On Being Positive – Part 2

In the first part of this blog “On Being Positive” from June 17, 2019, I said I had no formal training regarding how to be positive.  Rethinking the topic I realize I actually have and I’d like to share my source with you:  Dr. Edward de Bono  https://www.edwddebono.com/

Renowned psychologist and consultant, Dr. de Bono is known worldwide for his ideas and works on strategic and creative thinking, originating the term ‘lateral thinking’.  In the late 1980s, I had the privilege of attending one of his two-day seminars in Toronto. The man is pure genius!  Even though his presentation was methodical and dry, one could hear a pin drop when he spoke. He didn’t need a fancy PowerPoint accompaniment or pizzazz in his speech because the content alone was fascinating.

While much of his work with corporations and governments; what has stuck with me eternally is Dr. de Bono’s tool of the Six Thinking Hats. The concept is simple enough for children to use and yet captivating and practical enough for adults.  Although De Bono teaches it for groups to solve problems (so everyone is on the same page), I like to use it personally particularly when I find myself thinking negatively or struggling with an issue.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGfUroHvduM

Each hat has a different colour, representing different perspectives:  white for information collection, black for critical analysis, yellow for positive analysis, red for emotion, green for creativity and blue for overview or summation.  What struck me as most brilliant is the concept within the concept – the ‘rules’ De Bono created for Six Thinking Hats – the most important one being:  only wear one hat at a time.  Wearing only one hat at a time channels our thoughts to its purpose.  No opinions are allowed when wearing the white hat.  Use logic only when wearing the black or yellow hats.  Logic isn’t necessary while wearing red or green hats.  You can wear each hat in any order you please, but it’s recommended to think with your blue hat only when you’ve worn all the others.  It’s okay to think negatively about an issue.  After you’ve thought of all of the negative points, imagine replacing the black hat onto its shelf and donning, say, the red hat.  Now, how do you feel about the issue? 

Teaching this approach as sort of a game to children reaps major benefits. Imagine being able to suggest to a little one that he or she should perhaps remove their black hat and try on the yellow one. This teaches children not only that it’s okay to react negatively but also that they can limit their negativity and that they have the power within to resolve problems themselves.

Dr. de Bono has shared his concepts widely on the Internet.  Meeting Edward de Bono set me on the path of finding and celebrating the positive things in life. I urge you to ‘google’ his teachings. Happy surfing!

Remembering Mom Part 2 – The More Serious Side of Dementia

In the summer of 2013 I decided to take an apartment with my mother because I had noticed that she was forgetting simple things like where she put her cheque book, or whether she’d paid the cable bill.  I wanted to spend some time with her so I could observe her behaviour and decide if she was able to live alone or if she needed assistance.

I soon realized that her taking extra long to get dressed was really because she couldn’t decide what to wear.  I started to understand that the reason she took so long to get ready for bed going back and forth from her bedroom to the bathroom was because she had forgotten that she’d already brushed her teeth.  It wasn’t long before I was aware that there wasn’t much she remembered.  She didn’t even know we were living together in the apartment and would say things like, “I’m sorry I didn’t know you were staying for dinner and didn’t get out to the grocery store today” (this was months after I didn’t let her go out on her own). 

One afternoon she asked me, “What ever happened to your brother?”  Now my brother, her son, had just recently visited so I didn’t comprehend her meaning so I asked, “What do you mean?” She replied, “Your brother Mike, where is he?”  My brother’s name is Steve, so I was really confused.  Not thinking, I asked, “Who am I?”  She quickly replied, “Martha”.  I’ve never heard of a Martha.  Not knowing what to do, I got up and left the room for a few minutes.  When I returned, I looked her in the eyes and asked, “Mom, who am I?”  She said, “You’re Linda.”  (Whew!) I explained, “A few minutes ago you called me Martha.  Who is she?”  She thought for a minute and replied, “Well, I was thinking of my cousin Martha.  I must have thought you were her.  I wonder what ever happened to her brother.”  This was my first insight into a dementia mind.  She wasn’t just thinking about the past, it was as though she was living it at that moment.

Those inflicted with Alzheimer’s disease seem to travel back in time in their minds – doctors told me typically to a happy time.  So the best way to have a conversation with them is to figure out where their mind is.  Whenever Mom said something strange, I spoke to her as though she was hypnotized and I would ask questions like, “where are you?” and “who are you with?”  She would answer and we’d have lovely conversations apparently in corn fields, at the harbour, even in the school yard.  This went on for months.  Sometimes it was a puzzle and other times it was like she was writing the novel of her life.  I just followed along the mystery tour.

Although she’s been physically gone for two years now, the mother that I knew all my life vanished three years prior.  As sad as it was to watch her brain diminish, those times were, in a way, magical.

Remembering Mom – the Funny Side of Dementia

From 2013 through most of 2014 I was my mother’s full-time caregiver, living with her to assess her failing health.  I took her to numerous doctors to be eventually diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia by one and Alzheimer’s Disease by another, and I eventually placed her in a wonderful nursing home. I learned a great deal about how the brain works when one has dementia which I might write about another time.  Right now, though, I choose to remember only the funny things she said.  Some of these I posted on Facebook as they happened.  I compile these for your enjoyment:

1.  When we first moved into our apartment, one evening I had to go out for a few hours.  As our landline phone had not yet been installed, I gave my mother my cell phone (a small Blackberry) and instructed her that all she needed to do was push ‘S’ and she could speak to me. I slowly repeated the instructions to make sure she understood and she said, “Yes.  I understand.  I pick this up and I push ‘S’.  But I do have one question.  Where’s the phone?”

2. From an era past: This morning as we’re leaving the Chiropodist, Mom says, “I need to go to the bathroom, but I can’t go here”. So, I ask why not. She replies, “Because I don’t have any change for a tip.”

3.  My mother yesterday morning: “Is March first April Fool’s Day?” (I just couldn’t make this stuff up!)

4.  Went shopping today and bought Mom 3 pairs of pajamas. She had a hard time with this. First, I tried saying “consider it an early birthday present”. That didn’t work. I finally convinced her that I bought them because I was tired of looking at her in her old tattered ones, so in effect I bought them to please myself. Even then, she asked, “will they fit you?” I said, “No, they’re too small for me”. She replied, “So, you can’t wear them after I die?” (She’s 92.) “No, Mother, I won’t be wearing your pajamas after you die!” After much debate and me convincing her I got them all on sale, she finally conceded. Whew!

5.  Okay, so maybe I have a warped sense of humour, but it really made me chuckle tonight when my Mom said, “I think I’d better go to bed. I just wrote a Christmas card to a dead person.”

6.  The conversation tonight while I’m washing the dishes and Mom is still sitting at the table:
Mom: “On the shelf over the TV, is that tall thing a candle?”
Me: “Yes, it is.”
Mom: “So if the lights went out, it would shed a lot of light.”
Me: “Yes, it would. I have lots of candles. We don’t have to worry.”
Mom: (singing) “Where was little Johnny when the lights went out. That’s an old song. Do you know it?”
Me: “No, I don’t”
Mom: “Down by the river with his dickie hanging out!”

As difficult as it was to watch my mother’s brain slowly die over these months, I will always remember and cherish that time with her.  Many conflicted with dementia are negative and grumpy, but she was consistently cheerful and content during this phase.  For that I am grateful.

Grandparent by Choice

I have always viewed being a grandparent as a gift.  You see, I never had my own children. I always wanted children.  In my teens, I would make lists of baby names. In my mid twenties, I tried desperately to get pregnant. Throughout my thirties, the longing for my own was so strong that I was almost brought to tears each time I held a baby.  It simply was not meant to be.  Finally, I was blessed when my eldest stepson had his three daughters.  From the moment I held each of them in my arms, there was a connection like none other. They would not know that I was merely a ‘step’ grandmother.  Although not the historical origin of the term, I always fancied it meant to ‘step up’ and take on the role.

With their natural grandmothers distanced (one by physical miles, the other by mental illness); I was presented with the opportunity to spend much quality time with these three beautiful children.  Even though I’ve only been a small part of their lives, they’ve been a huge part of mine.  Every visit was a respite from the tedium of daily life, a joy to anticipate and a source of pleasure to recollect.

In addition to family holiday gatherings, we shared tea parties, puppet shows, craft dates, park excursions, sleepovers, pool get-togethers, and shopping trips.  I read fairy books aloud, told ghost stories, and played multiple board games.  I remember one instance when I was pouring them a replacement beverage for a mock tea party; each time I poured, I acted as a different character – an English lady, a robot, a sniveling child.  Through the shrieks of delight, the middle child would squeal, “Do the lady, Nana, do it again!”  There was always only one rule when they were at Nana’s house – no crying.  The no rules policy was easy, because they were such good kids.  Even though there was no official bedtime, they would all fall asleep at a decent hour anyways, exhausted from an active day.  I think of those times often.

My heart swells with pride today as they are all off to college and university pursuing their diverse dreams.  Even though their mother and I have divorced the men that brought us together, the five of us meet occasionally, now as women.  I am still their Nana:  a title I will cherish forever.    

When You Leave An Abusive Relationship

I left my abusive ex-husband 6 years ago after 25 years of emotional abuse and thankfully only one night of violence. The first 3 years were rough and would have been a lot smoother if I had done a few things differently. So, please consider the following:

If you are in danger, call 911. Call the police. I wish I had. They are trained professionals and many of their calls involve domestic violence. They are used to the cunning, lying behaviours of an abuser and in most cases will believe you. Don’t call friends, family, or neighbours. Chances are they will have never dealt with this type of situation before, won’t know what to do other than console you, and they may even try to talk you into going back.

Get a lawyer as soon as possible. Had I seen a lawyer within the first few days of leaving, I would have saved myself years of grief and a considerable amount of money. A lawyer would have likely suggested that the proceeds from its sale go into a trust fund. Instead, because I thought I was being fair, I thought my ex would be as well. That wasn’t the case, and my quest for fairness dragged out into an unnecessary three-year legal battle taking its financial and emotional toll.

Avoid all contact with your abuser. Statistics indicate that abused women are in danger even after they leave their abuser. Ex-husbands stalk and even kill their ex-wives. You may think you can handle seeing him. I thought I could. I was wrong. The result was that I effectively gave him permission to control me. At first, I let him contact me for the sake of keeping peace with the family. I thought I could forgive him and that perhaps we could be friends. That opened the door for him to continue harassing and it continued for years. Every time he contacted me, I was unsettled for hours afterwards. Eventually, I had to leave the city, change my phone number and block him from email and Facebook. No contact means NO CONTACT!  Stop all contact immediately. It’s the only way to heal and move on.

Think of yourself first. Many abused women are used to taking care of others first. In fact, they are so busy trying react to their partner’s behaviour they don’t think of themselves.  Do something that’s healthy for you. We all have psychological needs. Go for long walks, join a gym, exercise. Socialize, go to a movie, take a vacation. Each person’s psychological needs are different, so figure out what recharges your battery and do it.

Separate your finances and utilities. Banks and utility companies deal with this issue daily. They’re very nice about it. If your name is on the utility, get your name off the bill before your ex makes additional charges. Even though the cable was in my name, the company representative was empathetic and immediately removed my ex’s additional charges for porn movies when I explained the situation.

Get your valuables away from your abuser as soon as possible. I only had the opportunity to return to the house once with my ex not there. The next time I went back (accompanied) my ex was there. He refused to leave. So, naturally, I was uncomfortable and hurried. What he hadn’t sold or packed, he had damaged or destroyed. In hindsight, I would have called his parole officer and forced him to leave so that I could have a day to pack my belongings. One could say that ‘things’ aren’t important and, of course, I value my freedom and safety over my belongings. However, I had spent years collecting books, art, glassware, entertaining dishes, linen and mementos. I’ve been able to replace some of them, but it still annoys me that I left my belongings behind.

Get professional help. I didn’t think I needed professional help. At the encouragement and insistence of friends, I finally did go to an abuse centre, my family physician, a psychiatrist and a lawyer. I also spoke with the local Special Victim Unit. If for no other reason than to formally document what happened; I urge you to contact all of these professionals and do it immediately. Find a women’s centre in your city. No one will understand what you’re going through as well as a woman who has gone through it herself.

Reach out to friends. Share your experience. Caution:  don’t go on and on and expect pity. Tell your story once only, but tell it to everyone you know. People are generally empathetic. Do this for yourself and for others. Part of the issue with domestic violence and abuse is that the ‘general public’ doesn’t realize how rampant it is in our society. Spread the news. Sometimes friends will offer things you hadn’t even thought of. One friend gave me pots and pans, a vacuum cleaner and some various dishes. Another friend gave me a place to stay for a while and some desperately needed cash. Friends who I contacted via email or Facebook were most encouraging and provided the emotional support I needed.

Keep a journal. At least try. You may or may not find it healing, but at minimum you will have a record of when things happened. This may be important later on. Police will ask for the particulars. I found within several months I started to forget the details.

If just one woman reads this and makes better decisions in leaving her abusive partner, my purpose will be fulfilled.  Be safe.

On Letting Go

We all have our “baggage”, events in our life, typically ones that had a negative impact, which we carry with us.  These are the things we ruminate about as we’re falling asleep.  Some of us carry these issues for days, weeks, even our lifetime. 

I learned about “baggage” on a job in my youth.  I have a strong work ethic and strive to take care of all the details in any job.  Early one week, the owner returned from a supposed client meeting but the client had cancelled. The client claimed that he had advised me and assumed that I had passed along the message.  I had left a note on my boss’s desk, which he had apparently not seen.  My boss had not seen the message.  Ergo he was annoyed at his having just driven all the way downtown.  This really bothered me.  Later in the week my boss called me at home on a different matter. At the end of the conversation, I added, “I’ve been thinking about the mishap this week, and I’m sure I put that message…..” He interrupted me, “It’s okay.  It’s a non-issue.”  Then, very slowly, he said, “You can let it go now.”  He knew I had been carrying this baggage all week. I had been stewing over it. This was a huge learning moment.

We all need to learn to ‘let go’.  It’s not just specific single experiences – it can be much bigger.  If most of the men in your life have been controlling, then there might be a tendency to think all men are controlling.  If most of the women in your life have been manipulative, then there might be a tendency to think all women are manipulative.  Many people paint an entire group the same colour as one experience.  We do it as consumers all the time.  If you were mistreated at one branch of a store, you might boycott the whole chain; whereas perhaps you just happened upon one clerk at one store who was having a bad day.

The focus of negative occurrences in our lives isn’t just a waste of time; it can hinder our outlook on life.  We cannot move forward effectively if we’re always looking in the rear-view mirror.  Bad things happen.  We cannot change that.  We can, however, think about them for a bit, analyze what we might do or react to them differently the next time, and then file them away only to be brought to the forefront if absolutely necessary.  We can learn from them and then move on.  Let go of them.   

On Being Accommodating

Although the women’s rights movement still has a long journey ahead, every now and then I look back at how things were not so very long ago, particularly if I catch a glimpse of an older TV show or movie.  Men went to work and women stayed home.  Women cooked, cleaned, washed, prepared, chauffeured, decorated, repaired, entertained, nursed, tutored, and organized.  They handled everything as if behind the scenes, allowing the man to be the star of the show. They did all of this willingly, lovingly, energetically and happily.

I grew up this way.  Dad was the ‘breadwinner’ so Mom did all of the housework.  Some of it was obvious.  Some of it was more subtle, like Dad getting the biggest/best serving at dinner, his choice of what we all watched on TV, or his choice of bathroom time.  From the 1970s and onward, grown daughters have examined this aspect of their upbringing and realized they do not want to follow suit.  In her poem Shrinking Women, Lily Myers says, “I have been taught accommodation” as she reflects upon the sexist environment in which she grew up.

In my second marriage, I became that woman – the one who took care of it all. Now I know it was a mistake to let it happen. It didn’t start out that way. For the first several years, we split chores almost evenly.  Weekdays, because he arrived home first, he would start the dinner. And, he did the normal ‘man’ things like mowing the lawn, taking the garbage out as well as anything that involved construction or repair. He also kept a vegetable garden. We both had full-time jobs. Gradually, though, over the years, he did less and less while I did more and more. There was always a valid reason. He broke his foot and found mowing the lawn painful. I started working closer to home so I was home in time to cook dinner. He suffered from depression so didn’t have the initiative to take on projects.  I did more and more. He did less and less.  Sometimes it was just less complicated to do the task than to argue about it.   Like many other women, I imagine, became ‘accommodating’.

Being accommodating all of the time is not healthy. In my case, it stemmed from a combination of aiming to please and wanting to avoid confrontation or possible conflict. Sure, it’s okay when you’re taking care of an elderly parent or someone who simply cannot do for themselves. I’m not talking about being a caregiver. I’m talking about the male/female spousal relationship where the man becomes the lord and master thus the woman becomes the servant. It is not okay when you’re constantly doing for a person who can do for themselves or a person who seldom or never reciprocates.

If you are continually serving a person, they are taking advantage of you. Talk to the person about it. Learn to say ‘no’. Set some boundaries.

Oh, Canada!

July 1st is Canada Day – not something I ever thought I would blog about.  However, I just discovered that Canada, for 2 years running (2018 and 2019) has been appointed the number one country for quality of life.  Now, that’s something to be darn proud of.

Canadians don’t typically blow their own horns, but perhaps it’s time we did.  I have had the honour of living in Canada my entire life and, as most Canadians, I pretty much take it for granted.  I grew up expecting certain things.  I expect people to be polite.  I expect access to a good education.  I expect freedom of religion.  I expect free health care.

As an adult I learned Canadian values.  We are a diverse country, built on immigrants, and we welcome them.  I learned that if you travel with a Canadian flag on your person or luggage, especially in Europe, you are greeting with smiles and genuine welcome.

We’re not always shiny and bright.  We’ve had our bleak periods and embarrassments.  I am proud of our ability to recognize the manner in which we historically treated our Indigenous Peoples and the humility with which we ask forgiveness.  I am proud that in the face of disaster, we will rally to help those in need, both nationally and internationally. 

I am exceptionally proud of our nation’s reputation of peace keeping rather than war seeking, its stance on environmental issues and support of human rights.  Most recently, in light of the news that some of our neighbours are reverting to archaic anti-abortion laws, I am particularly proud that our government leaves individual life decisions up to the individual.  That, my friends, is freedom.

We might have differences among ourselves, but as a country we stand as one. Happy Birthday, Canada!   

Understanding People

I get along with most people. Of course there are those I prefer to spend time with and those I avoid. I shoot straight from the hip and expect everyone else to do so as well. So, typically, I take things at face value. Every now and then, though, I find myself pondering human behavior. “Why did he do that?” or “What was she thinking?

I’m thankful that I took a few psychology courses in my youth and have been exposed to several psychologists’ theories in my work. What follows is really a synopsis of those with my own personal views.

Most human behaviour stems from the individual’s psychological needs. The definition of one’s psychological needs varies from expert to expert. One might define them as ‘belonging, power, freedom and fun’ or another might say psychological needs are ‘variety, significance, love, growth certainty and contribution’. In dealing with people every day, it doesn’t really matter how you label them. My point is that people’s words and actions usually have a deep connection to their psychological need. So, the real question one should ask is “What are they really looking for?” Is it to be included or excluded? Is it to have a good time? Is it to feel good about themselves? Is it to be respected? Is it to be in control?

Sometimes, it’s really easy to help others out by providing them with what they seek to satisfy these needs. Spend time with them or leave them alone. Play along with them. Pay them a compliment. Let them take the lead. The caution is to know when to draw the line – especially with someone who needs to be in control.

Learning to get along with everyone involves understanding that people’s communication styles and psychological needs are different; and that understanding cannot include any prejudice. I might enjoy being with people and want to be included, but I appreciate that some people prefer to be alone. I don’t think any less of them.

So, the next time someone does or says something strange to you, explore the root causes and their underlying motivation before reacting. Your world might be happier.

Why Do Women Stay?

If you have not been in an abusive relationship, you might wonder, “Why do women stay with abusive men?” Ten years ago abuse against women was not even on my radar. It was not something discussed or ever mentioned in my social circles. Now, I know not only does it exist, but it is a far greater problem than many people recognize.

The recent focus on women coming forward after being sexually harassed, especially in the workplace is so very important and long overdue.  Awareness of human trafficking is leading to an understanding that mistreatment of women can be more evil than many of us ever imagined. Of course these issues need addressing.  My concern is for some reason relationship abuse and domestic violence have been placed on the back burner.  I don’t understand this. Has society slumped back into thinking that women abused by their partners chose their situation and if they don’t like it they can leave?

I have heard, “Why didn’t you leave before?” and “He’s changed, so why won’t you go back?” and “Why can’t you forgive him?” Before I recognized that I was a victim of abuse, I would have asked the same questions. If you have not walked in our shoes; then you won’t really understand the effect of constantly being with a negative, critical and controlling person. The short answer:  A woman might not even realize that her partner is abusive, particularly if the abuse is mental and emotional rather than physical.

Everyone’s personality is a combination of positive and less favourable characteristics. When we fall in love we tend to see only the positive behaviours. I’m sure you’re familiar with the saying:  Love is blind. When we first meet people and enter into a dating situation, most of us put our best foot forward to try to make a good impression. So, during the first days, weeks and even months of a new relationship, we’re actually seeing the façade the other person wants us to see. (It sounds very contrived, but in fact many of us are not even aware we are doing this.) By the time some negative characteristics surface, often we’re already ‘sold’ on the person. We are, therefore, no longer objective. We consider the pros and cons. If we’ve already vested a lot in the relationship and decide the pros outweigh the cons; we continue the relationship. From that point on it’s human nature to see mostly the positive characteristics. Why? Because we’ve made the decision and we like to be right; we’re going to consciously, or unconsciously, seek and ‘collect evidence’ to prove ourselves right. In other words, once we make a decision, our brains look for patterns – ones that support that decision.

In some cases, abuse sneaks in and we don’t really acknowledge or even notice it at first. Then, at the first signs we make excuses. “Oh, he’s having a bad day” or “He’s under a lot of stress” or “He’s had too much to drink”. In my case, it was “He’s mentally ill, so it’s not his fault”. We convince ourselves it’s a minor issue compared to all of the wonderful qualities of the man we chose (remember, we want to prove ourselves right).

We also put bad behaviour into the category of ‘give and take’ in a relationship. We tend to see ourselves as putting up with the bad things on a scale of ‘pros and cons’. We think if the pros outweigh the cons, then the balance is good.

Last, but not least, we think we can ‘fix’ it. That’s what I thought. I believed that if I continued to accompany my ex-husband to his psychiatrist, if I made sure his environment was stress-free, if I made sure he had lots of exposure to his family, if I paid attention to him and fed into his ego; then surely he would get better. None of that worked. 

The answer, in my case (and I suspect I’m not alone in this), is that these pernicious behaviours crept into our relationship slowly – slowly because I was vested in my husband’s positive characteristics. He had many good qualities. He was outgoing, charismatic, intelligent, the life of the party, and was a wonderful family man. I loved his children and was so deeply entangled into the family, by the time I started to notice the negative characteristics in his personality I had decided overall the positive parts of his personality and the circumstances outweighed the negative. His negative characteristics were noticed and forgiven by the rest of his family. Sometimes, they even joked about them. When he didn’t display the negatives ones for a while, I believed he was changing or returning to the man I had loved. I was wrong. By the time the negative behaviours were more prevalent, 15 years into our relationship, I felt trapped.

The biggest regret I have is that for years I modelled ineffective weak behaviour to my granddaughters. I wanted them to look at me as a role model of a strong, independent woman. Instead, as children, they saw Nana succumb to their grandfather’s negative critical behaviour.  At least as teenagers, and now young adults, they have witnessed their grandmother draw the line, leave the abusive relationship and fight for what is right.

If you are an abused woman, please reach out and ask for help. At best, leave your abuser. At minimum put a safety plan in place. Stay safe.