Emotional Clutter

The art of letting go.  I can’t seem to master it.

It’s not that I don’t want to let go.  I absolutely do.  After all, who in her right mind would want to hold on to every word, event, situation, and person that has caused her pain, sadness, frustration, anger, and self-doubt?

But I do hold on.

Today has been a particularly difficult day for me.  Part of it is because it is the day before I am going back to work, for the first time this school year.  I am feeling the same nervousness I feel at the end of August on a “regular” school year.  No matter how many years I have been teaching – this month it’s 17 – there’s still that feeling of butterflies in my stomach with every new year.  It’s difficult to let go of that nervousness.  I know it will be wonderful when I meet my students, and some of my nervousness disappeared last week when I saw some of my former students who were very glad to see me.  However, there are other things that I cannot let go of and which are completely out of my control.  Learning to let go of what other people – other adults – think of me is something I have been trying to do for YEARS, and, no matter how far I think I have come, I end up feeling self-doubt, confusion, and frustration, and I end up getting trapped in the middle of that emotional clutter.

Today has also been difficult because I am trying to let go of friendships that I can’t seem to resuscitate, no matter how hard I try.  Here’s the thing about me:  Friendships are high on my list of priorities and always have been.  Making time for friends is important to me, and I will do anything for my friends.  So, when someone decides that there’s no longer any point in having a friendship, I can’t seem to let it be and let it go.  I worry about what I have done, what I have said, what I haven’t done, what I haven’t said, and on, and on, and on…until I drive myself crazy.  I wonder how I can change this person’s mind, and if we’ll ever be friends again…someday.  There are times when I think I am okay with letting go, but then, once again, I end up feeling smothered by all of the emotions I am experiencing and I can’t clear that emotional clutter.

Though letting go would most certainly make my life easier and make me happier, I just can’t seem to get a handle on it.  And, quite honestly, I’m not sure it’s a “Shannon thing”.  I guess time will tell.

Tomorrow will hopefully be a less emotional day for me, or at least a day with more positive emotions than negative.  I can handle that kind of emotional clutter any day.



Warming My Heart

There really is very little I can think of that could warm my heart more than a genuine smile on the face of a child.

Several years ago, I wrote and self-published three children’s books.  The purpose was to do something creative that I had wanted to do for a long time, and to have a material example of following your dreams and accomplishing a goal for my kids to hold in their hands.  Upon writing them, finding talented illustrators (who would generously work for free!), and self-publishing, they went on a shelf, occasionally to be read to my kids and, once, to be read to my son’s second grade class.

Time slipped by, I went back to work, life got busy, my health became an issue, and I had all but forgotten the books placed on our bookshelf in the living room.  Until a random encounter on the street with one of my illustrators, Michelle Z (she illustrated book #2 – Sammy’s Rainy Day – And How It Went Away).

I had heard that she had been in my daughter’s first grade class to do some art lessons with them, and so when I ran into her, and after we had chatted about what was going on in our lives, it dawned on the both of us that we could inquire about going into that class to read our book and do an art lesson with the students connected to it.  Why not?  Wouldn’t it be fun?  we thought.  And, since my daughter’s afternoon teacher was one of my former students, I had no qualms about contacting her immediately and asking.  Her answer was “Of course!”  Michelle and I were excited about being able to share our book with some sweet six and seven year olds.

I decided to contact another friend who works at a school in a nearby town, just to see if there might be another group who would be interested in us stopping by.  To my surprise and to my friend’s credit, she immediately found 5 teachers at her school, of grades 1 and 2, who would love for us to visit and share Sammy’s Rainy Day.

I honestly couldn’t have imagined a more satisfying experience.  It left me with such a feeling of gratitude.  The kids were so attentive and so enthusiastic the entire time we were there with them, and we received so many “thank you”s and hugs that it was overwhelming.  How lucky were we to have not only gotten the chance to share Sammy’s Rainy Day with the kids, but to also see their happiness and excitement?  One class even wanted us to come visit them again at the end of the day so they could share an additional activity they did with the book:  a writing activity about their favourite part(s). They did a wonderful job too!

The smiles on the faces of the first and second graders we visited were the greatest gifts I think I could have ever received.  The best part was one of those smiles was my daughter’s.


Resolutions – I Have A Few…

The new year is always the time to reflect on the previous one and decide on changes we need to make to our lives. Usually I am not a resolution-making type of girl, but I think it would do me some good to change THAT. So what resolutions am I making for 2018?

First, I need to stop overthinking things and jumping to the worst conclusions. I am that person who thinks, and worries, and stresses about everything. I have always been this way. And social media has made me a thousand times worse I think. I am the one constantly worrying why a friend isn’t responding to a message, and eventually concluding that I messed up in some way – was it something I said? was it something I didn’t say? – and the friendship is over. I have done this more often than I would like to admit over the past decade that I have been on social media, and nothing good ever comes of it. I only end up with knots in my stomach and tears in my eyes. This is going to be extremely difficult since, as mentioned, this is something I have always done, but I will honestly try to stop. I am trying to do that right now as I am writing this…😬

Second, I will be grateful for something each day. I noted what I was grateful for each day for a very brief period last year, and did so on social media to make me accountable. It was a great practice and allowed me to see how truly blessed I am. We can all get weighed down by our struggles and hardships – health challenges, work issues, family stresses – but seeing the good things we also have can lift that heaviness even if just a little bit. I adore the band Coldplay, and in their song “Up &Up” there is a line that I love: “You can say it’s mine and clench your fist Or see each sunrise as a gift.” I think even on the most difficult of days you can note the sunrise, or the beautiful full moon, or some shining stars as things to be grateful for.

Third, I will keep trying to live life to the fullest. This could also be worded as doing things that make me feel happy and good, at the risk of seeming selfish. I admit that I do feel guilty when I leave my husband home and go out with friends, or when I plan a coffee date with a girlfriend and am out all day, into the evening, but I am a very social person. I love talking (my husband and children can attest to this!), and so when I have the opportunity to socialize/chat, I usually take it. When I was younger I would occasionally cancel plans with friends because I didn’t feel like going out. These days I try not to do that, no matter how I feel. Life is short. And life can be HARD. We should do things we love and do things that make us forget our hardships, even if just for a few hours over a coffee date with a friend. This also means I will keep trying to plan fun day trips and vacations with my family, even when they’d rather stay home (!). (They ultimately feel better having taken the trip and experiencing the fun that, let’s say, taking a gondola up a mountain would be!)

I am certain there are a number of other things I could add to my list of resolutions here, but for the next little while, at least, these 3 are my most important. Tonight I will stop overthinking, and tomorrow I will sit and visit with a girlfriend I have been gabbing with since we were 11 years old, grateful for our decades-long, treasured friendship.


Reflections on 2017

This past year has been a doozy. I’m eager to see it over. I don’t like wanting time to pass quicker than it already does, however this year has been one of the worst for me.

In March, a former student died by suicide. This was a shock to everyone who knew George, and a devastating loss to anyone whose life he touched. I was profoundly affected by it because he was a favourite: he was the one with a smile on his face always, the one who would ask how you were, and the one who always said hello to you. He was a sweetheart. He was kind, empathetic, intelligent, inquisitive, and funny. Losing someone I thought would be the last person who would take his life was eye opening and heartbreaking.

In June I found out I had an abnormal mass in my nasal passage. It could be sinister…or it could be nothing. For several months I didn’t know what to think, but I tried to remain calm and think positively. (Okay, I faltered a few times.) I had surgery to biopsy it and remove it all in September. Then I waited. I worried. I thought the worst but hoped for the best.

In September I didn’t join my colleagues going back into the classroom. I haven’t been able to return to work at all. My headache situation has only worsened and it is beyond frustrating and gut-wrenching to not be able to do what I love and see my former students and co-workers/friends. I honestly feel like teaching is my calling, and so not having “kids” right now is really tough.

The headaches are bad. Very bad. They’re the “I think my head might explode” kind on a regular basis. Living with chronic pain is not easy or enjoyable. I take a lot of medication and go to a lot of medical appointments…with no change.

So 2017 has been challenging. That said, I try to be grateful for all that is good. I went so far as to get the words “gratitude” and “kindness” tattooed on my body. And there is a lot of good.

After the loss of George, a few teens, George’s dad John, George’s sister Grace, and I connected and formed a mental health and wellness group in the community. We’re planning some big events to raise awareness of mental health issues and struggles and garner more support for those suffering. We want to erase the stigma of mental illness and work to make people see that it’s okay to ask for help. We are very fortunate to have lots of support in the community, and we will be partnering with some organizations in the near future, which makes me so thankful. We’re also making sure that George is always remembered, and that his legacy is one of helping others. Hopefully we can make a positive difference and prevent further tragedies.

Also, my tumor was non-malignant, so that’s worth celebrating. It could have been bad news but it wasn’t. Not knowing pushed me to take a family vacation to a few places I have wanted to see for a long time: Banff and Lake Louise. If not for the tumor we likely wouldn’t have gone, and so for that mass I guess I should be thankful (as strange as that seems).

The headaches and work situation? Well I need to be grateful that I have employers who are understanding and that I have a doctor who is exploring every avenue to try to ease my pain. I have a whole team of medical professionals with whom I spend a large amount of time, and I enjoy their company so the appointments are not so bad. In fact, they make me smile and keep me on the “positive train”, so I am incredibly grateful for that and for them.

Tonight I will do an early New Year’s Eve celebration with my family, and then I will ring in 2018 with friends who have listened to and supported me during this difficult time. I know I am lucky to have these ladies in my life, and that I have been blessed with many amazing friends who make me laugh and make me feel loved. For them I couldn’t be more thankful.

I hope wherever you are and whomever you are with, you are happy and grateful today and every day, and that your cup overflows with goodness and blessings. Cheers to 2018.


The Ability to Give Back 

As mentioned in my previous post, my Mental Health Matters group was set to  receive a sizable donation from an organization that held a festival in the area last month. The group, Transfigured Town Inc, held the Festival of Wizardry in Blyth, ON on October 14, and part of their mandate is to give back to the communities where they host their events. They chose my group as one of the fortunate recipients of $1000, and the cheque was presented last Thursday by Senior Event Planner Sally Litchfield to me and two of my fellow group members. 

We are so incredibly grateful for this and are excited to be able to share this with the organizations in our community that provide services for mental health: Huron-Perth Centre, Canadian Mental Health Association, Choices for Change, Huron County Health Unit, and Huron Hospice. 

A gigantic thank you to Transfigured Town Inc for giving back! Because of them, we can give back too. 



From Pain to Passion

A friend of mine posted the above on Facebook several months ago. It resonated with me immediately. I thought about several things instantly, but I think now, months later, the pain of losing a former student compounded with the pain I saw his friends and family dealing with, is what has pushed me into doing what I am now. 

Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was passionate about the mental health of my students as soon as I started teaching. I didn’t categorize it as mental health and wellness support though. I was just doing my best to help students I  could see were in crisis. This help was done quietly, as students then did not want to let others see them this way. Very little has changed. 

If things were different, if young people could feel comfortable with discussing mental health issues and challenges, tragedies could be prevented. If young people could avoid feeling shame or embarrassment when dealing with a mental health challenge, tragedies like the suicide of my former student George could be prevented. 

This is what I am trying to do right now in my community. I think it starts with awareness. There are a number of disorders that fall under the umbrella of mental health: anxiety, stress, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, depression…and the list goes on. If stress is considered a mental health issue, then almost everyone I know has struggled with this mental health challenge. We should all consider that for a minute. We are not alone. Mental health struggles are not abnormal. 

If someone hurt his ankle running, it would be EXPECTED that he would seek medical help. He’s not just going to leave it and hope it gets better with no attention. So why should someone with a mental illness just leave it and not seek help? Why is it shameful to ask for help for a mental illness/ailment but not to ask for help for a physical illness/ailment? It shouldn’t be. 

I am passionate about making mental health matter. I am trying to raise awareness and support around mental health and wellness with the hope that further tragedies can be prevented and people suffering can seek help without feeling the shame they’ve felt for too long. My group – Mental Health Matters Wingham – held our first event in July. It was an information event with community organizations that offer support around mental health. With the donations from that, we are working on having a mindfulness bench made and placed at the local secondary school. Again, the goal is to raise awareness and show support so that teens know it’s okay to not be okay, and to encourage them to stop for a breather and ask for help if they are struggling. The group is also in the process of planning other events, and one big one is partially planned for May. I’m super excited about this one as I really feel it makes that connection between physical health and mental health in a perfect way. We’re also receiving a significant donation in a few days from an organization that supports our work in the community. This will be divided and donated to the organizations that came and presented at the July event, as they are the ones providing the expert care needed. I think we’re doing some good in the community and will continue to work away at this. 

Losing a bright light in my world was incredibly difficult and painful. I do think that my greatest calling has been found through that pain. That pain ignited the fire within me to make mental health and wellness understood, prioritized, and supported in my community (and hopefully beyond). I am hopeful this passion can help others so that we don’t have to lose any more bright lights in this world. 

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” ~M. Gandhi 


Birthday Wish

Right now I am on a family trip out west (in Canada). I’ve always wanted to come out here, mostly because of the Rockies. I’m a mountain girl. You know how there are places where you feel peaceful, grounded, and where you’re meant to be? That’s me with mountains. So when my specialist’s secretary called me to go over my surgery information, I decided that I needed to go to the mountains. 

Let me back up. A few months ago I saw a specialist because of something that showed up on my recent MRI and my CT scan from several years ago. It seems there’s a mass in my nasal passage that is taking up almost the entire passage. Nothing should be there. Nothing at all. I now will have surgery next month to remove this mass and have it biopsied. 

I try not to worry. There are days when I can push those bad thoughts to the corner of my mind where they seem small and are almost forgotten. And then there are days when those thoughts overwhelm everything else. 

Not to be morbid, but I thought taking a family trip would be a good thing right now…just in case. I want to make memories with my kids so they can look back on their time with their mom and remember having wonderful experiences. So here we are. My dream was to be in the mountains for my birthday – in Banff to be exact – and I was. I’ve always wanted to go to Banff. It just looked heavenly in pictures. It certainly did not disappoint. We stayed at a very expensive hotel – at my insistence – which had spectacular views (the reason for my insistence). It was most definitely a dream come true. 

(The view from our room. 👆🏻)

The kids had fun in the pools and exploring the area, including the lovely little town.

After Banff, we moved to Lake Louise, which was the most beautiful place I have ever seen. It’s now my new favourite place on earth (sorry, Switzerland!).  

Though there are trails to hike and canoes to rent for an excursion, we didn’t have enough time for these. We did, however, have time to dip our toes in the lake. 

At my request, we returned early the next morning for more breathtaking views. My thought was, Who knows when or if we’ll ever be back? 

The peace that came over me in that place was indescribable. 

(This was snapped by my 6 year old when I didn’t know she was watching me. 👆🏻) 

After taking in all that natural beauty, we took a gondola ride up a mountain for even more stunning views. My kids aren’t hikers, and I have learned on this trip that we need to be more ACTIVE, so we just went to a restaurant up there for an early lunch. I could have stayed up there forever. 

Bliss. Pure bliss.

We’ve now left the mountains and, though we’ve seen some amazing things, nothing can compare to them, for me at least. Being among the mountains made me feel at peace and happy, at a time when I am struggling to not stress out about the unknown. 

My birthday wish came true, and I just hope that my other wish – for this mass to be nothing – comes true too.