“Good News” IRL

I had a way that I used to try to balance out all the upsetting and anxiety provoking news stories that came my way via my Facebook feed (after already eliminating newspapers and most television news.) I purposefully “followed” and subscribed to “good news” pages and sites.

In the beginning it was a breath of fresh air. I wasn’t just reading about acts of fear, oppression and violence, but also about “random” acts of kindness. A lot of great stories popped up; kids being inspired to take action to tackle local (and global) issues ranging from recycling, to feeding the hungry, to fundraising to help provide clean water to those in need. The first couple of stories about people picking up another person’s restaurant tab or grocery store bill were nice, too – they made me smile. Soon though, these stories seemed to be sidelined, or at least presented differently. More and more stories were popping up where people told of when they or their partner had done something considerate or kind. More frequently, too, was the presentation of photos and names of all involved parties – photos taken of the “unfortunate” person and thus the recipient of “selflessness”, “random” acts of kindness, or acts that “restore one’s faith in humanity.”

There were more stories turning up that were told by individual who carried out the act, too –  “hey, I bought this homeless guy pizza and he shared it with his homeless friend so I bought him another one, wasn’t he so selfless??” They appeared as self-aggrandizing posts that begged for people to affirm the individual’s kindness, while carefully trying to shrug off this impression my mentioning some positive quality of the other “receiving” party. It started to feel like the whole movement (if I can call it that) of Random Acts of Kindness was ceasing to be about quiet acts of gentle and genuine kindness, and more about promoting individual feelings of “I’m a good person because I did X.” It started to feel contrived and gaudy. It lost its magic.

Some pages and stories never lose their power or their ability to help one grow in curiosity, understanding and compassion. ‘Humans of New York’ is a great example of this (everyone as a story if only we take the time to listen) and kids taking on tasks as a result of great compassion or a sense of injustice is another one; they inspire me to want to be better and do better. Heck, even the stories of others paying or providing for a need without the now expected photographs and naming of all participating individuals are lovely. Unfortunately, these stories seemed to be becoming the minority.

I was becoming disillusioned with “good news” stories.

Fortunately, an unexpected thing happened when I opted out of Facebook. It had been there all along, but my attention to it was heightened. Every day, many times a day, in my suburb, in my city, in my street, these “good news” stories were happening right before my eyes. All I had to do was tune in. I found that I no longer needed them fed to me via a dedicated channel because I was surrounded by them the whole time, if only I cared to look. And once I started looking, I couldn’t stop seeing. It has been beautiful. There are no photographs, there is no kudos or reams of comments applauding those involved. There is just quiet kindness, simple gestures, and some deeper, less contrived display of empathy and compassion. Feeling good about being kind to others will often be a great motivator to keep doing more of the same, but when it becomes the primary motivator, it becomes… sad; the magic is lost.

Keep your eyes open for that magic – it is still there. May you smile as you notice it.

J X

 

Mend and Make Do

Over the past year or two I’ve been both reading a number of books based the lives of women around the time of World War II, and also adjusting to having less “disposable” income. These things tied in with my desire to decrease the amount of waste I generate directly or indirectly (E.g. Throw away packaging VS resources used in making a product) has created some interesting and fun (yes, fun) activities (and experiments.)

Yesterday morning I went to paste a quote from my advent calendar into my diary (I sewed myself a calendar and filled it with quotes rather than picking up a disposable chocolate one. I still have chocolate in the cabinet though!) In doing so, I discovered that both glue sticks had dried up as a result of time. I considered dropping into the big box stationary / office store where I knew I could get one (or five) pretty darn cheaply. But then I looked at the packaging. All that twist-up, screw-on lid, hard, plastic packaging. Looking at it with newer eyes it just seemed ridiculous. SO, after pondering the idea, this morning I found myself a empty glass jar and made some old-school flour and water glue. It worked a treat for today’s quote. I did (and do) doubt just how long this glue will hold things together but WikiHow had several other suggestions (like Milk Glue) that should do a better job.

But all of this isn’t about glue. Nor is it about the new elastic I sewed onto my old fitted sheet to give it a second life, either (yes, I was proud of that one).

It’s about looking at what we use, how we use it, whether we need it and what the cost of it is (financially, environmentally, socially.) It is about making considered choices about what what we choose to consume and why.

The Ministry of Trade in England had a slogan that they promoted during World War II in the times of rationing:

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do, do without”

or the shorter:

“Mend and make do.”

This is not revolutionary. I am not being revolutionary. I’m just finally learning to live with some of the frugality my grandparents have and trying to make those “common-sense” choices a little more “common” in my life.

Join me if you like.

J X

 

Leaving Facebook and Re-discovering Life

This post is mainly for my benefit. For those times that, out of habit, I type in the address for Facebook. My browser is programmed to block the site and re-directs to this post.

Reasons I chose to leave Facebook (again):

  1.  Facebook leaves me feeling unsettled and scattered. Not unsettled in terms of fear or worry about privacy (although these are genuine things to be concerned about) but more in a way that fundamentally changes my state of being. It leaves me feeling constantly on edge, overwhelmed by the influx of information. While allowing such a flow and constant feed of stimulation into my mind, I find it had to feel calm and settled.
  2. I want to learn how to keep things to myself. I don’t want to feed the need for constant sharing, approval, the need for others to tell me that I’ve done a great job. I want to foster my ability to share selectively and at other times to be able to sit quietly and smile at my own successes and accomplishments, without the need to broadcast them. When I manage to to this, it feels really good.
  3. Concentration. With so many distractions in this society of ours, I know that my concentration span has seriously decreased. My ability to sit with myself – even for five minutes – or to stay focused on a particular task has been shot to pieces. Allowing for boredom and what can grow out that is important to me. I want to slow down my mind. Removing Facebook from my day is just one way that enables me to cut down the habit of distraction and sets the scene for doing so in other areas. Multi-tasking is not good for my mental health.
  4. Connection. We’ve all heard this one – so many “friends,” so little non-cyber connection. Removing Facebook from my life forces me to reach out to people that I genuinely care about and to foster more meaningful and in-depth relationships. It also allows for conversations of discovery that move past the “oh yeah, I saw that on Facebook.” I, like most people, desire connection and community. I find non-Facebook related connection much more satisfying. When I desire such connection I find myself contacting friends directly via messenger, text, phone, postcards, letters and E-mails (I haven’t gone off-grid, just off Facebook.)
  5. I care about my friends but status updates can come to feel like junk-mail. I want to hear what people I care about are doing, how they’re traveling and what is going on in their lives, but I don’t want this to be in snippets that gives the illusion of deeper relationships or connectivity. Point four ties in with this.

What I’ve discovered (so far) since leaving Facebook (this time and previously):

  1. I am calmer. So much calmer.
  2. My ability to focus on individual tasks has increased and continues to do so.
  3. I make the effort to connect more in “real life.”
  4. A lot people that I have on Facebook fall away. My social circle shrinks, and yet at the same time feels richer. For me this has also been a lesson in letting go of relationships that both I and others have moved beyond. Life isn’t about holding on to every person we’ve connected with; it is un-sustainable.
  5. I do more things that I find satisfying; I take the time to fix things, to mend things, to spend time in my garden or play more music. I read my old Encyclopedia Britannica and love it. I Google articles and images but about things I’m interested in, not just things that come from a link following a link following a link.
  6. I miss out on articles or information that I enjoyed reading; quality pieces that friends have enjoyed and shared.
  7. I don’t actually miss the fainting goats or the elephants trying to sit on peoples laps or the cats sleeping in odd places.
  8. I go outside more.
  9. I make things more.
  10. I have to figure out how to entertain myself in other ways but when I do, I enjoy it more than the habitual checking (and refreshing and refreshing) of my “newsfeed.”
  11. I don’t miss the advertisements.
  12. My world has shrunk, and I like it that way.
  13. I don’t miss the countless petitions. Facebook activism is not the most satisfying kind for me.
  14. I miss out on finding about a countless events, a few of which I’d actually attend. This can be a huge downside, but for me, I’ve found it something that I’m willing to sacrifice.
  15. I can’t remember most peoples birthdays, but when I do they get a text of a card or a phone call instead of a wall post.

I feel more connected to life around me. To the birds and trees and grass. To my neighbours and friends and local community. To the people I spend time with in a “volunteer” capacity (or rather, the new friends I’m making and things that they are teaching me.) I feel more tuned in to life.

All these points are the reasons that I’m choosing Life without Facebook. I’m hoping I can keep it this way in the long rune, for my own benefit.

Love,

Johansen.

A Worthy Story

“For all the talk of ‘telling your story to inspire people,’ no one wants to hear the story, until you’ve fully transcended your illness and stand there a hero…” (Violinist, quoted in The Broken Musician, H. O’Donnell, 2016)

This particular quote stuck a cord for me, for I feel strongly that it is not just in the realm of music and injury or disability that this rings true. People like stories of overcoming, of success, of beating the odds, of triumph, of happy endings. Thousands of books and blogs are published and interviews given by people who have overcome their struggles and recovered from mental health difficulties. The vast majority of stories presented to us are ones of full recovery – of great triumph and freedom after a very challenging journey. Everyone loves and inspiring story, everyone loves a story of hope. But what does this mean for those of us whose journey continues without a pretty bow and a nice, neat ending?

What happens when the literary form of “beginning, middle, end” is lacking a clear “end”? Can we still tell our stories? Can we still learn from and be inspired by such stories?

I would argue, yes.

For me, living with chronic health challenges that fluctuate, improve, regress and change, but never seem to have an end point, I’ve come to actually find those neat recovery stories irritating at best. I feel happy for the person who has achieved that measure of recovery, and glad that their journeys are able to inspire others, but on a personal level they can trigger feelings of failure, jealousy and resentment; they don’t reflect my own experience and that of many others I know.

I think that one of the problems is that for those of us who continue to struggle so significantly, we find it difficult to believe that our stories are worth telling. Maybe our successes over the years don’t feel big enough? Maybe our lack of a clear ending (or new beginning) has us feeling that our story is incomplete? Despite this, one thing I have learned from my own life and those of others around me is that regardless of what struggles are still had and challenges are still faced, the effort, the energy and the courage of those still struggling is no less of those who have overcome or recovered. It’s easy to feel as though we’ve done something wrong or just not tried hard enough (I mean, if we had, wouldn’t we, too, be telling a story of “triumph over”?) But I sit and reflect on the struggles, the courage, the daily slog, the never-giving-up, the constant falling down and getting up… and these stories without an ending are just as full of courage, triumph and personal success as those that look a little shinier. Merely surviving can be an awesome triumph. Creating a life worth fighting for in the face of such challenges (internal or external) is a feat to behold. Don’t undersell yourself and don’t undersell us.

Our stories may not feel as inspiring or hopeful, but they are definitely worth telling, and for those who can relate in some way, can often feel more inspiring in their “realness” than those that feel so distant. They can help encourage others to keep working to build a life they feel worth living, even when the difficulties, challenges, illness or disability are still present.

I wish for all to be able to completely “overcome” and have that nice neat bow to tie it up with. But more so, I wish everyone a life that is rich and meaningful enough to make enduring the toughest of roughest times worth the fight.

Your story is important. Your story still has the power to inspire. Your story is worth telling. Our story is worth listening to. You may not have a nice neat bow, but I’m sure if you look, you’ll be able to find countless specks of glitter.

Copyright, JohansenWords.com, 2016

It’s just an experiment

When so many things seem so scary

and fear has you paralyzed

in the world of “I can’t”,

how about an experiment?

Start with a table, four columns (nice and neat):

  1. Date (that’s easy)
  2. The thing you’re scared of doing (naming it is okay)
  3. Rating the fear of the task out of 10 (that can be tricky)
  4. Reflecting on how doing the scary thing actually went (eh?)

That’s right, four columns, but five points…

Pity you can’t just sit at your laptop and columnize the missing task (that would be too easy).

Nope, the missing task you have to choose to do so that you can come back and fill our column four.

With column four already made and waiting for you, you have a reason to do the missing task.

You are a researcher;

you are setting out to discover the reality of column two

(glasses and note pad at the ready!)

Some times something will end up being as scary or as difficult as you imagined.

Some times it will start off scary but then end up being fun or worthwhile.

Some times it will be scary and then fun or relaxing and then scary again.

Some times you will wonder why you were scared at all.

Whatever the outcome, if you make it back to fill out column four,

then you have real life evidence that you survived and maybe even evidence that it is something worth going through the hard stuff to do again.

May you conduct many experiments and discover more things worth being scared for than not. If anyone asks you what you do for a living, just tell them you’re a researcher.

 

Copyright, Johansenwords.com, 2016

 

Accepting while hoping

Acceptance and hope do not have to be mutually exclusive.

Acceptance can still allow for hope for better, lighter, easier…

Resignation gives up on any hope.

Resignation is living it one static moment:

“This is how things are now, this is how things will always be.”

Refuse resignation.

Choose acceptance and hope, and like any juggler would, practice.

 

Copyright, Johansenwords.com, 2016

Depression OR…

Is it depression?

Or could it be…

disconnect

demoralized

lonely

sad

disheartened

despairing

grieving

directionless

guilt

unworthiness

purposelessness

fatigue?

Each of these individual words are still tough to respond to

and it may be many words together (and combined they may fit the diagnosis)

but they feel like they offer more possibility of change when named individually than sidled together as

Depression.”

 

Copyright, Johansenwords.com, 2016