Gallery-Paint · Gallery-Written · Mind & Spirit~Reflection, Habits & Self Care · Uncategorized

Think Grey in May.

In late 2010 I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. A benign (non-cancerous) but hormone secreting tumor, on the pituitary gland. Since then I have painted and drawn brains many times, as my brain is often on my mind. Since then I have had to adjust and even give up what I think my life and dreams should look like. I have grieved many times because of it.

I have had struggles to say the least. But as the great Frida Kaloh once said “at the end of the day we can endure much more than we think we can.” And as I was creating this piece for brain tumour awareness month I was struck by this truth. In my lived experience I have discovered that life will always find ways to bring us to our knees. But this is the amazing thing. We all have these choices. In every moment. I have the control to change how I am reacting to any given situation. I don’t fake positivity. But I now try to bring love to the situation. I legit say I’m sorry this is happening, I say this to myself, then I ask myself what I need. How I can love myself through this. When life gets me down, love brings me back up.

So here’s to those of you that are struggling with the chronic condition we call life today. I hope you can find enough self compassion to love yourself today in whatever way you see fit.

Gallery-Paint · Gallery-Written · Life · Mind & Spirit~Reflection, Habits & Self Care · Uncategorized

Getting out of ruts, by crushing comfort zones.

Words and Art by J.Thoresen.

I’ve been giving the idea of comfort a lot of thought lately. Where we go for comfort. The things we do. And while I think we all need a space that provides us with less stress and anxiety. I’ve also been thinking that in many ways when we strive for comfort, we can actually throw ourselves in a rut. Although comfort is a natural program that we create to keep us safe with less energy input, sometimes it can become our prison.

Some people use drugs or alcohol to seek comfort, some people use relationships, food or sex. These are all more obvious examples in which comfort can create a rut. But I think we all pick our own poison. I don’t abuse substances but I get stuck in comfort zones. I hide at home and in my own mind. I avoid discomfort. I give in to my fear and anxiety. We likely all do in our own way. My Dad struggled with alcoholism, and while the ruts I create for myself are less treacherous, I’ve recognized just as he did that I can get stuck in a pattern of avoidance. And that can really be damaging. So just as he did, I’m fighting that urge to run back to my comfort zones. It’s a tough act to break though. And I’ve never felt more empathetic towards those trying to pull themselves out of the deep ruts of addiction. Even without that struggle, my mind keeps thinking and acting in a manner consistent with what I have done and said in the past. I get emotionally and physically uncomfortable when I attempt to try something new and different. And while my subconscious keeps pulling me back toward my comfort zone. Each time I try something new, I have learned that if I can withstand the discomfort for a short time, I open myself up to a life much more glorious than the one I live within a comfort zone. Through this practice I’ve started to recognize when I’m sliding back into my ruts. And I’ve found a few ways to move forward when I start feeling stuck. This is what works for me, so I thought I’d share with you.

1. Try something new.

Personally I’ve found the best way to push myself out of my comfort zone is to try something new. It forces me to meet new people, builds confidence, and has pretty much always been a catalyst for new creative endeavours. You’ll never know what you can do, if you never try.

2. Do something scary.

What is something you have always wanted to do but talked yourself out of? Whatever it is, do it! Sometimes growth is not only uncomfortable, it’s scary. While I’m perfectly ok with being silly and oversharing ridiculous things about myself, I often try to talk myself out of sharing my deeper thoughts and feelings for fear of rejection or conflict. So I decided to start a blog. I share my thoughts, poems, and art, and it’s really been a beautiful thing. I am learning it’s ok to share even the darkest parts of myself and I’m practicing being ok with rejection, and people opposing my opinion. Those things aren’t always easy to face but the more I practice the more I open myself up to deeper, and authentic interactions and relationships.

3. Agree to something you wouldn’t normally consider.

I don’t love group activities, but sometimes I agree and I almost always enjoy myself. It has helped me to discover how adaptable I can be with different types of people.

I get pretty stressed in a leadership role, but I’ve taken them, and have found I can actually be pretty great at pulling people together.

I love making art, but I dislike commissions. While I know part of this is that I prefer the freedom to make what I like, I also know that deep down I struggle to believe I am good enough. But I’m trying to throw that belief away. If someone approaches me to do something, they likely believe I am capable. So I try to believe it too. Because I am.

This is and will always be an evolving list. Because I’m always evolving, and I’m committed to the challenge of figuring out how to be my best self. And I’m discovering that the toughest part of that growth is facing the fact that I am often my own worst enemy.

Doing what you want takes courage. And it seems quite often we stand in our own way. I’m certainly not perfect, I’m always trying to sell myself on some story of doubt. Telling myself I can’t do this, or that. I say, “well maybe it’s just easy for that guy, if I was richer, more privileged, more talented, more personable, maybe I could do it too.” I shouldn’t even try, right? Wrong! It doesn’t matter if I’m taking a big leap or a tiny step, when I step out of my comfort zone I’m setting fire to all of the stories I’ve written to myself that say “I can’t.” You see I finally got sick of my own bullshit. I got sick of trying to adapt for everyone else. I got sick of the limitations I imposed on myself. I got sick of waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel and I lit that bitch myself.

And you can too!

Gallery-Written · Kiddos · Life · Marriage · Mind & Spirit~Reflection, Habits & Self Care

Goodness.

I know I’m starting to sound like the bad news bear on here, but I promise you I am really a very happy person. I am happy, but the fact of the matter is that life can really be very hard. There are times when it is just best to allow yourself to be sad. If we are lucky enough to have a life filled with love, it only makes sense that we will have a life touched by grief. Grief may be the price of love, but it is worth every penny. My family recently lost someone very important to us. His name was Ed, he was my father in law, my husbands Dad and our sons Grandpa. We will always miss him, but he was a wonderful man who left an impression on people wherever he went. I can’t help but want to share his memory, and the message his life represented. We would like nothing more than to carry on his legacy, sharing love, and goodness. And hopefully helping others to look for, or find something sweet when everything seems sour.

This is the story of Ed, according to someone who loved him:

-The other day my son and I were at the pharmacy picking up a few things for the funeral. While we were waiting in line my little guy was looking at the packages of mini aero bars. He just stared at them and then finally said, “It’s too bad Grandpa died, now I won’t get anymore aero bars”. As you can imagine my heart ached hearing our boy try to make sense of this loss. I stopped what I was doing and we had a little talk. I told him we can still have aero bars, and now when we do we can think of Grandpa. I told him we can even share them like Grandpa used to. I cleared that shelf, filling our cart with the aero bars.

It also prompted me to write this. We shared it, and our chocolate bars today as we celebrated Ed. I hope he would have been honoured.

If you knew Ed, you’d know that when ever something was hard, or unfair or unfavourable, there was one phrase that was sure to come out of Ed’s mouth. That phrase was “Goodness”.

If he heard someone was going through a hard time, he’d say: “Goodness “.

If he was working, and things weren’t going well, he’d say: “Goodness”.

Or even when something simple happened-maybe seeing one of his grandkids spill their cup, he’d smile encouragingly and say : “Goodness!”

Say it with me now : “Goodness!”

Ed lived his life, saying and spreading goodness. He worked hard, up to the age of 78 in fact. He shared what he had and helped people when he could. He enjoyed the simple life. Family and friends were on the top of his list. He enjoyed nothing more than a good visit over coffee, and he never forgot to make sure his grand kids always had their fill of chocolate—usually the biggest aero bars he could find.

If he wasn’t spending time with family, he was likely on the tractor, both at work and home. Or maybe puttering away in the garden. He enjoyed fellowship with friends at church. And was often found reading his bible, the bargain hunter, or one of his natural health books—and then trying to convince his family and friends to check out whatever he’d been reading. His top recommendation for almost every ailment was to try apple cider vinegar. And if that didn’t work, try chocolate.

Something sour and something sweet. Ed knew something we all will. He knew that in this life, we are going to have to face our share of sour and sweet. Hardships and blessings.

Right now we are enduring our hardships. Our hearts although broken continue to beat. So I think right now it’s best to remember Ed and everything he taught us. Remember to take the sour, but always be on the look out for something sweet. And when you find it, get your fill! Share it! And remember that regardless of what this life brings you, don’t forget——“Goodness”

Be sure to like Sm’Art & Smitten on Facebook. Thank you for sharing.

Gallery-Written · Kiddos · Life · Marriage · Mind & Spirit~Reflection, Habits & Self Care

Infertility Anonymous: We are 1 in 6.

I would say this club was exclusive but with statistics saying that 1 in 6 couples are dealing with the pain of infertility I know this can’t be true. Why is it then that it feels exclusive? It feels like you are the only one dealing with this? That the universe has singled you out, maybe even punishing you for your past sins? It took me awhile to get it, but I finally realized that although this wasn’t an exclusive club it was definitely a secret one!

My dad had struggled with alcoholism, so I knew a thing or two about keeping secrets, telling lies to hide the pain, shame and anger of it all. Tuck it back, keep a stiff upper lip, don’t let anybody see that you are weak, you are flawed, you are broken. And there you are, somehow you’ve arrived, your own secret club: Infertility Anonymous.

I had never expected to find myself in this club. I had fallen in love with Mike in high school. He had already navigated the world of teen parenthood, and he was fully aware of the stigma that stained him. He was just a child himself when he was blessed with that bouncing baby boy. His relationship with the mother was a mess, however, and the break up even worse.

He was always in a tug of war with himself: fight for a relationship and potentially make things worse; or, let him go and accept whatever he was offered, hoping the lil’ guy wouldn’t hate him too much for it. For the most part Mike chose the latter, hoping that if he wasn’t intruding too much, Joe would be better off. It was less painful for him to view it as an adoption of sorts, but at the same time he knowingly accepted the title of deadbeat. Needless to say the thought of pregnancy and parenthood made me a little apprehensive and Mike utterly terrified. With my always irregular cycle, I know there were many times we both stared at a pregnancy test praying it was negative, never knowing that years later we’d be doing the same but trying to will it to be positive.

We were married just over three years (we were together for eight) when we started trying. I was only 23 and he was 25, so it still felt kind of rebellious. It was fun back then, we’d pull the goalie so to speak (that’s Canadian for having unprotected sex) and I assumed that in no time I’d be knocked up. How hard could it be? He’d done it before, and my family was like a baby factory so I figured we would have this baby making business in the bag.

Almost a year slides by and nothing. My always irregular periods are now nearly nonexistent, so I visit my GP. Blood tests and ultrasounds reveal nothing. It might be PCOS or endometriosis, but they aren’t sure. I read anything I can find on these topics and it appears to make sense: my weight gain seems out of control; my period is irregular; and my hormones are all over the place. I research every possibility and try to listen to what my doctor told me: “You are young, some of these things make it take longer, keep trying.” I am diagnosed with Hashimotos Thyroiditis and honestly I’m thrilled. I think, “that must be the problem.” Now I can fix it and all of my dreams and plans can start happening. We keep trying and I can’t help but buy things for our baby. We have discussions all the time about this hypothetical baby. What will the gender be? What should we name him/her? Will this angel have my eyes or Mike’s adorable dimples? I dare to think there is hope. Another year slides by and then another. I’ve seen several specialists, each one passing me along to another, and with each one, I’m put on waiting lists. Everything moves at a snails pace and I try to be patient, but it seems that no one can help me and my frustration grows. I get all kinds of instruments and doctors poking around in my downstairs. They still aren’t sure what the problem is, but we try clomid again, do more tests and talk about other methods to induce ovulation, injections and way more tests.

By this time it all feels very clinical, the passion, excitement and glowing prospect of pregnancy have long since faded.

But shortly after year five, finally a breakthrough: an MRI confirms that I have a brain tumour. I take it in stride as its benign and thankfully the treatment means I may get pregnant after all. Unfortunately, though, the medication makes me feel nauseous all the time and my mood swings border on dangerous. Again we find another year creeping by and still no baby. To make matters worse, everywhere I turn there are beautiful little babies being born. Each perfect chubby cherub I see rubs salt in my wounds.

My family and friends had been asking for some time if we plan on starting a family. One old fella at the restaurant I worked even goes as far as to say I should throw my wedding rings in the bush if I don’t wanna give my man a family. I try my best to keep my secret hidden, brush their questions and comments aside and stay where I feel safe: hidden within the walls of my secret club. Every now and then the cracks would show. I would tell someone my secret, and they would offer advice, all with good intentions of course, but nothing they say can help. It just makes me angry. They say “Maybe you should adopt” and I’d think sure, no biggie, just years of being under a microscope, years of waiting, a hefty price tag for foreign adoption or the potential of heartbreak if the “real mother” as I saw it at the time, changes her mind and takes the baby back. Or they’d casually tell me “just do IVF,” as if the physical and financial burdens that go along with it could possibly come close to a casual decision. But the most common nugget of advice was just to “RELAX” and honestly its not the worst advice, but it didn’t help in any way. I always found myself fantasizing about inflicting pain on the person who so graciously offered this bit of wisdom. It was far too painful to tell them we’d been researching adoption since about year three. I was too embarrassed to tell them how I’d been saving for years to “buy my baby” and that with each medical attempt and subsequent failure I would retreat even farther into my secret club. I built walls, I dug holes, I did whatever I could to keep people out, even my husband. This was my cross to bear. After all it was my fault, it was my body that wasn’t doing as it was intended. How could I tell anyone that deep down I feared I had somehow been marked by death? With my Dad and grandparents all gone, it was as if the grim reaper was on my heels, definitely to close to bring forth life.

Depression washed over me. The pain of the infertility was like the grief of losing my father, maybe worse,because it seemed like no one would understand. It was like it didn’t matter to anyone. I was carrying all of this pain and they didn’t even notice. But how could they know, after all I always kept the doors to my secret club locked up tight.

I hate to compare infertility to death, it sounds so dramatic, but for me it was like that. I had dreamed of growing old with someone, having a bunch of babies and one day watching our grand babes play while we sat on our front porch. They were simple dreams, maybe even kinda cheesy, but they seemed to be dying and there was nothing I could do but work through the grief. Like one does with any kind of loss; I went through the shock and denial, moved onto anger, bargaining and depression and finally acceptance. And I know, this all sounds very heavy, but that was why I had my club. And although I felt safe when I would retreat there. It was a very lonely place to be. It took a long time, but eventually I accepted that my vision of “how things were supposed to go” had died. I slowly realized that by tearing down that old dream, I was able to open up, let a bit of sun shine in and start building some new dreams. I found friends I loved and trusted, I let some of my pain spill out and they listened. I finally opened up to one of my high school friends and found she was building her own secret club. I wondered how many of us are out there? Each situation is similar but just different enough to keep us feeling alone, secluded. I started talking and slowly my walls came down. I reached out to groups on the internet. Each story was bittersweet, filled with ups and downs. I began to view things in a new light. Each couple pushed past fear and loss and kept trying, despite enormous challenges. They weren’t broken or weak. They were strong, determined and resilient. If they were all of those things, then maybe I was too. I was still in a secret club as the internet offered anonymity, but I could speak and share my feelings without fear. We Infertile had our own code, a secret language I couldn’t seem to get the hang of…TTC 6.5yrs, 2 rounds s.o, iui’s, considering ivf. Every story was like a lifeline, a rope that helped me cling to hope. Maybe I would be somebody’s mama someday, even if it wasn’t the way I had envisioned. Each friend that let me cry on there shoulder or listened to an angry rant, was actually helping me climb out of the holes I had dug. I told my husband all of my deep dark secrets, the jealousy I harboured toward the people who had been bestowed this blessing, pregnant woman especially. I was even upset with him, he was a father and even if the situation hadn’t been ideal, he had a child and I had nothing. I revealed the anger I felt when someone dared to complain to me about their superb fertility, the pitfalls of parenting, their pregnancy, or, the circumstances of the birth. It was an envy I couldn’t escape. I’d give anything to have those things to complain about, to trade in my membership, switch from Infertility Anonymous over to the Mommy Martyrs Club. I worried that with those thoughts, he’d think I was a monster; but he didn’t. So I’d test him, say something ridiculous or crazy, we’d see a cute baby and I’d ask him “Do you want that one? I mean it comes with a stroller and everything.” It’s an awful joke I know, but oddly, even that level of crazy didn’t scare him off. I figured he must really love me, maybe I’m safe out here after all. We both have clouds that follow us and they roll in from time to time, and sometimes we get caught in the storm. Even though we couldn’t stop the rain from falling, we could hold each other till it went away. That’s what we did. As they say “without the rain, there would never be rainbows,” and for us this was true. Finally in August of 2012 after nearly seven years of waiting, we received our miracle, our baby. I had heard that a baby may be one of the most common place of miracles, but it was miracle just the same.

I suppose I’ll never know why we were chosen to be in this infertility club, but mine will no longer be anonymous. I hope that like me you find some comfort in finding out that you aren’t alone. I hope that you find people you trust to talk to and help you carry this burden. And most of all I pray that you all find a way to cling together, weathering the storm while you wait for your miracle. Keep your hope alive and focus on seeing that rainbow.