Focal Points: Reflection by Shelley Robinson

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Too Many Rabbits:  She is a woman of multiple focal points.  She has a habit of chasing too many rabbits in too many directions and often flops down on the ground, disheartened and down-trodden by her state of “dis-expectation”.  Nothing ever really lives up to her standards of interesting enough, fun enough, organized enough or thoughtful enough.  Everyone around her knows her tragic flaw of perpetual disappointment, and stays clear of her before she gets them in the grips of her sentence starters: “I haven’t heard from you lately;”or “You never do this or that…” or “I was hoping we could go shopping together.”

Shopping together entails the painful experience of her walking down aisle after aisle longing for things she doesn’t have, comparing items to products she assumes are better somewhere else; and “could we just go to another store after this one to compare prices.”  The cost of things is always in question, and in the end, all of the joy from the overwhelming world of retail therapy is squeeezed out and hung out to dry long before she is ready to go home.  All the while, she ponders why she can’t have or do what other people are doing with their wonderful friends and families in their wonderful worlds.

Greener Pastures:  Her world of envying all of the other greener pastures paralyzes her ability to actually do anything about her own circumstances.  Her life is simply too overwhelming and reduces her to fits of drama that people find difficult to endure.  We long for someone or some circumstance to come along and shake her awake to her own good fortune.  Maybe then she might stand up and pay attention.  Solutions abound to those who are willing to be present long enough to be honest about their responsibilities and, in turn, their relationship to them.  Oh, the world of the emotionally disenfranchised people who blunder and blame, and find no joy even when joy sits right in front of them sharing tea.

She sits in her elder years, quite plaintive and charged and easily set off by anyone presenting condolences, or worse yet, offering solutions.  “You know,” she speaks emphatically after she tires of any unwanted advice, “All of my friends are dying.”  This statement is the trump card that forces people silent.  And then her victim status is clearly marked and protected with her emphatic stonewalling conversation clincher: “I don’t want to talk about it!”

We all want to whisper (or maybe shout), “Go in the direction that the wind is blowing instead of standing in it refusing to bend.  Find one point of direction and start moving towards it.  Stay on track.  Keep focussed.  Be gracious in the journey, and for goodness sakes, be grateful!”  We don’t say this to her out of respect for her age and disability.  We sit quietly watching the drama unfold.

In the end, she was a woman of multiple focal points.  She had a habit of chasing too many rabbits in too many directions.  She got lost and made sure that no one wanted to look for her.

 

 

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Goal Posts: Reflection by Shelley Robinson

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Soccer with the Boys:  Every time she ran past all of the boys in the old field nearing the make-shift goal consisting of coats or back packs to mark either goal post, she got nervous.  What if she shot the ball and missed?  What if she tripped and fell?  What if she let someone else block her and steal the ball away?  Inevitably, she’d make a big effort and usually miss.  She had more break-aways than any of her male friends, but to no avail in the end.  It was very frustrating.  Even when she was hyperventilating on the sidelines, pondering her next strategy, she was perplexed by how she would choke in her end game.  This nervousness was self-fulfilling, of course, and she often copped out and passed the ball to someone who could finish the game and close the deal, but never credit her for doing much of the work to support the goal.

Stay Cool:  Today, she decided, would be different.  She wanted to try a different strategy.  She would not work so hard to do the big shot to score, but instead, she would slow things down just long enough to tap it in away from the goalie.  She would “place” the ball in the imaginary net. She would coax it in and surprise the other team.   As she ran in another game-changing break-away, she decided to breathe instead of holding her breath in an anticipation of kicking the ball with all of her might.  This time she slowed down and ducked one way while kicking the ball in the other direction.  While attempting to deak around a boy who flung himself in front of her intent to score, she fell onto the ground after he collided with her, and they both looked up just in time to see her ball casually rolling into the goal.

“Yes!” she hissed aloud.

“No!” the other team’s boys exclaimed in disbelief.

“Yay!” shouted her own team mates in admiration.

Finally, she had figured a way to outwit the other team, as well as her own performance anxiety. The trick was to slow down and calmly knock in the winning point. They never saw it coming. This became her Modus Operandi (MO) in the game of life wherever she needed a competitive edge to not only get ahead, but to stay alive.  Keep cool and go around the goalie when they least expect it.

Tap.

Score!

 

 

Pressed: The Uncomfortable Truth about Late Adult Cystic Fibrosis (CF) or (CRMS) Diagnosis: Catching My Breath After a Long Journey by Shelley Robinson, PhD

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Triage:  What do you do when you are drowning in phlegm, coughing up a gut, and unable to breathe?  Does this sound like you?  You avoid going to the hospital because you have been to the clinics and hospitals a few dozen times without success.  However, you finally end up in someone’s medical office because the problem persists or gets worse.  You explain your symptoms to the doctor, and you try to explain that this time, you would like them to take you seriously.  This is not the typical cold, you plead.  It has plagued you too many times, and it feels like every time you get sick, it is worse than the time before.  It feels like pneumonia, bronchitis and the flu combined.

The doctor asks you to pull up your shirt so he/she can listen to your chest.  He/she assures you are not wheezing and that “things sound fine”.  Occasionally, one of these doctors orders up a chest X-ray that indicates some variation and degree of phlegm issues in the chest (depending on the occasion), but essentially, it is not considered a big deal.  You are sent home with or without a course of antibiotics and possibly an inhaler prescription (often without a sputum sample or blood test), and are left to pick up the pieces of your own slow recovery for the next few weeks.  Over the counter medications do not really help, and there is a sense of desperation in the whole situation as you cannot miss work indefinitely.  There is little medical follow-up because you are just glad to get better and the doctor has moved on to the next patient.  If you pursue it too assertively, you are deemed a “hypochondriac” and sent home with a pat on the back.  No one really connects the dots of your sorry lung issues in your ten-minute appointments.  The wait time for specialists can be up to a year, and so you soldier on with your life hoping that things will resolve themselves with time.   Next year, it will be easier, you reassure yourself.

Turning Point:   In my case, this scenario was repeated two or three times a year since childhood for 51 years.  In a couple of instances as a child, I was intubated and hospitalized.  As I got older, my family knew my routine as a fragile sick person that could be down for weeks with a cold during the fall and winter months where I would transform in the spring and summer months.  I always noted that when the furnace came on (dry air), my significant medical issues arose.  Aside from one doctor who I had in my twenties who did routine sputum cultures and told me that I was “growing some pretty strange stuff in my lungs”, I was never really taken all that seriously even when I was hospitalized.  In the doctors’ defence, they work extremely hard to manage crowded waiting rooms; as well, the research about CF and related issues is quite new.  My lung specialist told me that I did not have asthma or any lung issues by conventional testing, despite my obvious difficulties.  My signature phlegmy cough was recognizable by my colleagues and friends, and my son commented that he always knew when I was coming to pick him up from school because he could hear me coughing down the hallway.  It was something that I just learned to deal with and survive each time I became ill.

In a recent hospital visit in 2016, I was initially sent home “with a cold”.  I returned worse the next day to a young doctor who decided to take me a bit more seriously than the doctor the night before.  After further testing, we quickly learned that I had pneumonia and pleural effusions.  This situation escalated to a crisis where the doctors then admitted me into the hospital and eventually into intensive care.  The doctor on call admitted, that they did not know what was wrong with me as my situation was deteriorating.

On Day Two in this little hospital’s ICU, breathing in oxygen and hooked up to antibiotics and machines monitoring my vitals, I asked for a sputum culture.  The doctor indicated that sputum cultures rarely showed much, and that they were not really as helpful as blood work, but I insisted.  I wanted to know more about this sticky and overly-productive phlegm issue that was blocking my breathing and controlling my life.  My sputum culture came back showing Burkholderia Cepacia Complex (B. Cepacia).  The doctor told me that this was sometimes a bacteria typical of people with Cystic Fibrosis.  I was terrified of this term Cystic Fibrosis (CF), laden with terrible stories of medical strife and death as by definition it is “[a] common grave genetic disease that affects the exocrine glands and is characterized by the production of abnormal secretions, leading to mucus buildup that impairs the pancreas and, secondarily, the intestine.  Mucus buildup in lungs can impair respiration” (medicinenet.com, 2017)

Connecting the Dots:  I was referred to a travelling respirologist to who came into town a few months later, and he listened to my story.  I explained my credibility as an educated person (because it seemed important to appear logical), and spoke my case assertively after rehearsing how to do so with my husband the night before.  My recent five-day stint in the hospital motivated me to advocate for myself.   “I am drowning in phlegm.” I was emotional despite my preparation.  “This has been my life story.  When I get sick, it is unmanageable.  I am completely disabled by viruses and do not recover from them without antibiotics, but the antibiotics game seems filled with guesswork.”  He listened intently.  I did not want to hear the same old responses from doctor’s assigning me a medical category with pat prescription protocols.  I was an educated woman (PhD) and a researcher, and I knew that I needed someone to connect some of my medical data together into a picture that made sense.  I wrote out my history, and tried to formulate my own interpretation of it so that I could share it sensibly with these experts.  Surprisingly, after this one appointment of him paying close attention to my medical story, he referred me to a CF Clinic.  From there, I started to learn more about the lungs and began a rigorous diagnostic process.

What I want to emphasize at this point in my journey is that having adequate time with specialists is truly the turning point in my situation.  In my opinion, it is impossible for doctors and specialists to truly understand a complex diagnosis without adequate time to do so.  Short appointments and sporadic visits with lengthy wait times are not likely to encourage rigorous research, follow-through and the follow-up of any one patient.  My knowledge and explanation of my medical story as a layperson is open for medical scrutiny; however, this is my interpretation of where I am at in my own research process and medical diagnosis given my work with various doctors.  Once I had this tiny piece of “sputum evidence” that I might have bacteria indicative of CF (as scary as this seemed to be at the time), people started taking me seriously.  Interestingly, when they looked back in my files, they spotted this same finding in 2002 and 2009, but these details were few and far between and got lost in my medical trail.  Even though I had many symptoms that are relevant to this type of disorder, I was not knowledgeable enough to draw this type of medical conclusion on my own, nor did anyone seem to have the expertise, nor the time to step back and really look at the whole picture.

CF has typical complications including difficulty digesting fats and proteins, malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies, progressive lung damage due to chronic infections, reproductive issues and sinus infections.  The CF specialists have been very thorough and kind and it has been reassuring that they are tuned into the research of the Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator (CFTR) that I am learning is the most common genetic disorder of Caucasians (Brusgaard, 2012).  I have always had trouble with constipation, sinus infections (and nose bleeds), eye issues (dry eye, floaters and other), bronchial infections, uterine problems and pneumonia, and my doctors along the way have not heeded (or known to heed) some of these red flags by looking at them in their entirety.  In a nutshell, I was a very dry person from the inside out and in light of this lack of natural lubrication in my mucous membranes throughout my body, I struggle with the reduced ability to metabolize nutrition and function easily in my life, especially with my breathing.  I have been ill often, and significantly so, and I have found it difficult to recover from viruses that quickly turn into infections.

CFTR-Related Metabolic Syndrome (CRMS):  By this point of this journey the doctors had become vigilant in my testing.  I was immediately asked to do the definitive CF sweat chloride test.  “If a doctor suspects a patient has CF, a ‘sweat test’ may be administered. This test measures the amount of salt content present in the sweat. If the test comes back positive, it means the sweat collected contains more salt than usual and supports a diagnosis of CF” (Cystic Fibrosis Canada, 2017).  My first sweat chloride test indicated a 70 and the second a 30.  A finding of over 60 was the standard indicator of CF.  Medical eyebrows started to raise.  Both findings were high, but the variation was atypical.  My blood work was showing bacteria that had likely colonized in my lungs for many years because it was not eradicated by the strong antibiotics that I was prescribed once they learned about it.  A metacholine test, indicated that I did have asthma, but not severe enough to warrant the degree of my ongoing phlegm and breathing issues.  Even though I was a healthy woman by many test standards, things were starting to look like there might be more at play in this later-in-life diagnosis.  I learned that 18 people a year are diagnosed with CF into adulthood (Cystic Fibrosis Canada, 2017), but my findings are still inconclusive.  I am being asked to return for a third sweat test in a few months, and am completing a second genetic panel of tests to confirm whether I have any genetic indicators of family history warranting a formal diagnosis.  In light of my circumstance, my father and sister are doing the same testing given that they have similar symptomology.  As a family, we have concluded that the triangulation of this family information will shed light on which direction we each head given my test results so far.

What I am learning is that I fall into this grey area of CF known loosely in the CF world as CFTR-Related Metabolic Syndrome (CRMS).  “Your doctor may diagnose you or your child with CRMS if the sweat chloride test results fall into an uncertain or borderline range described as ‘intermediate.’  The diagnosis of CRMS means [that the patient] may experience problems in the parts of the body often affected by CF…Although the future health of someone diagnosed with CRMS remains unclear, there is a higher risk of experiencing problems in the airways, sinuses, intestines, pancreas or the reproductive system” (Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, 2017).  If this is the case, I will need to follow the CF protocols regardless of a formal diagnosis because I struggle with symptoms that are similar.  I cannot get too hung up on its definition when the research about it is still so new.  These protocols include the following for me, and I am learning to be disciplined to…1) eat a strict CF diet (a diet that resembles an auto-immune diet) with vitamin support (and digestive enzymes); 2) exercise to strengthen my lungs; 3) use a saline nebulizer; 4) use a nasal irrigation system with saline and/or medication; and 5) take prescription breathing inhalers every day.  I have a clearer understanding of the colonized bacteria in my lungs that may reactivate should I become ill and, as a result, which antibiotics are susceptible and resistant to them.  I am also more eligible for inhaled antibiotics where necessary because (my understanding is that) they operate more directly with the airways and with fewer complications to the body.   In general, I am more aware of how to behave in times of illness which defies some of the behaviour typical of doctors when they are leery of prescribing medication or antibiotics or pursuing medical testing where things appear to be simply a cold or the flu.

Pending Diagnosis:  No longer will I accept a quick diagnosis and prescription guesswork as the implications for mistakes of this nature at this stage in my life can have grave complications like they did last year when I was first turned away from the hospital, and then later, admitted into intensive care.  I will also insist on testing where it seems appropriate.  I have also learned that testing is a more rigorous and can be a more discreet process when you have the “CF” label attached to the lab requisition paperwork.  My lab findings have shown more issues with this CF screening title than previously indicated.

Now I self-advocate by taking notes, paying attention and asking the right questions.  I keep track of my eHealth reports, and I learn by reading relevant articles.  I am not a hypochondriac, despite the medical profession sometimes making patients feel this way when they are invested in their own health.  Rather, I am an interested participant in my own medical well-being.  I ask for longer appointment times (20 and not 10 minute appointments) and I speak more directly about what I am experiencing in my body as well as how I am feeling about it at an emotional level than I felt comfortable doing in the past.  The body and mind work together and it is imperative that we look address all of it as we work through medical challenges that can sometimes proactively set us in the right direction.

Most importantly, I talk about this situation with people who care to listen.  I am writing about it now so that other people can learn from my trial and (lengthy) error experiences because I hope to spare other people a similar journey filled with repeated illness and complication.  I am particularly invested in my medical findings because my family is now involved and I watch them struggle with some of the same medical symptoms and obstacles for finding workable solutions.  What I am learning is that the research field of CF is opening up with new information for those of us that are paying attention.  I hope that general practitioners and specialists are also paying attention.  My diagnosis is pending, but whatever the findings will be, I will take my medical situation much more seriously moving ahead into the future.  I anticipate that in ten to twenty years, we will have a new language for this type of disorder and likely within a spectrum of possible diagnoses.  We will be better able to help prevent, mitigate and/or solve these issues for people who are currently struggling with these types of problems without knowing what to do about it.

 

Awakening Nearby: Poem by Shelley Robinson, November, 2017

 

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I awaken beneath salal

Ancient firs fend the rain

Sun casts ethereal rays

 

“It is time,” the raven calls

“Let go,” the eagle shrieks

“Be free,” whispers the wind

 

My friends and family?

My job? My dreams?

Frigid fear flashes

 

“They live nearby while you rest,”

Sitka soothes tears

spilling silently where I lay

 

“You are awakening

amidst the fallen;

You are anew,” the alders speak

 

“Go deeply into the forest;

Boscage and briar protect you;

Look forward, not back”

 

“Crescent moon awaits;

Your essence will etch eternal

in their love and laughter”

 

Cedar cradles my spirit

I enter nature’s holy temple

My name is hereafter

 

This poem is written in honour of my friends and family who have recently lost their loved ones.

Mini Short Stories by Shelley Robinson

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It is difficult to write short stories, and especially when the challenge is put forward to do so in under 420 characters.  In many ways, these five little mini-stories are short story prompts for someone to come along and fill them up with more details.

Unexpected Grace

Her scull cracked on the floor.  Should she cry out to her ex-boyfriend?  She would rather die than have him save her.  Her sad life dripped out onto the cold tile.  The cat licked her forehead.  Apathy anesthetized her as she floated to the ceiling.  She willed death to rescue her.

“Push!” A shrill voice scolded her awake. “This baby wants to come out now!”  It sounded like her deceased mother.  Grace was on its way.

 

Blind Date

I ordered another drink.  He was an hour late.  We had been talking online for days, and this was our first date.  We had discussed being soul mates.  He was a veterinarian.  I checked my phone to confirm our details.  The bartender smiled at me sympathetically.

A disheveled older woman confronted me.  “My son changed his mind.  I came instead.”

“Why?” I gasped.

“He’s fourteen.  It’s illegal.  Stop contacting him!”

 

Cry to the Wild

The bear’s claws ripped open her arm.  This black, hungry forest stalker had been tracking her for miles.  She rolled into a ball frozen in fear and searing pain.

It looked up and stopped its attack, distracted by the growl of a scavenging wolf.  It gave her time to throw down her pack and run.  Mother Nature watched her bleed.  Where was her merciful God?  She heard faraway voices and yelled, “I will not die today!”

 

Lost Baby

The old woman found a baby in the park swaddled in a flannel shirt.  Its pink skin and twitching fingers dredged up her maternal instincts.  The urge to take him home to her trailer overcame her and she tucked him into her bulky coat and hobbled to the bus stop.

The shrill newborn cry shattered her will to execute this desperate mission.  She sat on the bench and cried.  This was another baby she would never keep.

 

White Collar Stowaway

He made a decision to stay on the plane connecting to Hanoi.  He hid in the bathroom while the crew cleaned the cabin.  He found a spare seat near the emergency exit and became invisible next to the cute child.  Once flying, he marvelled at how easy it had been.

Buying a visa and getting through customs would be easy.  Then he would disappear into the busy streets.

“Excuse me, Sir, can I see your boarding pass?”

 

Community Reservation by Shelley Robinson

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Community Reservation by Shelley Robinson

Racial segregation
Hindsight indignation
Financial compensation
Compromised position
Confining institution
Embarrassed reputation
Shame of blinded nation
Reconciliation?
Lawful requisition
Rebellious restitution
Path to re-creation
Cultural preservation
Town regeneration
Totem inspiration
Community reservation

What About the Girls? by Shelley Robinson

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The Big Question (and necessary preamble):  Recently I was asked if I was a “Feminist”.  In the past, I have shied away from answering this question because people have often equated Feminism with a radical view of male patriarchy, or “man hating”.  It is important to remember that even “[r]adical feminism opposes patriarchy, not men. To equate radical feminism to man-hating is to assume that patriarchy and men are inseparable, philosophically and politically” (Lewis, 2017).   In response to this direct question about my status as a Feminist, I answered very emphatically, “Yes, I am.”  I was resolved and proud of my answer, and could tell that my confidence in answering her tempered her next comments, and eventually led to a change in topic.  Yes, I believe that there is an egalitarian potential for women in Canada, and around the world.  However, my hopes for this to be the case and to the degree that I believe that it should be possible, have been disappointed on too many occasions to ignore.

With this identification as a strong Feminist, I want to understand what this term really means to me.  I remind myself and others stumbling across my article and reading my thoughts on this larger-than-life ideology, that I am clearly biting more off than I can chew discussing it.  My narrative describing my experiences as an educated, middle-class, white, Canadian born female, may be similar and different than other women around the world.  I do not want to spend my time devaluing my observations by trying to measure them as good or bad, big or little, and better or worse than other women (although I am pretty sure that on the big global scale of things, my concerns as a woman may appear to be relatively benign).  Instead, there are simply some things in my lived experiences that warrant attention to impress upon people that there is a dialogue that needs to keep happening with and about women of all ages and ethnicities.  We must start mentoring strong and capable girls so that they can grow into wonderful and wise women in whatever contexts that they live, work and have relationships.

A Definition:  Feminism is a series of political and social movements, and ideologies “that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social equality of sexes” (Hawkesworth, 2006, pp. 25-27)).  I am recognizing, as I get older, how enculturated I have been in a world where my very survival has depended on not only fitting in to society, but excelling within it.  As a result, I consciously and unconsciously have ignored many examples of gender discrimination (some subtle, and some more overt).

As I became an adult in the 1980’s, I never really thought of myself as oppressed by patriarchy, per se; however, in retrospect, I see now that I was just keeping my head above water in a male oriented world.  There were challenges to my achievement and success, and I was not always sure of how to navigate these subtle and sometimes invisible barriers that I kept bumping into.  In my youth, I was not really aware of how nor did I really feel capable to challenge the social status quo.  Being an eager and accommodating white, young (in my 20’s and 30’s), attractive and educated woman, allowed me considerable academic and professional access and success within my world of male leadership.   Let me be clear.  I was fortunate to have had and still have many very admirable and honourable male mentors in my life who sought/seek a climate of mutual respect in everything that they did/do.  However,  there were/are other people in my life (personal and professional) where my best interests as a woman (and a single woman for most of my life) were/are not always evident.

Growing Up Female:  I started to wake up to my social realities when I had to grapple with important topics as a liberated, less-attractive, 40-something woman.  It was not until I started to push at my own glass ceiling (as an academic; leader in my profession; writer and public speaker), that cracks about equality between me and the men (and some oblivious women) around me, started to show.  When I started asking questions and making decisions for myself as an accomplished and confident older woman,  I wondered why there were more uncomfortable moments, hesitations, snubs, stonewalling, and, in some cases, outright reprimands from people.  What was happening?  Was it me?  I assume that this is a question women ask when these shifts in their relationships happen because they gain voice and agency in their lives.

Yes, it was me.  I was starting to operate with the same rights and confidence as other strong men and women, speaking to people respectfully, but directly and assertively where necessary.  My confident behaviour was not always respected nor appreciated by everyone.  Interestingly, I found that younger men and women were more open to this type of frank conversation.  They held less of a defensive filter of “who are you to tell me this (as a woman)?” and more of a feeling of “you are my boss/teacher/mentor.  I respect you.  I have a lot to learn.”  Although I cannot generalize that all young people operate on a basis of gender equality, I have had some very positive experiences in my work with many.  I have tried hundreds of approaches to best communicate as graciously as possible in my personal and professional lives, but the reality is that not all people respect my knowledge, truth or power, no matter how I deliver it.

All the Strong Women:  Some incredibly strong and efficacious women before me fought for the human rights that set a softer social stage that I walk across now.  Manifestations of this idea of Feminism through history that have been mobilized by many female (and male) writers, philanthropists, philosophers, suffragettes, abolitionists, pioneers, first-wave feminists, second-wave feminists, third-wave feminists, individual feminists, social feminists, international leaguers, councillors, activists, doctors, politicians, campaigners, business-women, editors, organizers, eco-feminists, anarcha-feminists, journalists, anti-pornography feminists, international volunteers, orators, women voters, lawyers and so many more.  From Helen of Anjou, a Serbian Queen who was an establisher of women’s schools in the 1200’s through to Malala Yousafzai who is currently a 20-something Pakistani activist for female education, we have an extensive international community of strong women who have helped the cause of girls and women in history.  They have helped our societies move from having limited female opportunities to being recognized for having more human rights around the world than before.

Basic human rights for women have taken awhile to achieve, but are still not always attainable nor sustainable.  Why women are still treated like second-class citizens around the world, continues to puzzle me.  Being able to… own property; keep custody of children; have children (reproductive rights); keeping female genitalia in tact; earn a living without permission; be free of domestic violence and marital rape entitlement; borrow money; work in various fields; attend certain schools and universities; attain certain credentials; publish writing; divorce and re-marry; be in certain buildings; attend certain meetings; drink in public establishments; drive a car, and the list goes on, have been hard earned rights forged by the women (and men) who believed and continue to believe that women were/are entitled to them (country specific).  Why were these rights ever in question?

A Canadian Context:  In my naïveté, the political and social struggles of Canadian women (my only context at the time) were essentially over in the 1980’s and 90’s, until I became a bit more educated and had greater life experience, and paid closer attention.  It is always interesting that we do not understand the plight of the marginalized and disenfranchised until we walk a mile in these moccasins.  A pivotal life conversation that I had with one of my professors, Dr. Ian Winchester at the University of Calgary (2008) prompted me to reconsider my gender malaise that I was safe and well in Canada as a woman.  He reminded me that the rights of women in Afghanistan were gained and then lost, just as the significant rights of Canadian women have been earned only in the last 100 years.  Imagine, he pointed out as well, how it was for women in minority classes and cultures, let alone the “privileged” (he referred to race and class).  “Always pay attention.  Never be complacent,” he reminded me.  I came away from our meeting feeling that he was just a bit paranoid, but as this past decade has unfolded since that meeting, I am paying particular attention to his sage advice.

Confusing Questions:  I started having more question than answers in my 30’s and 40’s.   Why was my marital status or lack of it important in my bank and insurance applications? Why did the mechanic want to talk to my boyfriend and not me? Why can my male colleague say things a certain way (assertively) at a meeting, but if I do, there is backlash?  Why are decisions made without my input by the male leaders (colleagues and supervisor) in the group?  Why was a man promoted without much due process (how did that happen)?  Why am I not eligible for this job because I am a single mother (as explained to me at the time)?   Why can I not travel alone as easily as a man?  Why must I cover my legs and arms in this country?  Why am I asked about my hormones when I am in an argument with a man?  Why must I give up tenure if I want to extend my maternity leave?  Why would I change my last name in marriage when my diplomas and certification proudly declare my birth name?  Why am I doing all of the clean-up alone after the dinner party?  Why am I planning all of the family gatherings for all of the families?  Why do I carry much of the “emotional labour” (Hartley, 2017) in my significant relationships?  Why am I warned not to use the hard-earned title of doctor in my professional interactions when my male colleagues and superiors (who have similar credentials), do so without question.  The why’s about my life and some double standards within it were starting to show up in small and big uncomfortable ways.

The Burning Bra Stigma:  Although the bra-burning controversies in the 1960’s drew attention to Feminism as “Women’s Liberation”, it seemed to have cast a negative spell over this idea of taking back our rights as women.   “The infamous demonstration that gave birth to this rumor was the 1968 protest of the Miss America contest. Bras, girdles, nylons and other articles of constricting clothing were tossed in a trash can” (Lewis, 2017).  I hate wearing bras and all of the other uncomfortable clothing and paraphernalia that make women attractive by pop culture standards (high heel shoes, nylons, bustiers, fake fingernails, fake eye-lashes, thong underwear and so on).  However, I am still not prepared to go without a bra unless I am in the privacy of my own home, even at 52 years of age.  I have braved nude beaches and have had some playful exhibitionist moments, but the bra is still my armour everywhere I go.  It keeps my breasts solidly in place with my nipples hidden.  As well, the matter of “cleavage” has always come up for me.  I have it.  Should I hide it, or proudly show it?  I have leaned towards modesty most of my life as unwanted attention of my body can be uncomfortable.  This is a shame, in retrospect, because I have great breasts.

If I have ever professed to be too supportive of anything deemed “Feminist”, I have been put in my place by some of my family, friends, colleagues and peers:  “Are you going to burn your bra over this one?  Do you hate men?”  It has been the ultimate shut down, reminding me to mind my own business and steer clear of that topic.  It seems to me that there is considerable anxiety and pushback from some men about this idea of taking back female rights as if men might lose all of theirs in a sort of reverse-discrimitation in the process of re-balancing and reconfiguring our society.  We are still, by my estimation, a long way away from women taking over the world, and so are we too a long way from “may the best person get the job” in all scenarios.  Having been part of many interviewing panels, I still see some of my interview colleagues giving women of child-bearing years a second thought when they ask, “How old is she?  Is she married?” knowing that maternity leaves can be costly for many companies.

I remember when this statistic came out:  “According to the 2006 Census, women accounted for 60% of university graduates between the ages of 25 and 29” (Statistics Canada, 2008).   As a result, many more women were becoming educated and eligible to work in many lines of work.  In an effort to explain it, research was conducted and it showed that “academic achievement assessments carried out by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) for a large international sample of 15-year-olds, girls performed significantly better than boys on the reading test in all countries and in all ten Canadian provinces” (Statistics Canada, 2008).   People started to become very concerned in my educational circles asking, “What about the boys?”

Professional Observations:  As a female administrator in schools, when dealing with people (still predominantly men in educational leadership) I am very thoughtful when I introduce ideas for change.  Whenever I have wanted to initiate or support change, I have been very careful to research what I am discussing and to recruit intelligent people to help introduce these new ideas before I implement any formal action plan with any group of professionals.  There were points in my life where I would preface my new ideas with ingratiating introductions in the circles of men.  “I know you have likely already thought of this, but what about this idea?”  I do not do this anymore.

It has also been frustrating on occasion when people have taken credit for my ideas and initiatives.  Initiatives that I had hoped to run with were hijacked by people who were more senior to me or “in the loop”, more powerful, more connected–more male.  I still hear the echoes of male laughter through the halls of many educational leadership conferences when I was doing educational presentations.  Where were all of the women?

Things are shifting a bit, but not entirely.  I see a bit of this when watching the parliamentary debates on television as the male politicians holler insults back and forth with very little attention to the decorum of formal debate.  I rarely hear women speak, likely because there are currently only 88 out of 335 seats (Lower House of Parliament of Canada, 2017 or 43 of 100 seats in the senate (2017).  Elizabeth May,  the first female Member of Parliament for the Green Party has been known to stop talking when she has been interrupted by rude banter.  She has calmly sat down until the Speaker of the House has called it to attention.   We have accepted this status quo of fewer women in leadership throughout history, and although the trends are changing, I am still watching men behave poorly on the leadership stage around the world.  To some degree, I can understand why women stay clear of the complexity of it.

A Girls’ Leadership Group:  In one of the middle schools where I worked as an administrator, we began a girls’ leadership group with the support of several strong and capable women (teachers, mothers and older students).  The goal was to provide the girls with an opportunity to meet together and to discuss female leadership.  What did it mean to be a female leader in the world at large?  The National Research Council speaks at length about the value of women meeting together to strengthen their opportunities and create meaningful female relationships (GirlsInc, 2016).  We offered them opportunities to ask pertinent career-oriented questions and meet with professionals from the Minerva Organization to showcase the different vocations and professions that girls might consider in their futures, especially in fields that had typically been reserved for men (science and technology).  We worked with the girls on matters of leadership qualities that might help them to excel in their futures so that they could be confident and capable in their life choices.

In three years, the group grew from 40 girls to 116 (at its peak), and female staff members and mothers generated regular lunches and seminars to contribute to this engaging enterprise of women mentoring girls about life-changing topics.  The remarkable thing about this leadership group was that as time went on, girls felt safe and confident enough to raise important personal questions and topics, disclosing their insecurities as young women:  “How do I apply for that job?  How do I handle being heckled by a boy in class?  How do I tell a boy that I am not interested?  What do I do when a boy sexts me?  What do I do about some of the mean boys and girls around me (bullying)?  I don’t really know much about tampons because my family does not talk about them”.  The list of vulnerable and sensitive questions were varied and extensive and the girls were thoughtful and respectful in their consideration of them.

As a group, we were transparent about our agenda, and we even invited boys to some of the activities that were celebratory and educational.  However, as this group became popular, questions about “What about the boys?” started to surface.  The concern seemed to be about the optics of equality even though it was an uneven gender demographic with two-thirds of the student population being boys.  Where this was originally understood to be a small group of girls coming together to giggle over tea and cookies, it proved to be anything but this type of initiative.  An odd tension started to occur in the administration and staff every time we hosted a meeting.  Were we excluding the boys?  As the organizers of the group, we met and thought about it extensively, and concluded that it was important to continue this type of female dialogue and mentorship.  Our intent was never to be exclusive, per se, but to allow girls to talk about being girls in a setting of girls; especially because the matters of bullying (with girls bullying girls and boys bullying girls) had been on the uprise with the girls in the school.  As well, we noted that there were many thriving intramural programs, clubs, outdoor pursuits and activities available to the boys at the school that were not as accessible to girls and with them admitting to us that they were a bit uncomfortable participating in them because of being in the minority.

When we encouraged the men on staff to take up a similar boys’ leadership initiative, the idea fell short (for complex reasons, and not all due to lack of interest).  The women running this girls’ leadership group were left wondering what to do.   Were we responsible for stopping this successful girls’ initiative simply because there was not a similar one for boys?  Were we responsible for creating a boys’ leadership group that would be just like our girls’ leadership group, although boys tend to respond to more hands-on leadership initiatives and topics; where girls like to discuss them at length (Macdonald, 2005)?  Would we need to make it a mixed gender group, in which case, some of the topics about female rights, bullying and other (supported by some research to be best broached in a segregated gender setting) would need to be reconsidered (Girls Scouts, 2017)?

It appeared that when we asked, “What about the girls?” for all of the reasons that I mention above, the question brought us back to this sense that boys must be involved in all areas of the school, no matter what, even if they themselves were not initiating these types of projects, nor appeared all that interested in what we were discussing.  When I asked my adolescent son his opinion about it at the time, he shrugged his shoulders.  “Who cares?  Why is anyone threatened by a bunch of girls getting together?  What are they going to do, take over the school?” His apathy and smugness were a bit off-putting.  But, what were they really worried about?  Girls had not always been included in, nor the focus of all of the initiatives in the school.  The school had, in fact, led a boys’ initiative the year before that had been set up for parents of the boys in the school based on the work of Barry MacDonald’s research in his book entitled Boy Smarts:  Mentoring Boys for Success at School (2005).  There had not been a similar session for the parents of girls at that time.  We felt that our girls’ leadership group would fill this purpose.  In the end, after I left this school, this group disbanded and there were many people (teachers, mothers and students) who tracked me down to express disappointment about this outcome.

My Single Mother Realizations:  There were some invisible matters of female discrimination in my life when I was raising my son on my own (roles, responsibilities and behaviour) that likely influenced how my son saw me, and in turn, influenced how he understand and relates to women to this day.   He observed some of my life obstacles, in particular, how I handled the divorce with his father; and applied for and was turned down for many leadership opportunities.  He also saw some of my successes which involved achieving my educational targets, landing some good jobs, and spending much of my spare time travelling the world.  He witnessed how I was treated (both positively and negatively) by the world around me in different contexts, and my responses to it.  After all of it, he is living successfully on his own, and he keeps in touch with me from time to time, phoning to check in and occasionally asking for advice.

As he grew up, I performed much of the “emotional labour” of our home which consisted of some traditional “female roles” (cooking and cleaning), although I recruited his “help” much of the time with his resistance (although he always did help in the end).  I also attempted to mentor him to manage “male roles” and to be handy and capable while supporting him to seek male pursuits and programs.  I was always quick to correct him about any rude behaviour towards women.  In hindsight, a cooking class, and some other crafty and domestic skills would have benefitted him far more than me simply enrolling him in sports year after year in order for him to be a man amongst men.  I recognize that my influence alone does not raise a boy into a man.  In fact, his social influences (real and virtual) were extremely impactful.  He had incredible male and female role models from his family through to his counsellor, coaches, band teachers and employers.  These wonderful men and women influenced him to set goals, work hard, and to be successful.

He has a very strong and wonderful girlfriend.  I have observed that he grapples with how to share the “emotional labour” (Hartley, 2017) in their relationship.  His girlfriend does more cooking and carries the household management responsibilities of their relationship, although they are evolving the longer that they are together.  I have always wondered what he might have been like had I raised him alongside a progressive man who modelled sharing and initiating the day-to-day responsibilities in the home, and in life, a bit more equitably.

Eyes Wide Open Travelling:  My son and I travelled together once every year.  In doing so, these first-hand experiences with men and women from different cultures, raised his awareness of the gender roles in other places.  “Where are the women?” he asked me once.  The men were out in the evenings at cafes, pubs, restaurants, and in the squares, enjoying watching their sports, or playing their intense games of backgammon and chess; drinking their tea, coffee or beer; or smoking their cigarettes or sheesha pipes; and the women and children were nowhere to be seen.  In his teens, when he worked on a Youth with a Mission World Wide (YYAM) initiative in Mexico, he saw how strong the women in the villages had to be in order to turn around the cycle of poverty perpetuated by the men who were addicted to drugs and alcohol.  “I don’t really like the men there,” he confided to me when he got home.

On one of our trips, I remember stopping in a airport and pointing out all of the magazines on the rack in one of the kiosks.  “What magazines portray women for their intellect?”  The scantily clad women photoshopped onto most of them did not afford him an answer.  “How are men portrayed?”  He recognized the macho pictures of men holding guns, and fish, and riding fancy cars.  We talked about it quite a bit together when we stumbled across the objectification of women, and their disenfranchisement in many places that we visited.

Relationships 101:  I have really had to consider what it means to be feminine as a Feminist.  What are these “qualities or characteristics considered typical of or appropriate to a woman” (The Free Dictionary, 2017)?  As a child, I found that fitting in with the boys as a tomboy playing soccer and hide-and-seek until dark, far more suited me than dancing around mushrooms in an uncomfortable brown uniform (Brownies).  I lasted about three months in this group.

Into my teens and adulthood, I started to explore my sexual identity as a woman.  Although I still found that a good date usually involved a tennis match, I was certain to wear my mascara.  Dressing up and participating in the social dance of courtship was a revelation to me and I found a softer and more sexual version of myself entering womanhood.  I let myself be wooed and courted, given flowers and taken out for dinner (and, yes, sometimes I took men out too).  As an aside, I have never been too caught up in a sort of “dating capital” debate about who does what for whom.  This somehow becomes a stumbling block for women if they are deemed a Feminist.  “Well, if you want everything to be equal, how can you let him pay for dinner?”  This question of “equal” and “fair” does not always play out like a good math equation where we keep score and manage each other in this way.  Instead, I think that there is something very special about being taken out on a wonderful date with a man.  This lovely gift of an experience sometimes includes the cost of it.  Women are worth being taken out for dinner.

The truth is, I have always liked men.   The problem has always been that I have not always liked how men behave.   I usually ended relationships when I saw that they had run their course, or these lovely men ended them with me for the same reasons.  At the time, I had no inkling of the greater influence of the social dynamics at play, and how we are all domesticated to participate in society and gender roles (Ruiz, 1997).  I just knew that I was often bucking the female role that I seemed to inherit from society.  I wanted to be free of it and feel equal in my relationships with men.

In the 80’s, Melody Beattie introduced an idea that she refers to as “co-dependence” in her book Codependent No More (1986).  I started to see it show up a bit in my and other relationships around me, and it was not something that I wanted to have as the trademark of my relationships.  I enjoyed strong female and male friendships, but it was my experience that intimate relationships brought out a whole other side to men and women.  Finding a good life match felt like finding a needle in a haystack.   The “must-have’s” in my search for a life partner were something like the following (they evolved over time):

  1. Coping vs. Defending:  I need a partner who accepts responsibility for his own behaviour and does not use defence mechanisms more than positive coping strategies in his approach to solving problems (Macleod, 2009).
  2. Relationship Focus:  It is valuable to share a life with someone who makes our relationship a priority, recognizing that many other things in life are important too.
  3. Insightful:  The person with whom I spend my life needs to be reflective and insightful and is always looking and taking the iniative to improve himself so that he can be the best partner that he can be (body, mind, heart, and spirit) while I do the same.
  4. Healthy Lifestyle:  Having a non-addictive personality is critical to a good partnership, avoiding negative habits of mind, such as drugs, alcohol, gambling, pornography and other.  Instead, health and wellness need to be at the core of everything that we share together.
  5. Problem Solver:  A man needs to be accepting of me as an equal which means embracing healthy conflict in our lives and not avoiding it.  Being a good problem solver is the key to having a healthy relationship.

I always wondered why this small list of criteria was so difficult for me to find in one person after 49 years of searching, and, as well, achieving it in my own personality as a “good catch”.   In retrospect, I can see that these qualities are indicative of a capable and reflective thinker who is in charge of what he/she thinks and feels, what he/she says, and how he/she behaves.  I had always wanted something significant and extraordinary with a partner where we held each other accountable to the same thoughtful and thought-provoking standards of being equals in love, work and play.

I remember people asking me at 49 years of age, “Why don’t you just settle down with someone?”  They sensed that there might be something wrong with me.  Maybe I was too difficult, too picky, too unavailable.  They seemed worried about my very solo life of parenting, work and travel.  I remember saying, “I need to be healthy and happy, and I don’t really have the energy to settle.”  One of the quotes that stood out for me from a post-divorce Rebuilding course (1997) was my mantra:  “For the most part, a good relationship should give you more energy than it takes from you.”  With this being said, I felt unusually confident that someday I would meet my soul mate.  I had a sort of picture of him in my mind, and just before I turned 50, I met him.  We married, and together we have forged a strong friendship and partnership which is always a work in progress.  Neither of us is perfect, but the Feminist in me, has found a champion in my husband.

Female Role Models and Mentors:  I have always looked to role models and mentors to teach me something about the world.  Not everyone has the same level of expertise, but I glean wisdom from whomever I can, wherever I can.  I have had strong female role models and mentors, like my mother, my music teachers, my colleagues and my education professors.  I remember watching the Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970 to 1977) played by the actress with the same name, and wondering if the idea of this vibrant character could be possible in real life.  She was single, stylish and professionally capable.  She spoke her mind, and stood up for herself while being loved by the company of her friends and colleagues (both men and women).  It was a program that always gave me hope as a single woman embarking into the world.

Oprah Winfrey was another incredible woman who is still a very strong international voice and advocate for women’s rights.  She has modelled to me that women are powerful and that we do have voice.  It is not always what she said that stood out for me, but how she said it.  I love her deep, sonorous voice when she says, “Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher”.

I have had few relationship models where I have said to myself, “You know, I would like to have a relationship just like them.”  The truth be told, I have liked various qualities about the people in relationships around me; however, I did not see any one relationship dynamic that I aspired to emulate.  There are many books about good relationships, but I wanted to see if it was really possible to have one.  And so I embarked on holding out for the right partner and then creating this type of equal relationship with him.

Advice for Young Women:  When I ask myself, “What about the girls?” I think about all of the young women that I have been that have been caught in some snapshots over time as I have evolved and changed (with more challenge than I felt necessary to mention in this article as the outcomes were positive).  I also think of all of the wonderful young girls and women that I have taught or with whom I have worked over the years.  If I were to go back in time and talk to myself about how to be a successful woman, or to give advice to the young women around me, I would likely share the following truths that have worked for me even when there were consequences or backlash in operating this way.

  1. Be frank.  Don’t mess around.  Say your mind.   Don’t qualify it or buffer it so much that it no longer sounds like what you think.  Speak your truth.  However, before you do speak up, remember to do your research so that you are speaking knowledgeably and can stand behind whatever you say.  Until then, be quiet…and when you are confident and ready, say it.  Even when it feels like you are going to get into trouble for disagreeing with your partner, or boss or whomever is trying to organize your mutual funds, tell your truth.  Don’t tell a half-truth or make things seem better than they appear, and worst yet, don’t stay silent.  Not speaking up when you know better is the worst type of betrayal to yourself and to others who aspire to be in an honest relationship with you.
  2. Get an education and find a good job.  There is nothing that you can do more for your self-respect than learning new ideas in the company of smart people, and then finding a good job.  Stick with this job for awhile until you prove that you can handle it (to yourself and your employer), and then with your legs solidly beneath you, take some next steps.  There is nothing that will serve you more than having credibility and independence in a world where being a woman can be challenging.  Being a smart and qualified woman with a good resume is the new “sexy”.
  3. Work hard.  Work hard at everything that you do from doing your homework to cleaning your house.  Don’t wait for anyone to do it for you or to give you anything, from your parents through to your friends, boyfriends or employers.  Life is an apple tree to be picked.  The apples that fall on the ground and are easy to grab are usually picked up quickly, or are rotten.  Get out the ladder, and get up into that tree and start picking the really good apples.
  4. Create your own road map.  Learn from the group, but occasionally set your itinerary.  Enjoy your own company.  Be free to do your own thing, in your own time and in your own way.  Make a healthy plan, follow the plan, revise the plan, but whatever you do, make your own plan.  Find like-minded and good people to join along with you from time to time, but for the most part, get started on your own journey and enjoy it.
  5. Think twice before getting intimately involved with anyone (men or women).  You need to find someone who treats you extraordinarily well, understands and appreciates who you are (strengths and weaknesses) and agrees to behave in ways that afford you dignity and respect.  If this is not possible, move on.  On the flip side, find someone who will also call you on your “stuff” when you need it.  Finding a significant relationship is big life work, and may take awhile to find, so enjoy people as friends in the meantime.  Don’t force relationships where they don’t really exist.
  6. Be a critical and creative thinker.  Think carefully about everything that you do.  Research it.  Ask people’s opinions.  Reserve judgment, and then make educated decisions using strong inductive and/or deductive reasoning.  Think about your thinking (“metacognition”) while you are doing this type of research and reflection (Robinson, 2008).  While being thoughtful of your choices in life, be creative.  Good things happen to people who live to colour outside of the lines.

The two qualities necessary for all of this above advice is to be disciplined and courageous.  As my Finnish grandmother used to say to me, “Find your ‘sisu” (Finnish)” which translates to mean “be tenacious”.  Be brave and stick with it.

Of course, a little luck goes a long way.  How lucky am I to be born in a free country like Canada where anything can be possible for women if they are strong and determined.  The day that I came into this world, and into this beautiful country, the world was and continues to be my oyster.  It is up to me to make it happen despite any obstacles that I have discussed.  If I fail, I will pick myself back up again, dust myself off, talk about it, write about it, and move forward.  A song keeps coming up for me as I finish this article.  “Struck by lightning, sounds pretty frightening…The odds are that we will probably be alright…” (Barenaked Ladies, 2013).  I think that odds are women will be alright if we just stay the course on women’s rights.  Opportunities are coming up for women everyday.  We need to advocate for ourselves and for each other as we learn and grow into wonderful and wise women.  We need to take charge and be leaders in our own lives and then enjoy sharing various leadership roles with other women and men in the world at large.

 

 

 

 

Eternal Youth in Everyday Life by Shelley Robinson

 

Keeping an Eye on Youth:  There are so many times that I accept that I am getting older.  I catch myself telling people my age, and joking about how things are different now that I am in my fifties.  With this being said, I still keep an eye on my youth.  I catch glimpses of it now and again in myself, when I laugh really hard at a good joke; dance the night away with my husband; travel to new places; tell someone a secret; and experience something new for the first time.  I realize that youth is not a destination, but a way of experiencing my life.  My body may be giving away my age, but my spirit is still youthfully in tact.  Staying young is a very desirable endeavour and I think that there are ways to extend my youth, or find it again amidst the routines of my everyday life.  I am learning that “[i]t is not how old you are, but how you are old” (Jules Renard) that counts.

Travelling Often:   The more that I travel, the more I realize that travelling is my way of staying youthful.  It affords me an opportunity to think and feel young while living my day-to-day life filled with the mundane tasks of taking care of my body, finances, possessions, family and other responsibilities.  There is nothing that feels as youthful to me as not knowing what will happen in a day or what lies around the next corner, or how food that I have never tried, will taste.  I love being surprised by life.  Youth is all about experiencing things for the first time, and when we can continue to explore new life sensations through travel, we can reclaim our youthful mindset.

One example of travelling with youth in mind for me was walking barefoot up the calcium rocks of Pammukale with its aqua pools.  It was an eternal youth pilgrimage that Cleopatra reportedly made here to swim in the hot pools at the top of this white mountain in Turkey.  I struggled with the ascent as my feet were sensitive to the rocky surface.  Like others, I carried my shoes up this national park path to avoid damaging the salt-white mountain.  The view was dotted with people wading in the water taking pictures of the white crystal paradise.  Once I reached the top, I ventured around the large hot pool cluttered with Roman columns and rock formations where history sprung to the present.

Pamukkale is reputed to be a pool of eternal youth and who was I to ignore the possible benefits of this mineral water?  I wanted to jump right in and give it a try.  All of my blemishes and wrinkles might soften in this hot water.  I revelled being in this Muslim culture worshipping the history of Egypt and Rome in a place heralded to be filled with magic.  I navigated through steaming water around the ruins of a temple lying in the water.  I imagined my body healing as I luxuriated in this public bathhouse in a foreign culture that so desperately wanted me to buy into its mythology.  I am convinced that I shed 10 years that day.

Being Creative:   Every time I create something, I resurrect something inside of me that needs expression.  When I write, paint, or make something, I re-invent a part of myself.  I capture an old or new idea in a way that brings life to it.  I give birth to new feelings and ideas that might otherwise stay hidden beneath the surface.  Every time I share something that I have created with someone, there is risk involved.  People might ignore or dislike it; but then, there is also the possibility that they might connect to it and, in turn, understand something inside of me in this transformation of inspiration.  Every idea comes from somewhere, and it is this rejuvenation of old ideas and experiences, transending time that makes it possible to experience timelessness.

When I was young, I was constantly experiencing something for the first time like my first kiss, my first massage, my first skiing trip, my first helicopter ride and so many other things.  When I create something, I can re-experience these types of life events in different ways.  Activities that help me stay youthful can be simple acts of creativity:

  • Writing a story
  • Making a new recipe
  • Painting a picture
  • Designing a new house project
  • Making a party invitation
  • Setting the table differently or in a new location
  • Planning a picnic
  • Mapping out the itinerary for a trip
  • Making wine
  • Sketching
  • Pulling together pictures for a scrap book
  • Sending a card
  • Doing my hair differently
  • Wearing interesting clothing
  • Going to a new restaurant
  • Planning an interesting date

All of these creative activities involve thinking about things just a little bit differently, and it switches on my young brain again, and takes me out of the brain fog of old age.

Acting Young:   In the desire to be logical and handle life and relationships with maturity, I can get lost to it.  Staying calm and level all of the time can be downright boring.  What about having a good giggle over something and being silly about things?  It is contagious to answer questions with good-hearted teasing.  Joking and finding the pure delight in my social interactions is a real skill, and can prove to be very rewarding.  There is nothing more enjoyable than being around someone like my husband who abandons himself to the moment through happy and playful behaviour.  Even better than being with playful people, is to actually be this type of person.  Joy is a youthful experience and the more that I act joyfully, the younger I continue to be.

I like booting my husband in the bum, or jumping on top of him on the couch, surprising him with my adoration.   He likes showing up with flowers or a card or something interesting to remind me that he loves me.  What about throwing water at someone when they least expect it, or doing each other’s faces with a black charcoal face masque (they are ugly, but feel great)?  My husband and I have an ongoing joke about who last filled the toilet paper roll.  For some reason, the empty roll keeps showing up.  Chris keeps sending me pictures of the empty rolls which throws me into hysterics every time I get these text messages.  (It is likely me not filling the toilet paper roll container, but I will never admit it.)   Having fun is simply the best way to stay young, and I find ways to enjoy myself everyday despite the curve balls that life keeps throwing me the older that I get.   “You don’t stop laughing because you grow older. You grow older because you stop laughing” (Maurice Chevalier).

Opening Up:   Do you remember sharing your heart with your friends and family?  As I have aged, I fight the habit of keeping things to myself.  I find that I can handle most of my own problems without burdening other people with them.  However, when I choose to disclose my feelings to others, I am reminded of my inner, vulnerable child.  I feel connected to the person with whom I have decided to share these special confidences.  I reunite my youthful self with my mature self admitting that talking to people about my insecurities is sometimes better than keeping these feelings inside.  I learn more about myself through these special conversations, and in doing so, I reinvent myself.   In turn, other people feel comfortable talking to me about their problems.  I am reminded that this open book attitude was the way that I used to be when I a was a young girl.  I would open my heart to my friends and tie up the family phone line for hours on end, causing my parents no end of frustration.  As we age, we have to remember to pick up the phone and ask the question:  “Do you have a minute?  I wouldn’t mind your advice on something that I am going through right now.”  The old person in us often shuts these opportunities down.  The youthful part of us decides to take the risk to be vulnerable and it can open doors to renew our relationships.

“There is a fountain of youth: it is our mind, our talents, the creativity we bring to our life and the lives of people we love. When we learn to tap this source, we will truly have defeated age” Sophia Loren.  This attitude towards life and aging, keeps me acting and even looking young.  I find that when I am in the grips of a problem, and I look in the mirror, my age shows.  When I am experiencing joy and fun, I see the child in me, and my eyes brighten, and my face glows.  Age is really a state of mind, and I am enjoying staying young and having people ask me from time to time, “How old are you?” When they do ask, I have to stop and remind myself before I answer, “29 of course…”

 

 

 

 

 

Stonewalling: Finding Better Solutions by Shelley Robinson

Hadrian's_wall_at_Greenhead_Lough

Difficult Conversations:  I was raised in a family that said what we had to say (sometimes emotionally); got it over with, and moved on.  I have not realized until recently, how “socially intelligent” (Goleman, 2007) this type of behaviour is for a family that came from humble beginnings and probably didn’t even know that this transparent communication was an effective and efficient way to interact with one another.  I also was part of a profession that made it incumbent on us as part of our professional code of conduct to resolve matters with whom we had difficulties before we went over their heads.  We were discouraged from gossiping and encouraged to handle our problems directly.  “Difficult conversations” (Stone and Patton, 2010) at home and in the work place require considerable social and emotional maturity because embracing conflict with anyone is particularly challenging.

I have learned that nobody really likes conflict, and for those who do well at it, they have likely devoted some time and attention to how to manage tricky social situations.  One of my supervisors taught me that having compelling conversations that are open and honest with people can not only resolve problems, but can actually improve workplace and personal relationships.   When doing so, these conversations become learning opportunities for everyone involved when the elephants in the room are observed, addressed and solved.  I learned over time in my life that avoiding conflict only delays and often complicates communication with people.  However, sometimes we are dealing with people who default to “unhealthy defense mechanisms” which impede the ability to be solution oriented in our interactions with each other.

Freud talks about how “when anxiety occurs…a range of defense mechanisms may be triggered…Defense Mechanisms share two common properties:

  • They often appear unconsciously.
  • They tend to distort, transform, or otherwise falsify reality.” (Changing Minds Org., 2016)

“The list of defense mechanisms can include the following:

(http://changingminds.org/explanations/behaviors/coping/defense_mechanisms.htm, 2016)

As a result, any rational effort to get inside of a topic and look at it with a healthy approach to tackling the difficulties so that there can be compromise and solutions can be thwarted by defense mechanisms.

Stonewalling:  My father who comes from an Irish background told me a few times about what he calls the “Irish Snub”.  When people stop talking or obstruct the ability to communicate, they are in fact creating barriers to communication that much resemble the term given to the act of “stone walling” which by definition is “refusing to answer or cooperate” (www.thefreedictionary.com, 2017).  When I travelled to England, I was amazed at the miles and miles of stone walls that have lasted centuries, in particular, Hadrian’s Wall that was built before 122 AD with the intention of this Roman Emperor to keep the empire in tact.  The wall was originally very tall and long, and served as a formidable barrier.  It still stands today.  Stone walls typically stand the test of time, and once fortified are very difficult to break down.

What I am noticing more and more is that people are able to stonewall easily with the advent of technology as a major mode of communication.  Choosing to simply ignore emails, texts and social media messages is becoming the new “no” to answers, instead of being direct and answering people with positive and negative replies.  People have stopped answering their phones in favour of replying virtually, and they delay far longer than I have ever been comfortable, putting somebody on hold for days on end.  People tend to have an attitude that justifies not replying to people as if to suggest that they do not like the imposition of someone needing to talk to them; especially when they feel too busy to do so.

Courageous Conversations:   The first step to communicating effectively with people around us, is that we need to respect each other.  When we admit that everyone deserves respect, we start acknowledging our responsibility to being effectively communicative and in timely ways.  Leaving people hanging is incredibly rude and hurtful for those of us who have been on the receiving end of it.  It is a power play that puts the receiver of it in a no-win situation.  There is often no choice but to be persistent or to accept the delay no matter how uncomfortable this might be.  Stonewalling has the potential to create rifts that can sometimes become insurmountable with time as being ignored in this passive-aggressive manner is considered to be one of the most hurtful things to do socially (Goleman, 2007).  When anyone is put in the position of feeling unworthy of a reply, or shut-down, it can cause incredible emotional injury.   Being excluded, ignored, shut-down, cut-out, and marginalized, is a powerful passive-aggressive method of holding power over others.  It perpetuates the above defense mechanisms instead of coping with people and problems face-to-face or head-on in healthy and ethical ways.

It takes courage to pick up the phone and call someone back when we know that the conversation is likely to be difficult, or may not go our way.  We may have every reason to justify not feeling up to it, or being overwhelmed by the prospect of addressing someone with topics or feelings that we find challenging.  However, the rewards of facing our fear of having difficult interactions with others, are numerous.  Being accountable to others is an important part of having successful adult relationships (Rico, 2002).  The argument for delaying communication is often that people feel that they have a right to decide when and how they will communicate, and to some degree this is true provided that they are not using delay tactics too often or for too long, or as a means of avoiding another person altogether.  Sometimes a bit of delay can allow people to calm down, and helps them prepare for effective communication.  However, when this type of delay becomes the predominant style of communication between people, this idea of stonewalling comes into question.

Addressing a Stonewaller:   Sometimes there is no really effective way to address a stonewaller without sounding like someone who is impatient or nagging.  However, there are things that can be done when these matters become contentious and debilitating to our own self-esteem and our relationships with these people.  Here are some strategies that have worked for me:

  1.  Set a Deadline:  When someone puts you off, set a deadline and indicate that you can accept some delay, but they must reply to you within the day, week or month as your timeline is also important.  It reminds the person wishing to delay communication that there are two parties involved in determining when the communication will happen.  “I would like to talk with you about this on Saturday.  I trust that this will give you enough time to consider the issue.”
  2. Communicate the Issue in Another Way:  Sometimes when someone shuts us down in person, a well-written letter can diffuse the situation, although this type of correspondence can also escalate matters if not composed carefully.  Remind the person who is blocking communication that your feelings are important and that you are attempting to find constructive solutions to the problems at hand.  “I am writing you this letter because I think it might help to shed light on the difficulties that we are having.”
  3. Refuse a Delay:  If someone continually puts you off, it is important to draw a line in the sand and refuse a delay.  In other words, providing an ultimatum that things need to be discussed, or the relationship will come into question is a bold response to being stonewalled, but it may become necessary if stonewalling is a pattern of behaviour that has become damaging.  “I do not want to wait to talk about this.  I would like to talk about it now, please.”
  4. Educate Stonewallers:  Remind people that refusing to communicate is harmful to relationships and provide them with literature that might make them think twice about doing it.  Sometimes people do not see their own negative behaviour until it is pointed out to them in mature and respectful ways.  “I have an article that I would like you to read about healthy communication and what we might do to improve our communication.”
  5. Give Them a Taste of Their Own Medicine:  Although I have never liked playing relationship games, I have learned that some people learn best when they are shown what it is like to be ignored (only after other strategies have not worked successfully).  It is not a great way to behave, but again, when stonewalling becomes a power play, it is important to teach someone what this might feel like to be on the receiving end of it, provided that it is done within reason and with a thoughtful lesson in mind.  If this strategy is not successful, it does not bear repeating.  “I will talk to you later when I calm down.”
  6. Model Constructive Communication:  I have learned that the best way to improve relationship communication is to explore better communication strategies together and to practice them through reading, counselling and classes.  Sometimes, articulating our desire to ignore a problem out loud but choosing not to do so, shows others that despite the desire to put something off, it is wisest to address problems directly.  “I do not really want to talk about this with you, but I think that it is important that we address this matter before it gets any worse.”

There is no real solution to addressing passive aggressive behaviour unless the people doing it begin to recognize the damage that they cause when they behave this way.  Stonewalling is learned behaviour that takes time and discipline to re-program, but only when there is a willingness to change.  Otherwise, I suggest that where this habit of behaviour is too hurtful to be around, people need to know when to leave toxic relationships that continue to ignore their most basic needs to feel valuable enough to be heard and to discuss matters of importance to them.

“It’s better to be alone and keep your dignity than to be in a relationship where you always sacrifice your self respect.” Auliq Ice