Tag Archives: Mental Health

Don’t Get Mad, Laugh

One of the potential drawbacks of having an online presence is how easy it is to project an image that isn’t actually you.

This happens in real life as well but it’s a little easier to do online. Pretending to be someone you’re not takes more effort in face-to-face communication. Body language, tone of voice or even a bad day can make your mask slip.

We all do it to some extent. For most of us it’s the result of a thousand small decisions instead of a conscious choice, though. This isn’t something anyone can prevent 100% any more than you or I could wake up tomorrow and decide to never make a mistake again.

It’s simply not happening.

But it’s still something that crosses my mind as I write. What impressions do new readers form of me based on the stories I share here? If we met in person what would they find surprising?

With this in mind let me tell you a story:

Over the last several weeks the following scenario has repeated itself multiple times:

 Drew and I decide to watch a television show.

We start watching. The plot thickens.

Suddenly an extended family members calls.

The time of day and day of the week varies. The family members do not. Somehow both of them have managed to call us while we’re midway through a show about 75% of the time this autumn.

Last night it happened again and I got annoyed. Logically I knew they weren’t trying to interrupt us and that this was a series of coincidences.

I was still annoyed. All I wanted was  45 minutes to watch our favourite scifi/fantasy show. The idea that we couldn’t find a time of day in which this was possible was so irritating.

And then it became funny. As problems go this was a silly one with a simple solution: do something else.

Go get a snack. Check email. Stretch. Do anything other than get mad.

Now you know another one of my deep, dark secrets: I’m an incredibly patient and understanding human being…until or unless I’m cut off from my shows. 😉


How well does your online presence mesh with who you are offline? If we met in person what would I find most surprising? What petty things have driven you up the wall recently?

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Sometimes Fate is Like a Small Sandstorm

 Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.

And you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You’ll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others.

And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.

– Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

To this quote/metaphor I’d add the following:

Sometimes the storm has nothing to do with you. You’re in the midst of it because you happened to be standing where it ended up. Remember that as the sand stings your skin and do what you can to protect yourself.


What would you add to it?


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Behind Closed Doors

While I was growing up my father often said, “you never really know what’s going on in someone else’s life.” It was eye-opening as a preacher’s kid to glimpse what was really happening in other people’s homes.

Some of the happiest families at church assumed those roles by stuffing their darkest secrets so deeply into themselves that I don’t think most of our mutual friends ever knew what was really going on.

I think we all do this to an extent. Here in the present day I have several friends dealing with fairly serious health problems. One of them responds to it by skimming the surface of life when giving health updates. Only those of us who’ve known this individual a long time have been told more. Another friend deals with the frustration and fear by talking about it in great detail with any friends willing to listen.

I don’t know why some people are more willing to reveal what’s really going on in their lives than are others. It’s an interesting idea to think about as we slowly move closer to the holiday season, though.

One of the most frustrating things about that time of year for me is how easy it is to feel forced into the one big happy family box. Advertisements are filled with families who make the Cosbys and the Waltons look dysfunctional and there’s a social expectation that everyone loves this time of year . There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of emotional room for families who aren’t closely-knit or who don’t, in fact, all live in the same state. Or country.

Watching my friends figure out how to navigate their new diagnoses reminds me that I don’t actually know what is going on in other people’s lives. Maybe you’re just as annoyed with the impending mandatory holiday cheer and togetherness as I am?

Let me know in the comment section.

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A Time to Trim

Food poisoning knocked me off my feet this past weekend. Once the worst of it had passed I decided to cull my RSS feed. When I wrote this post on Saturday I was feeling shaky and really wasn’t up to going out anywhere.

It was sad to see how many blogs have quieted in the last six to twelve months. Some of them have been temporarily abandoned due to serious illness or other circumstances that make it hard to keep writing. Others just stopped. I don’t know if their writers lost interest, suffered a personal tragedy or started a new blog elsewhere.


It’s easy to celebrate a beginning.

It’s much more difficult to be happy about an end. There was no joy in hitting unsubscribe, in contacting old blogging acquaintances I haven’t heard from in a very long time. The Mystery of the Disappearing Blogger ™ rarely ends with a happy return to blogging.

Yet there was small puff of satisfaction when I reached the end of my RSS feed. The list is all tidied up and most of my favourite blogs are still chugging along nicely.


What have you trimmed out of your life lately?


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A One Hour Trip? That’s Too Far Away!

Seven years ago when I moved from Ohio to Ontario travelling wasn’t a burden.

I’d spent the previous eleven years living in a small town. Going almost anwhere – church, the grocery store, school, the gas station – required a vehicle. Sidewalks existed mostly in the older sections of town and not all of them were well-maintained. Often my mom and I would take a twenty or thirty minute walk without seeing anyone else on the sidewalk.

Friends would sometimes say, “I saw you out walking last weekend. Is everything ok?” It was  assumed that the only reason someone would walk is because they didn’t have enough money to drive (or had lost their license).

Enter Toronto, the walkable city.

Coming from my background it was strange at first to “share” the sidewalk with other people. Sometimes there would be so many people walking that everyone walked single file for several blocks!

I loved the idea of visiting three or four different stores without once climbing into or out of a vehicle but it was kind of funny to hear Torontonian friends say, “You want me to travel an hour just to go to dinner? That’s too far away!

Fast forward to 2012. I’m turning into one of those Torontonians.

An hour or two of travelling on it’s own doesn’t sound too bad until you realize you have to do the same trip to get back home. Before anything else happens, then, you’ve already spent 2-4 hours of your day just travelling.

Once you arrive at your destination you’ll probably spend at least that much time- if not more –  eating dinner, socializing and participating in other activities. It wouldn’t make sense to spend more time travelling than you do at your destination, after all.

Suddenly a “one hour” trip turns into a full 8-hour day and that’s if there are no public transit delays and everyone moves smoothly from one activity to the next.

I don’t want to become one of those people who stays in the same neighbourhood all of the time…but I’m really beginning to understand why it happens.

A one hour trip just for a meal? That’s too far away!


How has moving to a new area or spending time with new friends changed how you think?


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4 Ways to Be Kind to Yourself

December wasn’t an easy month for me. To be honest by the end of it I’d grown pretty grouchy and wavered between feeling guilty for letting stress affect me so much and bristling against the forced cheerfulness of the season.

Sometimes, this process can be very subconscious. We won’t know why we’re being mean or angry or greedy or jealous—we’ll just do it.

From 4 Ways to Be Kind When You Don’t Feel Like It.

I loved this blog post so much I thought I’d write a companion article to it. Sometimes it can be as difficult to be kind to yourself as it is to be kind to others.

Here are a few things that have helped me over the last several weeks:

1. H.A.L.T. Are you feeling hungry, angry, lonely or tired? It’s amazing how much low blood sugar, fatigue or interpersonal problems inflate a small problem into a huge one.

2. Say no. You don’t have to accept every invitation or continue all of the traditions you participated in before. I won’t lie – you may ruffle a few feathers in the process. But there’s nothing wrong with saying “no, thanks!” to something you’ve really been dreading.

3. Ask for help. Need a sympathetic ear? Advice from someone who has been through the same thing? Practical assistance with chores or a special project? Something else? Ask for it! I’ve found that most people love to help out if they know what would (or would not) be appreciated.

4. Recharge. You might need to do this more than usual after a particularly stressful event or period.


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How to (Start to) Forgive Yourself for Small Mistakes

Photo by Richard Smith

Forgiveness has been on my mind this fall. It’s so much easier for me to forgive someone else for making a dumb mistake than it is to forgive myself.


There’s no possible way for me to control the decisions other people make. I can ask them to do (or not to do) something but ultimately it’s up to them whether or not they want to listen to me.

I can control what I do, though. In the past I’ve been pretty hard on myself over what ultimately turned out to be small bumps in the road. These things never should have stressed me out as much as they did. I don’t want to sound like I have this all figured out – there are still days when I expect much more from myself than I would anyone else. But I am learning to relax a little.

Here are a few questions that help you figure out if it really matters:

1) How would you react if a friend or family member did this? Usually my response would be a warm hug and something like, “it’s really going to be ok. Everyone makes mistakes.”

2) Will it matter in six months? And will you even remember it then? Most of the time there’s a world of no in both of these questions.

3) Is there anything you could (realistically) do to avoid similar events in the future? The answer to this one varies. Sometimes certain mistakes can be reduced or eliminated in the future by double-checking your work. At other times, though, short of developing superhuman abilities there’s nothing a reasonable person could have done to avoid whatever it was that happened.



Do you have trouble forgiving yourself? Is there anything you’ve learned that helps one feel less guilty for small mistakes?


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That’s (Not) Just the Way It Is

That’s just the way s/he is.

This [organization, group, charity, etc] has always operated like that. You’ll get used to it.

Time for another rant. 😉

Well, that’s just the way it is isn’t an excuse. It isn’t even a real answer.

And that’s just the way it is so easily slouches into I can’t do anything do change it. Why bother trying? 

No, we can’t wave a magic wand and change how other people behave or certain circumstances in life – chronic health problems, the fact that autumn is slowly slipping into winter. Some things are beyond anyone’s control.

But we can change how we react to them and in certain situations we can reduce the amount of time and energy they demand from our lives.

So no, whatever you’re thinking of that’s not just the way it is.

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Mailbag #1

Anonymous asks:

I’m negative. How do I fix it?

Hello! Thanks for your question. As you didn’t provide any other details here are a few things to consider for the next few minutes:

  • Are you otherwise coping with life ok? Negative thinking can be a symptom of depression, among other illnesses. I’m not a doctor (and couldn’t diagnose you over the Internet even if I was one!) but this may be something to discuss with your health care provider.
  • How do the people you spend the most time with respond to the stresses of life? A handful of extremely pessimistic or optimistic people can change the “feel” of even a large group.
  • Are you in a really tough situation? Does venting help? Shit happens, sometimes over and over again to the same people. Admitting that isn’t being negative, it’s being honest.

Ok, time’s up.

So what do you do with negative thought patterns once you’ve figured out why they’re happening?

  1. Acknowledge them. It’s ok to have a bad day or to admit that experience X was really difficult. Even saying or thinking, “well, that was a negative thought!” can help you realize what’s going on.
  2. Stay in the moment. Just because X happened before does not mean it will happen again. Trying to predict the future will only encourage a pessimistic view of it.
  3. Make a plan. Is there anything you can do to (realistically) avoid X in the future? If not, is there anything that will make it less harmful?
  4. Help someone else. Wallowing in negativity is much more difficult when you’re, say, shovelling a neighbour’s sidewalk or volunteering at your favourite charity.
  5. Flip your assumptions. When a negative thought pops up counter it with the best alternative you can think of. Maybe your relative’s health will snap back after that surgery. Maybe your boss was calling to offer you a promotion! As Pollyanna-ish as this sounds it works well with practice.

The bottom line: negative thinking is a habit and like any habit it can be replaced with a more useful one.

I’d be lying if I said this was easy.  It isn’t. But it can be done!

Do you have a question to Ask Lydia? Submit it through the contact form or in the comment section of this post. 


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What Really Helps Stress

Earlier this week an article popped up on my RSS feed about two studies done on the link between crying and stress relief and cursing and stress relief.

The first study found that crying does not relieve stress. The second study found that reading a list of curse words was more stressful for the subjects than reading a list of euphemisms  or clean words. The article author points out that this wasn’t a well designed experiment, though. (Click on the link above for more information.)

Reading this article made me wonder about other research on this topic. Any Tom, Dana or Harry on the Internet can claim that dryer lint or newt eyes are a cause or cure of stress so I tried to find the most reputable sources possible without paying to read them. Unfortunately this means that some links lead only to abstracts from journals.

One study does not prove a correlation between a specific activity and stress, of course, but it’s still fascinating to see some of the less intuitive entries on these lists!

Stress Reducers

Regular exercise, meditation, sleep, time-outs, realistic expectations, reframing, humor, and a good support system.  – Source. (All solutions are talked about in great detail in this well-written, free document. )

Owning a pet. – Source.

Violent video games. – Source.

Deep breathing. – Source.

Black tea.  – Source. ( I’m so sensitive to caffeine that this probably wouldn’t work for me! )

Biofeedback. – Source.

Kissing. – Source.

Sex…but only if you’re a rat. 😉 – Source.

Stress Enhancers

Cigarettes, caffeine, sugar, drugs and alcohol, and tranquilizer-type drugs. – Source.

Procrastination. – Source.

Growing older, having a neurotic personality. – Source.

Childhood abuse, living in a city, certain diseases that affect the immune system like eczema or rheumatoid arthritis, anyone experiencing financial strain, less educated people, night-shift work, being a caregiver. – Source.

Mixed Bag

The following items may or may not reduce stress. Studies are either inconclusive or have shown mixed results.

Religion.  – Source.

Valerian root. – Source.

Being around calm people.  –Source.

(The image used in this post, “Balls Unstable,” is by Danilo Rizzuti and was found on FreeDigitalPhotos.)


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