“A brave man is a man who dares to look the Devil in the face and tell him he is a Devil.” 

— James A. Garfield

I’ve been pondering the idea of bravery over the past few days. Consider me, an absent-minded, imaginative individual with what some would refer to as “a lot of free time”, when I tell you that my mental image of bravery involves a handsome knight, a gorgeous horse and maybe a gruesome battle of some sort. I’m not sure what triggers this imagery in my brain, because my definition of bravery extends far beyond myths and fables — don’t even get me started on “damsels in distress” (barf) — but the idea of a mythical quest, or a war of the worlds, or one valiant person (let’s be real — a man, duh; cue exasperated eye roll, in whatever level of severity you prefer), single-handedly preventing the human race from crumbling to ruin is, more often than not, at the forefront of my imagination when I think about being brave.

I recognize heroes every day, unassuming in their “ordinary” bravery. Primarily, and most importantly: I live with and am fortunate enough to love one. Watching Jo don their suit of armour every day is both mesmerizing and disheartening; hypnotizing in the fluidity of it all, like watching the creative process of a virtuosic artist, musician or craftsman. The way they prepare themselves to enter the world is evidently a process that has been practiced, reworked and refined over an extended period of time; to the point where they now use it as an almost impenetrable shield against any potential danger. The fact that this is a defence they have even had to consider perfecting obviously gives me mixed feelings, the most notable being a confusing combination of sadness and rage, but I admire them daily for their courage in simply stepping out the front door. 

I’m sure anybody reading this can immediately come up with a list of every day heroes, whether or not that list includes someone close to them who has their own suit of armour to slip into every day. Fire fighters, paramedics, doctors, nurses, veterans, teachers, social workers, police officers, customer service agents — the list goes on and on. And even on levels that may seem “insignificant”; the teenagers helping an elderly woman across the street, or the person who pays it forward in the drive thru line up, the animal service workers who reunite lost pets with their families. Guys, I could keep going for hours. 

I’ve run into a few different situations in the last seven days or so that have required a little self-check, a pep talk or two, and a whole lot of stuffing my hesitation into a box and locking it away — while it snarls and scratches incessantly at the insides of its’ confinement like a wild animal. Meaning, there was a lot that had to happen this week that demanded I put my anxiety and non-confrontational nature aside in order to just get. shit. done. We usually have to find our courage in what appear to be the most harmless situations, it seems. 

I’ve been pretty outspoken about my struggles with ADHD in a few of my past posts here, so it’s fair to say I’m an open book as far as my mental health goes. But, I was pushed to take a good look at how I was doing, and then to write about it all, by an awesome article written by a member of our regional council, Laura Ip, aptly named Mental Health Barriers. She speaks not only about her own struggles with mental illness, but about the struggles of those close to her — which also made me think about the effect mental illnesses have on relationships; specifically, mine and Jo’s. It’s honest, heartfelt, maybe a bit political but still worth the read. 

I have a pretty long standing history with mental illness. I was a happy child, enthusiastic and friendly; I loved spending time with my grandmother, and I was especially passionate about horseback riding. My mother managed to catch onto my cues almost immediately, and I will be forever grateful for her instinct and willingness to listen to her gut. She picked me up from my grandmother’s one morning, to take me to my horseback riding lesson, and I told her I didn’t want to go; not for any particular reason, I just didn’t feel like it. I was seeing a child and youth worker within two weeks, at most. 

I was referred to a counsellor, Dorian, through the Chedoke Child & Family Centre, and developed an incredible relationship with him over the span of two to three years. In that time I struggled with serious episodes of self-harm, suicidal thoughts and ideation, irrational and dangerously impulsive behaviour, etc. etc. as well as the chemical concoction that is depression (as well as undiagnosed ADHD and anxiety — because I wasn’t hyperactive, just terribly, terribly sad). I also saw a psychiatrist at some point and was officially diagnosed with clinical depression and medicated by the time I was ten. Young, maybe — but I was also threatening to kill myself, doing serious physical damage to my body and therapy was not enough to stop me.

There had been a series of months when I was essentially on suicide watch, and meeting with my therapist three or four days per week. My mother came into my bedroom multiple times each night to check on me and make sure I was still breathing. I was discharged from therapy when I was twelve, a year before we relocated from a big city to a tiny green-belt town. Dorian had unfortunately fallen ill unexpectedly, so I had switched to a new therapist by then, Kirsty, and we had made enough progress that she was confident I had the strategies to manage on my own. I suppose I sort of managed on my own, keeping my flirtations with self-harm to a minimum, but acting out and getting in shit in almost every other possible way. High school was a change of pace, I flourished in the music program and had a small group of friends, a job and a decent home life — then in the summer of grade twelve, I got pregnant and, well… That just changes everything.

I have been medicated pretty consistently since that fateful day when I was ten. Over the years I have done many psychological evaluations, had various therapists, been diagnosed, re-diagnosed, used medications that were incredibly helpful, and some that made me feel like I was “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” insane. I have a running list of red flags that I make sure to look out for, signals that I may be trying to grapple with some old monsters that have managed to claw their way to the surface. This doesn’t extend to depression alone; my anxiety has its’ own gauge that is separate from my panic attacks, and my ADHD is another beast entirely.

Moving on; in taking the time to reflect on the fallout of the last two and half months — potentially life changing surgical mistakes, dealing with a child who is struggling in school and then falling apart at home, an increase in anxiety and generally untriggered panic attacks, being coerced into making amends with people who did shitty things, yada yada yada — I realized that I’d kind of relegated my mental health to the proverbial back burner. I was spending hours hyper focused on things that were not productive, I was perpetually blue — not upset or sad about anything in particular, just “blah” (if you suffer from depression, you know exactly what I mean) and, more to the point — it was affecting Jo and Joey in ways that weren’t necessarily apparent on the surface. I try and see things from an outside perspective and can’t even imagine what it must be like for Jo to deal with me when my mental state is out of control.

So, I had to get brave, or more aptly put, I had to give myself a kick in the ass. Aside from the sheer inconvenience of my doctor being a 25 minute drive away, I don’t particularly enjoy going in and picking apart every detail of my mental and emotional well being, especially when I’m struggling. To skip through the boring bits, my latest psychological evaluation ended up gifting me with a compiled list of all the scary sounding conditions I already knew I had, but organized in a way that was a little overwhelming: Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), ADHD, generalized anxiety, and panic disorder. 

Would you believe I only went in there to get back on my ADHD medication?!

Anyway, to conclude that thought; I’m glad I reached out to my doctor and I’m currently one week into my new medication regimen. The first few nights were an absolute nightmare (if you’ve never heard of Serotonin Syndrome, I hadn’t either, but I’m pretty sure it’s what I experienced and I sincerely hope you never do), but my body seems to be adjusting to it all now and I’ve noticed a pretty significant difference in my productivity and mood. Moral of the story: You know if you need a kick in the ass, so just give it to yourself for f**’s sake. Ask for the help you need. Keep an eye on your mental and emotional well being. Medication may not be for everyone, but there’s no shame in using it if it helps you.

“When your past calls, don’t answer. It has nothing new to say.”

Jo gently reminds me on a semi-regular basis that I have an inclination toward revisiting and focusing on my past. They are a forward thinker, always planning for the future, not fixated on any negative aspect of the past other than the lessons they learned so they don’t have to do it all again — and even have their own list of warning signs to add an extra level of protection and avoid being blindsided. I glamourize my past in a lot of ways; I look back on even my most traumatic experiences with a sort of fondness that may seem a little sadistic from the outside. I am an open book about my many past ordeals with the genuine intention of providing insight and helping people, but can’t reject the possibility that I enjoy the opportunity to revisit them in a weird, maybe perverse, way. I suppose it should come as no surprise that I’ve been labelled as a masochist on more than one occasion. 

That being said; there are some parts of my past that I, for various reasons, recognize are not worth the tenderness. The way the cookie has crumbled, though, means that I regularly find myself face-to-face with a past that comes back to “haunt” me; one of my “ghosts”, if you will. So, to quickly relate back to the theme of this post (before my aforementioned ADHD took off and ran with my brain, S.O.S), bravery; do you consider it brave when you have to face the things, people or events that have damaged you? Does it take courage to be in the same room as a person that indisputably changed you? 

I had to have a meeting, of sorts, with my ex this week. I know most people who don’t have children would probably heave at the notion of being in the same room with any number of their exes, but, for the most part, Duder’s dad and I have managed to get along over the five or six years we’ve been separated. There have obviously been blips on the radar, but, to his credit, he has evolved from the manipulative, angry, aggressive person that I left, years too late, into a somewhat responsible, relatively impassive person that is beginning to really prioritize the wellbeing of his kid. 

I still have flashbacks of explosive fights with this person, of the gaslighting and the manipulation. He’s not the same person now, but that doesn’t mean the trauma he caused doesn’t flare up on occasion. This is why I ask about bravery. Is is brave for someone who has undergone trauma to face their triggers head on, or is it just stupid to put themselves in that situation? I don’t really have a choice, and I find a strange sense of comfort in that. That doesn’t mean I look forward to sitting my ex down, looking him in eye and telling him something that I know has a startlingly high chance of pissing him the f** off. Is there a clothing store that sells big girl pants? Because I’d like a back up pair.

To keep it succinct, it went surprisingly well. We talked like adults, I got what I went for, and finally got a sense of what confidence feels like. Maybe it’s my new medication and the fact that I’m taking an honest look at my demons; maybe it’s because we can finally make our announcement and the tension of taking the steps to get to this point has finally disappeared; it could be that Duder is starting to talk to us, he and Jo are finding their footing with each other again, slowly, and our life is starting to feel normal — maybe it was normal this whole time and I just haven’t seen it. Regardless, change is coming and it feels good. I’ve never been one to be scared of change, I love that it gives my brain something new to chew over, but I know that the process of things evolving into something new can be daunting, despite even a guarantee of a positive outcome. 

I think bravery, courage… it’s all subjective. What is scary to some may not be to others, and acknowledging the effort it takes someone to overcome their obstacles, regardless of how straightforward it may seem to you, could be motivation, at least, to continue overcoming, continue persevering, growing, evolving — and to keep pushing the limits of what can and cannot be done. This will look different for everyone and the levels of what our fears and reservations are will vary. This doesn’t make the little victories we achieve, every single day, any less significant. It could just be meeting your ex for coffee and signing a parenting plan — if it scared you and you did it anyway, it deserves to be celebrated.

“One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do.” 

—Henry Ford

“I must be a mermaid…I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.”

– Anais Nin

I have been doing quite a bit of reflecting lately. There’s a lot of upcoming change in our life that has kind of…halted. I will take most of the blame for this (the rest just being in need of time, honestly) because I am, amongst those that know me and some that don’t, a notorious procrastinator. This is something my parents’ had a habit of pointing out almost daily — I think more as a way to bring it to my attention in order to help me address it than a means of being hurtful — and something I am working really hard on, especially now that I have a partner that takes deadlines, schedules and organization very seriously. Not to say that Jo is the only reason I considered putting an effort into dealing with things and getting things done in a more timely manner (ie: when I have the opportunity and not when there is no other option), but there are certain concessions you make to make your partner happier and, realistically, one of the many things I love about Jo is the fact that they constantly make me want to be a better person, so… Self-reflection!

Part of what is feeding this post is that I’ve been doing a lot of looking into adult ADHD. I was diagnosed about 5 years ago after a really cool conversation with my doctor — I went in suspecting I had it, he listened, and I was right. I was medicated for a little while, but Ritalin (Concerta, specifically) made me lose weight at an alarming rate and was quite expensive, so I’ve been (sort of) coping with it daily for about 3 years. I’ve found a cool group on facebook that I’ve only just joined, but am finding easy to relate to so far. 

Procrastination is a huge, and frustrating side effect of being someone blessed with the chemical imbalance that is ADHD. Blame it on time blindness, inability to focus (or a moment of hyperfocus), to that impulsive decision to go see a movie, or just the fact that it’s virtually impossible to start a task and finish it in one sitting. Even as I attempt to type this, I find my thoughts jumping through hoops I can’t even see, to the point where I’ve erased and retyped this one sentence about twelve times now. 

Though I’m not typically one to resort to labels and classifications, I do enjoy being able to put a word to my experience, even if it only helps me to find others who are feeling the same. I have a few categories that I loosely fit into, that I check in with semi-regularly to help me figure out what’s going on in my brain when I might not see it at face value. 

So I’m a Pisces INFP adult with ADHD. Mouthful, maybe, but it really helps me see where I stand in relation to events and, especially recently, in relation to the people I interact with. Being a Pisces means that I’m super intuitive, and knowing this means making decisions based on a “gut feeling” doesn’t feel as irrational as it may have felt years ago, when I spent more time second guessing the decisions I was making rather than actually making them. It also means that I’m extremely sensitive towards the feelings of others (also applies to the INFP side) and am heavily affected by the people around me. The negative side of my Pisces nature is that I am also easily discouraged and have a hard time committing to things I’m not invested in (hello ADHD). 

So, as you can see — my multitude of “types” fit me relatively well, and coexist, somewhat intertwined with one another. Certain traits cross over into other categorizations and when you shake it up and mix it together…you get me!

How does this relate to how I deal with others? Well, I’m finding more and more now that people are just…different. I love how diverse our world is, and I love the people I decide to keep around not only for our similarities but for our obvious differences. I am also incredibly grateful for my super short and sweet (or not so sweet) interactions with strangers — for the same reason. I am the first person to love and appreciate differences; in opinion, in experience. But what happens when the very core of your functioning differs completely from someone else? 

I feel like the example everyone starts with is their parents. To make a super long history short, my parents separated when I was 4, my step dad came into the picture shortly after, and I found out that my “dad” wasn’t my birth father when I was 8. My mother and I are very similar in a lot of ways but have become very different people as I’ve grown up. My dad and I look very much alike, despite having no genetic relation, and I see a lot of my younger behaviour in him. My biological father and I look nothing alike, but I have inherited a lot of his traits — a fact that was particularly mind-blowing when I finally figured out where my anxiety/depression/addictive personality came from. I only mention the realization in that way because my mother was only ever really forthright with me about her depression, and my father and I have spoke at lengths about the similarities in our negative traits. I spent a lot of my youth being unsure of where I fit — blended family, troubled child, super smart but not challenged enough — and not feeling like I really looked like, or took after any of my parental figures was confusing. My mother and step father were incredibly athletic — I was fat as a child. They tried to encourage me by signing me up for cross-country (I hated it), and bribing me with a cruise — as long as I agreed to run a 5k in Barbados (also hated it). My father worked on video games and did trades work — I was an artistically inclined, musically gifted kid. I remember him telling me my Hallowe’en costume wasn’t “scary enough”, the look of sheer confusion on his face when he came to my one ballet recital. How we blend with the people around us is so important, as is being accepted by those people, so I spent a lot of time trying to act like everyone else. 

Comprising just 4% of the population, the risk of feeling misunderstood is unfortunately high for the INFP personality type – but when they find like-minded people to spend their time with, the harmony they feel will be a fountain of joy and inspiration.

16Personalities

As I’ve gown up I’ve been able to have more and more great conversations with all of my parents about my upbringing and their influences in my life. My dad has found his spot in the music hobby category by learning to play guitar, quite well, and using that to bond with me. My mother and step father have since separated (long story), but I ran a 5k the year after that cruise, and my step father ran it with me. I’d also planned to run a 30k race with my mother a couple of years ago, before I hurt myself and now, running is one of the things I miss most about my life pre-injury. I can now specifically pinpoint traits that I’ve adopted from each one of these people; some of them good, some of them not. I have less trouble calling them out when they say things that aren’t true, and I’m having an easier time asking for what I need. I’m trying to carry this over into other relationships, including my partnership with Jo, and even into day to day interactions.

Jo and I have great chats about how we can encourage our brains to meet in the middle — a feat that can be insurmountable for a hyper organized individual matched with the messiest of the messy brained folk. Sometimes our cortexes collide and we clash, though not often, and I have to fight my ADHD’s tendency to get completely discouraged as well as my Piscean habit of tucking myself away as deeply and as quickly as possible. Mix a panic / anxiety disorder into this mix and things get very hairy, very quickly. 

For Jo, being someone who deals with things as soon as they possibly can, me hiding out until I’m “comfortable enough” (which sometimes never happens) was becoming a problem. During confrontation I am a wide-eyed, frozen statue who, I imagine, is impossible to talk to and/or reason with. Trust me, my head isn’t a very nice place to be in these moments but the quickest getaway I have the habit of using. Granted, the last time I really “retreated” was after a conversation addressing this exact issue — so I’ve been consistently working on it since. 

This leads me to what initially triggered this post in the first place. I have a hard time feeling discouraged with Jo because I love them endlessly. I could feel as beat up, knocked down, useless as I have ever felt (they never make me feel any of these things, mind you) and I would never, ever give up on them. My patience, love and flexibility for them knows no bounds; the same extends to Duder. Though there are days I feel tired, maybe a little run down, I never get the “fuuuuuck THIS” feeling I do whenever anything else has a negative outcome. 

Today I had an interesting interaction with someone I have been doing business with for about 2 years. They have been a great support of my businesses, and I really enjoy the things I get to do for them. We had a bit of a disagreement today on a previous transaction where they weren’t satisfied with the quality of work I did. Without going into too much detail, this person then brought in a personal matter (my back injury) as a way of asking if I felt I was capable enough to do business with them in the future. 

Remember the “fuck this” reaction I mentioned before? That happened today, swiftly and without mercy. I dislike the fact that it can rear its head so quickly and I am immediately underwater, with my feet tied and the only thing I can do is doggy paddle. There were many levels to this reaction: I hadn’t had a negative outcome from this business yet, so that was a shot to my ego; I honestly felt I had done good work for this person, despite having taken some creative liberties, so the reaction was 100% unexpected, I do great work for significantly less money than any comparable business AND, realistically, I thought that questioning the future quality of my work based on my (literally life-changing) injury was quite provocative. 

INFPs often take challenges and criticisms personally, rather than as inspiration to reassess their positions. Avoiding conflict as much as possible, INFPs will put a great deal of time and energy into trying to align their principles and the criticisms into a middle ground that satisfies everybody.

16Personalities

This is absolutely true for me. I have an incredibly hard time separating criticism from personal offence, which was the main challenge in dealing with this customer today. Doing the aforementioned self-reflection, though, meant that I could sit for 10 minutes, plan out my response, and feel good suggesting they take their business elsewhere — as I wasn’t prepared to handle the extra stress wondering if it was going to be “good enough” and, honestly, I didn’t want to risk them being disappointed again either. I’m learning to walk away and turn down offers that don’t inspire me and encourage me to do my best work — but not even just work; my best friendships, relationships, parenting — and trust me, sometimes it’s hard to say no. 

What about you? Have you looked into your personality type and contemplated how that affects the way you function day to day? Are there certain people you just clash with, regardless of how hard you try and get along? Do you have labels, and do you use them as a monicker or just a way to categorize? 

I love psychology and the way our brains work. My own is frustrating more often than not, but I’m having a helluva time trying to decode it and figure it out. The ways other people behave fascinates me, and I find I do a lot of self-discovery when I really sit and pick apart somebody else’s actions. I also sometimes find myself wondering if there is anyone else that does this kind of self-reflection (because honestly it’s hard to believe sometimes, haha!) or whether people float through life, not wondering how their actions affect others. It’s amazing how much better our interactions get when we start to understand and become more sure of ourselves, when we’re so confident in our skin that the actions of others have only the affect we allow. Today was proof that I’m not quite there yet, because if I’m going to be genuine I don’t know when I’m going to feel like filling a cake order next, but I’m taking it one day at a time. I’m sure next week I’ll be making enough cupcakes and cookies to feed the city’s homeless, because I really do love it — but for today, I’m giving myself permission to say “fuuuuuck THIS”.

“Every life is a canvas and every interaction is a brush, therefore we’d be wise to consider how we handle the paint.”

– Craig D. Lounsbrough

Thanks for reading, friends. 🙂
— Aisha