Being my own Hero

life, Lifestyle Blog December 18, 2017

When I was younger, I used to think I had all the answers; whether it was how to end world poverty or how to fix a broken printer. I was fixated on being able to provide a solution to any problem. And so my dream of being a physician would then allow me to provide everyone with helpful advice and allow me to be a hero.

It took a bachelors, two master’s degrees and two years of working as an epidemiologist to firmly say, I know very little about how anything works or how to fix anything. What I learned instead was the exact things I needed to do for myself; find my own answers, fix the broken pieces and be my own hero.

I spent so long being a “helper” of other people’s stories, to make “helpful” suggestions and provide unsolicited advice to anyone I deemed needed it. How often was I helpful? Probably not as often as I would have liked to believe. The reality I needed to embrace about being helpful was that I first needed to help myself. To understand, detangle and appreciate the soul which lived within the borders of my body. But how does one go about learning about their soul and about life?

busy

I used to think that I would learn more by doing more things, which is why I never took a break and never said no. I pursued my education relentlessly, no breaks between any degrees and also completed two graduate degrees simultaneously. Before I finished my degrees, I was already employed as a full-time epidemiologist working in a health care authority that was grappling desperately with a multitude of communicable diseases. I joined every sport, community event and every social event. I wanted to have answers and the way to get answers, was to do a lot of things.

Two years later, I was burned out, frustrated and at my wits end. Beneath the exterior was a girl who faced early life trauma and a women who ran from the realities of deceit, humiliation and alienation. I put on a brave face and said, no one can see the inside so I will be successful on the outside. I didn’t give myself a chance to succeed the way I envisioned. I wasn’t happier or felt better about anything. I was successful in one small aspect of my life. The rest, I ignored and when it would come up, I would bury myself in “productive” tasks (like studying for my mcat).

When I moved to St. John’s, everything somehow came to a standstill in my world. I stopped making the same kind of effort to do things, I didn’t spend the same kind of hours coordinating what academic, volunteer, extracurricular, sports and social activities to occupy my time and mind with. I often just sit in my cozy, warm and safe apartment with my cat of 5 years every night reflecting while I crochet and drink tea. I do everything alone from shopping to eating out at a restaurant. It is so liberating to be able to sit with myself and my thoughts. I miss friends and family, but I don’t feel alone or lonely. I feel at peace with where I am and I am detangling myself mentally from some difficult experiences from my past so I no longer feel the need to carry them with me in the future.

meditate-sunset

It’s not always easy or comfortable, but I am guided through it by my mentor and guide who is always there when I need her. She simply catches me when I use words that are self-sabotaging and helps me re-tell my own story so that I am able to make peace with it. Every detail, every excoriating detail is sometimes discussed multiple times. We’ve been doing this for three years, but now I am better equipped to understand my emotions and particular events. And beginning to let them go.

In attempting to understand my own story, I have become more understanding of other people and learning not to make a judgement on someone’s character. We are all capable of great damage when we impose our own interpretation of how we think others should behave. Instead, refocusing that lost energy into ourselves is so much more fulfilling, enlightening and comforting. There’s no use in helping others, if you can’t help yourself first. Because if you feel good on the inside, you will always be good on the outside.

(Re)-Defining Gender Roles

Lifestyle Blog December 5, 2017

I was raised with clearly defined gender roles of leaders and followers; decision-maker and obedient subservient; the man and the woman, respectively. They were clear directions of what my role was to be within the society I belonged to. To nod, agree, be pleasant, supportive, understanding, helpful, and most importantly, not ruffle feathers.

When we think of this, we think of societies and countries where women are monitored and controlled as commodities or objects. Yet to a lesser degree this is evident in Western societies as well when women are not generally leaders in the political world, used as sexual objects and are shamed for things that men are not. These things are embedded deeply in our histories because it wasn’t long ago that women couldn’t vote (1915) and an even scarier fact that it was nearly 150 years ago when women were considered a man’s property. The Married Women’s Property Act of 1870 allowed married women to be legal owners of money and inherit property for the first time.

These are remnants of the old world that still impact our lives today. The gender pay gap is evident in all parts of the western world, where women systematically are paid at least 20 cents less on the dollar in academia and corporate settings. Women are expected to do it all, be a mother, a friend, an expert and still be fashionable yet respectable. This expectation is only for the women, men are not mandated by society to take a leave from work when they become fathers, their relationships depend greatly on who they are (whereas women need to be nice to everyone) and there is no requirement to dress a certain way whereas women’s dress codes are moralized in a public setting.

This behavior is literally costing women in the professional world and I’d argue in a greater sense in their own lives. For example, agreeable women are seen as more likeable in the workplace whereas agreeable men are seen as weak as reported in numerous studies. The research in this area is astonishing when considering the gender divide in a professional setting but also in a public and social setting. Women are expected to be demur to be liked, otherwise they are called bitchy.

I often think about whether others like me, if I sound friendly enough and worry if I have offended others, did they think my outfit was too scandalous. As a result, I am always saying “sorry,” almost as if it’s a reflex to ensure that those around me know that I am willing to make amends for anything I may have done.

Why can’t I just be okay with the reality that not everyone is going to like me, no matter how nice or friendly I am. Why can’t I just be okay with saying exactly what I think and feel without the worry of “people pleasing.”

We diminish our own value with “just.”

Just wanted to see if I can take the afternoon off? Just wondering how you were doing today? Just asking if it’s okay to use your lawnmower?

Just phrases are the epitome of submissiveness and they diminish the competence, confidence and value we have. When we use just we are asking for permission, instead of stating a need or request. I’m very guilty of this, and I still have trouble with it.

I will be taking the afternoon off, How are you? Is your lawnmower available ?

The words we use define us subconsciously. Let’s instead, consciously use every word and action to build ourselves in an assertive, self-entitled and self-assured way. It takes practice and reminders to be gentle and kind to yourself first.

Why legalizing drugs is right

Lifestyle Blog November 30, 2017

As I start my new position for the opioid crisis as one of 10 public health officer – epidemiologists for Canada, stationed in Newfoundland & Labrador, I am exposed to the world of drug addiction that once fascinated me during my undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto. There, I looked at the neural underpinnings associated with a drugs ability to “hijack” the brain and eventually assume control of an addicts executive functioning abilities, namely an inability to make sound decision in the face of immediate gratification. I studied clinical addiction in rodents, who were given the option to lever press for water & food pellets versus cocaine. In almost all instances, rodents in testing scenarios chose to self-administer cocaine over food and water until they died. Studies like this, illustrated to me that drugs of abuse are capable of assuming complete control of all individuals who take them leading to a destruction of their lives. Therefore, prohibition of its use and penalization seemed logical measures of control.

My position on this topic has changed dramatically since following my move to Labrador several years following my undergrad. Labrador was the first instance in my life, where I knew individuals who abused drugs either in the past or were presently abusing them. The narrative of drug abuse became human and I began to question the moral stance I took on drugs which simplistically put was that “drugs are bad, therefore only bad people would use them.”

Let’s sidetrack and go to the history of drug use. From the earliest records, drugs have been for a variety of reasons, which include spiritual enlightenment and transcendence, relaxation with the advent of wine as well as medical practices. In its essence, drugs were created to heal people in a medical setting for physical ailments or to help them experience a part of life that was evidently important (and I’d argue recreational drug use is also an important life experience for some and maybe not others). Time and time again, drugs went through various bans and prohibitions all which were ineffective in preventing people from its use. For example, Tabaco use was banned following its introduction to Europe by Christopher Columbus and the same has been true for alcohol in many areas of the world. Yet, people still use it and now both have become normalized and accepted in many societies. The ban on other more addictive and potent drugs seem to be well accepted around the world, but they continue to be used vastly. The lack of a centralized system for monitoring its creation and consumptions has resulted in two things: one, we don’t know how much is being used and by how many people & two, because of a lack of monitoring/control the drugs are being created with extremely toxic substances that result in overdose related deaths and other medical complications. If a legalized control system was in place with limitations on dispensation, education for users of drug interactions and dose recommendations, this would:

  • Reduce overdose related death as drug dispensing would be controlled
  • Clean drugs may result in a reduction in healthcare costs associated with bi-products in street drugs
  • The government would be able to profit from sales, monitor rates of consumption and identify the proportion of drug use among adults
  • Reduce the stigma associated with drug addiction, lending to an increase in people seeking support for their addiction
  • Reduce costs associated with criminalized petty drug use (police force, courts, lawyer fees etc)

Despite the radical change in dialogue regarding de-stigmatization of mental health in the medical world, there is a great deal of stigma toward those who are addicted to drugs. We see drug addicts as failed individuals in our societies and they are shamed, penalized, reprimanded and given a track record that prevents them opportunities that are available to others. An important note to keep in mind is that, not all people who abuse drugs, become addicts. The pathway from drug use/abuse to full blown addictions is very dependent on the individual and their predispositions, personal anecdotes for using the drug and duration and extent of use. The exact reason why some people turn to drugs versus others varies, but something that since captured my attention was one specific subset of drug users. The one’s who use drugs to numb trauma/pain and those who use to feel loved.

The brain is hardwired to gravitate toward acceptance, love and companionship; and these areas are the reward centres of the brain which drugs act on. This is why humans are so vastly different from other species, we are inherently social and depend greatly on others for support, a sense of belonging and acceptance. It’s the reason why the concept of family is so deeply rooted in all human societies which is not seen in the animal kingdom nearly to the same degree. And it’s also why solitary confinement is the worst possible punishment we give to individuals who have crossed social boundaries like committing first-degree murder. Individuals who use drugs to initially numb trauma or those who have experienced neglect and social isolation, may be desperately trying to fulfill the very human need to feel love, acceptance and to forget the memories that prevent them from feeling “normal.” The underlying issues the individual is facing may be the trigger that causes their addiction, as they must rely on drugs.

The stigma surrounding drug addiction needs to be re-examined and the use of coercion, penalization and legal labels that follow addicts for the rest of their lives should be removed. Drug addiction shouldn’t be a legal issue, I don’t think police officers are trained to react with empathy and understanding of the social, economic, personal and neurobiological underpinnings associated with drug addiction. Let’s penalize the suppliers and enforce control measures that prevent smuggled substances that destroy lives. But the funding used to arrest petty drug use should come to a halt. Instead, that funding should go directly to specialized mental health worker, counsellors and therapists who treat addicts with empathy and respect.

On a much larger scale, we as a society must stop the need to judge or belittle the living conditions, circumstances and decisions of other people whose shoes we do not walk in. Listening to the stories of those who have suffered systemically, like our Indigenous communities, or those who face social, economic and cultural struggles that are not apparent will allow us all to see the truths that are often forgotten or unheard. The only way to move forward is to know the realities of the past and everyone has a past.

Let it all go

Lifestyle Blog August 7, 2017

What is the one memory you cherish most? It will tell you more about who you are and what drives your soul.

My most cherished memory of all time is waking up early for school, and walking down my street in my safe and familiar neighborhood. The crispness of the air, the brand new school supplies in my bag, the sheer excitement to go back to school. It wasn’t because I was excited to see my friends or teachers, it was the sheer glory and joy of being able to be go learn.

I constantly craved knowledge and  answers. It wasn’t to understand how things worked nor was it to fix things; it was a desire to understand how and why things went wrong. I didn’t want to be the hero who solved the problem with the bandage, I wanted to be the revolutionary that would help prevent the problem from ever happening. I wanted everyone to feel the feeling I felt when I could explain things and then fix them.

I’ve learned over the years, that answers are hard to come by. Sometimes answers are half truths, sometimes they distort reality and sometimes they depended on perspective and bias. There were short, and long answers, complex and complicated answers and sometimes there were silent answers. Ultimately, answers didn’t seem to be enough to understand things which became exhausting and they didn’t solve problems.

Difficult experiences often beg for answers and understanding, like why someone you love has gone to tremendous lengths to hurt you or belittle you, when in reality their role in your life was that of a primary care-giver, protector and guardian. Sometimes, we don’t have the chance to understand others actions, but we have every opportunity to understand our own actions, reactions and experiences. And to also make peace with them by learning to let them go. What we hold closest also has the potential to hurt us the most.

Meditation is an extremely challenging task when you’re feeling heavy with emotional baggage. But it’s also the most liberating experience when you learn to acknowledge those uneasy feelings, accept them and release them from your thoughts. How do you do this? Well, Headspace creator, Andy Puddicombe says to convince yourself that your thoughts are the clouds in the sky, and that when they are gloomy, they are dark, stormy clouds and that happy experiences are fluffy ones that we see on a warm sunny day. When negative thoughts come to the surface, you acknowledge them, you know they are there (so you don’t ignore them), but you simply allow them to pass by you as you are looking up at the sky.

I use Headspace every day after I workout at the gym and either sit in the sauna, do a headstand or in downward dog pose. I find that being in an active pose, helps my brain not to wander and to stay present. I usually leave the sauna feeling extremely grateful and happy.
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The Big Secret to Happiness

Lifestyle Blog August 1, 2017

I’ve decided to do a few things, here is my list:

  1. Devote my energy to what I love

This one bullet is a hundred bullets of what I love. I love yoga, meditation, painting, spending time with loved ones, eating, watching movies, research, science, medicine, hiking, running, sports, crochet and knitting, travelling and learning new languages. Instead, I’ve been dividing my energy to what I love with a constant worry of not achieving everything else I want in the meantime and constantly worrying about failing. I am constantly worrying about how much more there is that I want to do and the panic that sets in disrupts the harmony of my thoughts, actions and words. I want to achieve so much, but I am not investing in me the way I would like to. I want to invest in everything I love at 100%.  To soak up every ray of sunshine when it’s out, to dance in the rain, to love the chair I sit in when I study for my MCAT every day, to drink that cup of coffee with gratitude for it’s warmth and present the work I do in epidemiology with the passion I have for it. Instead of focusing on why I don’t feel happy about where I am, I’m going to redirect that energy back into fueling my inner drive and focusing on ME.

For months, I was excited every day to write my goals of the day in my calendar. I wrote down my supper plans, notes, to do lists, and finally my daily gratitude. This was the most exciting part of my morning. There was a sense of accomplishment when I could check off each item throughout the day. But, I also wrote what I was grateful for in that moment. Often times, I had to write more than one and not have enough space in that tiny box I was allotted.

I watched a TED talk by Shawn Achor several years ago and it changed the way I thought about happiness, productivity and life in general. He said the answer to happiness, productivity and life fulfillment was in gratitude; being thankful for the little things. But not passively grateful, physically writing down three things we were grateful every day. I heard this advice echoed again and again in other TED talks, self-help books and by my therapist. A month ago, I stopped writing in my calendar and I attributed my lack of productivity to that (as well as other personal turmoil)  but it was that I stopped writing down something I was grateful for each day.

Happiness

So how will I do everything? Simple. I am just going to do it because I can and because I want to do it for me and because it makes me happy. I’ll do it with every ounce of my being, with dedication, love, acceptance and awareness, and with purpose and on purpose. AND being grateful for all the wonderful surprises that come along the way.

Let’s start!

Adventures in my own Backyard

Adventure, Lifestyle Blog April 11, 2017

I went on my first adventure into the wilderness of Labrador. With great enthusiasm we decided to have a weekend trip in a cabin outside Birch Brook Nordic Ski Club. On the morning of the trip we learned that we had to snowshoe 7 Km to the cabin and our overnight bags would be delivered via a snowmobile by one of the chalet employees. Upon arrival to the chalet, we learned from the map and chalet workers that the snowshoe walk was actually 12-14 Km of hiking/snowshoeing with many steep uphill inclines. It’s safe to say that none of us were really well prepared to take on the challenges or dangers that potentially awaited us as we ventured out into the remote landscape. Luckily for us we were rescued 8 Km in; which was just as it was getting colder and we were all complaining of blisters from snowshoeing.

Snow Shoe trails

The night was filled with long chats and laughter but with recent spotting of wolves, the potential for bears waking from hibernation and the lack of cell reception we were definitely sleeping with one eye open.Perhaps that was one of the reasons we didn’t sleep well, the other was that we overheated the tiny cabin by overfilling the wood stove.

Nonetheless, it was of the most exciting things I have done in Labrador and I look forward to many more adventures! Check out our pictures below!