You are more than a mind.

Truth Byte #73: “Some things can’t be measured.”

I was a perfectionist as a child.

This was really challenging in the era of pen and paper, before word processing and the delete button were invented. I still remember painstakingly measuring, cutting, and gluing for the border of a title page, and crumpling it up, over and over again because it wasn’t perfect. School was where my perfectionism shone, because it seemed that was one place it was really valued. There was something special about getting 100%, something deeply rewarding.

That, plus my parents were unhappy settling for anything less.

I remember in third grade, I got nine out of ten on a spelling test. My dad was extremely disappointed in me, asking “What happened to the other 10%?” The following week, I came home with all ten words right. I was beaming, so excited all day to show him my test. Somehow,  he had realized that there was an option to get two additional bonus words. So he asked me why I didn’t get the bonus marks too. That fueled me to try for the bonus words every week. I finally did get 120% one week, and my dad said, “It’s about time.”

I could feel the balloon of pride pop inside me. Nothing was ever good enough, and there was going to be no celebration, even if I was more than perfect.

The next year, in fourth grade, I came in second place at the spelling bee, and the word I got wrong was “coffee”. (P.S. Why would they expect a nine-year old to know that word?) I was scared to tell my dad I didn’t come in first, so I didn’t even let them know about it. It was a classroom competition and it didn’t really matter anyway, right? As my teachers congratulated me, I just felt like a fraud and a failure.

My dad left us when I was in fifth grade, and I spent the rest of my academic childhood trying to impress a ghost. The silver medal that I got at the science fair in sixth grade felt like a slap in the face, and it was one more reminder about how I was not, and never would be, number one. Then seventh grade came around, and I spent my teen years getting award after award, prize after prize for my academic achievements. I was often number one. But for some reason (much clearer to me now) the emptiness, the longing and feelings of failure just  didn’t go away, no matter how many bonus marks I accumulated.

Being the best couldn’t fix my family.

It has taken me many, many years to admit to and begin recovering from my perfectionism. And by sharing this story, I am not trying to blame my dad. He was a hopeful, hardworking immigrant whose university degree was not recognized in Canada, and he knew that as a girl, and as a person of colour, I would be held to a much higher standard throughout my life. And so he pushed me, and I am grateful for that work ethic and that love for striving to be the best that he instilled in me.

But in some ways, it really altered in how I viewed myself and the world around me.

So yeah, it’s taken me many, many years to recover. For most of my life, I wore my perfectionism like an armour, like a badge of honour.

As long as I was getting A++ (remember, there’s always a chance for bonus marks!) I didn’t have to feel the pain of divorced parents or a deeply troubled younger brother.

As long as I could lose myself in school, I didn’t crumble under the pressure of helping my mom raise my brother and baby sister, and the sadness of not fitting in with other kids my age, who were actually having a childhood.

By reading a book in the grass, I could manage the embarrassment of not knowing how to do simple things like swinging on the monkey bars or jumping rope.

My school-orientation gave me a place to be when I didn’t feel like I fit anywhere else, I could lose myself in the world of ideas and not really have to deal with the pain of people.

Fast forward 30 years, and now I am a therapist by profession. I did the academic thing, even got a Ph.D., but that didn’t help soothe the lonely little girl in me. What I have realized as an adult is that I am an extremely deep feeler, and for most of my younger life, I used knowledge and learning as a way to escape my feelings. As long as I could stay up in my head, I didn’t have to acknowledge what was happening in my heart.

And now I swim in the waters of feeling. Every single day. And there is no way you can get 100% in this realm. There is no “right” way to feel.

There are some things that simply can’t be measured.

Now, I have no way of really knowing whether I am doing my job “right”. I have no one giving me a mark out of ten, no one pushing me to be better and get those bonus marks. But what I do have is a life raft of hope that I have been building throughout my life. My job is to simply show people my raft, let them sail on it with me for a while, and then teach them how to build their own. There’s no right way of coming back from trauma, no right way to manage loss. There is only the way that works, which will be different for each and every one of us.

When you find yourself stuck in an unpredictable river, use the quiet times to strengthen your raft. When the rapids come, all you can do is trust and hold on. That’s not the time to jump ship. We are in unpredictable times, and some of us are navigating this time better than others. Help each other fortify your rafts, and whatever you do, don’t let go. You may not get bonus marks, but if you keep your head and your heart connected, you will get through this river and have a story to tell.

You can do this, and I am with you.

It’s your life, and only you can live it.

Check out my YouTube Channel, Dragonfly Wellness TV for more inspiration and education to help you get through to the other side. For 1:1 support, contact me at www.talktosaira.com, or join our groups to learn how to build and strengthen your own life-raft with others who get what you are going through.

Letting Go of My Drama-Addiction

girls-914823__340

Truth Byte #19: You don’t need drama to have a full life.

 

I used to thrive on drama.  I would live for it and even hunt it out.  If a friend or family member would be going through a rough patch, I would be the first one there, front and centre, to listen and support and get in there with my tools to fix it.  I loved each and every juicy detail about what went wrong and what went wrong next, and how nothing they tried had fixed the problem. It worked to fuel my life and purpose for a long time.

Until the point that I couldn’t take it anymore and I started getting exhausted.

When the drama started burning me out, I had to look at my entire relationship to drama.  If someone had called me out (a few brave ones did try), I would have vehemently denied my addiction to drama (probably in a very dramatic way).  I would quickly point out how I wasn’t the one with the problems, I was the one SOLVING problems!  And my profession as a psychotherapist made it even easier for me to hide my drama-addiction behind the guise of helping others.

Boy, was I deluding myself.

It all became crystal clear to me a few years ago.  It was a random Sunday where there was nothing to do and no where to be.  My kids were content, hubby was happy, and the sun was shining.  Everyone was hanging out in the living room talking and playing and laughing, and there wasn’t even any housework to complete. There was no emergency and no on-going issue to think about.  And I found myself, for the first time in years, extremely uncomfortable.

This was weird.

I had no problems, and that was my problem.

I quickly called up my sister to ask her opinion on what I should do now that I had nothing to worry about.  And she laughed in my face.  She said “You are so accustomed to drama that you don’t know how to live like a normal person anymore.  Welcome to life the way the rest of us live it.”  I was stunned. (I was also a bit annoyed because I think I was secretly hoping she would have a problem to tell me about and then I could get into fix-it mode again!)

That was my wake-up call.

For years, I had been running around from one crisis to another, if not my own, then someone else’s.  And here was my baby sister telling me that there was a completely different way to engage in the world as an adult.  I felt cheated, stupid, but mostly, sheepish.

Oops!

Drama didn’t have to define my life!  Things could be steady and stable and generally fine, and that would be okay!  I could even let myself get a little bored.  (By the way, I have a cousin who is a classical Indian dancer, and she has taught me that in some types of performance, audience boredom comes right before a breakthrough.  For those who have been through watching four hours of a classical dance or music performance, you know what I am talking about).

And now, I have a fine-tuned radar for drama-creation.

Often, we don’t consciously choose what happens to us.  However, how we explain what happens to us is completely our choice.  Did you have a low day, or was it “the shittiest day ever”?  Did your friend forget to call you back or is she “so damn selfish and thoughtless”? Did you miss the turn or are you “the stupidest driver on the planet”?  How you speak, whether out loud or in your head, will tell you something about how deeply you are addicted to drama.  If you can start making light of things more, and start telling yourself (as they say in a course I teach by the Canadian Mental Health Association): 8 or 9 is just fine, you take the pressure off, and start realizing that a lot of your personal drama is actually self-induced.

When you can stop worrying about what people will say and who is watching you, you all of a sudden get to enjoy your life and the things that make it uniquely yours.  When you stop comparing yourself to the people around you, you create a new measuring stick for personal contentment.  And then you can actually be peaceful even when there is drama threatening to pull you in all around.

So, like we used to say to my mom when we were teenagers, “Don’t have a cow, man.”  Just chillax, and slowly, the drama will starts fading away* for good.

*If you let it!

What is Your True Story?

book-759873__340

Truth Byte #18: Just because you coat your drama with sugar doesn’t mean you can hide is flavour.

Earlier this week I had a new client.  When I asked her what brought her to counselling, she started with telling me about her mother’s marriage to her father, working her way through her personal history up until the real reason she had come in to see me.  This took 50 minutes.  That left us 10 minutes to actually do something about it.

Many newbies to counselling do the same thing.

This is what happens next: She walks away after an hour of non-stop talkingfeeling a bit better for purging some stuff out of her system, but she has probably already told that story to other people a dozen or more times.  She leaves her appointment  with very few practical applications or understandings into her story.  She wonders how anything is going to change if her counsellor just nods and says “uh huh” every so often.  What she does not see is how the way she thinks about and tells her life story is the real albatross around her neck.

The thing with humans is that we love stories.  We like to tell them, and we like to hear them.  Some of us are more gifted in the art of story-telling than others, and some storytellers have guaranteed themes and embellishments that keep their listeners coming back (think Bollywood!).

We have built entire industries around our love for stories, and many brick and mortar institutions to support those industries.  My two favorite institutions?Libraries and movie theatres.  But some of us prefer to hear our stories at the opera or the playhouse or perhaps from the comfort of our couch as we curl up with a book or watch the latest drama series on the tube. Some of us get our storytelling fix through sharing juicy tidbits about the people we know. (By the way, that’s called gossiping, even when it’s a good story that is supposed to be a secret.)

How we imbibe stories is one side of the equation.  The other side is how we tell stories. 

Your life is basically a series of events, some of them related to each other and some of them not.  But when you tell your story, you link these events into a meaningful and coherent narrative.  I had a multi-millionaire once share with us his story of success.  He told us at the beginning of the keynote that most people will tell their success story about how “one thing led to another” and how they were “in the right place at the right time with the right resources”, and leave out all the detours and dead ends and fatal errors along the way.  But he wasn’t going to do that.  He went on to tell us a story about how he made his millions despite all his personal flaws, hair-chilling financial mistakes, and bad business decisions (plus some partner betrayal thrown in for the human touch!)

As a student of the human mind and an avid storyteller, this approach peaked my interest.  What this guy did is tell his “sad story” in a way that highlighted the challenges, but also made him look good.  It was a story of winning despite the odds, of bad luck turned around, of determination in the face of certain failure, and mostly, of lessons learned.  His was a story of growth and transformation…..at a business conference of all places!

That’s not how most of us tell our stories.  Most of us string the narrative together and tell either a happy story or a bad-luck-and-things-keep-getting-worse story.  Only those will true insight into themselves and honesty about the good that they were “born in to” (such as clean drinking water, a bed to sleep in, and adults who somewhat looked after them) as well as their personal failings and challenges seem to be able to tell the story the way this multi-millionaire did.

Why is that?

Telling a “happy story” would make us happier, right?  Why would anyone want to tell a sob story? Why would we care about those detours and dead ends and fatal errors?  Or perhaps we should be completely honest with our story, leaving out no gory detail…

This is getting complicated.

Let’s go back to the basics: the brain.  We tend to remember things from the past that either have an emotional charge or that we have marked as significant.  So when I ask you about your childhood, how you answer me will tell me a lot about how you feel about your childhood, rather than what it was objectively like.  That is why some of us have the “have-it-all-but-still-not-happy-syndrome” – we are telling a story that started in our childhood and continues today.  And that story is one about never having enough.  It’s not a unique story, because there are basically a handful of stories that all humans tell: the story of loss, the story of triumph, the story of betrayal, the story of saving someone or being saved (also known as the Hero story), the story of Divine intervention, the story of nobody cares and so on.  So the brain will access memories that will frame your life events as a story.  It’s up to you which version of the story you tell. 

Ok, so here’s a better idea: let’s all tell a happy story instead.  That should work right?

Wrong.

It’s not enough to just “focus on the good” or “think positive”.  We actually have to be willing to acknowledge the dark and scary and embarrassing parts of our life story if we actually want to grow and heal the past.  If we just put it into the vault, that unacknowledged pain becomes the legacy we pass on to our children.  And then they feel bad but don’t know why.  Sugar coating your life doesn’t fix the problems or the pain, it simply hides the stench for a little while.  It’s like eating freshly baked chocolate chip cookies in a smelly bathroom….why would you do that?

It’s probably time to acknowledge your true story, the one that includes the shiny and the dismal parts of being human.  And why not recruit a weaver of stories to help you do that?  If you want to understand your true story better, join us in May for a personal development workshop.  Chances are, you will walk away with a whole new way of telling your story.

P.S. And if you liked that…like my Dr. Saira Facebook page to hear from me on a regular basis!

That’s Not Really a Tiger

tiger_face_teeth_anger_big_cat_44711_3840x2160

Truth Byte #14: You are making it harder than it needs to be.

Life was meant to be easy and simple.  How do I know? I learned that from nature.  Nature doesn’t try so hard.  It doesn’t wrinkle it’s forehead in worry and confusion.  In nature, it’s always the path of least resistance that wins.  In the natural world, animals conserve their energy just in case they need a big burst of speed or strength.  And every so often, a tiger shows up and that gazelle runs like the wind.  But generally, the gazelles just hang out, chillin’.

Read More

Fired by Noon

P7124500.ORF

Truth Byte #9: Stop complaining and do something about it.

Ten minutes until appointment time. The room is ready, I am taking my mandatory ten deep breaths to clear my head and get aligned for the next client. Bracing myself as I am about to launch into five more back-to-back counselling sessions, followed by a movie night at the local elementary school and a sleepover at my house. It’s going to be a big day.

The watch ticks on. I post quickly on Facebook to promote my next event in a another city. Tick, tock, tick, tock. It’s time! But she isn’t here. And now she is five minutes late…ten….fifteen, finally we hit the 20 minute lateness mark. This one is going to be a no-show.

Guess God read my mind and fit in a lunch break for me. Read More

Would You Rather Get the Flu?

DSC04700

Truth Byte #7: You are busy for no reason. Seek stillness.

It is flu season. Around me, friends, family, and clients are dropping like flies, even those who were diligent enough to get the flu shot. This got me to thinking: why does it take a totally body drama for us to be willing to just stop and lay in bed for a couple of days? Read More

There is No Other Shoe

image

Truth Byte #6: It’s only too good to be true because you keep jinxing it.

In in modern times, many of us have replaced traditional religious frameworks with a new system of understanding our life events: the game of chance. We turned away from a belief in rewards and punishments doled out from some entity in the sky, and have started believing instead in a casino model of life. And this model also has certain rules. We say things like: “You are so lucky!” and “Just my luck” and “I guess his luck ran out”. We have these strange superstitions like “Bad things come in threes” and “It’s just a matter of time until (fill in your bad event here)”.  And many of us, when things are going well, find ourselves waiting for the other shoe to drop. Read More

Admit it’s broken, and let me fix it.

DSC04658

Truth Byte #4: You probably do need help after all.

I am tired of people telling me they are fine when they are so clearly NOT fine. Your marriage is breaking apart at the seams. That equals not fine. You are grumpy when you leave for work, and grumpy after you come home. That equals not fine. The only time you can relax is after you have had a drink or two, and only if it’s a long weekend. That equals not fine. We are a nation of unhappy people masquerading as “fine”. And I am here to call bullshit. Read More