Bits and bobs

Random thoughts about random things by a random person


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Productivity and mental health – A personal story

A few days ago I read a post by Wil Wheaton called i exist. It reminded me of a session I had last year with an EAP counselor.

About half-way through the session, the counselor said, “When I’m working with someone who is off work for a while, I ask them to commit to a 30-minute walk every day. Is that something you could commit to?”

The expression on her face told me that she fully expected my answer to be yes. Perhaps even with an “Of course I can” thrown in for good measure.

Her expression changed very quickly when, instead, I responded with a very definite “No.”

It was as though nobody had ever told her no before. She didn’t seem to even know how to respond to it. (Had I been in better spirits, I’d have found it funny…) I’m pretty sure at least some people who went to see her, who were in the same mental state I was then in, must have lied to her – probably because they felt they were “supposed” to say yes, so they did. And then they went home, didn’t go for their daily walks, and felt even worse about themselves for not having done it.

Well, I wasn’t going to do that. I definitely didn’t need more things to add to the “All the ways you suck and are a horrible person” list that my brain at that time was having a hey-day reminding me of.

Since she was so obviously not expecting my answer, I went on to explain that I was, at that point, struggling to even do things that I enjoyed doing, that I wanted to do. I don’t enjoy going for walks, and certainly not for 30 minutes, so there was no point in me telling her that I would do something that I knew very well that I would not.

I explained further that me just getting to that appointment that day was something to celebrate.

I was off work at the time because I had hit a limit that, for the previous couple of years, I knew was coming. Depression and anxiety (things I have struggled with for most, if not all, of my life since puberty) had been mounting gradually over time and I knew was going to hit critical mass on it before too long.

The week before I saw her, that moment had come. I still clearly remember sitting at my desk, looking at my monitor, reading an email when it happened – quite innocuously, it turned out. Nothing of any consequence brought it on. I was just…done.

I knew in that moment that I needed to leave, to go home, and that I wouldn’t be back for a while. I thought, “Huh…I knew this was coming and I wondered when it would happen. I guess this is it. This is what did it.” I remember being surprised that it wasn’t anything big or momentous that had tipped me over the edge. It was just a slightly annoying email that in any other context would have resulted in a “Tut tut…seriously?” and that would be have been it. But nope. It did me in.

I emailed my boss that I was sick and needed to leave and headed out.

The next about 10 days were absolutely awful. Horrible. Part of me wished I lived with someone who could take care of me and make sure I was fed, as I huddled under blankets like a pile of goo, while another part of me was very glad to have nobody around to tell me I needed to get up, get dressed, get showered, etc. I could be as much of a pile of goo as I wanted.

The only thing of any practical benefit that I did in the very first few days was find the number to our Employee Assistance Program and get an appointment with a counselor. Then I made another, last-ditch effort to get a new doctor. I’m amazed, actually, that I was even able to accomplish that much.

The day of the appointment – about seven days after “it” happened – I was still pretty much a wreck. I really didn’t want to go, but I knew I needed to.

Part of my apprehension was from a previous experience I had had with EAP. It was in 2008 – the year that both of my parents passed away. The counselor’s advice at that time (which she delivered as though it were some grand new revelation she had come up with on her own) was: “Keep your work stress at work and your home stress at home.” Really? And what if the problem is that you aren’t able to do that right now?? She had nothing.

Never mind the fact that her office was a mess and she looked like she had come to work in what she had slept in…She didn’t exactly inspire confidence. Needless to say I didn’t go back. (I did, however, get some handouts from her with helpful information about insomnia.)

With that experience in the front of my mind and the fact that I really only wanted to crawl into bed and stay there until sometime around the turn of the next century, I really was not keen on getting to that appointment.

So, I resorted to playing mind games with myself. “We aren’t going to an appointment. We’re just going to get in the car. We aren’t going to an appointment. We’re just going to get in the car.” That got me showered, dressed and in the car.

Once in the car, I repeated, “We’re not going to an appointment, we’re just going to drive to Fallowfield Rd.” Once I got that far, it became, “We’re just going as far as the 417”, and so on until I found myself in the parking lot of the counselor’s building.

Even then, I had to do some convincing to get myself out of the car and into the building, and then the office.

I couldn’t have done it otherwise. I know…it sounds dumb, especially if such feelings are completely foreign to you. But that’s where I was at that time. To be honest, I still have to do it occasionally, and I will likely have to for the rest of my life. But that’s OK. The anxiety isn’t going to go away, so that’s why there are tricks to deal with it. Sometimes it still wins, but most times I do. (Yay!)

Anyway…back to the 30-minute walk request.

I explained to the counselor the whole process of how I had even made it to the appointment and she finally clued in: “Ohhhhh….you really are in a bad way!” (No…she didn’t say that… but she may well have thought it and who could blame her! 😉 )

After we talked for a little while longer, she circled back to the walk. She explained:

“The walking isn’t about exercise. It isn’t about breaking a sweat and doing cardio. It’s just about doing something. Getting yourself off the couch and putting your mind on something else. So, really, it doesn’t even have to be a walk. If you have a closet or cupboard you’ve been wanting to clean out, do that. If there’s some spring cleaning you need to do, do that. And it doesn’t have to be 30 minutes in a row. You can break it up throughout the day. The point is to just get up and move.”

That I was able to commit to. In fact, not only did I commit to it, I actually did it! Every day! They weren’t fancy, important things that I did, but I did them. Usually I had to talk myself into it, like I did to get to the appointment, but that wasn’t the point. The point was I did it.

I was also very blessed to have a good circle of friends who kept in touch with me and even got me out a few times for actual walks. 🙂

During that dark and difficult period, making sure I had 30 minutes of some sort of activity every day was critical to my healing.

And so I echo Wil’s statement:

“The single most consistent factor in how I feel about myself and my day, on the 5-point scale, is how productive I am.”

I’m not someone who needs to be constantly busy, busy, busy. I regularly enjoy heaving off on the couch to watch TV. But I have learned that being productive every day, in some fashion or another, is vital to me and my mental health.

AND…extra bonus! As I’ve thought about Wil’s post, I’ve realized that I’m actually way more productive than I give myself credit for. I need to remind myself of that more often. 🙂

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The wonderful convenience of freezer meals – or not?

As you know if you’ve read some of my other posts, I don’t particularly enjoy cooking. I enjoy it even less during the week after work. My go to? Picking up fast food on my way home from work.

However, the past few months, I’ve been making a concerted effort to do more of my own cooking – inspired by a trip to the doctor and a few weeks of high blood pressure readings. I’m sure it will come as no surprise that fast food is not exactly what you would call a low-sodium way to eat.

So, in keeping with that plan, I spent most of last weekend making more meals for the freezer so I could have yummy homemade food during the week without the bother of starting from scratch every day.

I made this 20-minute Tuscan Pasta. I fried some mushrooms (just till they browned a bit) and added them to the recipe. Boy was it delish! (OK…ignore the fact that Parmesan cheese is high in sodium…a serving of this dish is still way lower in sodium than my usual fast food choices – by about 75%, so still a win. )

I also made this Black Bean Mexican Chicken dish. It was low in sodium to start with, but I used low-sodium tomatoes,which really put it in the blood pressure sweet spot. Even when I added some aged cheddar to it and baked it in the oven… it was still sodium-safe and super tasty!

I made some other stuff, too, but don’t have recipe links for them so we’ll move on.

When I walked in the door from work this evening, I was thinking, “What delectable delight do I want to pull from the freezer today??”

I hmmmed and I hahhhhhed and happily ran through my mental freezer-meal Rolodex. There are so many options from so many weekends of cooking! But nothing tickled my fancy. WHAT??? That can’t be possible.

You know what my taste buds did get excited about? Toast with peanut butter and Nutella. Yup. Spent all that time cooking – this past weekend, as well as other weekends – so I’d have all that yummy food to choose from and I go for toast. With a glass of milk.

Livin’ on the edge, folks. Livin’ on the edge.

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How to avoid regrets – Or, “Hey – your last post said they were fine!”

If you looked at my last post, you may think that there is a contradiction between the title of that post and this one. 🙂

It’s just that in writing that one, I had a few other thoughts that take regret in a bit of a different direction. So, I guess this post is kind of a partner post (if that’s a thing) to the last one. 🙂

As you may recall, the previous post talked about regret in the context of things that have happened in the past.

This post talks about avoiding the regret in the first place.

Really, it’s quite simple: Don’t do anything you will wish you didn’t do and do everything you will wish you had.

Ta daaaaaaaaaaa!! That’s solved.

“Then,” you might ask, “why are there still more words on this page, Lucy???”

Well, naturally, nothing is ever really that simple, is it? I mean, in a way it really does come down to that, but there’s a bit more involved.

When I was 18, I was at university and having a lot of fun. There was a party one night (well, lots of nights, actually… 🙂 ) and I had to work. I really wanted to go out with my friends so I called work and quit. Obviously, at that point in my life, I thought I’d regret missing that party more than I’d regret quitting that job.

Now, I can’t even conceive of doing such a thing!

What I would regret now is considerably different than what I would have regretted then.

That said, there are some general suggestions we can follow that can help us avoid some potential down-the-road moments of “I wish I had….”

In fact, if you ask Mr. Google for advice on how to prevent future regret, you’ll get a LOT of advice. There are all kinds of lists, with 5, 10 or even 15 tips in them.

Here are just a few of them, if you’d like to check them out:

There are things common to most of the lists I’ve read, such as spending time with loved ones or not living the life other people expect us to live. But there is some variety in there, too – something for everyone, I would say.

None of it is rocket science (unless, perhaps you might regret one day not having learned rocket science 😉 ), but they are still good reminders.

Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we forget to do the things that are important to us and need those reminders every now and then.

In some time management stuff I read years ago, I learned something that has stuck with me to this day: We put our time into what is important to us.

I didn’t (and don’t) intend this to be a time-management post, but I think it is relevant to touch on it a tiny bit. It can be a useful exercise to sit and look at what we spend our time doing and compare that list to a list of the things that are important to us.

I would suggest that the things we say are important to us and that we don’t spend our time on are probably the things we will regret.

By bringing those lists into alignment with each other we can in that way create our own customized list of ways to prevent our personal regrets down the road.

We probably can’t completely avoid “I wish I had…” statements, but doing that one thing can help us avoid some of the biggest regrets that we might otherwise have had.


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I have regrets – and I’m glad

I used to buy into the whole “regrets are bad” thing. It sounds good and it makes sense: Regret is a bad feeling, so not having regrets would be a good thing, right?

When I sat and really thought about it, though, asking myself if I have regrets, I realized that I do – many, in fact. Most are small – things like wishing I hadn’t said something to someone or said it in a particular way. But there are a few big, life-impacting decisions, too. And I genuinely regret them.

At first I felt badly about that. It seemed like I was doing something wrong, given the pervasiveness of the “no regrets” movement.

For example, when I just Googled “live without regret”, the following three items were the top results:

  • How to Live Your Life Without Regret
  • 40 Ways to Live Life Without Regrets
  • How to Start Living Life Without Regret Right Now

There are also a kajillion memes and quotes about it, in case you are interested.

So, I tried to convince myself that I shouldn’t regret those things. “Regret is bad” seemed to be everywhere and so many people I knew were adherents. Many people, in fact, talked about it as thought it were a badge of honour. “I regret nothing I’ve ever done!”

But I couldn’t quite convince myself to really get on board.

Maybe it’s a matter of semantics. For me, regret is about wishing I hadn’t done something (or in some cases, wishing I had). A couple of definitions I found online says pretty much the same thing:

  • Merriam-Webster: to be very sorry for
  • Cambridge Dictionary : a feeling of sadness about something sad or wrong or about a mistake that you have made, and a wish that it could have been different and better

From what I’ve read and heard, though, regret seems to have been equated with dwelling on things. If that’s where you’re coming from, then I agree: We shouldn’t dwell on things to a negative degree.

For me, though, regret and dwelling on things are totally separate items.

The things I regret, I regret for very specific reasons: they either hurt other people or myself.

As such, I’m glad I regret them because the regret reminds me why I don’t want to repeat those actions (or inactions).

I still wish that in those moments I had made other choices and I’m glad I feel that way. They weren’t OK choices to make. Honestly, to me, I should regret them.

Yes, I learned lessons from them, but me having an opportunity to learn a lesson isn’t a valid reason to excuse those decisions – decisions that caused hurt and pain.

Learning the lesson, rather, is the way to turn a bad thing into a not-so-bad thing. It still doesn’t turn it into a “good” thing (to me), but it kind of makes the best out of a bad situation.

The important thing is that I don’t dwell on those things. I don’t use them to torture* myself or to paralyze myself from moving forward. And I have forgiven myself for them.

I could be wrong, but (going by the “I wish I hadn’t done that” definition) I don’t think it’s truly possible to have absolutely no regrets about anything ever.

Setting an expectation of “no regret” seems, then, to be setting ourselves up for failure. (If you are one to beat yourself up about poor choices, you probably don’t need another “failure” to add to your list. 😉 )

I think it’s just another one of those things where the pendulum seems to swing entirely to one direction or another.

Generally, we land, I think, somewhere in the middle.

We recognize we shouldn’t have done something, we learn from it, we take that learning with us and move on, with the regret in the perspective in which it was perhaps intended:

“Hey – that wasn’t so fun. Let’s not do that again, K?”

Want to learn more?

In finishing up this post, I thought I’d go back to the ol’ Google machine and see just how off-base I am with this whole “embrace your regrets” thing, and found an interesting article in the Huffington Post. It contains some comments from Brené Brown, if you are interested.


*There are times, yes, when my anxiety is on overdrive and my brain decides to replay every poor decision I’ve ever made (from decades ago even) and every unkind thing I’ve ever said. It even throws in several moments that weren’t poor decisions or unkind moments – it twists normal, everyday interactions and interprets them negatively. But that’s not about regret. That’s about brain chemistry. When I’m not in the throes of anxiety, I know the difference. But that can be a whole series of posts in and of itself. 🙂


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Hand lettering and meditation

As you know, I like to dabble in different things. A few months ago, I decided to learn about hand lettering, also commonly referred to as brush lettering, brush calligraphy or modern calligraphy. I make cards and I wanted to learn some different lettering styles so that I’m not always restricted by the stamps I have on hand and so that I can make cards that are 100% made by me, as opposed to just stamped and coloured by me.

As usual, I went off to the Google machine and began my search. I found a lot of resources. I printed off some worksheets, even bought some stuff from Amazon, and started in.

You may remember from a previous post, I’m not the most patient of individuals when it comes to learning new things. I have good handwriting and printing so I thought this would be a snap. Turns out it wasn’t and I was tempted – a lot – to throw in the towel (my standard go-to response when something doesn’t come easily to me).

Thankfully, pretty much all the resources I had read talked about the importance of practice – practice, practice, practice. So I didn’t give up.

One key thing that I learned early on is that hand lettering is completely different than writing. You can’t think of them the same way at all. Hand lettering is actually more like drawing letters than writing or even printing them. Drawing each individual letter and, in fact, each individual stroke of each letter. Where I can write a stream of lovely, flowing cursive, I can’t do the same with hand lettering.

I know I can’t because I tried. It didn’t work. And it didn’t look good. At all. So I forced myself to slow down. I stopped at each stroke. I made each stroke intentional. I learned to breathe in on the upstrokes and out on the downstrokes.

Where I was initially impatient to be able to fluidly write beautiful words, in all the colours of the fancy (and unnecessary) markers I’d bought, I have since come to enjoy the actual process of the drills. Breathe in, light stroke upwards. Breathe out, firm pressure downwards. Lift the pen; turn it so as to not permanently bend the nib in one direction. Light pressure up; firm pressure down. Breathe in; breathe out.

If you’ve ever done any meditation, some of that will sound familiar. I found myself quite surprised about that familiarity, actually.

What I had intended to be a means to an end – learning necessary skills so I could make pretty letters and words – has inadvertently become so much more. I have come to look forward to and really enjoy the calm and focus (which so often elude me) of the drills. I particularly enjoy how they force me to slow down, especially my racing thoughts.

Surprisingly, the meditative aspect has become even more important to me than becoming successful in the artistic side of it. I almost (heavy on “almost” 🙂 ) don’t even care if I become adept at making the words that had initially drawn me to this practice.

Who knew!!

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Want to learn more?

If this is something you think you might be interested in, here are some websites I have learned a lot from. I particularly enjoy the drills from The Happy Every Crafter site.

There are a lot of different tools you can get but you really don’t need anything fancy.

For pens, I recommend getting a smaller brush pen to start. I couldn’t really find any around here (Ottawa), but ordered a couple of packages of Tombow Fudenosuke brush pens and started using them for my drills when I got them a couple of weeks ago. I wish I had gotten them at the start. They’ve made a real difference. You can also start with a soft-leaded pencil and regular paper, if you either can’t get or can’t afford any of the other stuff.

For paper, find something smooth – rough paper is hard on the pens and it’s also hard (for me, anyway) to get the smooth brush strokes.

For both pens and paper, definitely don’t go fancy until you get some of the basics down and decide if it’s something you even want to go any further with.


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Yes, I talk to my bladder

I’m not sure exactly when it happened. I don’t think it was a gradual thing, but maybe it was so gradual that I didn’t notice until all of a sudden, one day, my bladder decided it wanted the upper hand in this whole relationship we have going.

While I don’t remember the exact date it happened, I know it was sometime within the last year. I originally tried to pass it off as something else. “I must have forgotten to go before I left work” or some such. But then I really started paying attention and it didn’t matter when I did or didn’t “go”. My bladder seemed to have found an on/off switch and learned how to use it.

Now I go from happily sitting on my car or on my couch or out doing things with not a care in the world to all of a sudden very urgently needing to find the nearest loo. What the heck!?!

Naively – and completely incorrectly it turns out – I had assigned all those bladder-control commercials to being something relevant only to my friends who have had children. Everybody knows that women who have kids have bladder control issues when they get older, right? All that talk about pelvic floor and stuff – damage done during pregnancy and so on. Well, I haven’t had kids so, of all the not-so-joyous parts of getting older that are on my radar, I happily thought I had escaped that one.

Evidently not.

And so, nowadays, I find myself frequently and sternly lecturing my bladder.

I’ve noticed that there seems to be direct, exponential relationship between my proximity to a bathroom and the urgency to use it. A woman at work and I were talking about this a couple of weeks ago and she finds the same thing – at least I’m not alone in that. (She did not, however, admit to conversing with the organ in question, so that bit might be just me…)

At first glance, it might seem to be a good thing that the urgency increases with proximity. I mean, if you really have to go, wouldn’t you want to be near the appropriate facilities?

In general, yes. But in this case, no. The urgency and possibility of an “accident” is so great that the fact that I am close to the washroom is only a tantalizing, possibly unattainable tease. You know: so near and yet oh so far. Think about it: How much would it absolutely suck if you lost all control a mere three feet from safety? If you were out in the bush, miles away from civilized plumbing, well, nobody could blame you, right? But three feet from the porcelain god? Really? You couldn’t wait five more seconds?

My bladder seems to take particular advantage of and joy in its newfound control whenever I get home. Putting the key into my lock appears to be a gleeful trigger for that on/off switch. “Oh ho ho!!!!” my bladder seems to cry. “She’s close to a bathroom, but can’t do anything about it from here! I’m the one in control now!!!!!”

And I negotiate: “OK…Listen. We’re in the foyer. You know we can’t go here. I just need 40 seconds – 1 minute tops – to get my boots off and get to the loo. You didn’t need to go at all 20 seconds ago, so surely you can give me one literal minute. Please!!” The lecture, you see, turns quickly into pleading.

Thankfully, it’s never come to the embarrassing scene I’m negotiating to avoid, but if there were cameras in my house, they would catch me doing a quite laughable, cross-legged-penguin waddle (if penguins could cross their legs) to the bathroom – negotiating the whole way. “Only 10 seconds to go…c’monnnnnn…work with me here!”

And so, this is what I have come to.

My name is Lucy and I talk to my bladder.


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You have great teeth!

About two and a half hours ago, I was sitting anxiously in my dentist’s office, waiting for my semi-annual cleaning. I’m always nervous when I go to the dentist and today was no different.

I’m not afraid of the potential pain – that’s never bothered me. Even that one time about 20 years ago when I had to get a filling and the shots never fully deadened the area. I can’t remember how many shots they gave me before finally saying they couldn’t give me any more and I had to get the filling sans deadening. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a masochist. I didn’t enjoy the pain. It was just a necessary thing and I knew it wouldn’t last too long. I also know it’s a very rare thing.

What actually makes me nervous is the “grade” I’m going to get. Will they scold me for not flossing enough (even though I floss every day)? Will I be in for a lecture because all of a sudden have a whole mouthful of cavities has appeared out of nowhere? Will I pass or will I fail?   WILL I PASS…. OR WILL I FAIL?!?!?!

Of course, I know they don’t literally grade you. But that’s what it feels like as I sit there waiting. Actually, the whole entire day of my appointment has that anxiety. It’s like that time between when you do all your exams and you are waiting for your transcript.

I turned 49 a few weeks ago so it’s been a LONG time since I’ve waited for any transcripts. You’d think I’d be over it by now. But I’m not. I want to know. Aaaaaaaand yet, I don’t. Ahhhh…that great dental paradox!

Usually I sit there, mouth stretched wide with the hygienist scraping the plaque and tartar away, listening to see if I can figure out the verdict by the amount of scraping she has to do. “Hmmm…that didn’t take too long. Maybe I did good! Oh…nope. She’s just changing tools. Dang.”

Sometimes I get brave and I ask, in a feigned casual, not-that-I-really-care voice: “So…how does it look in there?” It has been a VERY long time since the answer has not been a good one. So long, in fact, that I don’t even remember when. Even when I wasn’t flossing daily or having regular cleanings, they’ve told me that I should keep doing whatever it is that I’m doing. Needless to say, like any good cheater, I have never admitted my heinous hygiene habits. And now that I have good habits, I’m kinda like that person who always gets A’s on their tests, but invariably they swear they’ve failed.

So, even though I always get a good grade, I still worry. And, as I said, today was no different.

So you will understand my absolute joy and pleasure when, about 5 minutes into my cleaning, the hygienist – fully of her own accord – said…

“You have great teeth!”