A Brush With Death — But Not How You Think

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I made my debut into full-time management this summer. Some very good friends of mine who own a store in High Level bought another one in Grouard. It is a convenience store with a liquor store as well, and since it’s right along the highway, we knew that it had huge potential. Down the road a little ways are two cottage/camping areas (Hilliard’s Bay Estates and Shaw’s Point Resort) and Hilliard’s Bay Provincial Park — all very busy throughout the summer months.
I agreed to be the manager for the summer to get the store off the ground, and then in the fall, my husband and I would move to my parents’ farm so they could retire. They had found and were arranging to buy their “dream house” and back in February, Darren and I had decided to take over the farm — but I’ll leave that excitement for another post!
Since April, I’ve been so incredibly busy (hence only one blog post), but nothing compares to managing the store in Grouard. I left my job at the Fort Simpson airport earlier than planned because breakup was coming — that period of time when you can only helicopter across the Liard River. So, I gave just 2 weeks notice to my job and was outta there. For the rest of April and the first half of May, I helped a friend by working at her greenhouse. I know I talked about this in my previous post, but I gotta say again how I loved working at Sunscape! It was hard work at times, but I loved being surrounded by living things and Alex was so great to work for! Not to mention that whenever the sun was out, the greenhouse became gloriously warm and tropical — I could have just moved in there! But, just after Mother’s Day, I was done there and had to quickly get ready for Grouard.
My friends had bought the store weeks earlier, and they’d hired a small army of men to renovate it in order to open for May long weekend. I had been out to the store twice — the first time was to help with inventory, just after they’d purchased the store and then later to help load and move some new counters and shelving to the store. The whole place was painted (even the floor), a back room was opened up and converted into the liquor store, the washrooms were moved and redone, and lots of additional lighting and electrical outlets were installed. When I got there 2 days before we were to open, there was a ridiculous amount of work to do! We had to put stock out, price and arrange it, program the tills, set up the internet and interac machines, clean everything, train the staff, make up price lists for things that weren’t stickered, and on and on. If you’ve ever opened a store, you are probably twitching right now and curling up into a ball on the floor! It is so hectic. And it didn’t let up much for over a month.
The really; long days only went on for a couple of weeks; I opened the store at 8 AM and closed the store at 10 PM and then worked for an extra 2 hours on planning, scheduling and other tasks. But there was always so much to do and no one else to do it, so I worked 14- to 15-hour days all summer. All summer. I did not go paddling until the end of August, and only because someone asked me to teach them how to kayak. I did not have a single day off or away from Grouard from the middle of May to the middle of June when I made a quick trip to Edmonton to pick up the York boat!
york boat grouardMy anxiety increased considerably after getting the York boat. Sure, it was a thrill to drive down the highway towing it, and I felt awesome taking corners really wide! I was pretty damn good at towing it. But once I had it in Grouard, I had to do something with it. For a couple of weeks, I towed it to the store every day so people could ogle it and ask questions about it. I boldly put up a sign that revealed my big idea: “York boat day tours, July and Aug.” But I just couldn’t make it happen.
I was exhausted. Every day, I kept the store running — some days, I kept it open, because when staff cancelled or called in sick, I didn’t have anyone else to replace them. So I stayed. I worked double shifts almost every day, for one reason or another. At the end of every day, I was wiped out. I was “keeping it together” by staying diplomatic, polite, friendly, and dealing well with my challenging staff members, but I didn’t have any extra energy — mental or physical energy — to give to the York boat and my dream of offering day tours for the general public.
One time in mid-July, I had a short reprieve. I snuck away to go to my sister’s (a 2-hour drive) for a spa party. I thought it would be good to see some family and get away from the store — maybe get some perspective. But what did that perspective show me? I had become a shell of a person. The chronic sleep deprivation was stealing my humanity. I was a zombie. Everyone around me was cheerful and responsive — or sassy or skeptical, whatever their personality was — and I was just sitting there. I was trying to absorb what was going on around me, but I couldn’t interact properly. I was lagging a few seconds behind everyone else and I just wasn’t myself.
I felt a little better the next morning when I went into town to buy a few things I needed. My runners were completely wearing out after being on my feet so much, so I got some new shoes and sandals. But, I drove straight back to the store and got back into it. Before long, though, I arranged to have a week off at the end of July. The store owners — my friends — could see I needed a break and I couldn’t argue. I knew I needed one too, but how could I take it? We were still having staffing troubles and there was still so much that only I knew how to do! So, I started training the full-time staff on what to do and I started working on the store manual, which I had thought up back in the beginning so everything would run smoothly when I left in September. So, more long hours working on that.
sunsetIn many ways, the summer was a blur and I have very few clear memories, but a couple stand out. One evening, I came back to the cabin where I was staying, sat down by the fire and broke down. I just cried and cried. Out of exhaustion, frustration, for opportunities lost. A couple of days later, it happened again, and I started to think that maybe I should just quit. Then I could finally get some sleep! Then I could go canoeing or kayaking on the water. But I couldn’t. There was no one to replace me, and I  couldn’t let my friends down. Summer is a key window of opportunity for a business like this, and this first summer even moreso to set the stage for what the store would be like with these new owners. You never get another chance to make a first impression, and all that. So there was no way out. I had to finish this gig, or at least, get the staff trained on how to run things without me.
But the brutal scheduled continued, and by the last week of July, I started to think about the ultimate way out, suicide. I just couldn’t go on. I was so exhausted, and I wasn’t myself. I actually broke down in my office at the store one night, the last night before I was to start my week off. I was supposed to go see a friend that night (about an hour and half drive away), but store duties had taken up my time and it was too late to make the drive now. So I cried. I missed her, and I needed to see her so badly, but you can’t argue with time.
Burned in my clearest memory is that night: I cried on the bed, knowing how I could end myself, knowing I had what I needed to do it, but knowing that it would cause such pain to my family and friends, that I couldn’t. But I wanted to. Oh, I really wanted to.
But the battling voices in my head reminded me that I wanted to go to Europe with my honey. I wanted to see those quaint villages in Italy and Greece, perched on hillsides above the ocean. There were places I wanted to see. So, I decided not to check out yet.
The next day, I guess I got up and drove home to High Level. It’s a blur. I don’t really remember how I felt. I know I worked on renovations on the house that week, and saw my honey and got a bit more sleep. Things improved and I never felt as low as I did that night in July. At times I felt outright happy I was still here, that I hadn’t killed myself. I had a changed perspective — that customer who was annoyed because we ran out of Clamato didn’t matter much (we ran out of things lots, we had such great sales). The trees looked more lovely, and the York boat was a non-issue. I still thought about that night in July at times, and it took me a while to shake the experience off. I mean, I had nearly killed myself. I couldn’t just go along like nothing happened, or nothing was wrong.
And the thing is, nothing was wrong with me. The only explanation was my awful lack of sleep. I slept a lot in September and October, and I am back to my old self again — optimistic, positive, easy-going… Very easy-going, if I may say so!
So, that was my summer. 🙂 It was one in a hundred (I hope) and never to happen again. It was an experiment in sleep-deprivation that I would never want replicated. It was an experiment in working 9 days a week — 5 shifts/week on the floor, 2 shifts/week of management stuff and then every weekend is 5 + 2 + 2 = 9. I had so much banked overtime, I am being paid well into the fall, at a full-time rate, to use it all up. It was an exercise in people management but most importantly, it was an opportunity to know myself better. And I met some of the nicest people in the whole world up there, and made many new friends.
I think I lost something that night in July. I’m not sure what it is, but now that I’ve caught up on my sleep, I am more serene and unperturbable. I was already pretty level-headed (although a few staff pushed me a lot!), but now I am different. Maybe my whole emotional scale has been shifted up — I just don’t get angry or afraid for anything now. I am so grateful for where I am now, maybe just because I’m grateful to still be here! Eckhart Tolle writes about losing his ego when he had his near-suicide experience, so maybe that’s true for me too. All I know, is I am grateful for everything that happened this summer, and excited about the future.

Searching for the Simple Life

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Through, I came across a link that led me to a video of Danielle Laporte‘s “Sizzle Reel” for her crazy-dynamic Firestarter Sessions. Listen to THAT once every morning and then try to be blah — won’t work! Her opening statement is

Life balance. How’s that workin’ out for ya?

She goes on to say how balance is not the best when you want to BE the best, and going for it all out is a totally valid way to go. Why not pour your heart and soul into something you love, something that will be successful? Be creative, be obsessed with quality, go over the top! (I’m paraphrasing.) 🙂

wildrose-2Like it has a million times before, my computer screen saver came on, cycling through a slide show of various nature pictures. A photo I’ve seen a thousand times (and even made a watercolour painting of) I saw anew — the lovely complexity of a simple flower, the wild rose. Next up was a butterfly. Suddenly, it struck me that nature is not simple. It is complex. And in my life, I am always striving for simplicity, but perhaps it is a search-in-vain.

Danielle Laporte made me rethink the quest for life balance and now, I am rethinking the quest for simplicity. I often say that I want to have a simple life, but maybe that isn’t even something I should even be striving for. Maybe it’s not a principle of nature, a fact of life, or a way to thrive. The most abundant environments on the planet — the amazon jungle, the boreal forest to name two — are complex, not simple. A desert is simple; if I strive too much for simplicity, will my life become like a desert? Are simplicity and balance valid goals or limiting behaviours? Will eliminating things in order to make life simple inadvertently make it smaller, closed off, less interesting, or simply, less?

Yet they say less is more. That’s a great nugget of wisdom… or is it? It’s a proverb, but does it actually hold any universal truth? Many catchphrases don’t. I think perhaps when it comes to certain things, it is true that less is better, but I think I have that part down — I have a strong anti-commercialism streak these days. For me, less stuff is better. I think I need to expand on the idea that sometimes wanting more is okay too. I don’t want to be someone who chokes life off because of fear or risk-avoidance/seeking security. I want to be expansive, lovely and thriving — very much like nature is at its best.

Okay, so nature includes predator and prey and creatures that live off dead, decaying material… so, as with most analogies, you can’t take them too far! But the profound beauty of undisturbed nature is an amazing harmony and intricate balance… of many complicated things working together perfectly, like a mind-boggling biological machine. My body is a mind-boggling biological machine! So perhaps, my life — my home life, my business, my career, my hobbies — can be too. That will be my vision for my life from now on — beautiful, thriving complexity, that hums along smoothly and nobody dies and gets eaten. 🙂

Danielle Laporte’s kick-you-in-the-pants video is here! (Don’t mind the promotional aspects of it.)

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100_0591I’ve had some time to think about this (I wrote the above a couple of days ago but didn’t have a chance to post it). There’s no question that life, when it comes to physics and chemistry, is complex. Animals in nature live simply because they don’t second-guess; they know what they want/need and what they enjoy. (Don’t tell me that animals don’t enjoy things; my cat loves to nap and birds love to fly…)

I think our modern, complex lives have gone awry in the ways of enjoying simple pleasures: living in the moment, loving family, being with friends, eating simply. These I will add to my vision of life from now on, and I invite you to do the same!

Balancing Act

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Major intersection in Beijing, after a snowfall

I still think about China sometimes… the friends I made there, what living in Beijing is like… how they can be so happy in such a crowded, busy place! How they can find time to think or have any serenity! They do it, though… not sure if I could!

Life is such a balancing act, isn’t it? I need enough sleep, but not too much. Enough food, but not too much. I definitely need more exercise, and I don’t think I’m in danger of getting too much, but some people are! A little caffeine is great, but some days, coffee makes me jittery. A little sugar is okay… some vitamins… enough free time, enough work…

What about my mental state? I’ve realized that it’s okay if I’m not happy all the time, but I wouldn’t want to be down and out very often either. A person has to think about money sometimes, but if you start to obsess, that’s going to skew your perspective. I like to be positive, but also a bit skeptical of what I hear — it’s easy to go too far and end up a nervous basket case (which sounds so much better than “paranoid freak,” don’t you think?). I don’t even believe the news on TV, because I think it’s usually over-summarized and often has a slant to it. Finding the balance between taking some things seriously and others with a grain of salt is tricky.

Life naturally has good days and bad, happy and sad, easy and hard, and if it didn’t, it would be like living in a monotone world. I think we all naturally need these contrasts; if you’re dissatisfied with your life, perhaps you have too much of something?
You could be stressed because of too much instability, or bored from too much security. It’s good to avoid certain extremes:

Too much instability Too much security
Too much routine Too much adventure
Too much stuff Too much nothing
Too much money Too much debt
Too much work Too much down time
Too much busyness Too much laziness
Too much loneliness Too much togetherness
Too much freedom Too much religion (or too many social expectations)

Look at the table above — what areas do you immediately relate to? If you think to yourself “well, I certainly don’t have too much adventure” then it’s possible you have too much routine. A balance of both makes for an interesting life! Maybe you immediately realize you have too much stuff… have you thought of getting more nothing? Giving things away, and not buying things you really don’t need? If you recognize you have too much of something, rather than simply decreasing it, try increasing whatever’s in the adjacent column. If you realize you don’t have enough of something, try decreasing whatever’s in the adjacent column.

Also, we all need beauty and creativity in our lives! Make sure you have a creative outlet, whether it’s creative cooking, building, a hobby, music or art.

That’s all for now! Okay, one more China pic!

Nope, it's not daytime. That's a huge LED screen! It's showing dolphins jumping out of the ocean, but it also plays a few other videos, like a space voyage! Wow!

I’m such a bachelor

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— Note: I actually started this draft about a year ago, but thought I would finish it and post it anyway. I am not actually like this. Thus endeth the disclaimer. 🙂 —

I’m such a bachelor! Okay, technically, I am a bachelorette, but I say “bachelor” because of all the things that come to mind with that word – kinda messy, doesn’t cook much (or ever), doesn’t want to take responsibility for his (her) actions, fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants, etc. You get the idea, I think, and probably have a clue what I am talking about! Sometimes, I just have to laugh at myself – I don’t clean very often, so clutter kind of builds up, along with the pile of dirty dishes and cat hair furballs! They (the furballs) gather in the crooks of the hallway and in the spot at the bottom of the stairs – I’m not sure why! I haven’t done an extensive physics research project on it, but I am sure it has something to do with air flow – the air circulates along floor level in such a way that it swirls and the cat hair gathers up into little clumps that sit there until I vacuum them up (roughly 4 times per year) or by random chance they stick to my socks as I walk by. This sock-pick-up method is soon to be announced by Swiffer – Swiffer Socks! Just walk around your place and let your feet do the cleaning! 🙂

Seriously though, I think I need to strike a balance here! I need to grow up a bit in some ways – taking responsibility for my actions, planning better, cleaning up after myself, etc. I need to just get a little more serious about stuff like that, especially time management! Gads, it’s pretty atrocious, really. I only open mail that I know needs to be opened right now, and the rest piles up! I recently found a bank statement, unopened, from May. Yikes! I mean, I do online banking and all, so it’s not like I haven’t seen my account balance since May (that would be really bad), but still. So I need to grow up in some areas, yet the very words “grow up” sound so awful – over-starched collars, ironing sheets, 3 course meals, matching placemats, every detail of my life planned… Martha Stewart meets Jean Luc Piccard, that’s what I’d be! Ack!

So the balance comes in when I learn to be grown up and still know how to have fun, leave unscheduled time to do fun things, but know that the important stuff has been taken care of. Reduce the clutter in my house, but not go hog-wild with matching themed decorations (this is unlikely, as I am natually inclined to be un-matched). Open my mail, file it or deal with it, and then get on with life! Eat healthy, which sometimes means cooking a big meal, but not feel obliged to make salads, soups, and bread from scratch! These are the things I need balance in, so I think I’ll get a teeter-totter for my backyard and start by practicing on that! 🙂 What do teeter-totters have to do with cleanliness, orderliness, and proper eating? Balance, of course!

— Note: I lied earlier. This blog was only started a few months ago… but I am happy to report that I have improved in some areas. I have gone through all my unopened mail, almost completely cleaned off my desk (which was getting piled treacherously high) and keep my kitchen table mostly clean. There are still some furballs, so I guess I have room for improvement. I eat pretty healthy, cook sometimes, and still eat very few salads. 🙂 —