The Winding Path

Counselling Services provided by Barb Zacharias

October 2021: 50 Years Young: A Retrospective.

Posted on Oct 19, 2021

Today is my 50th birthday. While that is a non-event for some, for me it has significance beyond the culturally conditioned issue with women aging. But let’s start there. In today’s society, there are plenty of mixed messages to choose from regarding women aging. At one end we can embrace it, or, we can purportedly fight it with the proverbial potions and lotions as well as supplements, medications, surgery, and a host of other treatments. It is a billionaire’s dream industry. I find it sad that we, as women, literally buy into this phenomenon, trying to make ourselves into someone that we are not:  nubile. Young and sexually desirable.

The first point of contention is objectively undeniable. We are no longer young according to the calendar and passage of time. The second is subjective. Sexual desirability is personal and age exempt. What turns on one person won’t arouse another. There are young people with libido issues as well as aged. Desirability is what you make it –for yourself being desired as well as what you desire. Emotional connection based upon consistent attention and affection is the foundation for a satisfying sex life, which includes knowing what is arousing to you and your partner. Chemistry and desirability between a couple includes appearance (which we know changes over time and circumstances) as much or as little as you choose. Hygiene notwithstanding. 😉 It is not a sole question of finding certain physical traits appealing—again subjective. What is appealing to one person is repelling to another.

My point is that we are buying into a lie when we chase “nubility” as a legitimate course of action to accommodate aging. That would be denial. We are in denial about aging and succumbing to shame messages that we are not valuable unless we are youthful looking and sexually desirable as per an industry or cultural standard. It is a sad state of affairs.

I just finished reading a book entitled On Turning 50: Celebrating Mid-Life Discoveries by Cathleen Rountree that was published in 1993. I found it engaging, inspiring, informative, and in one aspect, disheartening. For the most part, I had to remind myself the book was published 30 years ago given the relevant content. In all likelihood, some of the women who participated in the book are now deceased, or at the very least, octogenarians. What saddened me was how little has changed in 30 years. We, as women, face the same challenges and obstacles today. The only advantage we have is improved access to information about aging and the openness to talk about it. So thank you to all the women who have shared their experiences and paved the path for all who follow.

In mythological terms, women are usually categorized as the maiden, matron, or old crone. Personally I look forward to being an old crone: the wise old woman who lives in the woods. 🙂 Some days, I feel like I embody her already. Other days I feel my mid-life. I think we mistakenly view our 50s as the halfway point of our lives (I certainly do no wish to live to 100!). I have come to perceive our 50s as the midpoint of adulthood given our brains are not fully developed until the age of 24 or so. I can see myself living another 25 years, maybe a bit longer. That in itself is a revealing statement given my struggle with depression and childhood trauma.

There was a time I could not see myself living past my mid-thirties—the age my birth mother died. After reading Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman, years ago, I was somewhat prepared for this and able to normalize it contextually. Sometimes it still is a surprise to think I have made it all the way to age 50. And there are, admittedly, days when I do not want to live out a full adult life when the depression seeps in and steals my joy. Those days remain very real for me. Thankfully not as frequent as in my youth—a stage of life I would not return to for all the billionaires in the world!

I, personally, have no desire to be nubile. I was going to say ‘once again;’ but at my core, I have never seen myself that way. However as I look at old photos, I can admit that I was young and desirable, in the stage-of-life sense. I have always struggled with fitting in, being appealing to the masses, socially acceptable. However, like many women, I learned early on that “nubility” makes you vulnerable to being taken advantage of and/or traumatized for a lifetime. It is a catch22 to be desired. Our sense-of-self may require it until we learn better; but it also puts us in harm’s way as well as steals our power and authenticity.

I much prefer being 50. I quite enjoyed my 40s. I think the subtitle of the book says it well: celebrating mid-life discoveries. Something I have never done before: look forward to what’s ahead. My struggles with depression included suicidal fixation in my adolescence; which I was fortunately able to downgrade to a tiredness-of-life-in-general: wanting the end to come sooner than later, simply because I tired of the ongoing struggle. But after a near-death experience in my late twenties, I realized that my end would come when it was “time” and not a moment sooner. I was spared for a reason. Even now, on the low days, I ponder about that reason being fulfilled and hence the end can come whenever my allotted time is complete. When all is well with my mental health, I look forward to what is left to discover about myself and the world around me.

If I struggled with believing I am a person of worth and value in the first half of my life, I hope in the second half of my adulthood, I can celebrate more of life’s discoveries. A significant part of embracing aging is being our authentic selves and knowing what we have to offer. Understanding we all have the gift of life, it is up to each one of us how to make the most of that gift both in what we receive in this life and what we give. May your life have purpose and meaning rooted in a strong inner core/sense  of self—not defined externally by industries and shame messages.

My birthday wish today is that you all experience a wonder-filled aging process—wherever you might be on that path.

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September 2021: Democracy

Posted on Sep 11, 2021

“Change is fueled by anger and disappointment, as well as by inspiration and patience.”

~Sally Armstrong, Ascent of Women (2013)

Another election is upon us. And if you recall, last time I blogged about my disappointment in politicians and the political system. I remain jaded and cynical about the effectiveness of Canada’s democratic system. If I could call for electoral reform, I would. I understand that some folks are trying to do just that. The party system just isn’t working in our modern day and age. All party platforms are relatively the same…and irrelevant in the big picture.

In a world where politicians truly represent their constituents, they would take the time and effort to visit the people in their ridings, get to know them and their concerns. In all the years I have been a registered voter, I can only recall two visits by political candidates: once in the Yukon (and I did vote for that candidate because she appeared to hear where I was coming from and my concerns; whether they were represented is another matter); and the other day here in Pine Falls. Unfortunately the timing was terrible, so I was unable to chat with him.

To my way of thinking, democracy is another form of bullying and or the popularity vote. And we all know that popular does not always mean best for the general public. It also means that minority groups are essentially left out in the cold. If your concerns do not match the majority, you are SOL. It is another way of being told you are unimportant.

If I had my druthers (an old fashioned turn of phrase referring to “I’d rather), voting would be about specific issues, not about party platforms or people. For it really doesn’t matter who is representing your riding or the country, f*ck ups occur regardless. Messes are made. Clean ups sometimes make things worse. Personal and political agendas from within and without tend to influence the system more so than citizens. Trust in officials is non-existent. Quite frankly they haven’t earned it. But that is a side rant.

My idea of electoral reform involves making use of the electronic platforms currently available that are secure and efficient. I would like my voice heard (represented), even if unpopular or in the minority—which I think could happen either by non-party representatives in government who use their salaries to get to know their constituents and their concerns, or by presenting an electronic platform in which I could state my concerns. The more valuable data would be the stats on how Canadians vote on different issues—not people or parties—and how it is discussed by the power brokers. Not debated like parliament is currently set up, but truly an exchange of ideas.

People will always disagree. Where the wheels fall off the wagon is no different than in relationship counselling. Couples must first hear and acknowledge where each person is coming from before they can negotiate middle ground. Our tendency is to prove who is right and who is wrong—create chasms rather than bridging the gaps. We need to throw that thinking out the window. It is archaic and ineffective.

If we want to thrive in this modern age, we need to embrace change—no only in our thinking, but also in the ways we communicate our thinking. We want to force our way of thinking onto others—whether it’s gun control or vaccines or education reform or cultural values. We also want to shut down hearing what others have to say, labeling them whiners or idiots or whatever suits our fancy to create distance. Even if we don’t agree, we all have a point. Sometimes it appears inconvenient or uncomfortable or unreasonable. But seldom do we take the time to hear where the other person is coming from. If we did, middle ground is more likely to be reached.

Compromise has become a dirty a word because it is often confused with sacrifice. If one person gives up or gives in, that is not compromise. Compromise involves all concerned parties giving “a little” to get “a little.” That’s middle ground, not one person having to concede all ground. And if one person is conceding much more than the other, that is not compromise either. We are once again looking at bullying—applying pressure to the underdog to get what we what. Both/all parties must feel discomfort as well as relief—in appropriate proportions.

So much for that part of my rant. My third political point has to do with the cop out excuse that if we didn’t create the problem, we are not responsible for the solution. This one gets my goat every time. And it is prolific on Facebook. Especially where minority groups are concerned—particularly indigenous groups. However, democracy created the genocide laws and their enforcement, and only democracy can end them. But who is speaking up to even make it a votable issue?

By saying the plight of our neighbours (however far removed from our experience) is not our problem is heartless and irresponsible. It communicates to the original occupants of this country, or newcomers, that we don’t care about them: they are unimportant, nonexistent, not worth our time. And in the case of the original occupants: shame on us! For they did not treat us that way. They extended friendship, respect, shared resources, helped us thrive. And the newcomers of the day took advantage.

It appalls me that people truly don’t care about others different from them. We are all human beings. No one having more or less value. But we certainly create us vs them mentalities every day. Whether it is giving ourselves an excuse not to get involved or shutting down conversations claiming the other perspective is weak or stupid or un-evolved. Facebook is a fantastic platform for sharing views as well as shunning.

I am currently reading a book by Canadian journalist, Sally Armstrong, called Ascent of Women. I think it’s a must read for any human being with an open heart and mind. The introduction alone inspired me not to give up—which I have a tendency to want to do when faced with animosity or apathy. We are so scared of “other,” “different,” or the unknown. It’s time to face our fears, find our courage, and press on to make the world a better place than when we stepped onto the world’s stage. We can all do better.

I am a cynic and doubt reform or great change. It takes a lot of effort some days to keep trying. If that book is anything to go by, time is not a factor—personal responsibility is. And as long as I have breath, I will do what I can to press forward. Maybe change will happen. Maybe it won’t. If women in developing countries can wait decades to see results, maybe I can hang in there a bit longer—and not give up so easily.

“The first thing to get out of the way is expectation that virtue always triumphs; in truth, most attempts to confront and defeat misdeeds are only partially successful or else seem to be outright failures. It doesn’t matter; nothing is wasted in the universe. Even an effort that apparently goes nowhere will influence the future. Though the system looks untouched, it has a fatal crack in it. The next assault, or the one after that, will bring it down. At the very least, someone, somewhere, has learned a lesson and will be more thoughtful.”
~ June Callwood, Canadian journalist and social activist

as quoted by Sally Armstrong, Ascent of Women (2013), p. 15

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Summer 2021: Dreams

Posted on Aug 18, 2021

This afternoon, I finished reading Design Your Next Chapter by Debbie Travis (2018). I have been a fan of hers for many years, first being introduced to her vibrant decorating style on the show CityLine (then hosted by Marilyn Denis) followed by The Marilyn Denis Show. I greatly admire both of those women. And I have no doubt Debbie’s influence is evident in my décor schemes.

Reading about Debbie’s next chapter prompted reflection of my own, as well as the realization that I have had a few “next chapters” in my life already, whose trajectories followed much of what Debbie described in her book—which was affirming in knowing I can keep going. Having been exposed to the concept of her Tuscan adventures on the aforementioned TV shows, it was interesting reading about her journey of ups and downs. It was an arduous process fraught with obstacles as well as exciting progress. My chapters have been less dramatic—I think; but none-the-less challenging and rewarding.

I also hope I have at least another two chapters yet to develop: my own version of retreats (but for trauma recovery) and writing my memoirs. Both are daunting in their own way and feel more of a dream then close to reality. I peck away at both, unsure what the next steps will be most of the time. But some things can remain unknown as I am not ready to move forward past where I am right now. Which of course gets me to thinking about where I am at this point in time; and how I’ve gotten here.

I felt a kinship with Debbie’s description of her Tuscan life and gratitude for my own dream life of sorts. Sometimes I cannot believe it’s really true. It may not be Tuscany, but it is my own idyllic environment. As I ponder these things, I am lying in my hammock in my beautifully-treed backyard. At first, mosquitoes made me consider returning indoors; but a slight breeze soon changed their minds and mine.

I finished reading the book; and as I reflected upon what I read, daycare kids were being picked up across the street. The dogs “greeted” a few passers-by. The breeze felt like a gentle caress on my skin. I did not want to leave my idyllic spot as much as my mind was telling me to “get on with it.” Then I remembered the notepad app in my phone—which I actually had with me outside (not a frequent occurrence)—and decided I could start my blog from the comforts of my backyard on this gorgeous summer day.

Marveling at how “almost perfect” my life appears to be, a nagging voice reminds me of what remains to be achieved or done. However, I wouldn’t trade the life I have now for any other. Sure, I had to sacrifice financial stability; but I am learning the Universe has a way of working things out. I just need constant reminders. The book also made me think about how I’ve put making a difference ahead of financial success when most people “get ahead” first, then “give back.” Now I’m wondering how to get ahead without losing at giving back.

Therein lies the quandary: I hate “the hustle.” I love the work, but I don’t like networking or finding new avenues for referrals or clientele. Aka: drumming up business. Sales, especially of my own services, is not my forté. In close association with that is helping clients find ways to pay for my much-needed counselling services.

My profession is a complicated industry where the well-off have easier access to wellness. I have spent a lot of time and effort trying to make counselling more accessible to all. Playing by the rules and jumping through hoops has been exhausting. I no longer have the inclination or wherewithal to be an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) service provider. It saddens me to some degree that I have arrived at the place where I can only offer my services to those who can afford to pay for them and/or can figure out how to access funding (which isn’t always accessible—unless you run with the big dogs and play by the big dog rules).

So, as much as it is worrisome, it is a huge relief to get out of the proverbial rat race and trust the Universe a bit more—counter to what the avid hustlers have to say. As I said, I love the work, but not chasing after clientele and/or payment. My challenge is to find the sweet spot between networking and allowing things to work out. All the while dreaming about a time when I don’t have to chase the money but can “just be.” I have no idea how my retreat idea will come to fruition, but it is something I have thought about for a long time—same for writing my memoirs.

I have since moved from the outdoors in as my phoned died and pets requested feeding. Yet I remain in my reflective state of mind, being grateful for where I am at the moment. I may not be where I need to be financially (the word self-sufficient comes to mind), but all-in-all I am a lucky girl. Lying in a hammock reflecting and reading. What a way to spend some time on a sunny afternoon.

And who knows when that next chapter will be revealed? In the meantime, I have plenty to do. What about you?

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