<![CDATA[J. E. Flanagan - Holier Than Thou]]>Mon, 28 Dec 2015 00:01:13 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Sometimes you need a little R.A.I.N. (AKA: a post about how mindfulness continues to blow my mind and soothe my heart)...]]>Mon, 28 Dec 2015 03:42:07 GMThttp://www.jeflanagan.com/holier-than-thou/sometimes-you-need-a-little-rain-aka-a-post-about-how-mindfulness-continues-to-blow-my-mind-and-soothe-my-heartI made a mistake at work. And it was one of those mistakes that I didn't realize I was making at the time. Oh no. It was one of those insidious mistakes that lingered just on the edge of consciousness and it picked a moment ripe with calm and unassuming contentment to make it's judgemental nature known. Even more importantly, there was not one thing I could of done about it because the mistake had been made two days ago, and any repercussions from it had long since played out.

I tried to be mindful about it. I really did. I tried to really feel the guilt and frustration, and to accept them just as they were. I tried. But I couldn't. Instead, I combed Google for any scrap of information about my mistake and what the consequences could have been. I listened to Podcasts about nursing practice updates in an attempt to achieve some kind of intellectual penance for my mistake. I berated myself for about two days, trying really hard to apply my beloved practice of mindfulness to the situation. My brain slipped back into old patterns of ebbing and flowing guilt, intense and furious inner monologues of how could this of happened, followed by as many episodes of a nineties sitcom I could handle just to quiet things down a little. The slap stick comedy was no match for the judgement parade running a muck in my psyche. I always came back to the question: How did you let this happen?

My self-punishment is an old habit, one that I used to use as means of self-improvement: If I just emotionally and mentally abused myself a little more, then I would never ever make the same dumb mistake again. I have learned the fallacy of this and have found so much peace in this learning, but the habit runs deep and is something I will never, ever truly quash because it is a part of me.

I decided to listen to one of Tara Brach's talks as a mindfulness practice, and found myself sobbing with such joy and love by the end of it. Tara spoke of the RAIN method of approaching these difficult times, in which we first Recognize that we have been swept up in something, maybe guilt, anger, anxiety or any other innumerable combinations of difficult and clouding emotions, thoughts or feelings. We recognize it. Then we Accept it. I realized that I had gotten to this part a couple of times over the past week once my brain decided to bake three-thousand cookies of self-loathing and guilt, all frosted with a fabulous glaze of impotence. But then we hit the next step: Investigate. Tara spoke of investigating what this part of myself needed. I could not change the fact that I wanted to punish myself, over and over, no matter how much logic or distraction I threw in the mix, but then I knew that I could add something even better. I needed to know that I was loved and cared for, no matter how many mistakes I made. And that love needed to come from me.
And finally Nourish. I needed to nourish that part of me that was suffering. I knew what it needed and now I had to let myself have it.

I have so much love in my life. I have many dear friends and family, and a very supportive work environment. I have so much external love but at that moment, I needed to give it to myself. I put my hands across my chest and said: I love you and I care about you, even when you don't love or care about yourself.

I'm actually welling up thinking about it. Whoa. I could be so angry and disappointed in myself, but another part of me, a wise and deep part of me that is rooted in truth of all shades, could love and accept all of it. The part that made the mistake. The part that couldn't get over it. The part that ate all the potato chips.

And then she read one of my favourite poems and that really pushed me over the edge. I had a really fantastic cry about the whole thing:




My beloved child, 
Break your heart no longer, 
Each time you judge yourself you break your own heart 
You stop feeding on the love which is the wellspring of your vitality 
The time has come, your time 
To live to celebrate and to see the goodness that you are… 
Let no one, no thing, no idea or ideal obstruct you 
If one comes, even in the name of ‘Truth’, forgive it for its 
Unknowing 
Do not fight 
Let go 
And breathe, into the goodness that you are. 
Bapuji


I am so moved by this experience that I had to share. May you hold yourself in your heart as you would a frightened child and give all the love and acceptance you have.

PS- Tara Brach is hilarious, kind and wise. I have listened to several of her Podcasts and recommend any one of them. Here is a link to the one I mentioned above:

http://www.tarabrach.com/selfcompassion/


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<![CDATA[Accepting ourselves...even if that means accepting that we can't accept ourselves]]>Sun, 11 Jan 2015 20:05:43 GMThttp://www.jeflanagan.com/holier-than-thou/accepting-ourselveseven-if-that-means-accepting-that-we-cant-accept-ourselvesI used to use a strategy of self-consoling for a variety of supposed deficits I identified in myself. Whatever my inner critic voiced opposition too, maybe it was something I said or did, a kinder part of me yelled right back, arguing why these things were simply not true.

It’s really not that bad, stop worrying.
Nobody noticed, and if they did, they don’t care.
You’re overthinking this, don’t sweat it.
etc...


This could work sometimes, other times not so much. It didn't matter how much logic I applied to my feelings of self-loathing, they were just there to stay. There was such a melting pot of thoughts and feelings that my brain was overwhelmed and couldn't focus on the kind logic I was trying to apply to the situation.

During my blessed introduction to the practice of mindfulness, I did a series of guided meditations. I started giggling with joyful relief during one such session, because the instructions were to accept myself as I was at that moment, and if I couldn't do it, then to accept that instead.

Whoa. It was okay to accept that I didn't much like myself, or that thoughts of judgement couldn't stop bubbling to the surface. That was okay, so long as I did so with awareness. This took the power out of those harsh thoughts and sore feelings, because it brought them down a peg. They were not accurate assessors of all my other feelings and states of beings, they were just one of the many. And they needed to be accepted too.

I have recently embarked upon a journey of learning that means being vulnerable so that my knowledge gaps and skill deficits can be brought to light and remedied. This is hard. And I feel stupid sometimes. And then I get angry at myself for feeling stupid. And then I accept that anger. And then I get back to what I was doing, because that angry or chastising voice is now just one in the choir. I accept myself, even the part of me that wants to wallow in self-reproach.

It's that simple, and that complicated all at once.

Sending love and hugs to all, as we are, in this very moment.


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<![CDATA[I don’t want to hear about your first world problems…]]>Mon, 15 Dec 2014 07:08:11 GMThttp://www.jeflanagan.com/holier-than-thou/i-dont-want-to-hear-about-your-first-world-problems
Anytime someone wants to vent about their problems, they always let it all out and then tag on an apologetic “I know, first world problems, right?”. They don’t want to be that person who bitches about their broken hair straightener, poor WiFi connections and no parking, while being completely oblivious to how bad it really can be.

I’ve given up on this little form of apology because it does two things:

1.    Belittles our problems. Are my frustrations, inconveniences and sadnesses the most soul crushing of them all? Probably not even close. But I don’t give a shit, they are mine and yours are yours. They are not invalid just because we have food on our tables and running water.

2.    False sense of acknowledgment. We get a little relief when we tack on this saying because we’re also conveying that we get it. We could be so much worse off. This does nothing to help the eight year old boy soldier in Sierra Leone, the Russian girl enslaved in a brothel in Amsterdam or the thousands of people grieving the loss of their loved ones to the ravages of Ebola in a place where basic sanitation could of done wonders to prevent it. We don’t get it. We never will. And while gratitude is a beautiful thing, crapping on our daily woes or just bucking up ‘cause it ain’t that bad is not the same thing.


So don’t tell me about your first world problems. Tell me about your problems. And the next time you’re listening to someone rant on and on about the fact that the store ran out of those pants they really, really wanted and oh my God, it is so unfair…don’t be shitty. Just think, wow, this person really wanted those pants. Either this person has been shaped by a superficial, judgmental society to put this sort of thing on the forefront of their mind at all times which must be so emotionally draining it hurts, or, they were really nice fucking pants.




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<![CDATA[Self-esteem vs Self-compassion: the showdown]]>Thu, 02 Oct 2014 21:40:40 GMThttp://www.jeflanagan.com/holier-than-thou/self-esteem-vs-self-compassion-the-showdown               
I got an email from Mindful Living Vancouver the other day talking about the differences between self-esteem and self-compassion. I loved it so much that I decided to paraphrase.

Self-esteem is externally based on what you can accomplish. We want to see results! Are you just the prettiest girl ever? Excellent. Did you do really well in math? Wonderful. Are you super active and have the abs to prove it? Oh my, you are tops.

Now, there's nothing wrong with any of these things at all...until one's sense of self-worth, their self-esteem, becomes based on them. It becomes difficult to distinguish ourselves from the pack and suddenly, we don't feel worth so much when we are just merely blending in. This is not very fair to us or those around us.

Our brain is working overtime on strategies and plans to make us better, more beautiful, and more important. Go to the gym! Eat better! Buy a better car! Own a house! Go back to school! Dress better!

And again, these are wonderful things to do, but they are by no means acceptable measurements of our self-worth. We want to be magical, one-of-a-kind unicorns but the truth is, society has narrow margins for what is considered exceptional and it does not allow for mistakes, failures and being average. We can either kill ourselves trying to be special, or we can give up. What's the point of trying to stand out at all? It's too hard. Both of these options are brutal and unkind.

But wait, there's a door number three! Self-compassion.

It's accepting yourself as you are, in this very moment. This is not the same as complacency or laziness. Far from it. Accepting ourselves is one of the hardest things we will ever do and it requires a moment by moment effort because it is so easy to get swallowed up by the rush to be more and to do more.

You and I are enough, we always have been and always will be, even when living through our harshest times, thoughts and feelings, we are enough.

I feel like I should namaste this shizzle or something.

http://www.mindful-living.ca/


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<![CDATA[How giving up on trying to fix my depression actually fixed my depression...]]>Thu, 14 Aug 2014 00:21:44 GMThttp://www.jeflanagan.com/holier-than-thou/how-giving-up-on-trying-to-fix-my-depression-actually-fixed-my-depression Have you ever thought you needed to just be better? Until recently, I generally thought this about myself. I mean come on, as far as global existence goes, I won the freaking lottery! I live in Canada. I have a great partner. I am educated and have a wonderful job. I have enough to eat, I can buy that really cute dress if I want it, and I always have a safe place to sleep at night...so why the fudge was I always so sad?

This was my mantra through many cycles of depression, although I didn't call it that at the time. Instead, I thought maybe I just wasn't eating enough kale, or maybe I just needed to get my lazy ass to the gym. Maybe I was just hormonal. Whatever the cause, my sadness never felt valid. It felt like an inconvenience to those around me. Basically it always boiled down to Why the fuck can't I just be better?

This is not a kind way to live and because I know so many others experience this, I decided to put out a very personal and profoundly life changing collection of lessons I have recently learned through therapy and a whole crap ton of meditation.


1. I can't fix how I feel

Our brains are so big and complex, and they are always churning away for solutions to the data they are taking in. When my brain took in the data of sorrow, guilt, sadness or just plain pissed off, it tried really hard to fix it by offering infinite analyses of why I felt that way and what I needed to do to turn off this painful experience. What I finally got was that I can't fix how I feel, but more importantly, I don't need to fix it.


2. Feelings are passing experiences

We dichotomize feelings into “good” and “bad”. With these simplistic labels we do our damndest to keep only “good” feelings flowing and try oh so hard to push away the “bad” feelings. I apologize for the excessive use of quotations but I felt sick writing “good” and “bad” without them because no feeling is “good” or “bad”, feelings just are. They are passing experiences and deserve to be honoured. They do not define me but they are a part of me, and that makes all of them good.


3. I'm allowed to feel how I feel

This one is tricky. Feeling how you feel is not a free pass to be shitty to other people. In fact, it's just the opposite. Truly feeling how I felt, and being with my emotions allowed them the time to flourish and fade. When we don't allow these feelings to be, they mutate and come spilling out in other ways like shitty comments, impatience and frustration, all directed at ourselves and our loved ones. So now when I am righteously pissed off or so freaking sad I just don't know what I am going to do, I sit with it. I really feel it. I very gently and very kindly shush the part of my brain that is trying to justify and analyse my current pain, and just let myself have a moment to feel exactly what I'm feeling.


4. Thoughts are not reality

Just because I can think it, doesn't make it real and in need of a reaction. Sometimes I would get so hung up on thoughts as if they were intuitive manifestations and needed to be tweezed apart and turned over again and again. But the truth was that nope, it was just my brain doing what it does, thinking away. Now I see thoughts as passing experiences, just like feelings. And I don't kill myself trying to solve the complex equations that are my thoughts. They're just thoughts. And just like feelings, I sometimes sit with them.

The best visualization my therapist gave me for thoughts was to think of them as leaves floating on a creek, just running by in front of me. Sometimes the creek is raging and flooded with leaves vying for my attention, and sometimes the creek is meandering with only a few leaves here and there. But no matter the speed, I now know that I can just sit on the creek's bank and watch the leaves go by. There is no need to jump in and get carried away.


5. I am always enough, just as I am

I still get sad. I still get happy. My brain still churns out a billion What if? scenarios for no reason. I still don't go to the gym. And I am enough. I always have been and always will be enough. Don't get me wrong, things that people suggested to help me during my lows  like going to the gym and eating well are great things to do for ourselves but they don't define us as “good enough”, and while they can support mental well being, they are not a dependable fix. I mean, what if I were to break my leg and suddenly couldn't run for awhile? Would I still be enough? The answer is damn straight I would. Happy, sad, anxious or confident, we are always good enough.


Much love to all of us, as we are, in this very moment.




For my journey I was fortunate enough to have a therapist who recommended an off-shoot of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy called Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy. It is a meditation based 8 week program that can be done with one-to-one therapy, group therapy or with a buddy.




Below are some links for tools or groups that have helped me on this journey.


Vancouver CBT center:

http://www.vancouvercbt.ca/


The Mindful Way Workbook:

http://www.amazon.ca/Mindful-Way-Workbook-Depression-Emotional/dp/1462508146/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1407957471&sr=1-4&keywords=mindfulness+based+cognitive+therapy+workbook



Headspace App-Take Ten is a free ten day collection of beginner's meditation:

https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app



Mindful Living Vancouver-offers group MBCT sessions:

https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app

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<![CDATA[No one is getting out alive]]>Wed, 04 Jun 2014 02:00:40 GMThttp://www.jeflanagan.com/holier-than-thou/no-one-is-getting-out-aliveWe post pictures of baby bumps, tiny onesies and rubber ducky cupcakes. We lavish each other with delicate pinks and soft blues, all paying homage to new life. We say congratulations. 

All the glorious meat and potatoes of life in between first and last breaths is uncertain and unique to each human life. That first gasp that assaults our systems with life giving air and the finale exhale that ends it all are the only constants. 

And while we celebrate the start, we desperately hide from the latter. We pretend that it is something that can be avoided, and if we can't postpone the inevitable, then we blame. We blame that incompetent doctor, we blame the stressful home life, we blame ourselves.

The sobering truth, the one that can pull us from a frenzy of anger, busy work and busy minds, is that we are all going to die.

The absolute disgust with death is something I have seen in my fledgling nursing career over and over. And many times, I'm right there with my patients and their families, championing the rage war of just how unfair and awful it can be sometimes. But I know that, despite our best efforts to rationalize, balance cosmic karma budgets and pray, that death will still come.

And we need to be more okay with this.

Please don't mistake my bold request as a lack of empathy. I empathize. I don't want my patients to die. I don't want their families to weep. I don't want DNAR forms to be considerations. I don't want death messing with my own life.

I want us to live big, beautiful bold eternities. And maybe this is what happens. But in the here and now, with a heart made of meat that does not recognize eternity, we need to accept that death is here and always will be.

Before we get to the edge, holding back death with an arsenal of feeding tubes, ventilators and antibiotics, before our loved ones get there, we need to think: Is this right? Or is this death?

Because if it is death, the fight to hold it off will be expensive financially, emotionally and spiritually. And there is no real fight, just an inevitability.

And to anyone suffering the sting of loss, this post might come across as arrogant. I assure you I am posting with nothing but love and humble intentions.

To rip off one of my patient's zen thoughts (who may of ripped it off of someone else): We need to stop praying for miracles. We are the miracles.


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<![CDATA[Six reasons leggings and tights are total balls...]]>Thu, 17 Apr 2014 00:11:43 GMThttp://www.jeflanagan.com/holier-than-thou/six-reasons-leggings-and-tights-are-total-ballsI love tights and leggings.

Generally they are cheap, colourful and so damn comfy. When you get a good pair, they hug like a kind pair of Spanx. 

But nothing is perfect, not even leggings or a really great pair of tights. It varies between pairs, brands, and how much you pretend that fashion leggings or tights are also workout wear, but eventually they will all succumb to one of six fates:

1.       The Diaper Bum: If we’re being honest, this is usually the result of shoving too much trunk into too little leggings. Eventually the man-made super hero fabric loses its fabulousness and you look like you have a wrinkly butt. No amount of hiking, shifting or praying can fix a pair of leggings lost to Diaper Bum.

2.       The Penguin: Like the Diaper Bum, this one could also be the result of too much in too little but it could also be that your tights are pieces of crap with no waist elastic. The leggings shimmy down, little by little, until your stride is impaired and you desperately need to find a bathroom, closet or dark corner to really get to the heart of the matter and hoist those puppies up. After a pair does the Penguin once, it will do it again. And again. Keep these if you’re just going to be sitting the whole time.

3.       The Hidden Shame: Tights are far more prone to this than thicker leggings, and pantyhose are by far the most susceptible to the Hidden Shame but truly, it can happen to all three. The Hidden Shame is a run that doesn't show itself before you put the leggings on and then is proudly on display as the fabric stretches over your leg…usually along the back of your thigh so you get to walk around all day like that before noticing.

4.       The Man Fit: Reverse the Diaper Bum and you get the idea. You will pull, yank and adjust to smooth out the wrinkly Man Fit but to no avail: the leggings or tights have bit it.

5.       The Ghetto: This one is so unfortunate. The leggings aren’t to blame at all. A small hole makes the leggings completely unwearable unless you are five, then it’s just cute. But if you’re a grown up you have to let these ones go and swear curses at the desk corner/rogue nail/ sharp random piece of metal that murdered your still kicking leggings.

6.       The Breeze: I once bought a pair of tights and had the Breeze by the end of the first wear. The Breeze will happen very quickly in very snug or very delicate tights such as lace or fishnet styles. The Breeze is the worst because it spreads and soon you've got such a gap that it seems like you kinda meant to look so inappropriate.

Sigh.
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<![CDATA[Get over it: the mantra of the privileged...]]>Fri, 28 Feb 2014 19:13:13 GMThttp://www.jeflanagan.com/holier-than-thou/get-over-it-the-mantra-of-the-privilegedWhen I first heard about the florist refusing to do the arrangements for a gay couple’s wedding because it conflicted with her religious beliefs, I had to take a moment. I had to stop and really think on why this refusal of service was wrong. Then I thought about whether or not it would have been wrong to refuse to do the flowers for an interracial couple’s wedding and everything became clear. This couple wasn’t asking for the florist to do anything that she wasn’t already doing as a part of her business plan. And while I do feel for these business owners being vilified because of their very personal conflict, I still support any legislation that protects the LGTB community from discrimination because no matter how we dice it, that’s what refusal of service in these particular instances was. These couples were being discriminated against for who they were.

To push comparisons a bit further, I thought I’d put out there some other things that are generally not accepted about the one-man-one-woman-marriage. Divorce is also frowned upon, so should wedding planners and cake makers be able to refuse jobs that would make them party to a second, third or fourth marriage? What about straight couples that aren’t planning to have children and their heterosexual marriage has nothing to do with the expansion of their families? Should these people also be refused services because their wedding is not the start of the “ideal” marriage? The bottom line is that it is not the place of these people to validate the marriage of the patrons, gay or straight. 

Now I know the easiest thing for all involved would have been for this couple to just go somewhere else where their business was welcome. In other words, to get over it.

Being the accepted norm makes me privileged. And in that privilege I can be ignorant or forget the struggle of those who are not. I can say things like: it’s not like I ever had slaves, maybe Black people should just let it go. Or I could say: First Nations people get free education and so many subsidies; they should just get over residential schools and get on with their lives.

But by that thinking a man could also say to me: women have all the same opportunities as men, this whole feminism thing needs to die. And this would rightly piss me right off. I would say: who are you to say that women need to get over it? I don’t see you with a uterus being tossed around the political table. I don’t see half of Canadian men experiencing sexual assault. I don’t see you making less than your coworkers for doing the same job.

And then I'd  say, wow, that really sucked having someone assume that everything was okay and I should just get over it. I think sometimes we confuse standing up for ourselves as being angry or bitter just because we can. There may be some people who have their claws out and lash at something said out of honest ignorance. But as my favorite saying goes: please see the hurt behind my anger.

Someday Black Pride month and Gay Pride parades and feminism may not be needed, maybe someday as an entire society we will have all gotten over it because there is nothing left to get over. That is the goal but do not let your place of privilege fool you into thinking that we are already there.

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<![CDATA[It sucks to suck at things...]]>Mon, 24 Feb 2014 18:29:03 GMThttp://www.jeflanagan.com/holier-than-thou/it-sucks-to-suck-at-thingsSo I’ve always thought that snowboarding looked cool and ridiculously fun. I never learned to do it as a kid, for shame, so at 30 I am now a novice snowboarder.

The first day I took a lesson. Anytime my board picked up speed greater than what a healthy snail could muster, I bailed. Except twice. Twice I gave into it and you know what? It was awesome.

The second time I went snowboarding, I headed straight for the bunny hill. I spent more time sitting and waiting for hoards of children to confidently slide down the mountain than I did going down myself. 

A combination of fear, embarrassment and shitty weather led to a day that can only be classified as mildly productive. I packed it in earlier than my partner on both day 1 and 2, and I will give you one guess as to who is the better boarder by this point…like miles better.

On our third trip, I felt a sinking feeling the whole way up the mountain. The glorious buzz of my two successful runs on the first day was gone. I sullenly strapped on my board, glided for less than a minute before panicking about a throng of children in the vicinity, and then kicked it off. I trudged over to my partner through really nice powder and declared “I hate snowboarding”. Being new still himself, my partner didn’t have a life line to throw me.

He set off and practiced linking his turns, falling and then getting back up. Over and over. And then he went down a real run and had the best time…without me.

And for a brief moment I was able to convince myself that my husband just liked snow more than me and was a natural. Yes, of course, that was why he was now having fun and I was drinking piss water tea in the lodge. That was why he was succeeding and I was failing.

But I couldn't deny the sad truth for long: he had put in the work that I wasn't willing to. A combination of fear and an easily bruised ego was holding me back.

It is so much easier to think of ourselves doing something rad like going back to school or kicking ass at a new sport than it is to actually doing it. But liking the idea of doing something just doesn't cut it. 

I've decided I’m gonna try again. Like actually try and not waste a beautiful day of snow. I know it’s gonna be all kinds of lame but just maybe I’ll come out the other side only mildly banged up with an ear to ear smile. I’m gonna try again because it’s so important to try new things that scare the shit out of us. It lights up dark corners of our brains and makes us feel alive.

Plus, snowboarders are cool. I desperately want to be cool.

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<![CDATA[Hey, Tomorrow Self, do you mind being responsible? I'm just not into it today...]]>Wed, 05 Feb 2014 20:58:16 GMThttp://www.jeflanagan.com/holier-than-thou/hey-tomorrow-self-do-you-mind-being-responsible-im-just-not-into-it-todayI sometimes leave lists for Tomorrow Self. These lists include reading up on important topics like shark fining and the Keystone pipeline. The lists also have something like tackling Mount Dirty Laundry or getting on my hands and knees and actually cleaning my floors...as opposed to kinda smearing the dropped food around with my socks. And of course, getting some mood-pumping exercise in. I also like to ask Tomorrow Self to work on that healthy eating meal plan and shopping list.
Tomorrow Self is ambitious, organized and able to prioritize. There is zero need for Tomorrow Self to watch hours of television or scroll Facebook repeatedly. Tomorrow Self is the shit.
It's too bad that every time Tomorrow Self gets close to taking the wheel, Today Self gets in the driver's seat...and then gets out and returns to the couch.

I kinda wish I had the same priorities and expectations that Child Self had for her Tomorrow Self. I was to grow up, get a job and use my money to buy cake mixes so I could eat all that shit without baking it first! Seriously, that was my goal. And cookie dough. I wanted to eat a whole crap-ton of raw cookie dough.
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