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.

 

 

Every Candle Counts…

Today I turn 39.  Every other year, birthdays have been bittersweet.  Another year older meant more wrinkles and even more grey hair.  But this year is different.  This year I am grateful to be celebrating another year.  Thankful for every new wrinkle and every grey hair because each wrinkle and grey hair measures giggles, squeals, smiles and inches in my children that weren’t there the year before.   They represent secrets with my husband and jokes with my brother, meals, laughter, tears and happiness with friends and family that never would have been experienced without growing a year older.

For some time now, I have tried to live my life with gratitude.  To count my blessings and be thankful for all that I have.  But never has that been truer than now.  This year, I am acutely aware of how precarious and unpredictable life can be.  Up until a few months ago, I stressed about normal things-contractors, deadlines, work, chores, kids and countless other mundane things.  Then, in November, my dear friend was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  She is 35 years old.  She has a 1-year old daughter whose eyes will turn you to mush.  And now, she is fighting the fight of her life.  How does that happen?  How do you go from being healthy, the world at your feet to scheduling chemo and surgery in the matter of hours and days?

And then yesterday, I had a new patient come in.  She is 50 years old.  She has had a neurological disorder for 15 years.  The same one as me.  For 10 of those years, she was well.  She worked, she walked, she mothered.  Just like me. Then, in the past 4 years, her health deteriorated.  She can now barely walk or talk.  I looked at this patient and saw my potential future.  That could happen to me.

I think to myself, count your blessings and live in the present.  I have had another year of walking, exercising, working, loving, laughing and playing with the kids.   I try to focus on the positive and continue to be grateful.

But then there are moments when it’s hard to be grateful.  Moments like this afternoon, when I was driving home, thinking about getting the kids to music class and hoping my husband doesn’t forget the cake (more for the kids’ sake than for mine), when it hit me-I miss my mom.  My mother passed away when she was 56 and I was 29.  This is my 10th birthday without her.  There are times like today when I feel her absence so deeply that I can’t breathe.  The sorrow overwhelms me.  It happens at random times.  Sometimes it will be while I am cooking and I think of something she used to say, or sometimes it will be while I am running and I can picture her smile.  She pops into my mind without warning and every time, I am left feeling a tightness in my throat and tears in my eyes.  To this day I can’t speak of her for more than 2 minutes without crying.  I am crying as I type this.  I feel such sadness that she never got to see where life took me, that she never got to meet my boys and most especially, that my boys will never know the love of a doting grandmother.

But then I try to remind myself that this is what life is about.  Life is sweeter when you have experienced death.  Health is more precious when you have faced illness.  Love is greater when you have lost.  The highs are so much higher when you have spent time wallowing in the lows.

So this year, instead of grumbling about getting older, I am thrilled to be celebrating another year lived, another year of health, another year of mothering and another year of endless joy, abundant laughter and immense blessings.  This year, I am putting all 39 candles on my cake to symbolize how much I appreciate every single one of those years, the good ones and the bad.

Happy Birthday to me.

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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.

To Weigh or Not to Weigh-My Battle with the Scale.

Ever since I can remember, I have wanted to be thinner.  I was never thin.  Not even as a young child.  Like many women, I have focused on the negatives of my body.  I have longed to be rid of the pear shape that I have been destined to live my life in.  My attitude towards my body is unhealthy and the constant pursuit of losing 10 pounds is exhausting. 

And the irony is that I help people lose weight.  I teach people to eat well, to focus on choosing healthy foods when they are hungry and tell them that if they do this, the scale will take care of itself. 

Yet, I still long for the number on my scale to go down despite the fact that I know I am a healthy weight, active and fit.   It makes no sense.  I have been the same size, give or take 10 pounds throughout fertility treatments, stress and holidays for as long as I can remember.  I gained 50 pounds with each of my pregnancies, managed to lose it both times and can still fit into my wedding dress, 14 years and 2 kids later.  By all accounts, I am doing pretty well.  I eat very well.  I am fitter than I have ever been and stronger than I ever imagined.  I ran a half marathon at 35 when the doctors were pretty sure I was going to have difficulty walking on my 40th birthday. 

Several years ago I started training with a personal trainer and it changed the way I look at exercise.  I realize that exercise helps my mood and it helps me maintain my balance and strength so I can stay well, stay mobile and fight my illness with all I’ve got.

And still, despite all my body has done and all the odds it has defied, I want to be thinner.

Last week, I wrote about how I wanted to focus on stretching.   The reality is, I want to do more than that.  I want to focus on making my body the best it can be, regardless of the number on the scale.  This is going to be significantly more difficult than just stretching 10 minutes a day but I am committed.  I do not want to go into my 40’s continuing to loathe my hips and thighs. 

And luckily, I found someone that has been helping me confront this. 

In January 2012 I moved to Toronto.  Finally in March, I walked the two blocks to the gym and found a new trainer.  He is awesome.  He is my unwilling confidante and counselor.  No nonsense and no bull but full of insight at the ripe old age of 23.  He is mature beyond his years and never ceases to amaze me with his wisdom. 

Over the last 2 years, he has pushed me and transformed the way I view working out.  Of course, he would really love it if my life didn’t get in the way of my sessions with him but despite my challenges at fitting him in regularly, he works with me and supports me. 

He doesn’t let me get away with anything yet at the same time, he encourages me and has helped me see myself for the strong, fit person I am, and not just the number I long to see on the scale.  Don’t get me wrong.  He would love it if I lost the 10 pounds.  I imagine it gets frustrating to have a client that is so close to reaching her goal and yet the goal always eludes her.

One day, after a particularly grueling workout, I said to him “Not bad for a girl who’s almost 40 and has a neurological illness”.  He countered with “Not bad for a girl-period”.  I was a little stunned.  He was right.  I was short changing myself.  His comment was an eye-opener.  I can do push-ups (the real ones!) and plank, lunges and squats, intervals at 9.5mph and I have more stamina than ever.  

But my weight is the same-give or take a few pounds.

So I am going to stop weighing myself.  Not forever, but for a month.  I will continue to focus on eating well, exercising and stretching, but I will not let the scale be my motivator.   I want to focus on all that my body can do, and appreciate that the hips I have loathed, helped me deliver my 2 boys naturally.  That the thighs I wished would shrink still support me, and allow me mobility that I wasn’t sure I would have at this point in my life. 

Self acceptance is hard, but constantly fighting who I am and what I look like is harder.  This isn’t a habit that will be easy to track or measure, but hopefully my trainer will keep me honest.  He doesn’t let me get away with much and he reads my blog so I am pretty sure I will be held accountable. 

 There you go Victor-there’s your plug:)Image

 

Taking Time to Stretch

My newest habit is not so exciting.  I admit it.  But I need to do it.  I need to stretch everyday.  I am a typical type A personality.  I work a lot, I am always doing something and I think most people would describe me as being fairly intense.  I fought this for awhile.  The first time someone called me intense, I was shocked.  In my mind, I was really easy-going.  But over the last couple of years, I have come to terms with it.  I am not so easy-going.  I like things a certain way and I can be fairly demanding.  I like to think of it as part of my appeal although I am sure there are people who would disagree.

My intensity permeates my life. Including how I exercise.  I choose activities like long distance running, at least until I injured myself, step classes, spin classes weights and TRX.  I don’t do Yoga because, well, in my mind, it’s just not intense enough.  I know this isn’t true but I just can’t bring myself to do Yoga regularly.  I thought I could do Hot Yoga since that seemed more intense, but I don’t do that very often either.  I bought a 20 pass package last January with the intent to go every weekend.  I still have several classes left.

But I know I need to change my exercise habits.  As I am getting older, I am in a lot more pain.  I think it is a combination of driving a lot, being fairly high strung and vigorous exercise that leaves me stiff, inflexible and in pain.  So my next habit is to stretch.

I think one of the most important things to do when trying to incorporate changes into your life is to set yourself up for success.  So in my efforts to set myself up for success in this new routine, I am buying an exercise mat today for my bedroom.  I am also going to devise a 10-minute stretch routine that I can do everyday.  I have also given some thought as to when I can do this routine regularly and without excuses and I have come up with the perfect plan.  When I put my 7-year old to bed, he reads for awhile and then I sit in his room while he falls asleep.  I am going to do my stretch routine while he is reading.  It’s perfect.  I usually don’t do anything of consequence during this time anyway so it should work well.

In other news, my teeth are still brushed, I am still drinking water and often, I forget to turn on my smartphone in the morning.  Amazing!  The habits actually are slowly starting to change my life.

The Days are Long but the Years are Short.

One of my favorite books is “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin.  It is one of the few books that made a lasting impression on me and continues to affect the way I live my life.

There are many great parts to the book, but the one that was most influential for me was a section that discussed the challenges of raising children.  She describes the relentless demands, exhausting schedules and never ending days of parenting.  She also offers the following insight, “The days are long but the years are short”.  I think about this statement often and I’ll tell you why.

I struggled for several years to get pregnant.  I prayed, I cried.  I underwent several procedures and had countless ultrasounds, blood draws and injections.  And then finally, my prayers were answered and I became pregnant.  I was thrilled.  I did not dare complain throughout my pregnancy for fear that it would jinx my good fortune.  Finally, on Valentine’s Day 2006, my eldest son was born.

We brought him home, set the car seat down and didn’t know what to do with him.  We didn’t have any family support and we had no idea what to expect.  My son was a difficult baby.  He slept little.  He fussed a lot.  And that combination left me exhausted and low on milk.  The Naturopath in me refused to yield.  I insisted on nursing him, at all costs-probably a mistake in hindsight.  He woke often and we often started the day at 5:30am.  We sat in a rocking chair on the porch.  While I drank a large coffee, he watched the people on the street starting their days.  And from there, the day went on.  It was long.  He didn’t sleep.  I couldn’t take him anywhere.  He cried in the car.  He cried in the stroller.  I could take him as far as I could carry him.  We realize now that he suffers from motion sickness.  I would watch the hours until my husband came home and then quickly hand him over so I could get a break.  I felt terribly guilty that I wanted to get away from the baby that I had cried for, yearned for and prayed for.  Then, 2 years later came my younger son.  Another blessing.  Another miracle.  And from there it all became a blur.  Feedings, bedtimes, diaper changes and teething.  Like most parents, I was exhausted and weary.

Those days were so very long.  

And now, they are 5 and 7.  My eldest is smart and funny.  He tells tales and loves school.  He plays the violin.  There are times when I look at him and see my husband staring back at me and it never ceases to astonish me.  My youngest loves soccer and skips everywhere.   He plays the cello because violin requires too much standing for his liking.  I look at him and I am amazed at how he can be all sweetness and fire wrapped up into one little bundle of giggles and energy.

The years have flown by. 

How does this all relate to my habits and changing my life?  Well, the first thing I wanted to work on was the amount of time I spent on my smartphone.  I knew I used it too much and I knew it was a problem but I didn’t really understand how big an impact it was having on my life until I stopped using it so much.

My goals were to stop using the phone in the car and in the evenings before the boys’ bedtime.  Over the past 3-4 weeks, I have completely stopped using my phone in the car, except for calls on my Bluetooth.  So instead of constantly having my head down at the traffic lights or stop signs, I look around or I look in my rearview.  I am more aware of my surroundings.  I glance at my children.  Sometimes, they are staring out the window.  Sometimes they are having a silly conversation.  But regardless of what they are doing, I see them.  I see their animated faces or their eyes staring off into space.  I appreciate their beauty and innocence.  Other times, if I am lucky, one of them catches my eye in the mirror and flashes me a smile.  Those moments are golden.  We also talk more in the car since I am less distracted.   I learn more about their friends and what they did at school.

I also stopped using my phone as much in the evenings.  I have gotten better at this, but have to admit that I have my slip-ups.  But putting down my phone in the evenings has meant that I can truly focus on the task at hand-the task of mothering.  There are more conversations at the dinner table.  More giggles when brushing teeth and more stories before bed.  I am more patient and involved because I am not trying to send a text or email while getting a 5-year old to floss. I am simply being mommy and what I have found is that when I am focused on this one task, the task of being mommy, I am better at it.   I go to bed feeling more connected with my children and my children go to bed feeling more connected to me.

Generally, putting down my phone has given me a sense of calm, a grounding that I was missing.  It’s reduced the chaos in my brain and allowed me to be more present in my day-to-day activities.

Now, there is a downside to all of this.  Many people have asked me why I haven’t responded to their emails or texts.  A few are annoyed.  But you know what?  They’ll get over it.  I let them know that I am trying to distance myself from my phone.  They will know for next time that it might take me a little longer to get back to them and it will soon become the new normal.

This has been a tremendous journey for me.  Being a good mother is the single most important thing to me.  I consider it a privilege to be a mother.  I never want to forget what a blessing my children are and I want my children to think back and remember a mother that listened to them and was interested in them.  Equally important, I want to be able to look back and know that I was there for my children to my fullest capacity.

The years may be short, but that’s all the more reason to make the most of them.

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Breaking my addiction is harder than I thought.

As I mentioned in my last post, I am trying to limit my smartphone use.  It’s the first habit I am trying to kick as I better myself over the next year or so.  

It’s harder than I thought.  It’s amazing how often I reach for it and then have to stop and remind myself that I am not doing “that” anymore.  Truth be told, I am having a lot of trouble with it.  I am so used to multitasking that simply sitting in traffic, waiting at the stop sign or hanging out with my family seems too simple and unencumbered. 

It also amazes me how much of an addiction it actually is.  For me, the hardest time to avoid checking my phone is after I have exited off the highway.  My highway drive is about an hour.  I exit and immediately have a very long traffic light.  This is one of the hardest times for me to stay true to breaking this habit.  I fidget.  I check my hair.  I drink some water.  I look in the rearview.  The only problem with looking in the rearview is that the guy or girl behind me is inescapably checking his or her phone!  The first time this happened, I felt like a smoker having a nic-fit.  But after a few more drives like that, I think I have beat that traffic light.  I know work is only 5 minutes from that spot and I keep telling myself I can wait 5 more minutes.  

About a week in though, I knew I needed help to kick this habit, especially in the evenings when I am at home.  So I enlisted my 7 year old.  I told him to “catch me” if I was on my phone in the evenings or in the car.  Trust me, he is taking his job very seriously.  Whenever I touch it, he says, “You said no phone”.  I usually fight the urge to shoot him a dirty look and then put my phone away feeling only a little sheepish.

I have found a few other tricks to make it easier too.  First, as soon as I get in the car, I check my phone one last time before I start driving.  Then I put it on silent.  It is much easier to ignore it if I don’t constantly hear it beeping at me about an incoming text or email. 

Next, I started listening to audio cds on my long drives.  I had always kind of discounted the idea of listening to “books on tape”.  I always preferred music to listening to podcasts or the news.  I blast my music and sing along.  I accepted the fact that I would probably need hearing aids in my old age.  It’s a sacrifice I am willing to make.  Then a friend gave me a couple of audio books.  I half-heartedly started listening to one and you know what?  I am hooked.  I look forward to an uninterrupted drive so I can listen to my cd.  It’s made ignoring my cellphone much easier indeed.  In fact, when someone calls on the Bluetooth, I am often annoyed that they’ve interrupted my listening.

So I would say overall, my cell phone usage has decreased. I am focusing on this for one more week to firmly entrench the new behavior.  Keeping my fingers crossed and off my phone:)

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.