Facing the Unexpected

Let it GoI’ve always chuckled to myself that I would be a great retiree or that I could completely enjoy unemployment for a while when I’ve heard of people taking a month of between jobs. Funny how that changes when you are thrown into an unexpected situation…

Just over a month ago, I lost my job and entered the world of unemployment – for the first time in my entire adult working life. While the initial shock was tampered by the small pleasure of knowing I could turn my daily alarm off and cancel my transit pass, I’ve found this to be very much an ongoing process on an emotional, personal, and deep level. The realization that I have, unknowingly, defined myself by my job, by the salary that I earn, and by the daily routine I followed.

From day one, I haven’t stopped doing something during the week (weekends have always been “my” time to relax, hang out with family, and to reset) – right out of the gate, it was making sure I was signed up for EI (don’t be fooled, this is not something you ever want to rely on), took care of important paperwork, and ensured that anything I could remove from my monthly cost of living was at the very least paused.

However, once that was done, I threw myself into catching up on charity work that I hadn’t been in the right head space to get into for a few weeks – almost as if there was some kind of personal guilt at not getting up in the morning to go to an office and work. I wasn’t sleeping all that well as I would wake up at the crack of dawn, with everything playing like a movie through my head, over and over and over – almost obsessively like it was going to solve something and could change the past. I would get overly emotional at absolutely anything, and also at absolutely nothing. There were regular tears, whether they were from upset or more focused on the anger I felt, it was hard to differentiate at times.

Despite feeling as I did, I had one clear thought in my head – I was going to take the summer for me. To give serious thought about finding my passion and creativity once again, about where I wanted to direct my efforts, and how I was going to overcome this hurdle that had been thrown in my path.

It’s been 5 weeks…and every day brings its own unique set of stuff. Some days are better than others; sometimes I feel like I can do this, other times, quite the opposite. My anxiety comes and goes in waves, I get fixated on things and can’t get myself out of the loop; and then there’s the panic that ensues when I start to worry that all my hard work over the last few years to get myself remotely financially stable, is going to disappear in a few short weeks.

While I know that this happened for a reason, while I know that I will be OK, while I know that I have the most amazing family and friends in my life to support me in my time of need, it’s sometimes hard to get past the fact that this is all on me. The emotional impact of this experience is one that has hit me hard and is one I won’t forget quickly. The lack of strength I feel at times as to who I am, where I am going, and what I am destined to do, haunts me daily, sometimes to the point where it brings me to a grinding halt in everything – growing my own business, finding a new job, taking those next steps. My confidence overall has been somewhat shattered and I never thought it would be so hard to rebuild.

I know that I have to do it, I know that I will do it – I have to get into that head space. Getting this out in writing was the first step to helping that process, and since starting, I’ve made a couple of phone calls to help somewhat too. It’s amazing what hitting a wall and letting it all out can do…

Thanks for listening 🙂

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Vancouver Sun Run Training

Michelle Chopin_Vancouver Sun RunI had a few personal goals I wanted to work on in 2016, and while I’m not one to make New Year’s Resolutions, I wanted to try to make a more positive impact on my own life, and resulting in (hopefully) the same for those around me.

One of those goals was a personal challenge – work signed up a corporate team for the Vancouver Sun Run and offered to cover registration. Despite my tendency to dwell on things (and to ultimately miss my opportunity), it felt like something I should definitely take advantage of. So….I did!

I’ve been needing to get back into shape for a long time after stopping running about a year ago and generally feeling like I needed something that would work for my schedule and my commitment level. While the Sun Run on April 17 is, for me, a huge goal, it’s more about the training clinics themselves – learning to run properly while providing regular opportunities to train, keeping me accountable, and helping me stay healthy while getting fit again.

13 weeks to train, 10km to run, and at least 20lbs to lose – better get going! I thought I would keep a little journal of how each week is going – so…..here’s the first entry!

Week 1: January 18 – 22

I went for a little run or two before the official clinics started – a great-thinking co-worker set up two training hours (one Tuesday, one Thursday) for employees to get out and make their “Bellies Be Gone”. I took it easy knowing I haven’t run in well over a year, and it didn’t honestly feel too bad – I was sore the moment we got back though and felt muscles I hadn’t in a while that night!

The official clinic started on Monday January 22 and there were over 50 people in the room – there are three sets of clinics for various abilities. It was a relief to see so many regular looking folks there; a good mix of men and women; and a range of ages too. This wasn’t going to be somewhere I felt like I wasn’t up to par from the start; it was going to be somewhere I could run and not have a second thought about really needing to learn and pace myself.

Training sessions this week (one as a clinic,  two on my own) included:

  • 5 minute warm up walk
  • 1 minute run, followed by a 2 minute walk (8 times, 6 times, 7 times)
  • 5 minutes cool down walk

Stretching is definitely going to be something I focus on – carrying a little more weight than I would like means that the runs are currently a little tougher on my muscles and I don’t want to undo all the great work my chiropractor has done in the past 18 months too!

While I didn’t really feel like a champion runner towards the end of the week’s sessions, I have a feeling I will be pleasantly surprised as Week 2 progresses!

Week 2: January 25 – 29

Definitely noticing some differences as I enter week two.

Training sessions this week (one as a clinic,  two on my own) included:

  • 5 minute warm up walk
  • 2 minute run, followed by a 2 minute walk (7 times, 7 times, 6 times)
  • 5 minutes cool down walk

The third training session at the end of week one felt more challenging than any of the others, which I found odd, but boy does it feel good when you know that all your muscles have been working!

I found myself a great timer app that helps a lot with the run intervals as it means I don’t need to keep checking my iPod – you set up all the intervals, including warm up and cool down, and then alarm notifiers will tell you when to either walk or run. Now to see if I can get it on my iPod so that summer training is easier when I don’t have as many pockets on me!

Week 3: February 1 – 5

I’m starting to notice that the first running session of the week is almost the easiest – the clinic leads all noted that they have the first one as the hardest so that everyone is together and gets it out of the way for the week. Either the training is working without me really noticing it, or it’s because I have a three day rest between the last run of the week before and the first run of the new week. Either way, not a bad way to start out…

Training sessions this week (one as a clinic,  two on my own) included:

  • 5 minute warm up walk
  • 3 minute run, followed by a 2 minute walk (7 times, 6 times, 6 times)
  • 5 minutes cool down walk

Three minutes of running doesn’t feel that much longer than the two minutes from last week so I will take that as a win. I’ve also been working on my running form – I had noticed a lot of pain in my lower left shin within minutes of running, and while originally putting it down to inadequate stretching prior to running, a run buddy from work suggested I run more on the balls of my feet than flat-footed. Almost instant relief! I had never thought that I ran flat-footed given that I certainly don’t walk that way. I do have to give a lot more thought to my running now to make sure I’m striding forward and not landing hard on my feet – that impact must have been so much harder and giving me one insane shin-splint.

I’ve also joined the group that is focusing on running ten minutes and walking one for the main race – while we do all the same amount of running, breaking up the training into these segments almost gives you a reward for doing 10 straight minutes of running. While we are still working our way up to it, it will be nice to know I have run/walk option come race day if I need it – of course, I would ideally like to get as much out of the race as possible!

As I enter Week 4, a recover week, I won’t be doing any upgrades to running times – in fact, it will be a little less running and more walking to focus on ensuring that there are no repetitive muscle strains. This week I need to look more at my diet and additional training – I haven’t taken any measurements prior to starting this training program and I have avoided stepping on the scales because a) I have a tendency to do so every day otherwise and b) increasing muscle isn’t going to decrease my weight!

I might take the time to do that now with the use of a Bikini Body training program that a friend and coworker has shared with me. It seems to be complementary to the running program and encourages a lot of stretching – definitely something I need to be doing outside of the standard cool down efforts.

Anyways, here’s to a recovery week!

Understand that life is not a straight line

This was sent to me today and it resonated with me so positively that I just had to share. I hope it touches your heart the way it touched mine.

Let it all goLife is not a set timeline of milestones. It is okay if you don’t finish school, get married, find a job that supports you, have a family, make money, and live comfortably all by this age, or that age. It’s okay if you do, as long as you understand that if you’re not married by 25, or a Vice President by 30 — or even happy, for that matter — the world isn’t going to condemn you. You are allowed to backtrack. You are allowed to figure out what inspires you. You are allowed time, and I think we often forget that. We choose a program right out of high school because the proper thing to do is to go straight to University. We choose a job right out of University, even if we didn’t love our program, because we just invested time into it. We go to that job every morning because we feel the need to support ourselves abundantly. We take the next step, and the next step, and the next step, thinking that we are fulfilling some checklist for life, and one day we wake up depressed. We wake up stressed out. We feel pressured and don’t know why. That is how you ruin your life.

You ruin your life by choosing the wrong person. What is it with our need to fast-track relationships? Why are we so enamored with the idea of first becoming somebody’s rather than somebodies? Trust me when I say that a love bred out of convenience, a love that blossoms from the need to sleep beside someone, a love that caters to our need for attention rather than passion, is a love that will not inspire you at 6am when you roll over and embrace it. Strive to discover foundational love, the kind of relationship that motivates you to be a better man or woman, the kind of intimacy that is rare rather than right there. “But I don’t want to be alone,” we often exclaim. Be alone. Eat alone, take yourself on dates, sleep alone. In the midst of this you will learn about yourself. You will grow, you will figure out what inspires you, you will curate your own dreams, your own beliefs, your own stunning clarity, and when you do meet the person who makes your cells dance, you will be sure of it, because you are sure of yourself. Wait for it. Please, I urge you to wait for it, to fight for it, to make an effort for it if you have already found it, because it is the most beautiful thing your heart will experience.

You ruin your life by letting your past govern it. It is common for certain things in life to happen to you. There will be heartbreak, confusion, days where you feel like you aren’t special or purposeful. There are moments that will stay with you, words that will stick. You cannot let these define you – they were simply moments, they were simply words. If you allow for every negative event in your life to outline how you view yourself, you will view the world around you negatively. You will miss out on opportunities because you didn’t get that promotion five years ago, convincing yourself that you were stupid. You will miss out on affection because you assumed your past love left you because you weren’t good enough, and now you don’t believe the man or the woman who urges you to believe you are. This is a cyclic, self-fulfilling prophecy. If you don’t allow yourself to move past what happened, what was said, what was felt, you will look at your future with that lens, and nothing will be able to breach that judgment. You will keep on justifying, reliving, and fueling a perception that shouldn’t have existed in the first place.

You ruin your life when you compare yourself to others. The amount of Instagram followers you have does not decrease or increase your value. The amount of money in your bank account will not influence your compassion, your intelligence, or your happiness. The person who has two times more possessions than you does not have double the bliss, or double the merit. We get caught up in what our friends are liking, who our significant others are following, and at the end of the day this not only ruins our lives, but it also ruins us. It creates within us this need to feel important, and in many cases we often put others down to achieve that.

You ruin your life by desensitizing yourself. We are all afraid to say too much, to feel too deeply, to let people know what they mean to us. Caring is not synonymous with crazy. Expressing to someone how special they are to you will make you vulnerable. There is no denying that. However, that is nothing to be ashamed of. There is something breathtakingly beautiful in the moments of smaller magic that occur when you strip down and are honest with those who are important to you. Let that girl know that she inspires you. Tell your mother you love her in front of your friends. Express, express, express. Open yourself up, do not harden yourself to the world, and be bold in who, and how, you love. There is courage in that.

You ruin your life by tolerating it. At the end of the day you should be excited to be alive. When you settle for anything less than what you innately desire, you destroy the possibility that lives inside of you, and in that way you cheat both yourself and the world of your potential. The next Michelangelo could be sitting behind a Macbook right now writing an invoice for paperclips, because it pays the bills, or because it is comfortable, or because he can tolerate it. Do not let this happen to you. Do not ruin your life this way. Life and work, and life and love, are not irrespective of each other. They are intrinsically linked. We have to strive to do extraordinary work, we have to strive to find extraordinary love. Only then will we tap into an extraordinarily blissful life.

Content originally written by Bianca Sparacino | Image courtesy of selflovebeauty.com

I Do Not Love You…

Love Is You…just this one day a year.

Valentine’s Day has just passed and while I was lucky to spend the weekend with my love, I had a few friends who were so downtrodden by the day that I felt inspired to write this post.

Sometimes I worry that others feel I am being contrite or am clueless as to what it’s like to be single on Valentine’s Day, but I’ve had my fair share of dateless Valentine’s. Regardless of whether I have been in a relationship or not, I’ve always felt that V-Day is so commercialized that it makes people think that they have to have someone spending a small fortune on chocolates, flowers or jewelry for them to feel valued or to show their affection for another.

While I don’t intend to go into a history lesson on the origins of St. Valentine’s Day, it never started out as a romantic holiday, but even as it changed in meaning over the 18th Century, it was a time for lovers to exchange notes and hearts to express one’s love. Perhaps it is a sign of the times that it has become hyper-commercialized or have we become so materialistic that we feel the need to spend a small fortune on a loved one on a single day of the year to express our love? I sincerely hope not!

After seeing a wonderful friend’s Instagram post this weekend, I was pleased to see such a confident, young woman (who’s currently single, I might add) take the day to celebrate and love herself. She enjoyed a day of doing things that made her happy, including chocolate hearts and yoga!

Instead of focusing on what one doesn’t have on St. Valentine’s Day, why don’t we celebrate what one does have. If you are in a relationship/marriage, take the day to do things that you enjoy doing together, create new memories, be sure to laugh, and celebrate what makes your relationship awesome. If you are single, spend time with ones you love, whether that be family or close friends, and do the same – creating memories and filling your day with laughter are more valuable gifts than anything you can buy in a store.

Love doesn’t always have to be directed at a lover or partner; love comes in any number of forms and by focusing on that, rather than the material, I’d like to think that many more people would celebrate the day rather than dread it. As I say to many people – I don’t love someone more on Valentine’s Day than I do any other day of the year. So, why do we even have to wait until February 14 to take some time for ourselves and spend time with loved ones?

Take time throughout the year to treat yourself to a day of all the things you love to do, pamper yourself, hang out with friends, or play a round or twelve of Uno with your family (trust me, it’s highly amusing!).

There should always be time for you – without compromise.

Vancouver Cetaceans

Vancouver Aquarium Beluga WhalesI’m sure there are very few people who haven’t seen, or at least heard, about “Blackfish” and the huge impact it seems to have had on the practice of keeping cetaceans in captivity. I’ve done the whole SeaWorld thing, and I’ve experienced the very successful way that organizations of that magnitude have been able to persuade the public that what they are doing is in the best interests of the animals.

And it’s not just parks like SeaWorld that are showing their true colours; it’s significant groups within the human race too as depicted by “The Cove” as well. The practice of treating these animals like they are insignificant is utterly deplorable, not only because the act of animal cruelty is entirely unnecessary, but because these animals are often much smarter than us. The notion that animals as a whole are subservient species seems to be extremely out of date now that science and research is proving otherwise.

Needless to say, watching the above-mentioned shows had me in tears, and has resulted in a huge wave of activity directed at institutions that house cetaceans for entertainment purposes. The Vancouver Aquarium is included in that group, and has been forced to defend itself against its own practices of keeping its beluga whales and dolphins at the park – mainly as a result of direction my Mayor Gregor Robertson.

Political affiliations aside, Robertson is renowned for his “hippy” forums and points of view (ridiculous bike lanes around Vancouver being one of them), and, as a result of these shows and attention, called upon the Aquarium to change its practices.

However, there’s a fundamental difference between the Vancouver Aquarium and the likes of SeaWorld and other similar parks across the globe – those parks set out to hunt and capture whales for their programs; the Vancouver Aquarium does not. Not to say that they never have, but the activity stopped in the 1970s and since then, the Aquarium has focused on the rescue and rehabilitation of its animals – whether cetaceans, or other marine life. Removing an institution like the Vancouver Aquarium means that there’s one less organization available to help these animals – with their ongoing marine rescue efforts, there are many animals that see a second chance after being injured or affected (quite often) by man-made elements such as garbage or boats. The Vancouver Aquarium only keeps its whales and dolphins there because they cannot be reintroduced to the wild; and with these animals living their lives there, the likelihood of breeding is guaranteed, which then creates animals that have never seen the ocean and cannot be set free, simply because that act would cause them more stress, mainly due to separation from their pods.

So, while I have sadness for those babies that may never see the open water, I certainly don’t believe that the Vancouver Aquarium (or any other organization such as this) is behaving in ways that see profits the same as the likes of SeaWorld. SeaWorld profits from the suffering of these beautiful animals; animals that have intentionally been captured and removed from their family units purely to bring in money by being paraded around in a tank. I think that the efforts the Vancouver Aquarium put forward for their cetaceans outweigh the potential downside of those offspring born in captivity. These animals are rehabilitated but have no possibility of living their life free again, and I dread to think what the alternative would be if the likes of the Aquarium weren’t there to help.

Not to mention all of the other amazing work done for marine life such as the Killer Whale Adoption Program, and other conservation efforts throughout the Pacific Northwest – I think that Robertson is wrong to call into question the intentions and work of the Vancouver Aquarium. And I hope he continues to be proved wrong repeatedly…

Christmas Isn’t Offensive

Christmas DecorationsI’m the first to complain about how retailers are FAR too quick to bring out their Christmas items – most wait for the Halloween rush to end, but I’ve seen others that have festive, Christmas decorations ready for purchase during the month of August… It aggravates me, not because I’m a Scrooge but because I can’t stand this incessant need to shove commercialism down the throats of the general public.

I’ve written a past post about this because it seems that the meaning of Christmas has gotten lost in the chaos at the mall, the fight to find the umpteenth gift for someone who might not ever use it, and the debt incurred by folks trying to keep up with the latest trends. Christmas, to me, is a time to spend with family, loved ones, friends, and anyone else that means anything to a person. Good food, great laughs, and lots of wine are what make my Christmas – knowing that I can hug and kiss any of them at any time, and simply enjoy their company means the most to me. It’s not about seeing who can spend the most, or lavish the most gifts on someone – sure, they’re nice, but they aren’t what the holiday season is all about. But in addition to that, and the fact that retailers are jumping earlier and earlier on to the Christmas bandwagon, there has been recent accusations of disrespect or rudeness because decorations are being put up prior to Remembrance Day (Nov. 11).

There are many that feel that jumping from Halloween to Christmas means that Remembrance Day is forgotten and that people won’t remember those they are supposed to. In a sense, yes, I can agree with that when it comes to the commercialism of retailers – their decorations are up for no reason other than to entice people to start their holiday shopping. However, to give homeowners grief for putting up their tree in November (yes, I have seen some!) or putting up their lights and wreaths on the outsides of their homes, seems extremely uncouth. To say I know a few people who “kinda like Christmas” is an understatement as I’m pretty sure they start counting the days from the moment Christmas ends! December 1 is my personal start date for decorations, but if those who truly adore the season want to put their trees, lights and wreaths up after Halloween, then who is anyone to call them disrespectful? There is nothing but joy in those actions – these people don’t want to sell anyone their wares, or close out their sales season with a bang; they’re doing it because they love it. And I’m certain that not a single one of them forgets the importance of Remembrance Day, not for a second.

It seems that nowadays, Christmas can’t seem to catch a break. If it’s not people putting up their decorations too early, it’s the simply fact that saying “Merry Christmas” offends some people (don’t get me started on that one or I’ll never finish this post!).

For a time of year that is meant to be about happiness and joy, it seems that Christmas gets a bum wrap at times. So I hope yours sparkles and shines how, where, and when you want it to!

Family Ties

Wolfpack FamilyNo, not the show – although it was pretty awesome back in the day! I’m talking about actual family ties – the ones that keep you together through the rough moments and the great times too.

I’m extremely lucky to be able to say that I am close with my family – heck, close seems like an understatement. I’m a total Daddy’s Girl, my mum is my best friend, and my brother is someone I can always count on for a partner, no matter that we go stretches of time without seeing one another. I don’t know how often someone can say that they are firing on all cylinders with their immediate family unit, so I am well aware of how rare that can be.

However, despite how close we are already, recent weeks have given us the opportunity to come together under some extremely stressful circumstances. And even though the events that we have experienced together have been hard, I can’t ignore the silver lining to it all – I don’t wish bad events on anyone, but if it means we can come out of it a stronger family unit, then there has to be some good in that right?

The typical cliche “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” stands for families as well as individuals, and boy is that true. Knowing that we can rely on each other to get things done, to step up when the occasion calls for it, to unquestioningly do what needs to be done, and more importantly than anything, to communicate how much we care for one another, makes me so proud to call my family mine.

And family doesn’t just have to mean blood either. I have often gotten frustrated with the fact that I can probably count my closest friends on one hand, but honestly, knowing that that handful of friends are people I can turn to no matter what, no matter when…is more than enough for me. I couldn’t ask for better people in my life, people who have set aside their own personal dilemmas to make sure I’m doing OK, or simply who have gone out of their way to look after me. Simply saying “Thanks” never seems enough, so I can only do what I do best, and that’s to show my appreciation through action. If I can give a hug and a smoosh, I will; if I can buy a beer or five, I will; if I can just spend time and hang out, I will too.

I am so grateful for all the awesome I have in my life – something I know I could do better focus on, rather than the alternatives. My family, and my friends, can get me through anything. Because with love, there is strength, and that…makes me invincible.