Middle of the Night Voice, or Why You Should Never Listen to Your Inner Voice

First, let’s be clear — your inner voice is an asshole.

Regardless of the time of day it may come to you, that nagging little voice that tells you that you’re too much or not enough; too fat, too ugly, too loud, too bossy, not good enough, not smart enough, not pretty enough… that voice is intended to fuck with your head. It is never ever there to help you, even though it will pretend to be.

Often the inner voice will come to you sounding like the actual voice of someone who has or does criticize you. Those voices are particularly difficult to free yourself from because they’re based on a relationship, usually toxic, and which you often feel is unfair or imbalanced or in which you’re not taken seriously. The inner voice’s job is to make you feel like crap about yourself, to doubt yourself, to question yourself to the point of failure.

Again, never forget, your inner voice is an asshole.

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Does Retail Therapy Equate a Visit to a Sex Worker?

Hear me out.

Like half the Western world, I spent New Year’s Day glued to Netflix watching the Marie Kondo series. Not because I have any kind of New Year’s resolution to get organized — seriously, Marie Kondo wishes her house was as organized as mine — but out of sheer curiosity.

Known for her books and YouTube tutorials, the organizing expert has a new series on NetFlix that isn’t that far off from those old episodes of Hoarders. She drops by, gasps at people’s mountains of stuff, tells them to throw away anything that doesn’t “spark joy”, and then returns a few days later to see how they’re getting along.

We only watched one episode, one called “Empty Nesters”, a couple in late middle-age who live in a house that had belonged to one of their families and in which more than three generations worth of belongings had been amassed. But it was clear that most of the clutter actually belonged to the couple in question. Dad had walls full of boxes of baseball cards, and Mom was a collector of Christmas decorations and, like many people with shopping/hoarding habits, a good three or four closets full of clothing.

In one of the interview segments, she revealed that she indulged in “retail therapy” on occasions when she was angry at her husband; that going to the mall and spending money was her way of getting back at him for whatever transgression had occurred.

As she cleaned out her closet and piled everything together — Kondo’s system requires participants to amass everything of one type of item (clothes, books, etc.) in one place before beginning to sort — it was clear that the client had piles of clothing still bearing the original tags. As she went through the mountain of garments, she tried on recently purchased clothes that didn’t even fit her properly. Why would someone buy something that wasn’t the correct size?

She claimed to like all the clothes she had amassed, but this caused her to have a hard time organizing and disposing of items, as everything that we saw her sort through seemed to “spark joy” for her. (Psst… “spark joy” is not the same as “I like this, it’s nice.”)

But let’s go back to her comment about her shopping being some kind of revenge on her husband. Now, to be clear, there was no allusion or insinuation of her husband hiring sex workers. It wasn’t that kind of revenge. But she obviously wanted something pretty and cheap to fill some kind of void or assuage her hurt or anger. For roughly the same amount of money a man would spend on a sexual encounter, she could do a haul at the mall. She came home with clothing that didn’t fit and didn’t suit her personal style (which is mostly the case when hiring a sex worker; it’s about fantasy, not reality) and that mostly appeared to be throw-away fast fashion items — there was no evidence of some hardcore spending on Birkin bags or Dior gowns — and I suspect that once she got the things home, she felt guilty and didn’t want to face having to return them, so they got jammed into her over-packed closets and ignored or forgotten about.

The whole process was more about the actual shopping and buying than any intention of keeping and wearing. The joy, the high, the mental and emotional orgasm, as it were, occurred in the store as she was handing over the cash or credit card.

It made me joke that every mall entrance should have one of those clothing charity bins, so that people making “retail therapy”-style purchases of things that they knew they didn’t actually want or need could just shove the stuff into the donation bin on the way to their car, and never have to take the guilt-inducing garments home at all.

Note that I’m not knocking sex workers; they provide an important service. And while there are obviously sex workers with clients who visit them regularly, a lot of the encounters are fairly anonymous. There’s no commitment involved after the fact, just as with shopping addicts/clothes hoarders, there is no level of commitment to the purchases after they are bagged and taken home, especially if they carry the stigma of a purchasing high the person would rather forget.

The whole episode, although especially the clothing segments, made me wonder how we, as a society, had gotten to this point. Because this lady with her clothing hoard is not alone. The show didn’t get into any deep aspect of the why of the client’s clutter, and unlike Hoarders or similar shows where there is a therapist on site, that’s not really Kondo’s schtick, but it makes you wonder why or how it ever got that bad. Does the client have personal issues that need to be addressed by a professional, or is she just typical of a society that buys way too much stuff?

We all make the occasional bad purchase; something didn’t fit the way we thought it would, or it didn’t become as much of a go-to item as we anticipated, but I suggest that three massive closets full of cheap clothing, much of it still with the tags, is indicative that the high and release of handing over cash for a jacket might be similar to the high and release of handing over cash for sex.

Finally, with regards to Kondo’s trademark “spark joy” mantra; while it’s a fantastic catchphrase, I find it somewhat disingenuous when it comes to actual sorting and organizing. Just because you like something, or find it attractive, or even if derive joy from it, doesn’t mean that you have to keep it, or even own it in the first place. I think too many people following Kondo’s system use the sparking of joy as an excuse to keep lots of crap they’d likely be better off without.

You Probably Won’t Read This Anyway

 

It’s October and I’m about to roll into the sixth month of the longest writing/creative dry spell that I’ve ever known. Even the year when I had two sprained shoulders and could only type for fifteen minutes at a time before my hands went numb, I still managed to write a 60,000 word novel.

There have been some false starts; an outline and a few pieces written for a collection of essays/stories on my weird experiences as a freak magnet and all the narcissists I end up with in my life, but no matter how I tried, I could never make the stories come out sounding anything but bitter and weirdly resentful.

After that I thought, hey, maybe I could go back to making something with my hands. But then I’d look on Etsy and there would be thirty people already selling metal nose-warmers or macrame black-out curtains and I would talk myself out of even trying. There really is just too, too much of everything, not all of it good.

I also seemed to convince myself, during this period — because I’m usually never one to keep my opinions to myself — that nobody really wanted to hear what I had to say. I’d find myself writing posts or comments on social media and then deleting them. Nobody cares, I’d tell myself. I’d sketch out a piece for my blog and then bail on it, convinced that nobody would read it anyway and someone else had probably had that idea and already written about it, and done a better job than I could anyway.

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Accidentally Zen — How I Hopped Off the Treadmill of Life

So, you know all those self-help articles about how to slow down your life, to step off the overwhelming, too-much-information treadmill that is the basic existence of the modern world? Specifically, the ones that tell you to turn off your phone after a certain time each evening, or to drink a glass of water every morning as soon as you get up? Or to delete your Facebook account?

What do you think would happen if you actually did all of that stuff? Would you be relieved and relaxed? Or frantic that you’re too disconnected from everyone?

While I’ve always been an introvert, for years I was able to exist as one of those introverts who could actually go out and be sociable. I needed a lot of downtime to balance the energy expended running a concert production company, complete with musicians crashed on my floor; and during my time as a local food writer I had to impose a strict limit of no more than three food-related events per week, just so I could get some actual writing done. And I had no problem giving speeches, introducing bands, or barging into restaurant kitchens to interview chefs.

Then, a few years ago, that all changed. A series of injuries and illnesses — none deathly serious, but all debilitating enough that I had to slow down and rethink how and why I was doing a lot of things — meant that I no longer spent a lot of time with large groups of people. It also meant that I had much less patience with other human beings doing generally stupid stuff. And that I experienced no actual necessity to do the stuff (like check my phone constantly) that most people consider part of their daily lives.

I suddenly had the time (and need) to meditate. There was no reason to take my phone to the bedroom overnight so I started it leaving to charge on my desk. I no longer needed a huge wardrobe or to put on make-up more than once a week or so. This psychological paring down had a greater effect; where I once enjoyed window shopping, I suddenly felt it a waste of time, since I didn’t really need or want anything anyway.

I had, quite by accident, starting living a life that many people seeking spiritual enlightenment, or a sense of quiet, would be envious of. Call it pared down, zen, or just basic bitch, I was living a very quiet, and very inward existence.

The only problem was, that sense of spiritual fulfillment that is supposed to come with this much mindfulness wasn’t really there. The more I turned inward, the more inward I turned, if that makes sense.

Oh, there was a smugness. Definitely a sense of being ever so pleased with myself at the idea that I didn’t need all the trappings of a wild shopping trip or the ego-boost of social media likes. But in some ways I was kidding myself.

The more I turned away from the world, the more I felt disconnected from it. Should I write a blog post? Oh, nobody will care. Should I make plans with some friends for dinner? Oh, they’ll be too busy… This train of thought comes from a massive lack of self-esteem due to childhood trauma that I usually hide reasonably well. And of course, the disconnection was mostly on me — I was the one crawling into my shell and hiding away.

But have I truly found some sense of enlightenment (peace, calm, what ever you want to call it) in this withdrawal from society? I’m usually pretty happy as an introvert. I am more comfortable alone than with most other people (husband and dog excepted). I enjoy the more basic life that I now live. But if I’m doing all the things I’m supposed to do to be more at peace, why doesn’t it feel that way? Or am I actually deliriously happy and just don’t realize it? Is there more to this zen thing than meets the eye?

Just Say No to Fashion Mags

This started as a book review of Face Value: The Hidden Ways Beauty Shapes Women’s Lives by Autumn Whitefield-Madrano.

And, I admit it – before I write a book review, I usually head over to GoodReads to see what other people thought of it. Not to crib their thoughts but to get a general consensus of things. What I found for Autumn Whitefield-Madrano’s book on the beauty industry and the impact it has on women and their self-esteem was pretty much what I thought of the book when I was done.

Discussing cosmetics, selfies, ad campaigns. self- esteem and the marketing of cosmetics to men, Face Value wants to be an informative read on the industry. But it’s a bit all over the place and never really commits to one path or point of view.

Given that Whitefield-Madrano has worked for years at various fashion mags, I guess it was optimistic of me to hope for a call to just stop buying into the manipulation, but that didn’t happen.

So I’m gonna do it myself.

Sorry, writer friends, journalists, and anybody who still works in an ad-driven media industry writing about fashion, cosmetics or lifestyle, but the honest to God best way to stop feeling bad about how we look is to…

STOP BUYING MAGAZINES

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Eat a Bit of Chocolate – Self Care Month Day 14

 

We have a tendency to confuse self care with “Treat Yo’Self!!” and so today’s advice comes with the disclaimer to pay close attention to the “bit” part.

It’s well known that chocolate contains chemicals that make us feel good. Many people, when surveyed, say they’d choose chocolate over sex. And a little something sweet, especially if it makes us feel grateful – for the treat, or for the person who gave it to us, or just the experience of eating it – is certainly a good thing to do for ourselves.

However (sorry…), sugar has been linked to inflammation in the body, plus cavities, weight gain (from the inflammation), and even depression. That’s right, the candy that makes us feel good when we eat it not only makes us crash an hour later but could be contributing to a bigger long-term funk.

So have your chocolate today (or tomorrow when all the V-day chocolate is half off!!), but do it in moderation, savouring each piece and feeling gratitude for the experience.

Write a Letter – Self Care Month Day 13

 

What’s in your mailbox today? I bet there are probably some bills, and also some flyers for stuff you probably don’t care about. If you’re lucky, maybe there’s a magazine, or a package for something you ordered online. But do you know what’s not there? A nice card or letter.

Letter writing has fallen by the wayside. In these days of social media, why would anyone even bother to send cards or letters to their friends or family? Especially when email or social media is so much faster. What a waste of paper, right?

Except that getting a card or letter in the mail makes people feel good. Even if – especially if – it’s not a special occasion like a holiday or birthday, getting a card from someone you love, solely for the purpose of telling you that they love you and are thinking about you, feels absolutely fantastic. And sending letters, to loved ones or to strangers, can also make you feel pretty great.

But you must give in order to receive, so start by writing a letter to someone. If you can’t think of anyone you know who might appreciate this gesture, there are plenty of organizations where you can send letters to strangers, or nominate someone to receive letters. Pretty soon, you’ll become addicted to nice pens and fancy stationery, and you’ll have a full-blown hobby that spreads a whole lot of joy.

Not sure about what to say? Here are some tips on writing a love letter, but they can be applied to a like letter as well.

And oh, look, Valentine’s Day is coming up. So get to it. Not sure you want to send letters to friends and family in case they think you’re silly? There are lots of strangers who might like a letter as well.

Listen to Music – Self Care Month Day 12

The world would be a much darker place without music. All types of music can inspire and energize us, mark our special moments, and fill our days with cheer.

And while any kind of music that you enjoy can help with the winter blues, there are a number of studies on how classical music can improve symptoms of depression and stress. Studies also link classical music to improved memory.

There is even a genre of music that is intended to improve memory. Known as Electronic Cognition or Electronic Focus music, this is electronic music with beta waves that supposedly help the listener to concentrate. Known as binaural beats, there is much debate on whether this music actually works, but when I tried it I found that I did concentrate better on the work I was doing.

Whatever genre you prefer, if music makes you feel better, then put something on in the background, or choose something that makes you get up and dance around the house.

Meditate – Self Care Month Day 11

When you’re feeling blue and not especially enthused about life, sitting and doing nothing can either seem ideal or absolutely horrible. There are lots of good excuses to avoid meditating, such as; what if my back starts to hurt, I don’t know how to do it, what type of meditation should I try, should I do it alone or in a group, and what if I fart?

There are many different types of meditation, all slightly different, and depending on what you hope to achieve, one may be better than the others. But for the purposes of feeling better because it’s February and the world is kind of shitty, a more general approach might work best.

The website Gaiam claims that some of the benefits of meditation are:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improved blood circulation
  • Lower heart rate
  • Less perspiration
  • Slower respiratory rate
  • Less anxiety
  • Lower blood cortisol levels
  • More feelings of well-being
  • Less stress
  • Deeper relaxation

To get started, there are dozens of meditation websites and apps that can help. A lot of people really dig Headspace, but I find the main instructor a bit too chatty. My favourites are a site/app called Stop, Breathe and Think which offers a variety of simple, guided meditations that encourage mindfulness and compassion, as well as Calm, which has a lot of sound files of nature sounds and a timer, if you want to just listen to a stream or some birds. Most of these sites offer some free options with additional paid stuff, or monthly rates that you may or may not be inclined to purchase, depending on how you prefer to meditate. Check the app store for your choice of device, there are plenty of different services, with options for every style of meditation.

If you prefer to meditate in a group, check Google for some courses or groups in your local area.

Most people who do not meditate avoid the activity because they believe that you have to sit for hours every day. But the goal, at first, is not to achieve enlightenment but to simply quiet the mind, even if it’s only for a few minutes.

15 Minute Tidy – Self Care Month Day 10

Depression can be a huge Catch 22. We feel too terrible to get up and do anything, and because we don’t get up to do anything, we feel even more terrible. This theory applies to the space around us as well. When we can’t find the energy to get out of bed, general tidying can often fall by the wayside. And then our house is cluttered and dirty, with piles of dirty laundry or dishes lying around, and we become even more disheartened.

If you can find the energy to dedicate 15 minutes each day to general tidying, it will likely make you feel better both mentally and physically. Remember, cleaning counts towards physical activity. And decluttering has such great benefits:

  • less frustration because things are easier to find
  • a greater sense of harmony and peace because things are already in their place, and you’re not reminded that you have to clean
  • less guilt and embarrassment because your place is no longer a mess
  • less anxiety at the thought of having to sort through piles of stuff

There are plenty of sites out there to help you get organized and clean your place. Unfuck Your Habitat is a great one, and Flylady, while kind of twee, can really help with organizational skills.

And if 15 minutes seems totally overwhelming, start with 5. Clean off a table top or desk, scrub your kitchen sink, or vacuum one room. Take our the garbage. Fold one pile of laundry. This will give you a sense of accomplishment and the incentive to continue, and that’s good for your mental health.