My Brand of Happiness

I wake up to the sound of the Nespresso brewing rather than the sing-song of my alarm. My eyes open slowly, allowing the sun to kiss my eyelashes. I stretch my arms and legs; the side of the bed where my husband sleeps is still warm. The scent of coffee reaches my nostrils and I exhale with a smile. I flip onto my back and look around our bedroom. It’s cozy and safe. I pick up the notebook from my nightstand and write. Even a line or two feels right…

that’s my brand of happiness

It’s Saturday morning and we’re on the way to my parents’ house. Alex is driving, the windows are down, we have coffee in our cup holders, and we have 90’s music blaring as we sing along. We’re holding hands and cracking jokes. We arrive and I open the front door. It smells like pasta sauce. I hear my seven-year-old niece scream TIA’S HEREEEEEEE, while my five-year-old niece screams ZIOOOOOO!! They stomp their way to the front door and we’re wrapped in tiny arms. A moment later we hear the tiny bell around the dog’s neck as he waddles over requesting a belly rub.

that’s my brand of happiness

It’s Saturday evening and we’ve just finished dinner. We’re all sitting at the table, chatting, laughing, arguing. My mom tells a joke while my dad fills up the wine glasses. My sister washes the dishes we catch up. My brother helps clear the table and finds endearing ways to tease me at the same time.

that’s my brand of happiness

My phone buzzes – there’s a new message in the Family Group containing my in-laws (cousins, aunt, uncle and mother-in-law). There’s a video of the latest addition to our family, plus the regular ongoing banter, plan-making etc.

that’s my brand of happiness

As I sit in my family room and think about all of the things and people that make me happy, I’m also flooded with how much of 2020 didn’t include happiness. I’ve felt afraid, overwhelmed, underwhelmed, anxious, depressed, sad, and exhausted. There have been months of ongoing dread and instead of pretending that they didn’t exist, I let myself feel it.

I find happiness in a great cup of coffee, in a book, in writing down words, in time spent with my husband and family members, in conversations with my best Buddy, in sleeping in, and dancing around like fools.

Happiness is like success, we all have our own definitions and versions of it. Whatever your brand of happy, hold onto it and let if fill you up.

Gratitude is a better attitude

The physiotherapy office smells like Lysol and disappointment. The brand of hand sanitizer they require you to use burns your hands, as well as, your nostrils (even through my mask). I should be used to this by now, after a nine months of sanitizing my hands every minute of every day but I’m not.

The room that my mom and I sit in needs a paint job. The owners of the building opted for a greyish-blue rather than the usual beige or off-white that I’ve seen in other offices. It’s both interesting and off-putting. There are marks all over the walls and the baseboards are screaming to be dusted.

Thankfully it’s not long until we’re escorted to the back of the building. There is a bed for my mom to lay down on and a few very-well used pieces of equipment surrounding her. There’s also several fold up chairs and make-shift desks sitting against the walls.

They’ve asked my mom to try a new exercise. She’s given a long strap, kind of like a seatbelt. She places her foot in the middle and holds both sides of the strap, straightens her legs and pulls it up. Her legs flies up and I feel and intense amount of pride for the woman who not only carried three and birthed three children, but was limping around the house mere days ago from her knee-replacement surgery.

The physiotherapist is not as impressed as I am with my mom’s straight leg and speed. She asks her to slow down, a lot. You need to feel the muscles and you can’t feel them if you move too quickly. Mom deflates a bit but obeys, lifting her leg as high as she can and as slowly as she can. The physiotherapist asks for two sets of ten. Slowly, she repeats.

The first two are easy peasy lemony squeezy. The next 18 reps bring tears to her eyes. She grips the strap so hard that her hands turn white. Her leg shakes from the stress. Her breathing becomes heavy and laboured (the mask is not making things easier) but she pushes through – she always does. I grab her hand as she lets go of the strap, Great job, Mama!

After her appointment we stop at Tim Horton’s for our usual – two-medium-French-Vanillas-please. We do this after every appointment, it’s become a little tradition and one that I look forward to every week. On the drive home we sip our overly-sweet coffees and talk about nothing. I turn up the music as Mom rolls down her window and sparks up a cigarette. It’s a warm November day and my heart is full of gratitude and hope.

Unplanned

I don’t know about you but I can’t think about the future anymore. I was once the kind of woman who would go to bed thinking about all the things I had to do the next day. I would plan my outfits, my meals, my evening and weekend plans. I would have lists about lists and then, come up with more lists about lists.

A typical thought sequence before bed went something like this:

Okay tomorrow is Monday, so I’ll wake up at 5:30 and make my coffee and have a muffin. Then I’ll poop and shower, do my hair and make up and get dressed. I’ll wear my black pants and new shirt and boots. Then I’ll leave the house, grab a coffee and work. For dinner I’ll make pizza with Alex but before that I’ll work out, maybe a 30 minute Pop Sugar work out. After dinner I’ll shower, have a tea and get in some reading.

That is not an exaggeration. This is how I LIVED, always planning the next moment, the next meal, the next cleaning day. Every time someone would ask me so what are you up to this weekend? I would have many words to reply with. Since March, my answer has generally been the same. WFH, fitness, make dinner, read or Netflix, sleep. That is the general plan for all days and all weekends. I’ll throw in a stop at a coffee shop or a visit to my parent’s house but that’s it.

Honestly, I find that I can’t think past the next hour, let alone the next day. I don’t know what I’ll have for lunch or breakfast or what I’ll read next. Some days I find it insanely frustrating that I don’t have a plan but most of the time I love it. It’s added a level of calm to my life. For the first time I am taking life one moment at a time. Sitting in my feelings, stewing in my thoughts, marinating in the moments. Also, it would appear that I’m hungry, I think I’ll have some fruit.

Homesick Adult

 
Mom answers the FaceTime call with a smile and a smirk as if she knew I’d be calling her for help. She’s holding her phone too low, all I can see is her chin and up her nose, and yet I feel cozy as a newborn being swaddled. She’s making dinner at her house, so we have to be quick. My husband runs over and grabs my phone so he can show my mom what I’m doing. I follow her instructions as she yells them out:  Throw everything into the pan. Get a beer. Get the white wine. Poor them in, more. More. In all of the corners. Grab the salt, pepper, seasoned salt, garlic, and dried parsley. Add them in. More Vanessa, IT’S NOT GOING TO TASTE LIKE ANYTHING IF YOU DON’T ADD ENOUGH SPICES. No, that’s not enough, keep going. Okay. Wash your hands and mix it all together. You missed a corner. Okay now try it. The JUICE that you created with the wine and beer, Vanessa. I think it needs more salt, I know I can’t taste it but I can tell. Okay. You’re good. Now get it in the oven.

I’m wearing an apron from my first part-time job. It is faded black and reaches just above my knees. Across the chest is the familiar threaded white block letters that read CARUSO with a red and white line underneath.

I have a sink full of potatoes and defrosted sausage. The mushrooms, yellow, red, and orange peppers are already chopped and sitting hazardous close to the edge of my tiny kitchen counter. Every light in our condo is on and every blind is open as if the brightness will shed some light on what I should be doing with the ingredients in front of me. I know that they can be turned into something delicious. I know that with the addition of a few spices, our 600 square foot condo can smell exactly like my parent’s house. I just don’t know how.

This is the second meal I am making in our condo and if the first one is any indication, this too will be a tasteless nightmare. I’m not sure what happened with meal one. I did everything exactly how my mother would do it. I marinated the chicken early on in the day so the juices would make the big white breasts moist and succulent. I cut and boiled the broccoli for the same amount of time as my mother would AND I even bought the same microwave-minute rice that she does. But, when we sat down to eat the meal that took me all day to create it did not taste like anything. I’ve actually belched things with more flavour.

Over the 29 years I lived with my parents, I watched my mom cook meal number 2 numerous times. I should know how to throw sausages, potatoes, peppers and mushrooms into a pan and make it taste good. But the horror from the previous night was too much to bare so, of course, I had no choice but to call my mom. Apart from taking over an hour to cook in our condo-sized-easy-bake-oven, the meal was perfect. All plates were empty, all stomachs full.

It wasn’t until a few days later that I realized making a delicious meal was more about creating the same environment that my mom did at home than impressing my husband or my friends. Every meal made in our condo will be more about being homesick than about adding fuel to my body.

My husband and I got married two years ago and since we had to wait for our condo to be built, we lived with my parents. There were many a thing that got on my nerves: it seemed like there was always someone around, the basement was too cold and dark to read or feel creative enough to write (honestly, where does my brain come up with this stuff?), the family dog barking all of the time, and limited privacy. By year two of living as a married woman in my parents’ basement, I was itching to get out. I counted down the days, hours, and minutes until move-in day. I was depressed when it had gotten delayed by a few months, and I found any reason I could to get out of the house.

We got very close to my parents during those two years. We had dinner with them every night and spent weekends lounging around the house with them because we had to save money. My husband would always join my parents for a nightcap and would stay up into the wee hours of the morning talking about Donald Trump, stocks, life, and whatever else came to mind. The moment we got our official move-in date, my husband and I started to feel sad. Yes, we were excited to get our own place but something just didn’t sit right. My mom helped me pack, move, and painted out entire condo over three days to ensure we would settle in quickly. She went shopping with me and spent two weeks forgetting whatever she had to do in her home to make my transition easier.

Our first weekend in the condo was easy because my husband and I were both at home. The second week, not so much. I would jolt awake every morning at 5:00 AM after my husband said goodbye and left for the day. The quiet of the condo invaded my ears; realizing that my dog wasn’t going to come to wake me up, or my mom wouldn’t be sitting in the backyard having her cigarette not only made me feel lonely but spun me into a panic.

Every. Single. Morning.

We went to my parents’ house for dinner the other night. I felt more at home there than in our condo. I felt safe. The house was filled with people and the scent of pasta sauce cooked lovingly for eight hours wafted through the house. We were only there for a few hours and we didn’t want to leave. When we got in the car and drove away we both sighed and looked at each other. I was already crying and my husband’s eyes were a little wet as well. We immediately began listing the things we missed about living with my parents:

  1. Someone was always there to talk to

  2. Family dinners (both delicious and fun)

  3. The cool dark basement that was ours

  4. Waffles – the family dog who is as cute as he is annoying

  5. My nieces – who always seem to be at my parents’ house

  6. Hanging out with my parents – learning from them, laughing with them

I, honestly, didn’t want to go home (to the condo) and the homesickness ate away at us the entire drive home. I know that there is a point where you have to be independent and grow the fuck up and I want to. I do. I just never thought I would feel this homesick. Some people, including my parents, would say that they babied us too much (my sister, brother, and husband included). Some people would say that we’re spoiled and need to cut the cord. I would agree if I didn’t feel homesick as fuck. My parents created a home that was free of judgement, full of safety, and EVEN when we were all annoyed by each other, overflowing with love. They created a home that their kids don’t want to leave and I am so thankful for that.

Apparently feeling homesick is natural, especially for those who’ve never been away from home. It just means that you miss the place you felt safe and secure. I am a basketcase full of insecurities so it only makes sense that I miss home. I cringe with slight embarrassment when I think about the cry-fest I had during that drive home. My mom keeps telling me that I’ll adjust and get used to not living with them and even though that might be true, I’ll always think of their house as my home.

 

Out of Focus

 

The snow is falling without fear, without apprehension. My morning commute is becoming an hour longer than it has to be. My hands grip the wheel as my shoulders hunch up toward my ears. My mind is racing a mile a minute in spite of my car’s snail pace. The flashing break lights in front of me are no longer in focus – I force myself to blink.

If you’re like me, doing one thing at a time isn’t enough. I like to feel busy, to use my time wisely. I like to have a lot different projects on the go. Recently I have been writing for my Writing Group, trying to revamp my blog and pump out a few posts, spending loads of time on social media, looking into the job market to see what else is out there, reading whatever book I can get my hands on, and trying to purchase the necessities for our condo.

The problem is that nothing is getting finished. Everything is started and each time I go back to a new task I’m left frustrated, confused, and cannot seem to focus. I come home from work a stressed out, tired mess and spend my evenings and weekends watching Netflix or making excuses to spend time with my family just to avoid my long-winded to-do list.

Simply put, I cannot do it all. Not all at once.  As much as I’d like to re-brand and revamp my blog, I know that I won’t be able to dedicate myself to the blogging world like I did when I was in my early twenties. So, I’ve chosen to focus on writing for my Writing Group (which I hope leads to the writing of a novel) and reading. I can buy things for the condo closer to our move-in date, I will spend less time on social media, and I’ve signed up for Indeed’s emails to keep me in the loop when it comes to jobs.

It’s time to switch focus and get rid of the blur.

 

You Don’t Blog Anymore (what was all of it for?)

I didn’t consciously decide to take a break from writing blog posts, it just happened. I’ve been writing a lot (well some days) thanks to my editing/writing meetings with Amanda (from Be the Next Her) but that’s for a different project. It’s not that I’ve been too busy to blog, I just haven’t felt like it. My mind is focused on other things and my time is being dispersed in very calculated ways.

And now, after an insanely eye-opening conversation with a few of my high-school besties, my time is going to be spent in even more calculated ways. As my friend so eloquently put it:

When struggling with a decision you have to ask yourself:  Is this going to help get me to where I want to be in my life? Is this going to affect my friendship/relationship positively or negatively? Is this adding value to my life?

Based on your answer to these fundamental questions, making decisions will be a helluva lot easier. The only thing left to do is figure out what I want for my life. I know that I want to work in Toronto (with a career rooted in writing and social media), I want to have honest and nurturing friendships, and I want to have a love-filled marriage based on communication and trust. Now that I’ve narrowed down what I want out of life, making decisions might be a little easier.

 

Adventure is calling – his name is Alex

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 My husband and I often take separate cars when we make plans during the week since we meet up right after work. On our way home from whenever we are, Alex calls me as soon as we get in the car. We talk as I follow him home or he follows me. With our work schedules being rather different, it seems that these conversations (brought to you in part by Bluetooth), are the longest and most intense ones that we have. The only thing better would be being in the car with him.

 

On our way home from date-night last week the traffic was haunting; try turning onto highway 50 during rush hour and you’ll know what I’m talking about. I noticed a few cars turning down a street that I’d never traveled down before. I assumed that they were trying to avoid the traffic so I asked Alex if we should follow them. To that he said “Up to you babe.”

“Fuck it. Let’s try.” I said with a confidence that rarely makes an appearance, especially when it is really needed. On we drove. Paved roads turned into dirt ones, assumed roads lead to un-assumed ones. We came across buildings we didn’t know existed, new suburbs and abandoned farms, and a  deranged patch of land with sheds (or miniature homes) littered about. The entire way I kept asking Alex if we should keep going and to that he said “Fuck it babe, you only live once!”

After a series of steep hills and roads that wound so tightly I could barely stay on them, we ended up at a dead-end, nowhere near our home. I stopped the car and looked over at Alex sitting in his. The smile on his face was from ear to ear as he began to laugh. I immediately began to giggle.

Maybe it was the DELICIOUS white-wine sangria I had with dinner or the excitement in finding secret hidden places among the trees, but I felt sheer and utter joy. Nothing clouded my mind, I felt in control and calm and lost and safe. Life should be filled with these little adventures, where you enter into the unknown and find little pieces of yourself that you may have lost along the way.

You only live once.

 

Anxiety Update – Back with a Vengeance

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I don’t want to write about this but I should because sometimes a step back means taking a leap forward. I hoped that my previous post about anxiety would be my last. I truly believed that I had gained control over it, that I would never have to deal with the severe heart palpitations, nausea, aches and pains, headaches, and panic attacks again. I didn’t have the slightest inkling that it would come back, that I would need to take my medication again. I believed with every ounce of my being that I wouldn’t sit at my desk and have to feel like I was drowning, gasping for air.

Oh, how wrong I was.

A few weeks ago my mom noticed a change in my attitude and I noticed the small signs of my anxiety coming back. It happened slowly, a few sleepless night, the dread of looming Mondays, and a shorter temper. Then suddenly I was over the edge. I became filled with fear and worries. My anxiety wrapping its arms around me like an old friend. I tried my breathing exercises, repeating my mantras, and working out more but to no avail. After yet another panic attack and a conversation with my husband and mom, I decided it would be best if I went back on my anxiety medication.

What I am now trying to figure out is what my trigger is. Why did it come back?  How come I could keep it at bay for months and then it returns with a vengeance?

 

Tell your ‘Boring’ Stories

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In spite of writer’s block and simply not making time to write as often as I should, I still call myself a writer. I believe in stories; that a life is made up of so many chapters, narratives, and essays that it’s difficult to keep track of which part of the book you’re living in.

Last week while speaking with Amanda DiPasquale and Sociphoria we discussed the real truth (not alternative fact) that blogs are dying. When it comes to social media, blogs are secondary to Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat (Facebook is dead to me).  No one wants to read thousand word essays or posts. People want photos, videos, and 200 words or less. I know it’s true but I wish it wasn’t so for  few reasons.

  1. People don’t seek out what I write about
  2. People don’t write what I like to read

Maybe I write too personally. Maybe more things should kept private. Even my fiction is utterly revealing. I understand the desire for privacy. There is so much pressure to share everything that there comes a point where you don’t even feel like you own your life. There also comes a point where you realize that no one cares.

Well, I care.

I care about your stories as much as your outfit; okay I care way more about your stories than what you’re wearing. I care about whatever you have to say in a thousand words or less because while I’m reading them I feel less alone. For those 10 or 15 minutes I have someone to relate to. I am understood. I feel connected to the universe even though I’m staring at a screen. Stories connect us, that’s why I care.

I care because we’re all just stories; good, bad, and boring.

 

Anxiety Update

What most people don’t tell you about anxiety is that even when you’re on medication it never fully disappears. It still lives within you, taking up space in your heart and your mind. It moves in and hibernates until something doesn’t go as planned, work is busy, or you get into a fight with your significant other. The medication tames it, it helps you sleep, it keeps your bowels regular (okay that’s just a weird side-effect that I didn’t mind), it calms you. It helped me get through a really draining year, it saved me.

As medication affects everyone differently, I must admit that there were a few things I did not like about it. The constant fatigue was one, the other was the numbing of my emotions.  I would feel happy but not quite so, I’d feel sad but the tears wouldn’t flow, I’d feel anxious but it didn’t overwhelm me, and a very large piece of me missed my overly emotional emotions. Words became stuck somewhere between my head and my heart and I had difficult time both writing and speaking my mind. If I couldn’t write (or write well) than was I really me?

There came a point just after our wedding when I misplaced my medication. Although I found it a few days later I decided not to take it anymore. I took the alarm off my phone and placed the pills in my cupboard. I decided that since I no longer had wedding planning harboring over me and I was finally (FINALLY) getting good at my day job, I would try to continue my life medication-free.

I’m not sure how long this will last but I am taking every moment and every stress-filled week one step at a time. I am taking all of the tools my friends, cousins, colleagues, and parents taught me and putting them to use.

It’s not so much about numbing my feelings, it’s about controlling my anxiety.

“Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” ― Corrie ten Boom