Anxiety: When it was Time to Seek Help

As I get older, I like to think that I have things pretty well figured out and that it takes a lot to surprise me. I have become more accepting of my quirks and foibles and my reactions to situations are generally consistent, coming from a place of authenticity and self-awareness.

Through the years, I have also conquered some minor fears and sources of internal struggle that definitely kept me on my toes.

For me, the trick to remaining calm, cool and collected through life has been to gradually widen my comfort zone. It took guts, perseverance and hard work, but when taken in baby steps, it served me well. With a wider comfort zone, I could trust in my own skills, knowledge and resourcefulness in the face of adversity and stress.

And to cope with stress, I had in my back pocket a huge tool kit of stress management techniques, breathing exercises, mellow music, meditation techniques, grounding techniques and relaxing hobbies, not to mention lavender bath salts, scented candles and massage therapists on speed dial.

With things seemingly so neat and tidy, why is it that at the same time I felt I was becoming older and wiser, anxiety was suddenly creeping up on me as well?

“I say the universe speaks to us, always, first in whispers. And a whisper in your life usually feels like ‘hmm, that’s odd.’ Or, ‘hmm, that doesn’t make any sense.’ Or, ‘hmm, is that right?’ It’s that subtle. And if you don’t pay attention to the whisper, it gets louder and louder and louder. I say it’s like getting thumped upside the head. If you don’t pay attention to that, it’s like getting a brick upside your head. You don’t pay attention to that—the brick wall falls down. That is the pattern that I see in my life and so many other people’s lives. And so, I ask people, ‘What are the whispers? What’s whispering to you now?'” – Oprah Winfrey

To read more: http://www.oprah.com/own-master-class/oprah-winfreys-master-class-quotes/all

To me, those whispers were showing up in the form of reactions to situations that seemed out of character. Beneath my usual calm and cool exterior, I was starting to experience more moments of nervousness, an increasing intensity of nervousness, longer spans of ruminating over issues and needing more time to bounce back from dealing with life’s issues. I was also having a much harder time letting go, no matter how many times I heard that Idina Menzel song. Continue reading

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Why I Love Nature Photography

PhotographyOn my last day off, I couldn’t have asked for a better day weather-wise. The sun was shining, the sky was a stunning shade of blue, there was a gentle breeze and the temperature was a picture-perfect 20 degrees Celsius.

When deciding how I was going to spend this precious day off, I knew that grabbing the camera and spending an hour or so around a nearby creek was at the top of my list.

Upon my arrival, it took less than five minutes to get completely absorbed into the creative bubble of this enchanted forest, focused on a world of tiny subjects in their intricate detail.

Thoughts of the real world had completely suspended. It was like I had jumped into vacation mode, yet was still just minutes from my house.

On this quiet morning, I appreciated the peace and solitude of the moment, even though I was surrounded by many species of wildlife pursuing their business of the day. I marveled at the soothing effect of just being there, bearing witness to nature’s gentle pace.

I noticed that my usually hurried steps gradually slowed down as if to not disturb nature’s ebb and flow. My breathing slowed as well, as a calming effect took over.

I scanned through the tall grasses and plants surrounding me, looking for my next subject. My senses were fully tuned in, trying to spot those moments that we miss while rushing from commitment to commitment.

Thoughts of my to-do list drifted away as I followed a monarch butterfly floating from plant to plant, posing and preening in the sunshine as if to say “Take my picture, take my picture!” I happily obliged and then thanked her for the opportunity. Continue reading

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Inspired by the Creativity of Others

A few days ago, I attended a concert at the National Arts Centre, here in Ottawa, to see The Tenors perform with the National Arts Centre Orchestra conducted by Jack Everly.

Much like all of the Pops series concerts I have seen in recent years, the concert brought me on a roller coaster of emotions, between goose bump moments of arias and their triumphant crescendos and moments where I felt a tad verklempt, hearing favourite songs performed live in brilliant new arrangements.

Throughout great performances like that, I can’t help but ask myself, “How do they do it?” How much of it is natural aptitude and how much is hard work? How many thousands of hours each performer put into their craft over the years, to become one with their instruments and to make it look so easy? How hard did each one have to work to achieve this level of proficiency, to produce such beauty that can elicit such strong emotions from spectators?

This inner monologue replays in my head again and again whenever I feel deeply inspired, whether it’s at a concert, in a museum, in a theatre, reading a book or watching a great movie. It’s like a vortex of creativity, swirling around, reaching out and stirring up my own artistic momentum to keep doing what I love doing, keep practicing, work hard and don’t let go.

I sometimes pause and wonder if I will ever get to the same degree of skillfulness and versatility in writing as someone who can pick up an instrument and play a song, just like that. Then I think to myself that I have been known to pull a rabbit or two out of a hat on a few occasions.

Whether it’s a blog post that I was able to commit to paper in one sitting in under two hours (it doesn’t happen often, but it does), a blog post that successfully reached out and really struck a chord with readers, or writing a piece at work that was exactly what was requested, offering the right words at the right time, and being able to do so under crazy time constraints. I reassure myself that I am on my way. Continue reading

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How I Need the Internet to Go “Off the Grid”

In keeping with tradition, last month I booked some time off for some rest and relaxation from the office and to take in the festivities of the Eurovision Song Contest, from the comfort of my couch here in Canada. For what seems like ten years now, Eurovision has been the focal point of my version of “spring break”.

The first few days of my time off consisted of jotting down some blog ideas floating around in my grey matter and puttering around the house, getting chores done. With those out of the way, when Eurovision came on, I could truly let myself get swallowed up by my sofa, pillow, blanket and cat, and to completely disconnect from the world.

That is… until I woke up Tuesday morning to find I was already disconnected from the world.

No Internet service!

After a series of attempts over two days to restore my Internet service over the phone, with the assistance of cheerful client service representatives, it finally took a site visit from a technician on Thursday to get everything fixed up.

Once I was on the couch, with pillow, blanket and cat, watching the Eurovision semi-final #2, my cares completely melted away with each passing costume change, wind machine, and key change.
The next day, I watched semi-final #1, and on the Saturday, I watched the finals live with the other 204 million viewers around the world. Everything seemed right with the universe again.
But those few days I was without Internet, I surprised myself at my dependence on it. How do people actually go off-the-grid anymore? Continue reading

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How the Feline Barricade Saved Me from Myself

Shortly after the arrival of Ivy the Wonder Cat, when she started dropping her guard with me, it was a wonderful thing.

Those first few times that I was quietly watching TV only to find Ivy inconspicuously walking into my lap, plopping herself down and making herself comfortable, were heartwarming moments.

When trust and comfort conspired to become her naptime, I knew that I had succeeded in creating the right environment, that she was comfortable with me, and that we had truly bonded.

The only pitfall of that was getting locked into a couch or armchair and not being able to get up. I hated the risk of disturbing her peaceful sleep.

Fortunately, I caught on early and made sure that if I was sitting down with plans to watch TV for a while, to make sure I had gone to the bathroom first, had a beverage next to me, my remotes by my side and a pen and note paper, in case moments of creative inspiration should happen to strike me during my immobilization. Continue reading

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You Know It Was a Good Vacation When…

Isn’t it wonderful when you have enjoyed your vacation time to its fullest and completely immersed yourself in activities that were so far removed from your day-to-day routine… to the point of forgetting the details of your day-to-day routine?

That being the case, you know it was a good vacation when…

Ice Bar, Stockholm, 2005

You have a hard time falling asleep on cue, to wake up in time for the return to your regular morning routine.

You wake up with muscle or joint stiffness but no recollection of what could have caused it.

The prospect of wearing long pants again makes you cringe.

The prospect of preparing a lunch-to-go makes you cringe even more.

You overshoot your morning routine prep time by half an hour.

Even your pets are seemingly sad to see you go back to the regular routine.

You’re not freaked out by the guy who cuts you off in traffic on your first morning commute. Continue reading

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The Pitfalls of Nature Photography

Now that I have been out and about, enjoying the spring weather, indulging in a little quiet time, communing with nature and taking photos, I could not help but notice that my hobby does have its share of pitfalls.

In trying to capture the perfect shot, I often feel like a secret agent, trying to move in on a subject in stealth mode, intensely looking at the world through a viewfinder.

But in doing so, and in being so focused, I have occasionally lost track of the intricacies of the physical world around me, including time and space. From a health and safety perspective, it concerns me a little, given my tendency to occasionally be a bit of a klutz.

Yet even when faced with these challenges, I don’t seem deterred. The rewards of capturing a great nature shot are worth every bump and bruise.

Also, Mother Nature has a way of keeping photographers on their toes by changing the perfect conditions with little advance notice. It can get a little frustrating but I’d like to think that this is part of the thrill of the hunt when perseverance leads you to that shot that made it all worth it.

Here they are, my top 10 pitfalls of nature photography:

10. Losing track of time
It has happened that in the process of evaluating the composition and the lighting, taking a test shot, evaluating the result, making adjustments, taking another test shot and repeating until I think I have captured the best photo possible, before I know it, an hour has passed. It’s delightful to lose myself in the creative process when I have unlimited time on my hands, but it is quite another matter, when I am on my lunch hour and due back for a meeting at 1:00 sharp.

9. Wearing the wrong shoes
A subset of #10, sometimes I get so enthralled in my photo shoot, not only do I lose track of time, but I lose track of space and distance and find myself farther away than I originally planned. It is on the long walk back and dealing with a blister that I realize that I was not wearing the right shoes for such an undertaking. Continue reading

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