On Vulnerability

This will be my last post for the indefinite future…I need to get back to being myself.

At any given point, I usually have two or three of these posts in the works, swapping places with a handful of others in the trash. The topics range from the less personal (e.g. talking about seasonal affective disorder – which y’all should definitely read up on if you haven’t before – or some other mental health condition), to those that are deeply personal – ones that I’d always struggle to share.

Over a year ago, I decided to start this blog to share a lot of what I had and have been struggling with in an effort to help myself and others heal. I would give myself a year to turn my mental health around. It was never easy, I was never fully comfortable telling my stories, and – I’ll admit – most times I didn’t want to. In every case, though, what made me share was the fact that maybe I’d be able to help just one person who was going through something similar. I became terribly passionate, not about sharing my life, but about helping someone.

I’d like to think I did.

Now, sixteen months after I began, I think it’s time I call it. This will be my last post for the indefinite future…I need to get back to being myself. I unknowingly took on an incredible task, and didn’t realize just how far this little project would go. I am tremendously happy with the results, both internally (within myself) and just how much positive feedback I’ve received from various people and groups.

Before I sign off, though, I’d like to leave my readers with a few of the lessons I’ve learned during this journey – and hope I’ll be able to give you something worthwhile one more time.

Being vulnerable is ridiculously difficult.

I get a lot of messages from people along the lines of “I don’t know how you do it”, or “you make it look so easy.” It really isn’t. Being open is very, very hard for me – especially in such a public setting. Being vulnerable can – to many – be seen as a sign of weakness, neediness, and a source of shame. It’s definitely not something I would willingly sign up for all the time. What made me share, though, was the hope that by being vulnerable it would inspire others to do the same, and to show that it’s not always a bad thing to ask for help.

Sometimes, people will get the wrong impression of you.

If you met me seventeen months ago, for example, you’d probably never think I would have been capable of doing something like this. I greatly enjoy my privacy and personal space, and it’s not a regular thing that I would be so willing to open up. By sharing so much of my personal life, I may have made myself too available, too open, in certain situations. While I enjoyed receiving messages, both for help and for encouragement, I’d often need to take a step back and re-evaluate if I was really ready to keep doing this. At this point, I think I’ve had my fill of the spotlight.

It may seem wrong, but sometimes, it’s OK to be selfish.

Selfishness is usually looked at as a bad thing, but sometimes it’s necessary to protect yourself. I’ve always believed that everyone needs a recharge sometimes, and as of late, I’ve been stretched thin. I think I’m a pleaser by nature, and love taking care of other people and other living things (if my dogs and plants could talk, they’d tell you)…but sometimes taking care of myself needs to come first.

That being said, I’m looking forward to being just a bit selfish over the next few or more days. Time for a little social media purge and do a little retail therapy! *googles closest Designer Shoe Warehouse*

All fun aside, for my readers: if you’ve been following my writing since the beginning, or have just recently found this blog…thank you so much for taking some time to read it. I’ll probably leave this site up for a while, so feel free to share it with someone you feel could use a little reassurance, or even just a break from their own struggles. I could definitely use a break myself. For my friends: you know how to reach me.

Wishing you the best and Happy Halloween,

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Phil.

 

 

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On Anger

My mother used to tell me that I had a temper like my father. He was – and in ways still is – prone to being angry, short-fused, impatient…many qualities I seemed to have inherited by being his child.

My mother used to tell me that I had a temper like my father. He was – and in ways still is – prone to being angry, short-fused, impatient…many qualities I seemed to have inherited by being his child.

My anger would get me in trouble a lot with my parents, teachers, and others. It would range from me acting out, yelling, refusing to do any sort of work or chore, to – on my worse days – physical fights or striking things (I think there’s still a few dents in the walls at my parents’ house). Once I got past a certain point, I would lose control…even at times not being able to remember what I did when I was angry. I’ve ruined relationships because of it, hurt people, and it got to the point where I had to make some changes for my own sake and before I went too far.

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I asked a few people on Twitter and Instagram if they’ve ever been really angry. Here are a few responses.

Thankfully, I am not as quick to anger as I was then, and I’m not the same person. I’m more patient, less frustrated, and can handle my now extremely rare bouts of wrath much easier than I could as a younger man. After having a conversation with someone recently – both of us describing incidents of violence brought on by rage or finally lashing out – I decided to do some research into why some people are more prone to these sort of reactions, and help others the way I helped myself move past that part of my life. That being said, with the rest of this post I’ll try to answer a few questions about this topic.

What is anger? Why do we get angry?

tweet2In all of my reading, anger is described as a “basic” or natural emotion that everyone will experience. It is also described as, often, a secondary response to either a primary emotion: being in a situation of sadness, feeling threatened, if one of our basic needs like food or sleep are not met, being frightened, or experiencing loneliness. If you’re following so far, that tells me that we’re supposed to feel angry at some points in our lives. I’d also add that we shouldn’t feel upset or ashamed that we do, at points, feel angry. Rather, I’d say how we react to or in anger is probably more important.

Some researchers also think that anger later in life is the result of childhood or past experiences. For example, if you were subject to some situation where you couldn’t adequately express your anger in the past (e.g. bullying, abuse, or trauma)…you may still be coping with it at present. This may mean that current situations where you feel frustrated or ones that may evoke similar emotion can make you react with anger. Also, some people think that if you witnessed a parent or other adult express their own anger aggressively or violently, you may be more prone to do the same – or even be so afraid of becoming that angry that you suppress it. Eventually, that anger may surface in other situations.

So, why are some people more angry than others?

I think we can all agree that everyone is different. The same goes with anger and how an individual may react to it. So, what can make some people seem more easily angered? Reasons can include higher-stress lifestyles, genetics (yes, there is evidence that if your folks are more easily angered, you may be as well), and our own individual ways of assessing situations. With that last point, some articles I’ve read suggest that if you’re more sensitive or are more emotional in general than someone else, you will be more prone to reacting angrily (since anger falls under basic emotional response).

img_4365-1Another reason, as described in the section above, could be socio-cultural or socio-economic. By the former, I mean that anger is often looked at as being very negative in society. Because of this, there may not be very many resources to help an individual learn to express and deal with their anger – thus making them more prone to outbursts. By the latter, I read a study that suggests that Americans with lower social status expressed more anger because a lower social standing was associated with greater frustration – stemming from leading more adverse lives. On the other hand, the same study also concludes that Japanese people with higher social status experienced more anger  because, as being part of an important group or relationship is seen as self-defining and central to what it means to be a person in this culture, expressing anger is frowned-upon due to such expressions having the potential to ruin these relationships.

How can I tell if I have an anger problem?

This list is not comprehensive, but here are a few items that could point to someone having anger issues:

  • Inability to take criticism
  • Feeling that anger needs to be hidden or suppressed
  • Arguing with others constantly
  • Holding grudges
  • Feelings of impatience, irritability, hostility, or resentment that lead to outbursts when angry
  • Becoming physically violent to people or objects when angry, or being short-fused
  • Avoiding situations where one knows one may become angry/angrier
  • Lack of ability to control anger escalating

Some of the symptoms above may even be worsened by alcohol or drug use. While – as mentioned before – anger itself is not a problem, expressing anger during and in ways like the items in the list above could lead to a lot of problems for someone who can’t get their anger under control.

Are there things I can do to help with my anger?

Let’s take a quick look at ways to help control and manage anger.

One of the best ways I found that helped me was to first own that I had a bad temper and that I had a problem. I would realize and accept that I was angry in certain situations, but chose not to let the situation escalate nor get the better of me. I also would continually remind myself that it is very difficult to make smart choices when feeling a powerful emotion like anger, so I chose to let the anger subside before doing anything else.

Another method, as I preach to myself in sports, is the concept of having a “short memory”. If I missed a shot or dropped a ball, I wouldn’t let myself dwell on it nor think about it while setting up another shot or play. In the same way, I didn’t let a past event dictate how I would react to a present event. Also, I did not allow myself to sit and steam about an event that made me angry – it just didn’t make sense to stay angry at the past or something I could no longer change.

img_4366Another very important step in managing anger is recognizing one’s triggers, and figuring out exactly what can make you angry and how to work through them. This may mean avoiding the trigger altogether (for example, I dislike traffic…so I leave for work earlier and either leave the office early or later depending on the day) or attacking it head-on (e.g. if you have disagreements with another person, trying to iron out your differences in a civil manner). This isn’t an easy process, and I think I’m still working on some of my triggers to this day.

Finally, and probably the most helpful for me, I found that improving my thinking, communication, and relaxation skills became an invaluable asset in helping me recover from my anger problems. Instead of rushing to reply or get the last word in, I began to learn how to express my thoughts and feelings (even if they were coming from a place of anger) in a calmer, less aggressive way. When this became too difficult to do in a situation, I’d let myself walk away (or politely excuse myself) to cool down and then re-approached the situation later.  You’d be surprised what taking a good, deep breath before speaking can do for you.

I hope this post has been both insightful and helpful. If you or someone you care about is struggling with issues with anger or other mental health conditions, there is always help. While I did not address (and have never been to) counseling or ever saw a professional for anger, I know these resources exist and would definitely recommend them if someone chose to take that route.

I’d love to hear your stories, comments, and opinions as well. Feel free to reach out to me 🙂

As always, keep fighting the good fight (shout out to my friend Kyle),

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Phil.

On Suicide

I once read a quote that suicide doesn’t end the pain, but rather it passes it on to someone else…someone you love, someone you care about. If you’re reading this and have been going through pain, please reach out to that someone. 

To be honest, I’ve been trying to write and finish a blog post like this for a while – over a year, at least. I would start writing, then stop, then start again…always being torn between wanting to share one of the most personal and darkest moments of my life, and wanting to not pick at that scab again.

I was ready to move on, to move forward. I had survived the longest and most difficult period of depression I had ever faced, and was ready to never go back to it. Ever.

Then, almost immediately after I had resolved to leave it in my past, the world lost Chris Cornell.  Then Chester Bennington right after that.  Reeling, I came back to this post, got halfway through, and stopped again. Cue June 2018, where we would lose Kate Spade, and then Anthony Bourdain. I decided that maybe it was time to spill again, to own what I had been through and share just one more of my experiences with the hope that it can help someone struggling.

This isn’t an easy story to think about or tell, but I’ll do my best. With disclaimers for the possibly triggering material, here’s “The First Time I Ever Wanted To Kill Myself“, by Phil.

It’s a warm day in April 2017. My day started as they usually do…wake up, shower, eat, pill. That evening was Easter supper at my aunts (a welcome break from being alone in the suburbs). My car was out of commission, so I rode my bike from my house to the train station. I remember feeling just fine at dinner – it was great to be in the company of family and people who care, and nothing was out of the ordinary. I would have never guessed that later on that night, I’d go through hell.

On the bike ride back from the train, I felt a huge wave of hopelessness set in. I got about halfway up the overpass near my house, and stopped. I felt like I couldn’t go on, both physically and mentally. All the negative things that I’d been through leading up to that point – the breakups, the fights, the car accident, asking my doctor for medication, the lack of direction I felt at my job – were taking turns flashing in and out of my head, and I felt an overwhelming urge to jump and end it all.

Thinking about killing yourself is a horrifying thing, and for so many reasons. I felt all the strength and determination I had previously built up over so long just wilt away, and my will crumble. I wiped tears and sweat from my face and I thought about just how I would go: I’d just leave the bike there and topple over the edge with my eyes closed. Would I hit metal or pavement first? Who would find me? What would my parents think? Would anyone else care? These thoughts and questions flew in and out of my brain at rapid pace, and I eventually physically crumbled as well. Feeling my legs give out from under me, I dropped to my knees and then just sat there leaning against the concrete barrier separating me from the fall. I spent the next several minutes convincing myself that I needed to press on, and that I wanted to live.

Talking yourself down from something like that, and having to convince yourself that you are worthy of living, is both a shameful and humbling experience. In what felt like the hour that had passed, I realized that I wanted so much more out of life. That there were so many goals and accomplishments left to achieve. That I wanted those dreams way more than I wanted it to end. I was ashamed that it had come to that point, but I felt proud that I had survived yet another low. With that, I dusted off my jeans, wiped the sweat from my forehead, got back on my bike, and pedalled home.

I don’t think I ever flat-out wanted to die before that moment, and I don’t think I really wanted to die at all. Rather, I just wanted the pain I felt to end. I once read a quote that suicide doesn’t end the pain, but rather it passes it on to someone else…someone you love, someone you care about. If you’re reading this and have been going through pain, I know it’s difficult to, but please try to reach out to that someone. You deserve to live.

I am happy to say that since this experience, I am doing well. Through a lot of hard work, a dash of therapy, and the belief that I can do better, I have been doing just that. If you are like me and aren’t currently struggling personally, but you care at all about someone else…check on them. Sometimes it’s the ones who seem the strongest that need it the most.

 

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On Grief and Loss

Getting “over” any loss – whether it be a death, end of a relationship, or otherwise – takes a huge toll on me, and I’m not sure I’ve fully moved on from some of them. For some, I’m not sure I want to move on.

My maternal grandfather was born and raised in Greece. He grew up in a small village, survived a war, married my grandmother, and moved his family from Europe to Toronto in search of a better quality of life and opportunity.

Before I moved to Canada permanently, I’d stay with my grandparents during every visit. While his English wasn’t perfect and my Greek was basically non-existent, we forged a bond between papou and grandson that was cut way too short about eight years ago.

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Papou manning the grill.

I lost my grandfather in the middle of what should have been my final exam period in university, and got the call that he had passed right before walking into an exam room. While I knew that he wasn’t doing well, I don’t think I would have ever really been prepared to lose someone close.

Needless to say, I never took the exam. Still reeling, I was forced to essentially re-live his loss every time I had to talk to a professor, ask for a death certificate, or apply for some sort of extension allowing me more time to get things done academically. In the end, I would spend an extra semester in school making up for classes and exams that I just could not get myself to sit through. I still dream about my grandfather, and there are days when – even though it’s been years – I still feel the loss deeply.

Grief doesn’t always occur with a death. It can happen with a breakup or divorce, loss of a job, death of a pet, or even financial hardship. Sometimes, the loss doesn’t even have to be your own.

Around a year ago, a friend of mine lost their mother. I had met her in person only once, well over a decade ago when I was still new to Canada. It was a cold fall night, and I boarded a GO bus from York University to Streetsville, Mississauga (which might as well have been a flight to China – I didn’t know what direction I was headed in and nothing looked familiar) to visit my friend at her house.

If you’ve followed my posts so far, you’d know that that period of my life was complicated to say the least. While I was still struggling externally with adjusting to a new country, and still battling with an internal need to belong, a woman invited her daughter’s friend into her home with a large smile and open arms. I don’t remember many of the other details of that night minus a grand tour of the house and a hot meal, but what stuck with me was the way I felt there – welcomed. To see and experience that sort of kindness, offered to a complete stranger…that’s something that, for me, would be very hard to forget. I can only imagine how her loss must have affected (and still affects) that family, and they’re in my thoughts and prayers.

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Papou and I, early 90’s.

Everything you read in life about grief and loss will probably tell you that losing someone you love is one of life’s biggest and most difficult challenges. Most sources may even tell you what the symptoms of grief are, or that there are several steps involved in the process of grieving, or that there’s professional help for that sort of thing. What you may never read, but definitely may experience at some point in life, is just how long it takes to get to the other side of grief. Sometimes, you may even feel fine for a while – even years – and then that one song plays or someone brings up that thing you used to do together, and you’re back to where you were before.

Getting “over” any loss – whether it be a death, end of a relationship, or otherwise – takes a huge toll on me, and I’m not sure I’ve fully moved on from some of them. For some, I’m not sure I want to move on.

That being said, if you’ve got someone in your life that you love and appreciate…don’t wait until they’re gone to show them that you do.

Until next time,

Phil.

 

Continue reading “On Grief and Loss”