Sadness without Judgment

I’m living my best life. I’m grateful. As much as possible, I do what brings me joy. I have my highs and I have my lows. It’s easy and comfortable to talk about everything that feels good, and it’s time to have an uncomfortable conversation. I’ll just go right ahead and say it: I experience prolonged periods of sadness—I always have and I probably always will. 

It’s cool, though!

Growing up, when I felt sad, I thought I had to fix ‘it.’ That it was my fault I’m sad, and that I must have been doing something wrong. Sadness brought shame, embarrassment and the stress of the impossible task of fixing my mind, which must be broken, right?

On my low days, I really thought that I was alone. That all the stronger, smarter, more popular kids never felt sadness because they were obviously better than me. I wish I could go back and tell my younger self that all that is baloney.  When I don’t feel right, it’s not because I’m doing it wrong, it’s because my life is whole. Wholeness includes heartbreak, failure, grief, and all kinds of uncomfortable events that bring sadness. 

Sadness comes and sadness goes. When we’re really low, our coping strategies can feel impossible. For instance, on a recent low day, I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. I couldn’t focus on reading or writing so I tried to go to sleep. Well, sleep wouldn’t come and even though I didn’t feel like I was good company, the only thing that made sense was to invite new energy into my space. I indirectly called for help. I invited my neighbour over and we sat on my deck, breathing in the late summer air under the moonlight. I didn’t mention anything about my intense depressive mood. I just listened to her laughter and venting and was able to silently process what I needed to.  

Learning how to process sadness is a skill, and that skill has saved my life. I can’t go back in time and teach this to my younger self, but I have another idea.

I am giving kids around the world the opportunity to share what makes them sad, and how they cope. In collaboration with Child’s Eye, a division of Libri Publishing, I am gathering responses for  A Little Anthology on Sadness: a mental health resource for kids, by kids. The responses from my survey will be compiled into a poetic, whimsical juvenile non-fiction book. All languages and art forms are welcome. Words aren’t everyone’s thing, so I accept drawings, photographs or any art forms that transpire. 

I honour and respect the fact that participation in this project is emotional labour. The responses I have received thus far are nothing short of spectacular. The word thank you does not even begin to express the depth of my gratitude. My hope is that kids will see this book and be reminded that they aren’t alone. 

Thank you for reading. 

Disability Pride Set Me Free

I finally finished my degree in Disability Studies after seven years of late nights, empowering lessons, and life-changing conversations. Hands down, Disability Pride was my most valuable takeaway.  Not only did Disability Pride help me rethink my role as an ally, it also helped me reevaluate everything I thought I knew about myself (no exaggeration). 

The feeling that can be attached to what Disability Pride has given me is liberation

Young woman in dark blue shirt and denim shorts with long brown hair running in forest. Trees on either side. Her back is to the camera.
Photo by Noelle Otto on

For years I had been shackled by shame. That shame, however, is no longer living within me. I am not ashamed of myself anymore. I am ashamed of the ableist values that surround me that I had accepted, and even upheld without realizing it. 

I have memories that bring me right back to where I was—vulnerable, lonely and hating myself.

I was told that I was being excluded because no one wanted to be around the kid with an Educational Assistant at their desk. I sat by the door waiting for recess to end. 

I am fine with who I am. I am not fine with ableism. 

My bully ran after me flailing his arms and legs saying “Look at me, I’m Robin.” I pretended I was sick to get out of gym class. 

I love my body and the way it moves. I don’t love ableism.

I am still unravelling the way this darn ableist shame has followed me into adulthood. Internalizing ableism is a habit that’s not easy to break. It’s painful, difficult and necessary work and it is so worth it.

It takes repeating until believing: I am enough, always have been, and always will be. 

Thank you for reading. 

They say ‘mom-brain, I say…’

They say ‘mom-brain’ – I say ‘keeping-children-alive-leaves-no-energy-for-much-else-brain.’

They say ‘mom-brain’ – I say ‘exhausted-but-no-break-in-sight-brain.’

They say ‘mom-brain’ – I say ‘can’t-be-on-all-the-time-brain.’

I’ve said it about myself, other moms, and even people who don’t have kids—with generic microaggressions like ‘brain fart’ and ‘senior’s moment.’ If I have used any of these terms with you, I am so sorry. My heart was in the right place. 

What I didn’t realize at the time is that I was doing much more than undermining the human mind. I was reinforcing the ableist notion that mistakes were unacceptable. I was declaring that lapses in concentration, such as forgetting where you put your car keys or losing your train of thought, were something to laugh about. 

When I was pregnant with my daughter, working 2 jobs, and finishing my degree while parenting a toddler, I had ‘mom-brain’ moments A LOT. I am grateful for the support I had during this time, but I am not so grateful for the amount of times I was told that I had ‘mom-brain.’ 

It didn’t hurt because I was embarrassed. It hurt because of the shame attached: shame for being distracted, for forgetting something, or even for just being tired. That shame was telling me that I wasn’t good enough.

With my son’s little ears listening, I was also thinking about what the term ‘mom-brain’ was teaching him. I want him to grow up knowing that his mind and body will be celebrated no matter how it performs.

Gus, you are going to make mistakes, face challenges, and even fail. 

Come what may, you will be supported. 

They say ‘mom-brain’ – I say let’s normalize helping, rather than shaming one another.

Thank you for reading. 

Inside the mind of a catastrophic thinker

Catastrophic thinking makes me second-guess almost every decision I make.  

Image description: Grey and black sketch. On left, girl with hands on ears sitting on knees looking down. Right big round monster with three eyes holding megaphone with speech bubble coming out of it that reads “It’s a catastrophe”

Me: I will be a writer.

Catastrophic thinking: What if no one wants to read a word you write?

Me: I will take the kids to the park. 

Catastrophic thinking: What if you get mugged?  

I could write a novel of the what ifs that run through the mind of a catastrophic thinker during a pandemic (and maybe I will one day!).  

Life happens as it happens. When I was younger, I watched the grown ups around me rolling with the punches, as calm as cucumbers. As I got older, I wondered when I was gonna get my shit together, too. Now that I am full on adulting, I am thinking that may have all been an illusion. Maybe no one really feels like they have their shit together.

What if we normalized not having your shit together? 

The other day, I took the kids for a socially distant playdate in my friend Anna’s backyard. Anna and I talk openly about our anxiety, our triggers, and all the hard stuff in between. Getting ready to leave the house with our babes is a trigger that we have in common. When I was gathering all the required diapers, sippy cups, masks, hand sanitizer, etc. I sent her a message explaining that I had no idea when we were going to arrive. She said, ‘it’s okay, I get it,’ and I knew that she really did. 

Image description: 2 women with long dark brown hair facing each other sitting on log. Forest and pond in background.

When I did show up, socially awkward and frazzled, she asked me what my anxiety level was. It was pretty high. With her, I don’t need to pretend that I have it together when I don’t.  With Anna, I am absolutely certain that the one thing I don’t have to worry about is that she’s judging me. It is liberating. 

Unfortunately, that level of non-judgement is the exception rather than the norm. This pandemic has been devastating to our collective mental health and I hope that once we can re-enter more communal spaces, judgement is replaced with compassion.

Thank you for reading. 

*Disclaimer statement-Not having your shit together: I am using this phrase to describe how I feel in my own anxious moments. I am not implying that those of us who experience anxiety do not have it together.  

The Power of 5 Minutes

Do you ever wish that you could stop time? Or that you could turn down the volume of the world, even for a moment?

Photo by Miguel u00c1. Padriu00f1u00e1n on

Like many of us, pandemic life has left me in the confines of my home. My kids and I are often in the same teeny tiny space and I’m not sure when kids are supposed to learn volume control, but mine sure haven’t. The noise in my head often matches the noise in my environment. Managing that overstimulation takes a lot of energy, and burnout is REAL. Burnout sucks the joy right out of everything, am I right? 

When I’m especially irritable, low, or overwhelmed, I try to find a way to hit pause. When I no longer find joy in my family or work, that break becomes necessary or else my mind will dip into dark places. I don’t usually have time for long walks on the beach or to disappear into bubble baths. I can often manage a 5-minute tap out, though, and I do whatever I can to make it happen. I’ll put on some Paw Patrol and curl up on the couch with my eyes closed. I’ll pass the kids to my husband (even if that means interrupting his work day) spread out on my bed and look out the window. When I come back from those 5 minutes, everything seems more manageable and I can usually go back to enjoying life. 

Whether the labour you are doing is mental or physical, paid or unpaid, burnout is real. If your work requires hourly deliverables, ask yourself (and whoever is nagging you) if 5 sweet minutes of tranquility will curb your productivity. I would argue that it may actually increase it. 

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on

Me taking 5 minutes can be a pain in the ass for those who need to give me those 5 minutes. Sometimes, I even wish I didn’t need that break but that just isn’t how it works. In pilates, I take a 10 second break after a minute of double leg lifts. Without that break, I wouldn’t be able to move onto the next exercise. I apply that rule to every aspect of my life. 

Nothing magical happens, but those 5 minutes can remind me that although I’m in the middle of an exhausting chapter, I can still feel joy. 

Thank you for reading.

Pandemic Parenting Guilt

I have demons. The newest and loudest of the bunch is Pandemic Parenting Guilt. 

While I am not responsible for this global crisis, to my three-year-old Gus, I am the one who painfully says no to A LOT. I grieve all the friends he could be meeting and the memories he could be making. As a parent, this is hard. As a kid, this is hard. As a human, this. Is. Hard. 

The good news for Gus is that he isn’t carrying the weight of the world we grownups are. He is living in the moment and, luckily for him—our day to day is not so bad. As much as I have tried to get into a routine since his younger sister came along, unstructured playtime is our jam. He gets to call the shots. 

Gus: “Can I put on my fire suit and Skype Grandpa?”

Me: “Sure.”

Gus: “Can you read me the same book four times in a row?”

Me: “Sure.”

Gus: “Can I play with cars for the next three hours?”

Me: “SURE.” 

With two young kids and nowhere to be, creating and following a routine was exhausting and quite honestly, an impossible task for me. Once I let the expectations and self-judgement go, I was able to show up for my kids as my true self. In Untamed, Glennon Doyle unpacks the expectation that motherhood entails losing ourselves to serve our families. She writes that instead:“What we need is women who are full of themselves. A woman who is full of herself trusts herself enough to say and do what must be done.” 

Although our days are filled with crafts and dance parties, when our local and global communities are hurting, we are hurting too. As a mom, I’ve also thought it was my job to be the light and fake a smile when there isn’t much to be joyful about. It dawned on me, though, that my kids do not need a role model who doesn’t feel pain. What my kids need is an example of how to feel pain. 

I visualize conversations I may have with Gus when he’s older and a little bit wiser. 

They go something like this: 

Me: “I am sorry you couldn’t see any of your friends, or play with other kids at the park.”

Gus: “I had fun playing at home with my family.” 

Me: “I am sorry we had to stay home so much.”

Gus: “Our cuddles on the couch were perfect.”

Me: “I am sorry that I cried in front of you and sometimes lost my temper.”

Gus: “I learned that I am allowed to have big feelings.”

In this dark chapter of our beautiful story, Gus has not mastered reading or the piano—he has mastered naming his feelings, and communicating his needs by asking to play or by reaching out for a hug. 

Despite what my demons are telling me, there is value in learning how to just…be…

Thank you for reading.  

I didn’t know self-love until I messed up at work

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4 years ago, I was 8 months pregnant and complaining to my midwife about intense pain in my back. Her examination led her to believe there was a teeny tiny foot kicking against my left rib. She gave me advice for pain relief, looked into my tired eyes and told me to take a day off. “Hah!” I laughed her off, “I don’t have time.”

The next day, I was scheduled to go on a mini road trip with my boss for a presentation. I hardly slept, put my achy body into a maternity dress and we were off. We arrived at our destination and my heart sank when I learned no one was expecting us.

F********! I had led us to the wrong address. The correct address was an hour away. 

I apologized profusely and started spiralling into a rapid river of shame and self-hatred. When we reached the boardroom, I left my authentic self in the car and became a cool, calm, collected corporate robot. I made a witty joke about my malfunctioning GPS, and nailed the presentation. 

On the way back to the office, my boss told me not to worry about my mix-up and patted me on the back for my performance. While I trusted that my kind, powerful, no-nonsense boss meant what she said, that hateful river of shame had me again. By the time I got home, it had engulfed me and I was drowning. That little voice in my head became tremendously loud and said things to me that I can’t even bring myself to write. 

So I went for a walk and tried to force that voice away but it wouldn’t budge.  

It was time for another strategy—love. 

I actively contradicted the insults I was telling myself (that went far beyond the one mix-up at work). I chose to be as compassionate to myself as I would be to my partner, a friend, or the child that was growing inside of me.

By that point the pain radiated from head to toe. I had racing thoughts about my career falling apart, my need to prove myself before baby (+6 million other things). I couldn’t tough it out any longer. Calling in sick brought guilt and I was angry at my body for not keeping up with the fast pace of my life. 

We are praised for working ourselves to the point of depletion. Actually, depleting our minds and bodies for work is often mandatory. I’m suppressing a rant about the compulsory soul-crushing 40 hour work week that puts our health on the back burner in favour of the capitalist machine. Capitalism in a pandemic has forced workers in several sectors into life-threatening situations. For instance, there are factory workers in our economically prosperous province of Ontario living paycheck to paycheck without paid sick days (or PPE, or safe working conditions and are too afraid of losing their jobs to do anything about it, according to the CBC, 2020).

My midwife was right, of course, but I was fighting a war against my own body—a war that I ultimately lost—but I found something better. I did not have paid sick days, but I did have the financial freedom to rest, once I learned how to love myself. 

I came around to the idea that it was okay to take a break when I needed to. Let’s love ourselves enough to know that doing our best does not have to mean working ourselves to depletion. Let’s disrupt the notion that it is acceptable to be worked to the point of physical and mental exhaustion (or the imminent risk of catching a deadly virus) for the sake of workers everywhere.

Thank you for reading. 

I burst into tears in a room full of strangers. It was awesome.

Not sarcasm, it really was awesome.

I had shown up to the writer’s group at my local library. The small talk of “How’s your granddaughter?” and “Did you submit your poetry collection?” indicated that I was the only first timer. I sat down, introduced myself and the group took turns sharing their pieces and damn, they were good. When it was my turn, I was so eager to get feedback from the talented group around me.  

My piece was a short story about a third grade student named Amy. When she was putting on her boots before recess, she lost her balance and fell, then someone called out “retard!” Amy took a deep breath, got up and went outside to find her classmates. She found them at the corner of the field shuffling into a giant snow fort and was so excited to check it out. When she got closer one boy yelled out “there’s room for everyone,” looked at her and added, “except Amy.” She walked away and suddenly—

I only read a few lines before the tears started. No, not tears, sobs. Still, I was determined to share my work. I tried to finish but the words coming out of my mouth were no longer coherent… 

One writer asked, “Are you Amy?” I nodded. 

Then another asked, “Shall I read it for you?” I nodded again. 

By the end of my story, I had had a chance to regain composure and apologize. 

“Don’t be sorry,” said a friendly voice, “we’ve all done it.”. 

Two years later, I still can’t explain why I broke down. I wasn’t embarrassed and I wasn’t even sad. It could be that I had come to the realization that I was telling a group of strangers a story that nobody knew outside of that unforgiving school yard.

It could be that the story I was telling was based on the moment I learned that there were consequences of being me:

Writing my tests in a separate room made me inferior. 

Running slower in gym class made me a loser. 

Being different made me undesirable. 

Instead of prying into all of that, they gave me constructive feedback; praising me for my use of flashback and critiquing my underdeveloped characters. Instead of offering pity, they offered support when I needed help reading my story. And instead of showing discomfort from my emotional display, they were able to relate. I wasn’t the only one writing about something other than sunshine and rainbows. 

I cried my eyes out in front of a group of strangers and in that refreshing moment, I knew I was exactly where I belonged. 

That is tranquility.

Thank you for reading

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