When Good People Do Bad Things…

When I was younger, my life was simple. I had a two dimensional view of the world. There was wrong and there was right. There was good and there was bad. It was easy. Swearing was bad. Alcohol was bad. Praying was good. Obeying your parents was good.  

Bad people did bad things and good people did good things. 

Where did I fit into all of this? Well, I didn’t drink alcohol. I did well in school. For the most part, I listened to my parents and I didn’t swear.

I was definitely “good”.

But as I got older, my views changed. I discovered that a glass of Merlot had its merits. As for swearing, well just refer to my post on potty-mouth mommy and it will be obvious where I stand in terms of that particular vice. I have made many choices that some might consider questionable and continue to do so despite the knowledge that perhaps, I may be veering away from my understanding of the “good” side.

My understanding of right and wrong has transformed into black, white and many shades of grey.

The woman I was in my 20’s with her rigid view of people and life would balk at the choices I make today.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a strong moral compass. I teach my children to be kind, loving, patient and tolerant and do my best to model this behavior. I am honest and loyal, sometimes to a fault. But I have made, and will continue to make, mistakes. I have always been my toughest critic, but now I want to give myself a break for not always living up to the standards I uphold for myself and for those around me. I want to be less judgmental, and more accepting of the flaws that we all have.

And as I continue to grow older, my views on right and wrong continue to evolve.   In practice, I meet patients with amazing stories. These people are faced with adversities and challenges, and they do their best to deal with whatever life throws at them, in the best way they can. Do I always agree with them? No. Do I always think they have made the right choice? Absolutely not.

I hear stories from family and friends and where the old me would have been quick to judge, quick to decide which side of right or wrong that person belonged to, the new me now seeks to understand the motivation behind the actions, and to understand the intention of the doer. By shifting my focus this way, I have come to appreciate the complexities of people and life in a way I never really did before.

And of course, I look at my own life. The lines between good and bad, right and wrong have blurred so much, that I would be a hypocrite to judge another. As I embarked on this journey to become the better person I want to be this year, I have been acutely aware of my shortcomings, and the shortcomings of the people around me. And this is what I have learned.

Good people do bad things for good reasons. Good people do bad things for bad reasons. But good people are still good people.

We all struggle. We all falter. But I have learned in the past several years, that we are all just trying to do our best with the curveballs, challenges and disappointments life throws at us.

It’s not about right and wrong, good or bad. It’s about having a heart, having a conscious and making peace with the factors that drive us to make our decisions without needing to label them or ourselves.

So as I continue this journey, I hope to continue to be more understanding of the people around me, and I hope that in turn, they will do the same for me.

 

 

My 11 years with Multiple Sclerosis

In March 2003, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I was 28 years old. I had just graduated from Naturopathic College and had started my residency.  Within a span of a week, I lost all feeling in my left leg and my right foot.  I needed a cane to walk around.  I would make it to work, my boss would take one look at me and send me straight home. I would stop in the middle of a grocery store and crouch low to deal with the pain from muscle spasms. Then, several weeks later, I started to have double vision.

I remember waking up the day after my diagnosis. Swinging my legs over the side of the bed, burying my head in my hands and sobbing.  I was so afraid.

I remember telling my husband it was okay if he wanted to leave me.  We had been married 3 short years and just moved into our first home.  I told him he didn’t have to take the whole “in sickness and in health” seriously.  I understood if he didn’t want to stick around and watch me potentially lose my mobility, my sight and other pieces of myself to a disease that was ravaging my brain. He didn’t leave. He cried instead.

I remember the panic that set in when the doctors told me my prognosis was bad.  That my MRI results were worse than they had anticipated and it was best if I started aggressive treatment as soon as possible.

But I couldn’t.  I wanted children.  I couldn’t take the drugs and still try to conceive.  Besides, I was a naturopath remember?  There had to be another way.

The doctors told me to “Hurry up and go have your kids so we can start treatment”.  Well, as luck would have it, that didn’t happen either.  It took me 3 years to finally get pregnant with the help of in vitro fertilization.  Remarkably, I was in remission for those three years.  I never relapsed.

I have never relapsed again. I have been close. This month I was scarily close. I lost feeling in my left leg again. Started tripping up the stairs again and had to be extra cautious walking and exercising, but I have recovered for the most part.

To be clear, I never fully recovered from the first episode but I did remarkably well.  If you look at me, you would never be able to tell that on any given day the amount of feeling I have in my left leg varies like the weather. At night, in the comfort of my home, I stop compensating.  My husband will see me limp.  My boys will ask why I am walking funny.  If I haven’t slept, or if I have been overly stressed, my eyes let me know.  The tell-tale double vision returns whenever I look left. Not for long, just long enough to let me know it’s time to slow down.

But 11 years after diagnosis, I am not afraid of losing my mobility.  I am not afraid of losing my sight.  I am not afraid of this disease.

In fact, most times, I consider it a blessing in disguise.

The diagnosis 11 years ago, which incidentally has not been confirmed since I never had a second episode that lasted long enough, changed my life for the better.  I don’t take my mobility for granted.  I don’t take my sight for granted.  I don’t take my life for granted.

The disease has taught me to listen to the whispers of my body.  Sleep when I have been pushing too hard.  Take a breath when the stress is too much.  Eat well. Exercise regularly. Choose friends wisely. Avoid drama.

This is good advice generally. We should all do this. But my type A personality never knew when to quit before the illness and truth be told, I still have trouble stepping on the brakes, but MS has made me try harder to strive for balance.  Those close to me may argue that I am still failing miserably at trying to balance my life, but they didn’t know me before I got diagnosed.  This is an improvement.

When I see patients in the clinic that have been told their test results are positive, that their prognosis is poor or that the odds are not in their favor, I want to scream at them to ignore all of it. We are more than test results, more than statistics, more than data points to plot on a graph.  We are individuals with challenges.  We don’t have to let those challenges define our lives.

MS reinforced to me that people are more than the sum of their parts.  There is a whole other part of us that science and medicine can’t figure out. For all intents and purposes, I should be in a wheelchair.   I should be heavily medicated.  I should be sicker than I am.

But I’m not.  I am fine.  I am healthy. I am happy but most importantly, I am more than an MRI.

 

How Hockey Camp Almost Killed Me and Other Tales from our March Break Madness.

These past two weeks, my children have been on March Break. I had this vision of March Break similar to how I have envisioned Summer breaks, Christmas breaks and March breaks of the past.  In my vision, I am free of being the chauffeur.  Instead, I sit in my pajamas at the kitchen table, drink tea, get lots of work done, catch up on my paperwork and the boys play and keep themselves occupied. 

 You would think that I would have learned by now that this is not how it tends to unfold.

 This March Break, I also planned on renovating my clinic, organizing my tax documents and working on my next habit: decluttering my inbox.  I managed to get the clinic renovated.  The rest remained pretty much untouched as I am lying in bed Sunday night, trying to recover from what was undoubtedly the roughest March Break I have ever been through.

 You see, my husband and I had this great idea.  We would put the boys in hockey camp in Waterloo for the first week of March Break.  The boys would be happy, I would get to work and my husband would book some work travel while the boys and I stayed with my dad. 

 Neither of us realized how wrong we were going to be.

You see, hockey camp is BRUTAL.  I don’t know how hockey parents do it.  Getting the boys fed, packing their bags then driving to the other side of town to get them on the rink by 8:30 for 5 days in a row literally almost killed me.  They are only 6 and 8 so I needed to help them get all their equipment on and then tighten their skates.  The one thing I will never be able to do is tighten skates.  Although they loved every minute of the camp, by the end of the week, I felt closer to a full blown neurological relapse than I have in the last 11 years. 

 It took me the weekend to recover and then it was time for the clinic renovation.  It wasn’t a big job but considering my clinic consists of mostly women, it took considerable muscle and strain to get the job done. 

 In the meantime, my dad and brother were helping with the kids.  I appreciate their help immensely.  They adore the boys and the boys adore them.  They mean well, but my dad’s idea of childcare is McDonald’s and Bulk Barn while my brother believes Tim Horton’s is a perfectly reasonable place to have breakfast. Combined, they turned my generally healthy, well fed, well-rested children into sugar crazed, sleep-deprived animals.  I wanted to run away from them. 

Meanwhile, my kitchen was being renovated while I was away.  Icing on the cake.   I came home to a dust covered, cluttered disaster of a home Friday night and spent all day Saturday washing every dish I own and then organizing the whole space.

So now I lay here on Sunday night, two well-fed boys in bed, a brand new beautiful kitchen downstairs and a newly renovated clinic space waiting for me tomorrow.  It turns out it was a pretty productive March Break after all but I am still very excited that tomorrow is Monday, the boys go back to school and I go back to work for a rest and maybe, just maybe, I will be able to put a dent in my inundated inbox.   

 

 

My Inundated Inbox

It’s been a while since I provided an update regarding my habits.  That doesn’t mean they aren’t going well.  In fact, for the most part, the habits are firmly established.  In terms of my most recent habit, I learned over the last few weeks that although I won’t stop being a potty mouth completely, I can use my choice words more scarcely and interestingly, they have more effect that way!  I have also allowed myself to swear at the gym.  I wasn’t going to be able to overcome that.  I already owe my trainer over 10 teas so I think I need to get him a Starbucks gift card and accept defeat. But most importantly, I no longer use “bad” words in front of the children.  The boys were very disappointed that they weren’t able to catch me being a potty mouth-not even once.

The other habits are going well too.  I continue to brush my teeth before bed and I have maintained my water intake.  My cell phone usage is still under control-for the most part.  I have not returned to weighing myself daily or even weekly for that matter and I realized the other day, that I can’t remember the last time I ran around the house frantically searching for my keys or wallet.  Overall, I am much calmer with these new habits in place.  So it’s time to add another. 

The next change needs to be timed right.  I need to be able to put in a lot of time at the front end in order to get a grip on this aspect of my life that causes me significant stress.  It has to do with email. 

I am one of those people with an overflowing inbox (over 2400 emails are currently in my inbox).  I can’t handle it.  Every time I login and see all those emails in my inbox, I feel a mild sense of anxiety.  I want to be one of those people who deals with email as it comes in.  Read it, reply to it, file it or delete it.  I don’t want weeks and weeks worth of email in my inbox causing me to panic that I have missed something important.  It gets to a point where it is so overwhelming that I start to feel like it is pointless to try to control it.  But I haven’t given up yet.

I decided that I am going to get a grip on my overflowing email during March Break.  I have some extra time to catch up on this as many of the boys’ activities are on hold and I won’t be commuting as often.  My plan is to clean out my inbox completely and then to allocate some time everyday or at least every other day to catch up on messages.  I have already started unsubscribing to many of the email newsletters and specials that inundate my inbox.  Every time I unsubscribe, I feel a little more in control.  It’s amazing how a small act can give such satisfaction. 

So hear I go.  Three weeks of reading, replying, filing or deleting.

 

 

So another year begins….

Like every other year I have made New Year’s Resolutions for 2014 but this year I am going to pursue them differently.  Instead of making a list and trying to tackle it all at once, I am going to continue to incorporate new habits, as I have been over the past 3 months, in 3-week increments. 

My strategy so far has been quite effective.  I am still brushing my teeth every night, drinking lots of water and avoiding my phone.  My newest habit of trying to stretch everyday didn’t quite work out.  For whatever reason, that has and continues to be a challenge.  I have been stretching more, but not consistently.  I guess that’s better than nothing but my concern is that unless it is a true habit, I will eventually stop doing it. 

As I have been reading more studies and information on habits, I have found that the research is actually showing that the time it takes for an action to become a habit depends on the complexity of it and of course, on the individual.  Though certain easier habits may take 21 days, others may take much longer to develop.  So I am not sure what to do about this one.  Do I keep trying to incorporate it or try again later?  Or move on to another habit and accept defeat? 

I have decided to keep it on the back burner for now, kind of in a holding pattern.  I will still try to stretch more frequently, but I am also going to try to start Hot Yoga again.   A friend of mine asked me about it and I think we will try to go weekly together.  Hopefully the buddy system will help me with this particular challenge.

I haven’t weighed myself either.  It’s been almost a month.  Perhaps avoiding the scale over the holidays wasn’t such a wise idea but I have to say that not being a slave to a number is proving to be quite liberating.  I will weigh myself next week and then I hope to only weigh myself weekly. My hope is that I will view the number that stares back at me with less emotion and angst.  I want to shift my goals away from a number to something else-maybe a long distance run or a certain number of push-ups.

So what to do next?  I have several habits I want to incorporate but seeing as I have spent the last 2 weeks at home getting things somewhat tidied up and organized, I thought maybe I should continue with that. 

I have always found it particularly challenging to stay organized.   I am always losing things-my keys, my wallet, my sweater (I probably have close to 10 black cardigans because I keep misplacing one and then buying another one).  My husband, on the other hand, is very meticulous about putting things away and keeping things uncluttered.  I watch the calmness he exudes and long for it.  I never see him frantically looking for his keys as he leaves the house, or for his favorite pair of shoes as he gets dressed.  I want to be more like that. 

So, I am going to take 10 minutes every day to try to put things away.  This means cleaning up my closet, putting my keys where they belong, filing the mail and generally decluttering.  

But I think there is more to being organized than just the act of tidying up.  There has to be a certain consciousness about it.  I watch my husband and how he puts things away with care.  He doesn’t throw his wallet on the kitchen table and then look for it, as it becomes buried under papers and knapsacks.  He makes it a point to put it where it belongs, in the space he has chosen for it.  I want to be like that.  I want it to come naturally. 

I am not sure if I will be able to be as well organized as he is.  He is a different breed than I am.  You know how they say opposites attract?  I think we are the flagship couple for that cliché.  My brain is wired differently than his.  My hope is that I will still be able to change my patterns a little bit by adding some consciousness to my everyday actions.  Afterall, that’s what this whole 20 habits in 60 weeks thing is about right? 

So here I go, into 2014 with my first new habit of the year.  53 weeks and 15 habits left to building my better life by 40.

The Whisper Before the Scream….

My sister-in-law once told me that God whispers before he screams.  I don’t think you need to be religious to appreciate the message.  Often we are given signs-little nudges or indications that something is amiss or that something needs to change but we ignore them.  For some reason though, her words have stuck with me over the years and they have certainly played a big role in my first official habit.

It is not so much adding a habit as kicking a habit.  You see, I am an addict.  My phone is my lifeline.  I email, text, schedule, talk, browse and google nonstop.  At first, it was because I was starting my clinic and needed to be connected, especially since my clinic is in another city.  Then it was because we were renovating the house and I needed to stay on top of contractors, orders and deadlines.  The next thing you know, my smartphone has become an appendage.  I wake up and it’s the first thing I turn on.  I go to bed and it’s the last thing I turn off.  I check it non-stop.  I am the annoying friend that is always on her phone, the irritating daughter, sister and wife who is always distracted, the multitasking mother that can’t stop texting.   I always had excuses.  I have so much to do.  I am juggling so much.  I just need to send this message, make this call or quickly look this up.

Then I heard the whisper.   A couple of times, my son said, “Stop texting!”.  My immediate response was that I was trying to schedule a playdate, register for soccer or call the dentist.  An excuse to justify my behavior-but somewhere in my soul, it nagged me.

The whisper became louder.  I went to Evergreen Brickworks and lost my phone.  Ironically that was a day when I told myself I was going to put my phone away and focus on the time I had at the market with the boys. This was the day after two little boys were killed in a car accident in Parry Sound.  I looked at my children and appreciated them a little more, hugged them a little tighter and said a little prayer for the poor mother that had lost her children.  I told myself that I would be fine without my phone for a couple of hours and needed to focus on my children.

When I did look for my phone and realized it was gone, I was remarkably calm.  I have suffered enough loss in my life to recognize that there are worse things than losing my phone.  I left the boys with a friend and went hunting for it.  I never found it.  When I got back to the children, my friend had informed them that mommy had lost her phone.  My 5 year old’s eyes opened wide as he exclaimed “You lost your phone!  Oh my gosh Mummy!  That’s really bad right?  What are you going to do?”.  I looked at him and thought wow, there’s a problem when my 5-year old sees me as being so attached to an object.  It was very disconcerting.

Then the scream.   I ended up having to buy a new phone.  I left dinner with a friend after having just bought it and started downloading an app before I started driving.  I got to a stoplight and glanced at the phone to see if the app had finished downloading.  I didn’t push a button, I didn’t speak, nothing.  Just glanced at it.  Then I heard a banging on the window.  An older man was pounding on my window yelling, “Don’t do that!”.

Ok.  I get it.  I finally get it!

So here’s my first habit.  I will not touch my phone in the car.   I feel this is particularly important since I am in the car a lot.  I don’t text and drive but I certainly check my phone at the stop light or in traffic.  I also make calls on my Bluetooth, play music or am generally engaged with it in some capacity.   But now I have 2 young boys watching me.  I want to set a good example.  I don’t ever want them to text and drive or be otherwise distracted while driving.  How can I tell them not to do it if they grow up watching me on my phone in the car?  How can I tell them to put their phones down while I hold onto mine with a vise grip?

I also will not touch my phone after getting home with the boys after school.  I will put it away and not check it again until after they are happily tucked away in their beds.  I know it’s a cliché, but time is precious.  My boys deserve a few hours of my time that is uninterrupted by my phone.

This is the habit I want to kick.  I think it will be tough.  But I know it will be worth it.  I have heard the scream; it’s time for action.