Category Archives for "Life Skills"

Too Much of a Good Thing? … how to wish better

Ever heard the old saying “Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it?” 

I have spent most of the past three weeks indoors.  Not because I’m sick or injured or in trouble (yes those do happen, but not in this case!).  But because it’s been raining here.  And I mean raining a LOT! 

I tend to not like the rain much anyway, and I especially don’t like hard rain.  I hate sprinklers and showers, anything where water comes down on top of me – though I’m happy to jump into creeks or the ocean anytime – so a heavy rainfall really irritates me.  But the main reason I’m kept inside so much at times like this is that Handsome doesn’t want me going out and playing in the mud and then tracking it all over our house. He’s happy to take me outdoors to walk and pee and all, but wants to be able to wipe my feet off with a towel when we come back in (which also really irritates me!).

And as I said, we’ve been getting a lot of rain in my state.  Enough that nearby there have been mudslides and landslides and even some people getting killed! 

And this is all after seven years of drought.   Between historic patterns in the western United States that are just returning, and the horrible effects of climate change, it’s been very rough here.  Record-breaking temperatures, lots of fires, and a frightening depletion of the water everyone is counting on for agriculture and just living.

In fact, the drought is one of the main reasons the rains have been so destructive.  When we had more trees, and more plants in general, they held the ground better.  But without them, soils that might otherwise stand up fine are avalanching all over the place!

So please understand – as a Husky-mix, I hate hot weather, and especially hate that we’re having more super-hot days than we did when I was younger.  And fires scare the daylights out of me.  So just like everyone else in California, I’ve been wishing for rain.  Wishing hard.

But wait – we didn’t wish for THIS!  Or did we?

If we’re honest with ourselves, we can admit, we wished for rain.  We didn’t specify a particular amount.  We wanted our reservoirs filled, our groundwater replaced, and we wanted our juicy fruits, healthy vegetables, pretty green lawns, and flowery gardens back.  Of course we did!

Now sadly, our drought has been so drastic that even these crazy rains likely won’t give us all the water we need.  Too much of it’s just running off into the ocean – because we didn’t have any means to hold on to it. 

Which makes me question even more – what’s wrong with what we’re asking?  If prayers and wishes actually do come true (as religious leaders and believers in manifestation have been arguing for millennia), then do we need to get more specific? 

Or did we just need to believe more that they might come true, and do better preparation for it?

Imagine if we’d spent the last seven years building rivers and reservoirs and all sorts of water catchments – and when these rains showed up, we’d grabbed all that water, which could keep us going for maybe a decade of drought!  Great, huh?

But can you imagine how hard that would have been to do?  It would have cost billions of dollars, with people screaming all the time “We’re in a drought and you’re building reservoirs for rains that aren’t happening!  Stop now!”

So by now you’re probably asking, why in the world is a dog asking questions about civil engineering!

Well, that’s not really what I’m after here.  I’m just thinking that, like the people in a drought-ridden community, each and every one of you has things they want.  That they want very very much.  But I don’t know that you’re ready for them!

I’ve seen men go to great lengths to win over beautiful women, who then treated them badly in ways they had no way to handle.  I’ve heard stories of dogs at race tracks who are so fast or clever they actually catch the mechanical rabbit they’re chasing, which of course doesn’t turn out to be the soft pliable bunny they expected!  And haven’t we all heard of people becoming super successful, or even winning a lottery, and then blowing their fortune on self-destructive nonsense, ending up in worse shape than when they started?

So it’s a new year.  And lots of people use that as a time to put out wishes and make resolutions.  Well here’s my wish for you:  Wish big, wish hard, and work like crazy to achieve your goals.

But also think. 

Think even harder than you wish!  Think about what you’d do if you got that money, that job, that person, that rabbit!  Think about what you can do to keep what you’ve won, and also what you can do if you find that what you wanted isn’t something you want to keep.  How much of that money can you put into an intelligent investment instead of spending right away?  Can you change that person, or should you apologetically let them go?  And also ask are you a worthy mate for them if they are right for you – able to keep them wanting to stay in this life with you?  Or do you really want to improve yourself a bit more before you win them?!

For me, I’m very happy with my life just as it is.  So my job is to do what I can to keep it that way.  To stay healthy and not get hurt, to keep cuddling up with Handsome all I can, and to hold myself back from wandering when he accidentally leaves the gate open.  Pretty easy.

But then there are those other things – things we all wish for. 

Let’s wish for world peace – but also the wisdom to know how to handle a peaceful world in ways that make things better, and not just setting us up for more wars.  Let’s wish for a slowdown or stop to climate change, but which includes new technologies so people can continue to enjoy the use of energy that gives us progress. 

And of course, I wish for you that you keep moving forward in your lives – but that you also always remember that when things get difficult, there’s an eager friendly dog out here you can check in with.  Maybe I’ll be able to give you the advice you need, but even if not, I can always send you a big lick on your cheek.

And licks, and kisses, are something – unlike rain – that I don’t believe one can EVER have too much of!!

To Dance in Silence … the majesty of daring it all

            Handsome came home a couple of days ago, more excited than I’d seen him in months.  “You won’t believe what I just saw, Shirelle!  Remember I told you I was going to a ballet?”

            Now I have to admit, while I’m often jealous of Handsome’s ability to go to theaters, concerts, sport events, and such, ballet has never raised my envy.  Someone daintily dancing on their toes doesn’t move me the way, oh say, a bunch of folks excitedly chasing and kicking or throwing a ball does!  Now that’s exciting!

            I certainly see why it’s worth respect though.  I can barely hold the form of a “Sit!” and here are these humans – the clumsiest of all species – moving in perfect idealized form, and often performing with such strength anyone would be in awe (YOU try to stand perfectly still with one leg sticking straight out from your hip for a whole minute!  And then try it on your toes!!).  But to watch this for two or three hours?  Sorry but this pup will drop straight to sleep, dreaming of far more exciting squirrels.

            The ballet he went to is, I guess, the most popular of all, especially at this time of year.  It’s called The Nutcracker, and tells a weird story where a girl receives a gift from an eerie man, of a toy soldier who, if you put a walnut in his mouth, will crush it so you can eat the insides.  Then she starts dreaming, with visions of fairies and dancers from foreign lands, and – well here’s where it gets interesting to me for a while anyway – Giant Rats!  Handsome says it’s all about her first crush and dreams of romance and…  hey I get that kind of stuff in your letters all the time, Pack Members, and don’t have to sit quietly still watching it all play out!

            So although I do love the music to it (you all know this pup is a sucker for a good tune, and Pyotr Tchaikovsky created endless ones!), I saw no reason for him to be so excited about this show.

            “Well,” he explained, “the company that put this on used recorded music, not a live orchestra.” 

Oh, well there goes one more chance for excitement.  I do enjoy watching instruments get played, especially the loud fun ones like trumpets! 

“And many of the dancers were just amazing.  I can’t imagine how much work they’ve put in, for their whole lives, to do this so beautifully!” 

He looked at me with such an excited smile I felt a little bad for yawning.

            “It was all going fine, until this one song – I don’t even know what it’s called – where all these girls, I’m guessing around age 14 or so, were dancing very nicely.” 

My eyelids were drooping faster than I could control. 

“And then the music cut out!”

            Um… what?

            “It was complete silence.  Except for the footsteps of these girls – who kept dancing. In perfect time, following each other.”

            Well at last this was getting interesting.

            “Of course, no one can keep their timing exact, but they kept going, always with these lovely smiles, moving around the stage, watching whoever was in front at any time, since anyone up there couldn’t see the others behind her, and adjusting to that person or persons’ pace.”

            Okay, so I’ll admit, that sounds pretty difficult.  I have trouble concentrating on anything for more than a few seconds, unless there’s potential eating involved.

            “All of us in the audience were on the edges of our seats.  Could they make it through?  Would one of them break character and laugh or cry or give up?  Would the sound engineer make the terrible mistake of putting the music back on, with no chance of timing it exactly to the dancers’ steps?  Would some adult walk onto the stage and end it all?”

            So okay, what happened?

            “And when it finished, and they’d done it perfectly, everyone in the audience just ROARED in applause, and a bunch of us leapt to our feet.  It was  amazing!  Think of it, puppy!  The Nutcracker is danced all over the world, all the time.  But we saw something astounding, something none of us will likely ever see again!  And every one of those girls will never be the same.  They did something grand, that no one will ever take away from them.  They’re each like the kid who kicks the winning goal or shoots the winning basket.  Or you, Shirelle.  They amazed me the way you do every day!”

            He got onto the phone and must have yammered about this to different people for hours.  While I lay on the floor and thought more about it.  Was it really that big a deal?

            After all, we dogs dance without music every day.   If there aren’t any squirrels or birds to chase, especially when we’re young, we’ll just go nuts, running around, jumping, just to feel good and get our energy out. 

            And as far as that cool thing of them following the changing one in front?  I see birds do that all the time, especially when migrating.  And they’re doing it up in the air!

            But then I thought a bit more.  And had to admit – no dog has ever danced in perfect extended time to music.  And no bird has ever had to keep a perfect smile on its face while following alternating leaders.

            It’s true.  There are things that come naturally to dogs, to birds, and to humans.  And they’re not the same things.

            What those girls did was amazing.  And now I wish I’d been able to see them in their glory  (though it might have been more fun to watch backstage to see how they reacted after it was done!).

            And this led me to think about a quality you humans have, which you are better at than anyone else: making plans, and following your dreams. 

            You see, it’s easy to pursue goals when everything is directing you how to go (say, if you want to do well in a class, just pay attention and study hard!).  But what about when you aren’t getting any direction?  Like if you pick up a paintbrush and look at a blank canvas and wonder what to paint.  Or you see someone you’d like to get to know, but have no idea how to meet them.  Or you want to be successful in a career, but can’t think of anything you’d like to do.

            That’s dancing without music.  And just as those girls all worked as one unit to make their beautiful magic, the best way to meet your dreams is to get all of yourself working together.  So, to meet that person, can you manage to look your best, convince yourself you’re confident about yourself, and be as friendly and fun as possible – all at the same time?  Now that’s a ballet corps, all in you!

            Now 2022 is coming to an end.  For each of us, some things have gone well and some horribly.  I have some big wishes for 2023, like for some wars to end and for this stupid virus to go away.  But I can’t make them happen, and neither can you.

            What I can do is to do my best to be my best, and pursue what I want.  And you can do the same.

            And my biggest wish, for you, is not just that you pursue wonderful dreams, but that, at some point, the music gets cut off.  And you find yourself led only by your best instincts, trusting yourself, making creative choices.

            Because then, whether or not the dream comes true, you will have been as alive as you can ever be.  And just like those dancers, you will always know you had that moment of glory. 

            So maybe your painting isn’t a Rembrandt?  So that person you pursued already had a date to the dance?  So that career didn’t work out and you need to try something else?

            Still, you were your best, and did your best… with no Tchaikovsky to guide you.

            In other words, my wish for you for 2023 is that you get to be just as awesome and astounding to yourself as you are to me, every day.

            HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! 

What to do when self-consciousness makes you lose sleep

Arty asks:
School is starting very soon for me. I’m going into 8th grade! Lately it’s been really hard to go to sleep. I’m actually typing this at 3:39 am. I talked with a friend of mine earlier and we started talking about uniforms and stuff. (I go to a small private school) I wore my uniform and she wore hers. As usual I looked stupid in mine. My skirt was basically at my knees which isn’t too horrible but I feel like it makes me look old. And I just hated how I looked in it. Now, I’m not exactly a pretty girl. I’m overweight. Not extremely but enough to make me self-conscious. And I also have acne and pimples and stuff. It’s not super horrible compared to others but still.  And compared to my friends who all look amazing! They all have mainly clear skin and are fit and everything, I feel like crap. So my self-worth has really just gone down the drain. Anyways going back to my friend, I told her some of this. How I don’t look very pretty and I’m ugly compared to her and stuff. And throughout it she’s like ‘What no! Ur not ugly!! Dude I feel the same way’ and stuff like that ,and I kept telling her “Dude you’re literally gorgeous and I feel like whenever someone says ‘ur not ugly’ or ‘ur super pretty’ they’re just lying,’ and she was like ‘I feel the same way!!’ And so the call ended and everything and I was feeling better. But then I started overthinking hours after the call, and realized that throughout that conversation, she didn’t once call me pretty or anything like that. She just kept saying I wasn’t ugly!  And I feel so selfish saying this since she was just trying to help, but not once did she compliment me or anything. And so I realized that she really doesn’t think I’m pretty. And I honestly don’t know where I’m going with this – I just really need to rant and get some advice! So then I keep telling myself, who cares what anyone thinks! It literally does not matter! And everyone is also worried about how others perceive them. And with this new worry along with my stress of starting a new school year and leaving friends behind, and hoping that I still keep in touch with lots of them. It hurts. And also with just wanting to cry, to sob, to scream, to shout. But for some reason not being able to cry or shed tears – it’s just really piling up. I tried talking to another friend and I told her “I hope ur not still mad at me” (we got into a fight earlier) “cuz I really need you” and she was like “I’m here, what’s up” and usually I can talk to her. I can be honest with her and just tell her. But I was too embarrassed I think, so I just asked her about sleep pills and she said “you don’t need sleep pills, you just need to let go of some stress. And then she was like “I’m a little upset with you dude.  You say you need my help but don’t want it. Maybe you should think about what you say before you say it next time,” which made me feel even worse. I just didn’t wanna pile up more stress on her. Her mom has cancer and money is low and they’re in debt and on top of all that she cuts and stuff so I just didn’t wanna bother her with anything else. And she was being sweet about it and stuff, like “I can’t force u to tell me but I can’t help u if u don’t” so I have half the nerve to go tell her everything, but I’m too scared.  Honestly this was just a rant for me, but I would really appreciate it if you could tell me what you think I should do. Should I talk to my friend or should I get some insomnia pills?  How do I handle the stress better, and how do I get myself to cry? I know you don’t have all the answers, but I hope you can let me know soon!

Hi Arty!

So first of all – I love hearing from you, and it’s totally fine to write me and rant.  No problem at all. So don’t worry if you don’t have an exact question.  Sometimes the most useful thing a dog can do is just be there to hug and cry into their fur, I know!  I’m happy to be that!

But I will talk about two things here.  Your self-consciousness and your sleep.

First, about the self-consciousness.  You are going into 8th grade, so I’m guessing you’re 13 years old, is that right?  Your body is changing more and faster than it has since you were a tiny baby, and more and faster than it ever will again.  This is the biggest lasting change you’ll ever go through (unless of course, heaven forbid,  something happens to you that causes a permanent injury!).  Most particularly your hormones are exploding, which causes weight gain and skin issues.  Now I don’t know what you look like, and as a dog I judge people by other things than looks anyway.  But I can say it’s totally normal that you’re going through a phase when you don’t look as pretty as you did a couple of years ago, or as pretty as you will a couple of years from now!  My human friend Handsome told me that he was a “late bloomer,” so his face didn’t break out till he was two years older than you.  Meaning that you might go through this now and then look a lot better than the kids like him in a couple of years!  But in the meantime, of course I’ll suggest you do things for your health that improve your looks, like exercise more, drink more water, keep sugars and caffeine down and please please please don’t start smoking or vaping, as those will only make things worse.  Will these guarantee a perfect complexion and a model figure next month?  No.  But they will keep you heading toward the best you can be.

Now one thing we dogs have over you humans is this whole self-consciousness thing.  Because our brains are smaller, we literally Don’t Have it!  Humans tell me I’m a beautiful dog, but I’m not aware of that beauty, or of the beauty in any other pooch.  I call my human Handsome because I love the way he looks and smells, but is he someone others would call Handsome or Plain or Ugly?  I don’t know – or care!  He’s gorgeous to me!  

And there’s no time in a human’s life when they’re more self-conscious than their teen years.  Right where you are!  So it’s normal to feel like you’re the ugliest person in the room, or the least liked, or the one everyone thinks of as dumb.  And let me tell you – you’re wrong!  Because everyone else in the room feels the same way.  Your friend was telling you the truth when she said she feels the same fears you do.  Now was she purposely avoiding telling you you’re pretty, or did she just not think of it?  I don’t know.  

But here’s what I do know.  You Will Get Prettier.  Your face will clear up, and if you choose to work at it, your figure will improve.  So no matter what you think of yourself today, this all can get way better.  

Now onto sleep – It’s also normal for teens to have sleep issues, and especially to feel the need to stay up late and sleep in late.  But you do want to – for your studies, for your looks, and just your health in general – work to get your sleep patterns at least a little closer to school hours.  Worries and stress will always make anyone have trouble falling asleep, but I know a few tricks you can try to help you doze off earlier.

First, stop all electronics at least half an hour before you want to sleep.  Yes, that includes your phone!  The light from them seems to make lots of people’s brains stay awake.  Instead, do all the electronic stuff you want earlier, and then stop, get yourself ready for bed, and climb in with a book or a magazine.  Why?  The reflected light from pages affects you differently from the radiated light of a phone or tablet or computer.  Reading printed material will actually get your eyes tired instead and lead to your falling asleep.

If that’s not enough, though, here’s an idea I like a lot.  Lie there in the dark, and ask yourself two questions:  What was the worst thing that happened to me today, and what was the best?  As your mind works to answer each, it will have to scan over your whole day.  And in doing that, it might uncover something you’ve forgotten.  “Oh, I was supposed to call my aunt back!”  “Oops I have to do that one page of homework!”  Then just turn a light on, write that thing down, and try again.  Often you’ll fall right asleep then; your brain hadn’t let you go unconscious while that issue was still there unremembered!

And if that’s still not enough?  That’s when I’d say you might consider talking to a doctor.  But until then, I’d focus on the effects of electronic light and the stress of too many things being on your mind.  

Okay, Arty, that’s a lot to take in, I know!  

Oh, but there’s one bit that pulls this whole letter together.  Did you know that the body burns off lots of fat while sleeping?  And that getting good nights’ sleep is as helpful for weight-loss as exercise?  And did you know that getting lots of sleep is great for your skin too?  So ironically, fixing the one issue here is going to help the other!

I won’t tell you to just have fun in 8th grade.  You’ll be self-conscious, tired, and go through some rough experiences I’m sure.  But I can and will urge you to try as best as you can to break through all that, and connect with friends, enjoy growing up, and laugh as much as you can.

After all, laughter is one of the few joys in life we dogs don’t get to experience.  And since you don’t get a tail to wag, you really ought to indulge it!!

All my best,

Shirelle

The Pain Worse than Pain – the struggle against stress

            I lost my best friend.

            I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to come up with a way to sugarcoat that, but I can’t find one.  Aria’s cancer got better, then worse, then better, and then lots worse, and finally her human friends had to kindly help her go, so that she wouldn’t suffer more. 

            I’ve told you many times that all dogs hate war.  Well we’re not too fond of cancer either, let me tell you!

            You all know about how much I loved her (and still do), and how much her life was dominated by fear and pain from things she suffered in her early years.  If there’s one blessing to her not being here, it’s that I do believe she’s free of those completely at last, and living in pure fearless joy.  Just what I’m always wishing for you.

            So I don’t know that I have a lot else to tell you.  I’ve told you about her life story – and anyone who wants to know more can always check out the book A Dog of Many Names which tells about those first years, before she was named Aria.  And anyone who’s ever lost anyone they loved knows the pain of grief.  Nothing for me to teach you there.

            But I do want to share something her human friend Ugmo wrote to me.  It’s not something he’s proud of, but he’s okay with me sharing it as he thinks it’s pretty universal, and might help somebody get through a tough time in a better way. 

            So I’m going to go do what I’ve been doing a lot lately – and just lie in my yard and feel the ground, and miss my friend horribly.  It’s the only way I know to truly get through sadness like this – to feel it fully and connect as deeply as I can with the earth that gives and takes all her beings.

            And let Ugmo talk with you about what he learned, in this most painful time of his life.

Hi Shirelle –

I know you miss Aria like blazes.  So do I.  It’s hard to wake in the morning and expect her lying on the bedroom floor, or to open the front door and look to see where she’s hiding from the squirrels – and in each case, to be reminded that she’s not there, and never will be again.  It’s just been a couple of weeks, but my eyes are already tired of crying.

But I have a strange confession to make to you.  It’s not as bad for me now as it was before.

Grief is pure.  Missing is awful but simple.  Crying is searing but relieving to my whole body.

What I’m not experiencing now is stress.  Stress that was mixed with grief and terror, so much that I almost couldn’t take it.

As you know, Aria got diagnosed with her cancer about five months ago.  And no one has ever found a cure for this specific one, Hemangiosarcoma.  Other cancers might be eradicated by operations or chemotherapy, or even improving a diet and exercise.  But not this.  Medication and good energy work can slow it down, but it shows back up eventually.  And once it gets to an essential organ, it’s just a matter of time.

That’s what happened with Aria.  She made it about four months, but then, on one awful day, she got very tired and lost her appetite, and I took her to a veterinarian who found that her liver was bleeding, and told me it was hopeless, that we needed to let her go that night.

You hear about the five stages of grief – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.  Well I guess I’d had all my denial and anger and bargaining already, so I went straight into depression and acceptance.  I sat in the lobby weeping, waiting for her friend Fifi to show up, as she’d want to be there for the end.  She arrived, and we took Aria into a small room and covered her in kisses and hugs and telling her all the lovely things we could. 

And she… got better!

Seriously, she improved.  Her strength came back a little, she seemed happier, and when the veterinarian came in to get her, she looked down and said “That is not the same dog!”

So after seven hours in the Emergency Room, which I’d expected to include putting her down, we took her home.  It was hard to sleep, because anytime her breathing shifted, I’d wake to see if she was okay.  At one point that night, I was sure she was going down again and ready to take her back to the doctors, but again, she recovered.

In the next few days, this all continues, including my sleeplessness.  She’d seem better, but then refuse to eat, so she got weaker and weaker.  I’d annoy or anger her by trying to get pills down her throat or putting food in front of her nose that she used to love but now found disgusting.  I got to where I was more scared that she’d starve herself to death than that the cancer would get her.  And I could feel that she was feeling my frustration, and afraid of it.

And so I found myself wishing she’d just be done.

Shirelle, this is why I’m writing you.  Because I couldn’t believe that that thought was able to come into my mind.  I loved – and love – Aria more than anything on this earth.  And I wanted every second I could get with my pup.  Nothing in me wanted her gone.  Except that something in me… did!  I could feel it.

What in the world was that?

            It was the voice of my stress, screaming so loud inside me that it overshouted my heart.  For moments, I’d forget what I wanted most – to keep Aria around as long as I could, and give her as much love as I could, and help her get through this as much as I could – and feel, instead, only how much I hated feeling all this worry, this helplessness, this confusion, this stress.

            Now, once I realized this, I was fine.  I still had all those awful feelings, but I never once again experienced wishing for it all to end.  In fact, I realized that I only had one full wish – I wished she had never gotten this cancer!  But since she already had it, I had to live with just partial wishes – that she’d get through the next day without pain, that she’d get a burst of puppy energy, that she’d eat, that she’d be happy a little bit more. 

            And those smaller wishes came true, many times.

            I’ve found, since realizing this about myself, so many others experiencing the same things.  Sure, everyone hates stress, but I mean people doing stupid, self-destructive things just to avoid feeling it.  Getting so uptight in a close game they make mistakes and make themselves lose.  Worrying about their teeth being bad so skipping going to the dentist for years.  Fearing they’re not attractive enough to compete with the best-looking person at school, so overeating and quitting exercise. 

            The only reason stress has all this power is because we let it.  The moment we see it for what it is, it becomes much weaker.  And when it does, we can begin again to live our full lives, with our full hearts. 

            Aria died, but I’m so glad I’m not looking back on my soul dying on her first.  Our last weeks were beautiful and joyous and sad and very close.  Stress had tried to take that away from me, but I’m so glad it failed.

            And today?  Well I’m the sad mess I described to you, but I know I’ll get stronger over time.  And Aria is… do you remember a song I played you once, Shirelle, called “Beyond the Horizon?”  That’s her now, I have no doubt.  Loving, feeling love, fearless, and knowing more than you and me put together!  And absolutely free from all the stupid stresses we suffer down here!

            I’ll see her there again, and I know you will too.  Wagging her tail in that circular way, lunging at us with those quick side-shot kisses of hers, and cuddling up for hours on end. 

            But here, for better and for worse, are just memories.  As Shakespeare wrote, parting is such sweet sorrow.  And that sweet sorrowful dog left so much sweetness and sorrow in my heart, and yours, and those of all who loved her.

            We’re the lucky ones, Shirelle.  We’re the ones with the beautiful pain.  I hope it never goes away.

            Love Always,

            Ugmo

Does wishing for things push them away?

Bts army asks: I like to create fake scenarios in my mind about how my future will look or how I want it to be. Sometimes I think doing this will take me further from achieving, but other times think that I’m creating my future, so it’s okay. But I feel like I am not enjoying the present as much and, honestly, there’s not much to enjoy. So what should I do? How do I stay happy with things I have, even if there isn’t anything great going on?  How do I stop myself from expecting so much from someone or from something?

Hi Bts army –

As you probably know, lots of people believe in something called the Law of Attraction.  According to this, if you put your mind in a position of believing something good will happen to you – or even more so, that it’s already happened – and feel grateful about that, you will attract that good thing to you.  So “I’m grateful I’m a millionaire,” or “I’m grateful I got the job I wanted” or “I’m grateful I married the person I most love” helps make those things happen. 

I’m a believer in this, but more in the way that it avoids the opposite from happening.  I can’t be sure that positive thinking will bring what a person wants, but I know very well that negative thinking will push those good things away.  “I hate that I’ll never have enough money” keeps money away.  “I hate that I only get crummy job offers” will keep away that dream gig.  And most of all, “I hate that I only meet losers, and that everyone remotely worthy is already married or attracted to the opposite sex from me!” will definitely push potential partners away!

And of course the whole concept of prayer, which people have been doing for millennia, is based on this.  “I believe that if I pray for _______, it has a better chance of happening.”  So prayer then puts you in the mindset that that good thing is coming.

Where I disagree, of course, is, as a friend told me years ago, “God is not a vending machine!”  Envisioning something doesn’t make it come true, and prayer doesn’t automatically manifest what you want.  I think of it more like a garden – you plant a seed (wishing for something) and then treat the soil with just the right amount of water and sun and maybe nutrients (belief, faith, clearing space for that thing you want in your life), and there’s a really good chance that seed will grow.

To use myself as an example, I’m a very optimistic pup.  Now wishing for my human friend Handsome to come home from work sooner won’t necessarily make it happen.  But when he does, if I show him how happy I am to see him, he’s more likely to pet and play with me.  And hanging around the kitchen with my eyes wide, and maybe sniffing at my bowl, will help him remember I haven’t been fed all day, which will likely get me a treat and then dinner!

So do I think your envisioning what you want will bring things to you sooner?  Maybe, especially if you act on it.  Do I think it’ll push things away?  No, not at all.

But can your envisioning be one of the reasons you’re feeling disappointed and frustrated?  Sure!

If I don’t think about Handsome not being home, and how much I want him to come back, I won’t feel bad about it.  If I don’t think about how much I’d love a nice snack, I won’t feel bad about not having one.

But I think the trick is to change how you think about those things.  Thinking “I want a big beautiful house.  So I’m miserable that I don’t have that house” isn’t working for you.  But what if you change it to: “I want a big beautiful house.  And the best way to get that house will be to get a great job I love and am good at.  And the best way to get that job will be to take this particular class.  And the best way for me to take that class is to apply to ten schools so I’m sure to get into at least one, but I’m going to hope I get into my top choice.”  That’s pretty good.

But then, while you’re doing that, you meet someone and get chatting, and you tell them about your dream and what you’re doing, and they say “Wow that’s amazing.  I’m actually hiring someone for just a job like that.  You don’t really need that class, since I already know you.  You can come start tomorrow!  And meanwhile, I know someone with a mansion looking for a house-sitter while they’re out of town for a year.  Would you be interested?”

And that’s possible.  BECAUSE you envisioned it, and owned your vision.  Is it a guarantee?  Of course not.  But it’s possible, because you have made it possible.

And there’s my advice to you, Bts army.

And my wish for you, that all your best wishes come true!

Shirelle

How to free yourself from a toxic relationship with a narcissist

Hezlyn asks:

I know that am in a toxic relationship, recently found out my partner is a narcissist, they also admitted that they are, I truly know that they aren’t good for me. And the truth is I don’t want them either because I know I deserve better. But my question is, why is it that I can’t let this toxic person go? My feelings about them are always uncertain and confused; I don’t like the idea of them leaving me but still I don’t want to be with them.  Why can’t I let go?

Hi Hezlyn –

Of course I don’t know the specifics of your relationship, but I will tell you something I’ve found about human nature.  As much as everyone complains about narcissists, they also tend to be the most charismatic of people.  In fact, I sometimes wonder if Charisma is all about narcissism.

A person who walks into a room carrying self-doubt, nervousness, shyness… they’re not going to be all that exciting.  But a person who walks in believing the whole world revolves around them, that they and their feelings matter more than anything else… they’re going to have some exciting energy coming out of them!  And that excitement doesn’t necessarily mean anything else – good or bad – about them.  Which makes things pretty tough.

Gandhi was very charismatic.  So was Hitler.  So is Beyonce and so is Donald Trump.  All I’m sure quite narcissistic, but a great variety in levels of goodness.

But you say this person is toxic.  So you want to get out.

Well the best way I know of, to get out of a toxic relationship with a narcissist, is to think of your feelings as similar to an addiction.  Did you ever have to quit cigarettes or cut down on caffeine?  These substances cause an exciting feeling in humans that you want to keep replicating, and the only way to quit them is to refuse to let them give you that good feeling anymore.  Because they’re causing you problems.

Well it’s the same deal with this person, or others like them.  You need to, crazy as it sounds, identify the great exciting feeling they engender, and then avoid it!  Tell yourself “I don’t want that feeling, at least not from this person, anymore.”  And mean it.  Change your viewpoint on that feeling from good to bad.

You can do it.  But you might need some help.  Ask a friend or two to be there for you when you start to weaken, to talk you out of it.  Just as an alcoholic might ask someone to keep them from ordering a drink.

The fact is, Hezlyn, you’re in a great place.  Realizing the toxicity of narcissists can free you to live a life in which you give YOURSELF more attention, and don’t just give all your best to them.  And with this, you can live a life based on what you want, what you believe, and what you care about.

So realizing it is the first step.  Now take this on.  The future is freedom!

All my best,

Shirelle

What to do when your Anxiety makes all the things that cause your Anxiety worse

Natalie1615_17 asks:

I’m a student, 17 this year.  Since last year my symptoms for anxiety have been obvious, I kept complaining about how my tummy aches, and mom just brushed it off, until, at the end of last year, things worsened and I was sent to the hospital immediately. The doctor diagnosed me with ibs-d which is over sensitive bowel movement that led to runny, loose watery stool. I was prescribed with 15 types of different pills, because ibs comes with nausea, bloating, gas, headache, vomiting. I wanted to end my life. I wasn’t allowed to eat anything. This year, school reopened, and I am stressed about it because I do not know how to deal with it. For 5 months, I have been missing school a lot, but still catching up with my homework and all, but my grades dropped drastically. Because of this, I’m getting yelled at constantly by my mom because she thought I was playing truancy, laziness and stuff. I just do not know how to tell my mom I have anxiety and stress, I just hoped she would understand. I have been alienated by my friends; my sickness also caused a big misunderstanding among them because they too were like my mom assuming I hate school. At this point, my mentality has been drained out and I’m just tired. I don’t know what to do anymore. At nights I spend my time alone crying, yelling, because of anxiety killing me.

Hi Natalie1615_17 –

As I see it, your letter can be summarized simply as: “I have high anxiety, and every symptom of it gets me more misunderstood and in trouble, which of course just causes me more anxiety.”  This situation would be intolerable for anyone; it sounds like one of those experiments where they would give dogs treats for doing certain actions, and then change the treats to punishments, and the dogs went mad.

I wish I could help more, but I do have two basic thoughts on this.  First, I think you should try a different strategy with your mother.  Stop denying that you hate school, or that you’re truant or lazy or anything else.  Just look your mom in the eye and say “Mom, I’m 17 years old.  Most kids my age hate school and are lazy.  Why do you think I’m different?” And let her answer.  My guess is that if you present her with the fact that everything she says about you is true for you and most kids, she’ll be more willing to consider that there’s something else going on with you.

And second, I urge you to find a therapist.  I’m not calling you “crazy” or anything like it, but you have two great reasons to see one.  First, your anxiety is impairing your life in some major ways, including your grades and emotional well-being.  But secondly, because your IBS is very likely anxiety-related.  If you can reduce your anxiety overall, you might well reduce the intensity of irritation and pain there.  It doesn’t have to be a doctor, or anyone hugely expensive, and you might not even need to visit them many times.  You just want someone who’ll listen and help you handle and reduce this anxiety, so that you can start enjoying your experience of what many consider the best years of a person’s life.

Natalie1615_17, there is no reason in today’s world that you shouldn’t be seen for who you are, and helped out with what’s going on with you.  Anything I can do, just let me know.  But just know I’m 100% on your side.

All my best,

Shirelle

What to do if you’re an introvert in a job for extroverts

oceanne asks:

I have started a job for a company as a promoter – my first job. I wanted to try because I am a university student and the hours were good for me. But I feel like it is not made for me. I am big introvert and I underestimated its impact on my mental health. I used to suffer from social anxiety. It is less now. Today, when I came back from work, I cried and I don’t know why. When I told this to my parents they told me that it was no big deal. But I feel that this is draining me. I’m asking myself if I need to keep the job or quit?

Hi oceanne –

You are not alone, oceanne!  So many jobs require people to put out bright excited social energy, while so many people are shy or nervous or, like you, just introverted.  There’s nothing wrong with being introverted; as I’m sure you know, that’s just considered a personality type, like extroversion – neither better nor worse.  But just as a pup like me would hate a job restricted to a cubicle where I couldn’t run around sniffing and licking people, you’re finding it hard and draining for you to work in promotion while you’d rather curl up with a book!

I do have a story for you though, about my human friend Handsome.  He’s always been a friendly guy, but mostly kept to himself (or home with me!).  And while he enjoyed socializing, he always had great anxiety about going to parties.  You see, he had this great fear of starting conversations with people he didn’t know, as they might not want to talk with him, might prefer to be left alone, might be cold and rejecting to him.  

This would present problems in his different jobs, and even more so in his social life, as you can imagine.  It reached a peak one night when he was having a birthday party at a restaurant.  Some friends picked him up so he could have a few drinks without worrying about his driving, and on the way, while talking with them, he almost fell asleep!  Not because he was tired, or because they were boring – he could tell, it was because of his anxiety about being at the party.  But all the guests there were friends of his who he liked and had invited, so what was he anxious about?!  What in the world was he to do about this?!

Well, right at that time, he was entering a new career, where he would need to market himself to others in the field regularly.  And specifically, he knew it would be good for him to go to big meetings every few weeks where he’d have to introduce himself and make himself known.  This terrified him!  But he also realized, this was his chance to finally beat this problem.

He forced himself to attend every one of these meetings he could.  And at each, he’d sit at tables of people he didn’t know, and make sure he talked with each one.  He’d stutter, his voice would crack, but he’d do it.

And you can probably guess what happened:  first, he found that everyone else there felt just the same, and were glad that he’d “break the ice” by talking with them.  But then, over time, he developed a reputation – as the friendly social guy!  The one who was at ease talking with everyone, the one lacking in social anxiety!

And one other thing happened.  You’ve likely heard of the Myers-Briggs test, a series of questions which determine, among other things, whether one is an introvert or extrovert.  Well he’d taken it in the past, and it correctly showed him to be introverted.  But after a few years of this work, he was in a situation where he took it again, and this time it put him right in the middle – half-introvert half extrovert.  His work to overcome his anxiety had actually changed his personality and the sorts of social occasions he enjoyed!

So, back to you.  What I’ve told this long story for, oceanne, is to tell you that it’s your choice!  You can live a happy life as an introvert, in which case you probably will want to change jobs pretty soon. Or you can work hard to change how you’re seen, and get more comfortable as a promoter, and maybe even start to enjoy it after a while.  

The big question, my friend, is what you’d like to be.  Would you like to be able to do more things socially, or would you prefer to stay by yourself more as time goes on?  

If you want to change, my advice is to do what Handsome did – grit your teeth and engage in every social event you can.  And see what changes come.  But if not, if you’re happier with the way you are, just know there’s nothing wrong with that, and you can find all sorts of jobs, and friends, and romantic partners, who fit that perfectly.

You’re fine, oceanne.  Choose that future and embrace it!

All my best,

Shirelle

How to move past a loved one’s suicide

Vaughn asks:

I need help dealing with my emotions. I’m not used to this. I lost my dad in November last year to suicide and I’m having trouble dealing with what I feel. He was the only person I could speak to about anything.  Now I find myself bottling things in to the extent where it’s affecting my relationship with my girlfriend. And I’m having trouble finding myself again. Please help.

Hi Vaughn –

I am so horribly sorry. Losing a parent to suicide is one of the most painful experiences I can imagine.  Losing a parent is always awful, but knowing that he chose this path will hurt forever.

I want, though, to push one very important fact onto you about this.  All beings, whether dogs, humans, or ants, instinctively want to keep alive.  It’s one of our most basic urges.  So for anyone to choose the other direction means something was horribly wrong.

Sometimes it can be a rational choice – such as when a person is in severe chronic pain with no hope of recovery, and chooses to put themselves and their loved ones out of the misery of their slow painful decline.  But most often suicide comes from a state of major depression, where the person’s mind convinces them that there’s no way to achieve any happiness or meaning, and the best solution is to end their lives. 

Depression is a horrible liar.  It will tell a person that they have no hope, when there are many possible solutions to whatever’s going on.  And worst of all, it will shut off their awareness of their worth to others, and others’ worth to them. 

If this was the case with your father, he didn’t kill himself despite his love for you and yours for him; Depression made him completely unaware of those giant beautiful facts.  It’s just that evil.

I knew a man who killed himself because he was incredibly stressed, as his business had fallen on bad times and he had been accused of stealing money from it.  After his death, he was found innocent – he hadn’t stolen anything, and the evidence was clear that he hadn’t.  And in his case, he left behind a loving wife and adorable little daughter, who will never get over this. 

Another way of looking at this is that he didn’t kill himself.  Depression murdered him.

I’m bringing all this up, Vaughn, because you are related to him, and Major Depressive Disorder is often a biologically inherited trait.  And you’re telling me that you’re bottling up all your feelings, that your dad was the only one you could talk with, that you’re having trouble dealing with your feelings, and that your relationship is struggling.  These are all worrying signs to me!

My friend, I will be glad to help you in any way I can.  But I URGE you to find and hire a good therapist.  Someone with the education to work with your current grief and the possibility that someday you might develop Depression.  It might be a professional psychologist or a counselor at work, or someone at your place of worship… all that matters to me is that they are kind and have training in this. 

My friend, I can’t stress this enough:  what you have gone through, and are going through, is too much for anyone to handle on their own.  Asking for help at a time like this is not weakness; it’s intelligence. 

If your father could talk right now, I know that he’d agree with me.  He’d want you to do anything you can to feel better and lead a happier life.  Happier than his.

And please, if there’s anything else I can help with, let me know.

All my very very best to you,

Shirelle

How to win over someone shut down by divorce

K-Xengah asks:

Despite the drama going on in my life, I think I’ve had time to actually genuinely like someone else who isn’t my ex (the first person I have genuinely been interested in in 5 years). He’s older than me and divorced with two kids, but the day he came to see me and we hugged and talked for a bit, I felt this “zing” and I would like to see what happens. He’s super reserved though, so when we do talk our conversations are okay… just okay. But I want more. He works in another city and he invited me to visit him and I want to see if we can be more or if I should just end it. I really need advice on how to go about this situation. And I also keep wondering if he would consider me like that or is he just completely closed up.

Hi K-Xengah –

WOW!  I love hearing news like this!  Of course I’m hoping it works out, but even if it doesn’t, to know that your heart is waking up like this is great.

So I need to start with one question.  You sound like he hasn’t shown any particular interest in you beyond friendliness, but he invited you to his city.  That sounds like he actually is interested in where this relationship might lead.  Or is there something I don’t know?

But regardless, what I truly believe from your letter is that this man is shut down.  Maybe he was a lot more effusive and social before his divorce, but now he’s very hesitant.  If you’ve read any of my letters or articles about my friend Aria, he’s like her.  He’s been hurt, he’s learned not to trust… but he’s also hopeful and willing to take a chance.

And that means that, just like her human friend Ugmo, you have a special job on your hands.  You need both to encourage more to happen (while protecting yourself of course) and to build his trust that you’re not like the person or people who’ve broken him before.

What will that mean?  Well I don’t know him of course.  But the more you can find out about what went wrong in his marriage or other relationships, the better.  Let’s guess though – if you can work to make sure you always tell him the truth (which doesn’t mean “the whole truth” about everything, just don’t lie), you communicate from a place of kindness, you disagree and argue with fairness, treat him with appreciation as much as possible and shame as little as possible, and forgive forgive forgive!

Oh and one other thing I’ve learned from Handsome.  If you want to be with this guy, that means you’re accepting that he is a father who, if he’s a really good man, will almost always put his children first.  If you can’t accept that, then it’s never going to work out for the two of you.  Now understand, that wouldn’t make you a bad person – just someone who needs to be put first in a relationship right now. 

But I’ve seen it over and over.  Women will like Handsome and the way he treats them.  And then they’ll realize how much he loves me, and how high a priority he puts on me, and they’ll pull away.  “She’s only a dog.  Can’t we just leave her out in the yard alone for a few days, maybe put some food out for her, she won’t mind.”  Yeah, that doesn’t work at all!  Or worst of all, one once blurted out at him, “Who’s more important to you, Shirelle or me?!”  He was so shocked at the question it took him hours to come up with his answer:  “The one who’d never ask me the question is the one I’m sticking with.”  You see, if he’d said she was more important, his fear would always be that someday she’d ask him to prove it!  And that terrified him. 

So my biggest advice to you is, if you want to be with someone with children, to NEVER ask him to put you ahead of them.  He’s looking for a partner.  Try to be it. 

If you can do these things, K-Xengah, I can’t guarantee that your relationship with him will work, any more than I could guarantee any other couple.  But I can guarantee that you will have done everything in your power to help him trust you.

And once someone trusts, they become so much more able to love. 

So with my trusting heart, I’m sending YOU all my love, and very very best wishes,

Shirelle

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