”

I looked at the wall of colors and picked up a swatch, looking directly at one color. It was called Sand Motif. It was nice. It was beige. It was dark but not too dark. And it was warm. I put it back down and looked at the wall again. I saw a color similar to the one I had just picked up and grabbed the swatch. It was 
Sand Motif again.

When the girls came back over to me, each with about 15 swatches in their hands, I said:

“Wait. I’m gonna look at the wall, and whatever color I see and like will be the color I choose.”

A silent two minutes passed by. The Jeopardy theme song played in my head for the entire time. My eyes passed by a few colors that I liked from a distance, but nothing enough to pick up.

I caught my eyes wandering back to the same swatch over and over again, and decided to pick it up.

Sand Motif.

I looked at the swatch silently. And as the seconds passed by, I felt myself falling more and more in love with the color.

“Guys. This is it. This is the color!” I exclaimed, not realizing how excited I really was to finally decide on a paint color.

“Are you sure?” Rebekah asked.

“I went back to it three times without even knowing it was the same swatch. This is it. I know it. I feel it,” I replied.

The three of us jumped up and down and gave each other some sloppy high fives before excitedly approaching the counter to order a gallon of paint.

The moral of the story is that sometimes, no matter where we are or what we’re doing, everyone will be telling us what to do and how to do it. It’s up to us, particularly in those instances to be able to step outside ourselves, turn everyone else’s voices down, or off completely, and turn ours all the way up and ask ourselves:

What do I want?

Even if they’re our best friends, it’s us that has to make the final call. Nevermind what they want. Nevermind what they want us to want. Nevermind what they think.

When we were all done painting and the girls left. I put my furniture back in its place. And when it came time to hang up my posters again, I only chose a few. Because for once, I wasn’t so concerned with covering things up, but perhaps more interested in baring it all.

See, when you follow your heart and you trust your instincts, you have nothing to cover up. Or maybe you do but you don’t even feel the need to. Because you know that maybe it isn’t right for Rebekah or Jasmine, maybe it isn’t right for anyone else in the world.

But it’s right for you.

And it makes you look around before you turn your light off at night.

Or smile at the uncrowded spaces that were once filled on your walls.

It makes you feel warm.    

When I was in high school, I knew I wanted to be a journalist. But when it came time to apply to university, I didn’t listen to myself and enrolled in the history program instead. It took me two years to find out how unhappy I could be. I should've stuck to my original vision.

I’ll never forget the day my aunt asked me,

“Stephanie, what do you want?”

The words seemed like they were in another language as I repeated them to myself.

When I asked myself what I wanted, the answer was journalism, just as the paint kept reappearing before my eyes. I didn’t know how at home I was until I entered my lecture that first day, the same way I didn’t know how much I loved the color until it was all over my walls, good enough without the posters and the paintings.

So what is it that you want?

Is it a new job? A new paint job? A new car? A new life?

Sit down and figure it out. Make your way there. It might take a lot; it might be a few minor adjustments. But if it’s a process of moving mountains, stone by stone will eventually get the job done.

Whatever the case is, I can make a personal promise to each and every person reading this right now that asking yourself what you want, and then actually going after it will change your life.

Don’t believe me?

Just watch. 

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

The Bachelor Recap: You're Joking, Right?

I missed the “exciting” season premiere of season like, 101 of The Bachelor. However, during a 5 hour break between a lecture and my shift at work, I decided to watch it online.

It never ceases to amaze me how silly I can be sometimes.

To sum it all up, 25 plus an additional 2 women were selected amongst a sickening number of women who applied to be contestants on the show after finding out that the bachelor would be no other than some guy named (get your accents ready) Juan Pablo Galavis.



From what I know, he was on The Bachelorette last season and despite not winning the heart of Desiree Hartstock, he did win the hearts of women all over the world. Critics say it was his devotion to his daughter and life as a single dad that wooed us all. But maybe, just maybe, it had to do with his athletic build, perfectly messy hair, enchanting eyes, and “romantic” accent.

I watched in agony as the “wide” variety of blondes, brunettes, and the token black female were introduced. Each of them trying desperately to put on ridiculous Latin accents to impress him, appear genuine, loving, and “in it for love”. Despite vomit sitting comfortably at the back of my throat, I was able to waste an entire 86 minutes of my life that I will never get back.

As the show progressed, I found myself questioning the ultimate purpose of the show, particularly, the unintended consequences of it.

Maybe some of the women are in it for love, certainly some of them are in it for the publicity, and I bet a few of them are in it hoping for some sort of sexual encounter.

But as I sit here in the audience of God knows how many women, more critical than enticed, I can’t help but think about what this show says about women, and how it portrays us to be.

A number of these women in their introductions jumped at the chance to tell the stories of their “sad” and “depressing” love lives. One of them stated, “I was hoping to be married by 31.” As the visual image of depression grows on her face, she tells the audience the story of how that all fell apart after her ex-fiance called off the wedding six weeks after their engagement.

Aw, how sad. Two words: move on.

My spirits rose when a few of the women portrayed themselves as career-oriented females. One of them is a criminal prosecutor, one of them is a pediatric nurse, and to be honest those were the only two careers I remember really. My spirits sank again when the women attributed their devotion to their career as the reason they were unable to find love.

As if we haven’t seen this enough in our society; the unspoken ultimatum given to women; it’s either your career or your love life, and you'll be lucky if you can fit motherhood into the equation.

Although, Marissa Mayer did a fine job of indulging in all three.

I’m sick of it all.

After watching the show, unsure of whether or not I would progress to the second episode (luckily I have 6 days to decide), I couldn’t help but feel like women can do better. As much as I’d like to blame the television production company, I’m quite sure it wasn’t them holding knives to the throats of the contestants who uttered the following remarks:

“I’ve been dying to hug you.” (Dying, really?)

“It’s not just a rose, it’s my future.” (I doubt your future was that bright anyway, honey)

“I’m sick and tired of people looking at me and feeling sorry for me.” (This came from the woman who had been dumped by her ex-fiance and she said it as her eyelashes slightly unglued themselves)

I don’t know about you, but I don’t actually know any women like this. Not in real life. Most of the women I know who are single are single by choice, or patiently waiting for love. And half the women I know in relationships are dying to get out. Although we ought to be more careful with our use of the word "dying", right contestant #1?

Maybe it was my mistake to watch the show, although I do recall truly enjoying it when I watched it a few years ago. Mind you, that was before I took a few Women and Gender Studies courses at the University of Toronto and totally gave in to trashy, over-sensationalized television drama. I can’t be that unfair though, because I do watch every Real Housewives there is religiously. (New Jersey is definitely my favorite. Gotta love those Italians)

But how can we be onlookers of such genuine tragedy?

If you ask me, which I’m well aware that you didn’t, the biggest part of this tragedy isn’t the lame essence and desperation of the show. It’s that it has been so popular that it has lasted for like, 101 seasons, and evolved itself into The Bachelorette and Bachelor Pad.

The only ray of light I found in the entire show came from, drumroll please, the Canadian! Woohoo! 29-year-old opera singer Sharleen came to the rescue of dignified women. She was granted the holy grail (first impression rose) for being “elegant” and “beautiful” according to Galavis, and undesperate, according to ME.

Prior to the rose being delivered to her, she mentioned on camera that she felt, quite frankly, that the build-up of the chemistry she anticipated fell short of what she felt, or didn’t feel, after meeting (accent time) Juan 
Pablo. She opened up about how forced the connection felt, and then she uttered these magical words:

“It’s about whether I feel something or not. That’s the most important thing.”

The best part of the entire show was her nonchalant reaction to receiving, and apprehensively accepting the rose. She actually said, "Sure", when he asked her if she would accept it. Priceless. She proved to everyone that desperation doesn't win you a rose, just ask the girl in the pink dress with the terrible dye job who thought he called her name, had to turn around, and asked if he'd take them both anyway. Yeah, that really happened.

Sharleen proved that being cool, calm, and collected in the midst of such madness might get you farther than an erotic massage 5 minutes into your one-on-one time.

Bravo!

I know that come next Monday, I will face a moral issue of whether or not to tune into it on television. And if I do it will be because I have absolutely no homework, will have consumed a glass of wine or two, and really, to see Sharleen, my heart (and vagina’s) hero.

But the promise I’m making to myself and to my readers is that I will not let down my sense of reality, and certainly not my understanding of it, and believe for one second that this is a fair representation of women.

But in case it is, we have got a lot of work to do.



Friday, 3 January 2014

Single? Me Too. Here's Why.

If you’re reading this you’re either:

     A)     Single
     B)      In a relationship that you want to get out of
     C)      In a relationship you don’t want to get out of
     D)     Hoping to get a laugh at what the skinny bitch has to say



Luckily for you, I’ve got something for each category of reader.

Let me begin this brief statement by saying 2013 was a very good year for me. I survived two and a half break-ups, two get-back-togethers, and lots of awkward encounters in between without having to change my number. I’ve made a lot of progress this year.

After watching my sister’s boyfriend execute perhaps the most insanely romantic proposal I have ever witnessed on Christmas Eve (yeah, Christmas Eve, can you believe this guy?) I started to panic. After the whole proposal ordeal was over with, everyone in the room looked at me as if to say, “You’re next”, and then the look of “Ah, who are we kidding? You’ll never get married,” followed.

But after a few days of evading stares I felt were coming at me from all directions, including the Rosie the Riveter poster I’ve got hanging in my room, I came to the conclusion that no one was looking at me like that. Sure, they looked, but that’s not what they were saying to themselves in their head.

I just thought that they must have been saying those things.

The problem with single people is that as independent as we may be, a lot of us live our lives through the eyes of other people. We get insecure about the number of people we’ve slept with because of “reputation” and “etiquette”. We feel we should be in relationships because all of our friends have partners and we don’t want to be the third, fifth, or seventh wheel on a group outing. We don’t tell our parents where we are or who we’re with because we don’t want them to ask too many questions about Mr. or Miss Two Weeks, and they can’t remember anyone’s name anyway.

But 2013 taught me to fuck all of that.

I don’t usually swear in my blog posts in case a future employer ever reads these and thinks, “How preposterous! She can’t possibly think she can write for our esteemed publication with such a potty mouth!”

But 2013 also taught me to fuck all of that too.

For now at least, I might have to delete this post right before I graduate university so read it now.

Plus, I’m not blogging so much as I am reaching out to my readers to share with them this huge piece of wisdom that many of you already know but I want to reiterate because, well, that’s what I do.

And here it is.

In love, you must not fight the current.

I have always believed that our parents and our grandparents were able to commit because it was so easy for them. They just met someone and settled down and had kids and raised families and…died.
But it’s a different day and age.

We’re afraid to give our hearts to people because there are a lot of terrible things they can do with it. And we’re afraid to hold someone’s heart in our hands because chances are our hands are a bit shaky. But we give our hearts to people anyway in hope that they’ll do good things with it, and we take hearts knowing that we very well may not.

If you think about it, all of that comes down to one thing, and that one thing is not being ready for love.

This year I learned that the reason my sister has a ring on her left hand is because eight years ago she entered into a relationship and decided that she was ready for it. She was ready for the good, the bad, the ugly, the hurtful, the miscommunication, the high fives, the lies, the truths, the victories, the failures, the pain, the agony, the tears, the beginning, the middle and the end.

The reason my parents have been together for just a bit longer than I’ve been alive is because of the same reasons as well.

So when I sit and wonder, “Why am I single?” The answer is because I am not ready.

But the problem with single people is that we keep forcing ourselves to be ready everytime someone gets engaged. We keep forcing ourselves to be ready everytime we think we find “the one” in some party or trashy bar or crossing the street with us or at our workplace.

But we have to realize that who we meet is nothing without the timing of when we meet them.

The other day, while venting my love trials and tribulations to someone, they said one of the simplest and most profound things ever.

“Stephanie, whatever you think you’ve felt thus far cannot even compare to the love you will have and share with the person you will be with,” then she said, “I promise.”

I’m not sure if it was the statement itself or the promise at the end, but I felt that it was safe to believe her. I felt myself ease up at once upon hearing her remark, and I gave myself an apology in my head. It went something like this:

“Dear self, I’m really sorry for being such a douchebag. You’re still pretty young and you have a lot of life left to go and you really shouldn’t even be focusing on boys anyway. School is a lot more important. And a lot more expensive. You should go to the library and rent some books instead.”

In that instance, I found my peace. I had my aha! moment. I felt the way Tom Cruise must have felt when he jumped on the couch except the love that I had wasn’t for Katie Holmes (although she was great in Dawson’s Creek).

It was for me. Just…me.

The truth is, I have probably met the man of my dreams fourteen times over and over again. But he wasn’t the man of my dreams because not even my dreams had solidified themselves at that point, and certainly not even this point.

So what is the big frickin’ deal with not having a date to stupid Christmas parties? And why does it have to be even numbers when people wanna go out?

We don’t. And it doesn’t. It’s just the way our society is. And who can blame us for feeling a little rushed and giving in to the pressure at times?

No one. No one.

So until then, I march on. Alone, but certainly not lonely. And not looking for love, but looking for myself.
I think I’ve found her fourteen times over but not even the woman I will become has solidified herself.

And that’s the key.

Some people find out who they are and what they want a lot earlier than the rest of us. Like our parents and our grandparents, who quite frankly had no choice, hence the marriages and baby-making at like, sixteen. Others need a lot more experience, encounters, time with others, and especially time alone to decide that.

So don’t feel like you need a passenger when you know your sports car only has room for the driver. Especially if you’re not ready to upgrade to a two-passenger vehicle, let alone a family van. Sure other cars on the road might be at full capacity, but you’re on the freeway.

And until you reach your destination, or the area signs tell you to slow down, change lanes, exit here or there, or pick up that hitchhiker, just ride the open road; enjoy the scenic route.

And no matter what you do, don’t fight that current. It's one of the only things that will get you to where you need to be.


Wednesday, 18 December 2013

From Cancerous to Cancer Free: How My Mom Won the Fight

When my mom first got diagnosed with cancer, I don’t think I understood what it would mean for my family.

And certainly not for me.

I guess we were all a little naïve after her first diagnosis of colon cancer in 2011 didn’t require chemotherapy. When she went for her checkup earlier this year, we anticipated the same result. But we were in disbelief when the doctor’s told her she would need 6 months of chemo treatment for another type of cancer. In her liver.

Prior to her chemo treatment, she had to undergo a surgery to half 40% of her liver removed. Luckily, it is expected to regenerate itself within 5 years.

Liver cancer is actually one of the fastest growing cancer types in Canada, particularly increasing in men. However, the Canadian Cancer Society estimated that approximately 1,550 men and 490 women would be diagnosed with liver cancer in 2013. 

My mom was one of them.

While social drinking and smoking are leading causes of liver cancer, my mom does neither of the two. And by that I mean she's never touched a cigarette and only drinks one glass of Bailey's a year!

You can imagine the frustration that comes from this. I see people who smoke a pack a day and are perfectly fine. But I learned, through this experience, that this is the wrong way to look at it. Rather, we just have to accept that this challenge has been given to us, and before we go looking for excuses and places to rest our blame and grievances, we should put that energy into fighting it.

It hadn’t even really sunk in until my mom came home the first day of her treatment with a fanny pack attached to her. When I asked her what it was she said it was the “chemo cocktail”.

She was strong for the first little while. Well, she was strong all the way through. But there were days when I saw her get weak, and it weakened me too.

There were days I would excuse myself and let tears fall silently in fear of what was next. I couldn’t stand the days I would come home and see my mother unable to be her usual independent self, but still trying to be strong.

The last year, quite frankly, has just been an absolute rollercoaster for my entire family.

But somehow, we made it.

After 6 months of treatment, and 9 rounds of chemo, we got the news last week that my mom had been cleared of cancer.

I fell to the ground in disbelief, shock, and awe. I felt a weight I hadn’t even known to be on my shoulders lift itself and I felt my life begin to piece itself back together, and the worry that rested in the cracks of separation dissolve.

Since then, my mom and I have come up with a list of all the things we learned going through this. We’ve narrowed it down and these are what we believe to be the things that made my mom a survivor. 

Keeping in mind that although she won her fight, she was only 1 of the 490 estimated women who would get their diagnosis. We write this hoping that they too, can get some sort of hope from our own experience and come out a survivor, just as my mom did.      

      Positivity.

I watched a documentary earlier on this year that featured a woman who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She said that a large part of her healing were her thoughts and her surroundings.

During her treatment, her family made it a point to make the household a very light and comforting place. They only watched comedies; no crime shows, no sad movies, they only watched things that would make them laugh.

She also said that she began every day with thoughts of healing. She would repeat “thank you for this healing” each and every day until she went back to the doctor only to find that she had been cleared of cancer.

When I told my mom this, we started practicing this as well. We stopped watching “CSI” and “Criminal Minds” and watched “Seinfeld” and “Mike and Molly” instead. She had a proclamation in front of her seat on the couch that said “Get up and fight! Life is waiting for you!”

And she fought. And she won.

When you believe in something so wholeheartedly, it’s hard to imagine an outcome other than what you had imagined. I felt, for the weeks leading up to her final appointment, that I would get a phone call from her saying “I’m clear”. And although I hadn’t told her this, those were the exact two words she said to me after leaving the doctor’s office that day.

Support.

One of the biggest challenges with cancer, or any illness for that matter, is for others to understand what the sick person is going through. For the first while, I felt that I shut my mom out whenever she tried to explain what she was going through. When I realized that I was doing this selfishly to create my own illusion that she wasn’t sick, I started to ask her how she was feeling, even if it meant hearing the hard news.

You can’t avoid reality just because it’s easy. I think people set themselves up for all sorts of disappointment when they do this because it makes it harder to accept. By accepting the situation, despite the difficulty, we can actually deal with it.

By just sitting and listening to her talk about whatever she had to say, she was able to feel like she wasn’t alone in her battle. And she wasn’t.

Faith.

I don’t consider myself a very religious person, but I found myself on my knees multiple times throughout the process, praying. I asked for her to be healed, but I also asked for strength for both her and the rest of my family.

I think you find your faith in the hardest of times because you’ve got to have something to believe in, and certainly something to hold on to.

Overall, I can honestly say that the experience did more good than bad. Firstly, because we’re optimists, we were able to extract the things that we learned, the love that we shared, and the closeness that this situation can bring to family if only they approach it properly and together. Secondly, because I’ve seen a strength I didn’t know existed both in my mother as an individual and in my parents as a couple. In turn, that created a strength in me that humbled me and showed me the difference between things that matter and things that don’t.

I hate to be cliché, but there is no other lesson greater learned through this experience than how short life really is.

My mom began to make a list of all the things she wished she had done before she was ill, and what she would do if she had been cleared of cancer. Now that she’s better, we plan on accomplishing each one of those things upon complete healing.

My mom told me that the day she was diagnosed, she said to my father, “I know you didn’t sign up for this.” And my dad just laughed and said, “It’s in the fine print.”

I learned a lot about life, love, and family. And if you or someone you know is sick, allow yourself to be softened by the experience. Everyday I think about the people I met during her illness. I think about the nurses who made house calls at all sorts of hours just to make sure my mom was okay.

But most of all, I think of the people who gave me little pieces of hope and prayer along the way.
The strangers who stopped to acknowledge the cancer pins I would wear on my sweaters at work. Or the one lady who gave me her own pin and told me to hold on to it, smiling and saying it would bring us strength. 

And it did.

Prior to this experience, I can’t say I had much faith. In anything, really. But I feel that I view things differently. I believe in people more. I believe in things I didn’t believe in before. And I believe in miracles.

Because my mom beat cancer.


To everyone who is fighting, has fought, or knows someone in the struggle please know that you are not alone. Our hearts are with you, our prayers and thoughts are with you, and we are with you.