Friday, 10 October 2014

The Ugly Truth...

This is probably the most personal thing I'm going to post on this blog - and I don't know if I will leave it out here...

I'd be willing to bet a lot of money that when other people look at me, they don't see what I see in the mirror.

My reflection is an assemblage of parts, none of them "right".  One eye is smaller than the other, my nose is big, chin is weak, skin is blotchy and my teeth are small, yellow and broken.  Add to that being middle-aged and fat, colouring my hair every 3 weeks to keep the gray away, and the Botox every once in a while to hide that one giant wrinkle across my forehead!  (I frown in my SLEEP!  Who the hell frowns in their sleep???)

I grew up in a home where I was told on a regular basis that I was fat, ugly stupid, lazy, no good and ungrateful.  Put-downs like that occurred on an almost-daily basis for about 6 or 7 years...  The main culprit was my mother's husband - and she sat there and let it happen - until the day she started joining in.

There is a commercial on Canadian television right now about how children absorb the negative things in their life and take them with them everywhere.  One thing that commercial doesn't say is that some of us take those things all the way to adulthood.

Anyone who tells you that you can get past something like that has NO idea how much you internalize such a message!  It goes down to your bones and permeates your soul until it is as black as the hateful words thrown at you.  This isn't a bunch of strangers making you "feel inferior without your consent" (as Eleanor Roosevelt famously said), this is your family telling you are worthless - repeatedly - during the most impressionable time of your life.  These are supposed to be the people who love you and protect you - but they don't.

I'm sure I wear that perception of myself like an invisible cloak that alerts others to my insecurities and vulnerability, and it attracts those who would exploit those feelings to their own ends.

Like my first "serious" boyfriend T.

Of course I was having sex with him; I was 16 and had raging hormones.

About a year after I met him, we were at his best friend's house one summer day.  We had spent too much of the day in the sun and I lay down on the couch in the family room with some cold packs while the guys played pool.   I probably dozed off and I'm sure they thought I was asleep or I wouldn't have overheard the advice that T was giving to J.

"Always date the ugly girls, because they'll be really grateful to you and have sex with you."

That day was almost 40 years ago; and since that day I have never felt or believed that I was anything but ugly.

If I'd had any sense or self-esteem or confidence, that would have been the last time I saw him, but it wasn't.

A few weeks later, he decided to join the navy instead of continuing to work a series of dead-end jobs - did I mention he was a high-school drop-out?  It was a month later that he headed off to Halifax, after extracting a promise from me that I wouldn't date anyone else and that I'd wait for him.

Fast-forward to January, and it was time for me to fill out the applications for university.  Sunday afternoon was the only time I spoke to T, he would call for all of 5 minutes once a week.  During our call that day, I told him about the application process and then asked him if he could find out where he would be assigned that spring after he finished basic training.  He asked why and I said that I would apply to university in Halifax or Victoria based on his assignment.

There was total silence on the phone line for a minute.  And then came the words that finally broke whatever spell it was he held me under:

"You should give up on this crazy idea you have of going to university, you're too stupid to go to university."

I hung up.  And didn't answer when he called back.  Ever again.

I'd like to say that was the day I gained a sense of my self and found confidence and overcame all the horrible behaviour heaped on me (and my sister) by my mother and her husband.  But I never did.


To this day, I wake up every morning loathing myself.  My serious relationships have always been with men who were much like T - the type who use you, but make you feel that you should be grateful for the attention.

One time, I tried to talk to the person I thought was my best friend about these feelings.  She said I was always so negative and insecure that no one wanted to be around me.  I've learned to shut it all away inside me, to never talk about it, to never trust people with my heart.

I'm alone and very, very lonely.

I apologize constantly for things - even those over which I have no control.  Small errors are magnified in my mind, and if I make big mistakes - and I made a REALLY bad one earlier this year - that "good for nothing" phrase bounces around in my head for weeks afterward to the point that I feel I can't face people.  It's probable that the negative self-talk of a lifetime causes me to sabotage my own life.

Somehow, I've even found a way to work for people who treat me that way; including the man who finally sent me on a tailspin into a major depression two decades ago.  He didn't want an assistant, and it was obvious from Day 1 that he disliked me intensely (I learned later that he was having an affair with the woman who had been doing my job, the director's assistant).  Two years into my job, he came into my office one day, closed the door, and told me that all my coworkers hated me and that no one in the office wanted to work with me.  He said there was nothing I could do to change this and that the best solution for everyone would be for me to quit my job.

Over the next few months, I retreated into myself, until another coworker - who obviously DIDN'T hate me - took me to the employee assistance group.  Literally took me.  She booked the appointment and asked me to go for a walk with her one day and walked me in there.

It took 6 months of therapy and Prozac to get me back to an even keel - as even as I could be.  During that time, I took several months off for stress leave.  While I was away, our director left - and I returned from my leave to find a very nasty letter from him saying things about my poor work ethics and bad habit of leaving my coworkers to pick up the pieces of my errors. Instead of taking the letter to the union (I was working for the government at the time), I ripped it up.

Nowadays, my work life is organized with colour-coded files abounding and notebooks filled with details and electronic files laid out by date, location, event, etc.  I come in early and leave late, and I foolishly come in to the office when I'm sick, which only makes things worse.

But my home is a mess, a place where no one comes.  And maybe I keep it that way so that I don't have to invite anyone in - literally and figuratively.  If I know I will have guests, I clean frantically for days, only to revert to slovenliness once they're gone.

Today is World Mental Health Day - time to acknowledge that the demons inside our heads can be as bad as the bacteria and viruses and cancers that attack our bodies.  They don't even have to be as extreme as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or severe depression.

I've been writing this post in bits and pieces since the last mental health day a year ago.  If I work on it too long, it sends me back into the black hole that always seems to lurk on the edges of my consciousness.

I would give anything to not feel this way, but every piece of available data I can find on this version of avoidant personality disorder indicates that it worsens with age - which could explain the panic attacks I started having about 5 years ago.  The data also shows that recovery from this disorder is almost impossible, with most doctors recommending coping skills, like breaking a pattern of negative self-talk, to keep the demons at bay.

I foolishly believed for years that maybe when my stepfather died I would feel some sense of release.  But in the four months since his death (and he lived to be almost 90), all the pain has come bubbling up to the surface and the panic attacks have returned worse than before.

The internet is probably the wrong forum for talking about things like this since it seems of late that the hate and trolling is worse than before, but there are also areas of light where one can seek and find solace, comfort, information and kinship with those who share whatever affliction one might have.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.  Rev. John Watson (aka Ian McLaren), circa 1890

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

What year is this?

I don't make any secret of the fact that I'm on the wrong side of 50; which means I grew up in the 1960s.

It was a tumultuous time both socially and politically.  CNN has been airing a series recently about the decade; even casual viewing of a few of the episodes would give you some sense of the events that unfolded during the period.

Over the past few months, events that have been taking place around the world are sad echoes of the times now half a century behind us:  civil unrest in the United States, war in the Middle East, and Russian aggression toward their neighbours being the most obvious examples.  Every night, the television newcasts would broadcast grainy black and white pictures of decimation in Vietnam, helicopters spraying deadly chemicals to clear dense vegetation where the enemy hid, soldiers toting automatic rifles, and frightened citizens gazing into the camera lens with desperation writ large on their faces.

As I wrote in a blog post last fall, it is a sad fact that the earliest memories I have of my life are of the events surrounding President Kennedy's assassination, the first of four that rocked the landscape of civil rights in the US.  During the year of Canada's Centennial, I watched Golda Meir, Prime Minister of Israel, defend her country's preemptive attack on its neighbours; less than a year later, I sat in my grandparents' living room as they made desperate phone calls to Czechoslovakia - calls that couldn't be completed - while watching tanks roll into Prague on TV.  Shortly after that, I was on an airplane travelling from London to Dublin when it was announced that Senator Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated in Los Angeles.

The Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana famously wrote " Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it".

Watching the news these past few months, is it any wonder that I might feel that I have been transported back to the 1960s and we are, indeed, repeating our past?

How I know I'm NOT back in 1968:  the American protestors are almost uniformly black - back then, they were mostly white; the lack of protest music on mainstream radio (yes, I mentioned 60s music, so sue me); and the fact that television coverage is 24/7, thanks to our instant-news age, rather than doled out in 30-second bites of sound and fury.

Most importantly - most of the nuclear arsenals of the world have been dismantled and we no longer live in fear of atomic bombs dropping on us.

I have no answers - I wouldn't know where to begin to find them.  While I don't believe in god, the words of PF Sloan, songwriter of the 1965 song "Eve of Destruction" and member of The Grassroots, hold true:

"The song contained a number of issues that were unbearable for me at the time. I wrote it as a prayer to God for an answer."

If I don't stop now, this blog entry will begin to ramble, but the situation in Ferguson, Missouri spurs me to think of these words of Winston Churchill:

" is the people who control the Government, not the Government the people."

It's time for the governments in the United States, in Russia, in Palestine, in Israel, in Iraq, even in "Red China" (to reference that song again) to learn this lesson; learn it well, and learn it FAST!

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

In the beginning...

Several years ago, when I first registered this blog, I thought that I would write about my adventures in Middle-Aged-Dating-Land.  I have been uncoupled since December 2007, never married, no children.  My experiences with internet dating go back to 1993 - and, no, that is NOT a typo!

One would think I would give up after 21 years with no luck, and I have gone long stretches with hiding my profile(s) on whatever internet dating site(s) I've been working with, only to once again decide to test the waters.

That's an apt metaphor since I've mostly been active on Plenty of Fish, but I've also tried Lava Life, Match, OK Cupid and a tiny Toronto-based site called Casual Kiss.  I have been rejected by eHarmony TWICE!  (Which probably isn't a bad thing.)

(The stories I could tell about my emails from Casual Kiss alone could entertain you for hours; I'm sure most of them were scam-related.)

In addition to perusing profiles, I've spent a lot of time these past two decades reading the forums of several of those dating sites, old Usenet newsgroups, and blogs - those published by dating sites, those written by so-called dating "experts" and those written by the average person.

As time passes, one fact has become glaringly obvious:  when it comes to men, how a woman LOOKS is paramount!

It is the rare man who will consider dating a woman who is outside of the "norm" of North American "beauty standards", i.e. young, pretty and thin.

Public post after public post by men in several countries of many ages, races, income and education levels have driven that point home to me.  And to countless of other women of size (and, now, age).

The perception of the dating scene for overweight women in general, and especially overweight middle-aged women, is basically that you are NOT ALLOWED to say "no".  After all, this man has paid attention to you and you're an awful FAT girl who barely gets attention, you should be grateful for the attention and have sex with that guy.  And it is about sex, because these men aren't looking at you for anything long term, they certainly wouldn't want to be seen in public with you.

A very small sampling of my emails over the past few years are revealing (I've left them intact):


Very nice skin. You look very lovely. I am pretty active and fit. I might be a good influence.


if you look a little deeper and overlook my facial hair, I am sure I can overlook some extra weight. Find your face absolutlely beautiful.


Your eyes do look a little crazy .. Are you crazy? Just curious.


wow no wander u been on here here 3 years you will die a lonely old lady hope a cat sneezes on you.thank god u never had kids ,now go get a drink


you sound like a real bitch, why would anyone want to contact you.


There was the one from a man who said he was going to a concert at the JLC and would I be interested in giving him a massage before the show.  When I declined, the vitriol was swift and disgusting.

And one from a woman telling me that I "owe it" to men to post a full-length picture of my body so they know I'm not lying about my weight, despite the fact that I lay it all out on the line in my profile.

That is the tip of a big iceberg...

and yet, I continue to put myself out there.

I guess I'm just a glutton for punishment!

Monday, 30 June 2014

Red & White All Over…

You always knew the biggest party of the year was upon you when the flags started to appear all over the city.  Large, no … HUGE, Canadian flags adorn office buildings across the whole of Ottawa.

The main floor at Giant Tiger’s flagship store turns into a sea of red and white: in one stop you can get your patriotic t-shirt along with all the other necessary acr├┤utements – maple leaf deely-bobbers, temporary tattoos, flag picks to stick in burgers, those umbrella hat things to protect you from the sun’s rays beating down on your face (which can also block your view of the Snowbirds fly-past if you’re not careful), sparklers, family packs of fireworks and the necessary flag for your home (or to wear, as many do).

My sister and I used to affix a 3 by 5 foot flag to the front of our balcony; it was clearly visible 2 kms away if you were crossing the Mackenzie King Bridge by bus and happened to look our way.

And you would look that way, trust me.  Our apartment had a view straight up the Rideau Canal to Parliament Hill and the Laurentian foothills beyond.  The private boats would be lined up stretching south from the locks almost to the bend at the University of Ottawa.  And the tour boats did a booming business heading down to Dow’s Lake while providing history lessons to unsuspecting tourists.

My sister and I hosted many a fireworks-viewing party in our apartment until my permanent job in London necessitated moves for both of us.

After work on June 30th, or on the morning of the 1st while on their way downtown, our friends would drop by our house with their drinks and food contributions to the potluck dinner that night.  We filled one of the bathtubs in our apartment with ice to keep the wine and beer cold.  Off everyone would go to join the throngs pouring on to the streets in a great throng of red and white.  There’s music on the street corners, folk dancers in the parks, popcorn and poutine to be eaten.  The Snowbirds swoop and The Big Names of the Canadian music scene light up the stage on The Hill.

Around 6pm, everyone would start returning to our place to crack open the libations and cool off from the often-steamy weather.  The "Oh What A Feeling" compilation cds would spin and we'd turn CBC to the evening show on the massive stage in front of the Parliament Buildings so we'd know when to go outside for The Big Show.  By the time the last bite of flag-themed strawberry cake was consumed, friends and family would gather on our huge balcony to watch the sky light up in spectacular colours.

The day I left Ottawa at the end of February 2006, the last thing I did before leaving my aerie over the city was stand on my balcony, in a biting wind, watching the skaters on the Rideau Canal.  It was a perfect, clear, sunny winter day.

That beautiful view, of the most beautiful city in the most beautiful country on the planet, is forever locked in my mind.

Happy Canada Day!

Monday, 10 March 2014

How do you thank someone...

(Reposted from my work blog with some "judicious" - *ha* edits)

When I arrived at the Ministry of the Attorney General in early June 2011, I was a middle-aged woman with no self-confidence and no idea of how to manage the rest of her working career.  Both of those had been sucked out of me by the demoralizing management at my previous job once I came to London.

However, I LOVE it here!

This is in no small part due to the working relationship I have developed with the man I call “The Boss” (NOT Bruce Springsteen!).

I got this job as a direct assignment after the department I worked at in my previous Ministry was being handed over to the federal government and I had no desire to work there.  A co-worker on secondment from the Courthouse suggested I apply for this job (which I was required to do for every position I wished to be assigned to).  She told me that the director was new and from Northern Ontario.

The day I came to meet my manager and The Boss was the day I knew everything would be okay.  It was pretty simple, actually.  The Boss came into the room and we introduced ourselves and I said to him…

“I hear you’re from Northern Ontario.”

He replied, “Yes, Cochrane.”  I smiled and responded with one word:  Kapuskasing!

That told us most of what we needed to know about each other right there; a shared background of small-town life meant we understood each other on many levels.

I came to Court Services knowing nothing about the Ministry of the Attorney General or the inner workings of the court system.  Over the past 3 years, The Boss has answered every question I have asked of him, no matter how strange, silly or innocuous.  If there was something he couldn’t say due to confidentiality, he said so; no tap dancing around.  He explained the history behind policies and procedures so that I would also understand the “Why”, not just the “What”.

More than that, though, he always asked me what I thought.  We have extended management team meetings a couple of times a year; afterward, The Boss asked me to sit down with him and tell him what I thought of the speakers and presentations and to answer any questions I might have after the event.  The same applied to meetings, training and special events.

For the first time in years, I felt valued – part of the team.  I made contributions to management meetings based on my previous experiences in other Ministries and always felt that they were welcomed.

The Boss recommended me for the inaugural Administrative Professionals Development Program – and the ADAG picked me!  Late last year, he nominated me for the Ministry’s Excelsior Award (I didn’t win).

Above all else, he has believed in me – even when I didn’t believe in myself!  And that’s made all the difference in the world to me.

Last week, I learned that he has been appointed as a Justice of the Peace; today is my last day with him.  I only wish that everyone – inside and outside the public service – could work for someone like His Worship Paul Langlois.  Luck and good fortune brought me to be his assistant for an all too-short while.