Imposter Syndrome

I have had a HUGE struggle with identity for most of my adult life. But I hide it (or at least “hid” it) very well for a very long time. Because I had all these great ways to hide it. I was a big sister of a large family. So I was mom 2.0 for a lot of my formative years. I helped cook and changed diapers and hung laundry, not that these things are out of the norm, I am a firm believer that children should be a part of running the house, age appropriately of course. Likewise, my own kids grew up doing the same. God forbid they became adults who didn’t know how to wash their own clothes or sew a button. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. I relished that mini-mom role in the house. And then in my teen years, I was the trailblazer. That didn’t *always* serve me well, but hey, I went out there and dig into life, hard. I was never really a jock or a theatre kid or a music kid or an academic or member of student council, but I tried a little of everything. I had friends who were into New Kids and friends who were into Metallica. I was all over the place.

And then I became a mom and a wife and I sank my teeth into that role. Five kids in eight years and I stayed home with them for almost twelve years, being a full time parent. But that wasn’t enough either. I also wrote articles for the paper, ran a cake business, did night school, babysat and auditioned for the local radio morning show. I was all over the place, because I never quite knew what place I belonged in.

And then the kids started getting older and they didn’t need me 24-7 anymore so I started going to work. I’ve done so many different jobs. But had no real career. I started one, but a move meant starting from scratch yet again and without college or university to back me up, I found that finding my niche was extremely difficult.

All this to say that I’ve worn so many hats in my life, that I started to really question who I was. To the outsider looking in, I’m this woman with talents in a myriad of places and calm, wise and driven. Actual words people have used to describe me. Inwardly, I was a dirty imposter who had NO clue who she was, but had honed the art of playing roles to suit the occasion.

I’ve been doing a lot of inward reflecting lately (my therapist is so proud) and trying, not so much to “define” myself but more to find what makes me happy, and stop looking for a reason to justify it. To find what I enjoy, and stop needing to be “the best” at it, but just….enjoy it. So if I wanted to write, then write. And not compare my style, medium, successes or abilities to those of my siblings or mentors. And if I want to sew, then to sew. I don’t need to be Christian Siriano, even though that would be amazing. If I want to paint, I should paint. I don’t have to be as good as my sister or mother. I don’t have to be perfect I just have to enjoy it and be happy. I keep telling my husband that I need a large piece of soapstone because I feel like I want to carve it. Does it matter that I have no idea how? No. Because I’m just looking for what makes me happy.

Feeling like an imposter is actually not all that uncommon, once I started to talk to other people about it. But why, why do we all need to work so hard to be defined??

I’m a mom because I have kids. I’m a wife because I’m married. I’m a sister because I have siblings and a professional because I have a job.

And I’m an artist. Because I want to be. Am I famous or renowned or great? No. But I’m happy. And that feels authentic.

My studio. A big mess of three desks for writing, painting and sewing. plus a painting I recently did from a YouTube tutorial.


Don’t be a vacuum

I have a bad habit, that when there is negativity in my life, I become a vacuum and I let the negative swirl and swirl and suck me into the bottom of a vortex where I lie on the floor wondering where I went wrong. 

I’ve done this for years and it used to be that I couldn’t see that I was stuck.  And then I did therapy and I started to recognize it.  And then I did more therapy and I started to learn how to deal with it.  MORE therapy began teaching me how to recognize it when it was starting and work to head it off and I’m much better now but sometimes, just sometimes, I forget to pay attention to the little warnings and I get swept up.  

Lately, I’ve had a bunch of negative, hard, sad and emotional moments. All clumped together in a short span of time.  That’s the worst. It knocks me off my ass, literally.  I have had days in the last three weeks where I have come home and not been able to get out of bed.  So much suffers. My relationships, my kids, my home and my work.  I walked around in a vacuum of suckage.  

And then I started to pull out of it.  I’ve talked to friends. I’ve talked to my family and gotten the support to remember that I can’t control circumstances and other people but I can control myself. I can control what I do, say and I can allow myself to acknowledge my feelings and then move on.  

So I’ve been trying to do some things for me. Being accountable for ones own happiness is a work in progress and sometimes I forget that I am my own most important relationship and it’s oka to invest time in myself.  

So today I decided to paint.  I’m not a visual artist, by any stretch.  Anyone who knows me knows that I have a “functional” ability at a lot of things but I am clearly master of none.  Yet, something inside me needs an outlet. I keep joking with Shawn that I need him to get me a giant stone so I can sculpt it.  Today my stone was painting.  Tomorrow, it may be something else entirely.  I just know I can’t live in a vacuum.  I need to live out loud in full colour. 

Don’t be a vacuum.  

Be everything else.  

And now that I’ve posted yet another maudlin, privileged, first-world whine (see previous post) I’ve decided that I need to bring back some humour. We all need a good ol’ laugh. This one dates back a few years, but I’m not sure I’ve ever told it. In fact, I only just remembered it last weekend at a birthday party for my husband at our house. We were all hanging out having a few drinks and trading tales when the conversation turned to waxing. I don’t remember how, there was a lot of wine involved.
So this memory came roaring back to me and I shared it, and now I’m going to share it with you.

Many years ago, more than nine now, I think, we used to live in a little town house in Cambridge. I actually really loved that house, it was our first real home. The first home we owned and, like any place you own, we had put a lot of work into making it our own. However, before we did all the work, we had a ton of kids and ourselves piled into three bedrooms and one bathroom. It was…snug. Anyway, we did the kinds of things most parents with full and busy households do and got involved with sports and dance. Sports, for us, meant soccer. We coached and the kids played. We coached a lot. First one team, then two teams and then one summer which shall never be repeated, three teams. Every summer we liked to do something fun for the teams and we would have a skills/fun practice where the kids got to do really neat challenges. We would hang hula hoops from the goal posts and do precision challenges etc. And at the end, we’d let them pie us in the face. One year when it was my turn to get pied, my husband thought it would be a nice treat to buy chocolate whip cream. You can imagine how that looks, melted on a face in +30 degree heat. Not. Pretty.
Anyway, one year we told the team if they won a certain amount of games, Shawn would shave his head. Well, they did, and he did. And he looked good. So good, in fact, that shaving his head became a regular summer thing.
I don’t remember how it happened, but, I *believe* it had to do with a comment on a bald man’s head that looked so smooth and shiny, we thought it had been waxed.
Yes. We went there.
No, we didn’t think to ask anyone first or get advice.
No, cell phones were not so prevalent then and certainly did not have the video capacity they do now.
We went out to shoppers and bought some wax and strips. That night, I buzzed his head with the clippers so that the hair was short, but not so short there would be nothing to grab onto with wax. It was maybe, a half a centimeter long, or half of a half. We decided it would be best to start with the back of his head. Low down, from the nape of his neck straight up, perpendicular to his right ear. I applied the warm wax for him, as he sat bare chested on the side of the tub. I carefully placed the strip over the wax and rubbed it. We chatted, he said the warm wax felt nice. I asked if he was nervous and he said, a little. I asked if he was ready. He said yes.
I yanked upward, in one smooth motion, just like the instructions said. I yanked upward. His scalp yelled NO.
I don’t think it was actually his scalp that yelled, it was probably Shawn himself. But it was so primal. I’ve never seen skin pull away from the body that much. That strip didn’t budge, not one bit, but his skin did. We immediately realized that this was the worst possible decision of all time and the kids were drawn like moths to a flame to the bathroom door, no longer distracted by the Disney movie we had put on for them, they wanted to know if Daddy was dying.
I turned on the shower and bent his head over and tried to soften the wax again to the point of at least being able to take off the strip. But the wax didn’t want to cooperate. The wax thought it was funny. I thought it was a *little* funny. Shawn did not. I got my scissors out and tried to gently hold the strip away from his head enough to cut the tiny hairs but I was so afraid I was going to cut his scalp. We tried using a razor, but it kept getting gummed up in the wax.
It took us over an hour to get the strip off his head and get most of the wax off. Poor Shawn had such a headache and we had to razor the rest of his head to get it somewhat smooth. I mean, we learned some valuable lessons: leg hair and head hair and leg skin and head skin are NOT the same beasts. Waxing your head is a bad idea, and, if you spend long enough with your head tipped down over the tub and a shower head running directly over you with warm water, your ears will be super duper clean.
We have never again experimented with waxing any part of Shawn’s body. And, even though he did keep up the practice for many years afterwards, he no longer shaves his head in the summer. Bummer.
So there you go, a more lighthearted, true story, from the annals of the Reilly family years. And a little laugh for your Friday.

Fear as Mistress

It’s the month of Halloween and it’s full of scary things.  Scary movies get launched, people decorate their homes and work spaces and talk about being scared.  

I’m scared.   Not because I watched a scary movie.  I don’t watch those, I can’t sleep after. I’m a total wuss when it comes to jump scares.  Sometimes it’s because my kids think it’s hilarious to hide and jump out at me.  But that usually only scares me long enough to pee my pants and then I’m just annoyed and kind of peeved.  

I’m scared about way more run of the mill things.  Everyday things.   Like car accidents. Robbery.  Fires (sweet jesus fires are scary). Rape and murder and now, thanks to the Tangerine Palpatine from down below, nuclear war. 

The news lately has been brutal.  I know, the news is always brutal, no one watches stories about adorable puppies and babies ALL day.  No one will watch an hour long report of a pleasant day with mild weather where nothing out of the ordinary happened.   

So I’m scared. Every day.  And I’m worried about what kind of world I’m giving my kids into.  It’s a good thing that there is so much dialogue happening these days and that people are talking about all the issues and god knows the #MeToo was long overdue.  But guys?  I’m tired.  I’m tired of fear being my everyday mistress. 

We need to start looking for the light again. Not forget that conversations still need to be happening, and of course to keep having them but also to look for the good.  The positive.  The beautiful.

That’s not me

There was this movie that came out in 1996 called “The truth about Cats and Dogs” in which Uma Thurman and Janeane Garofalo played friends in a bit of a reverse Cyranno de Bergerac. Uma is the tall model who maybe isn’t so worldly and Janeane is the smart, short, self-conscious one. There is a lot of great banter in this movie and the dialogue is smart and funny without pandering, but the reason I thought of it today is because I had a couple of friends take my picture.
So, there is a scene in the movie where Uma takes Janeane to a mall cosmetics counter and as Janeane is making very funny, if self-depreciating comments about her pores and the ‘free radicals’ in the air, the saleswoman plunks a huge, magnified mirror in front of her face. It’s a very aggressive move, and it perfectly illustrates two things about women: one, that our own inner dialogues to ourselves are worse than anything a person can say to us and two, that when insecure, we will spend money to try to fix it.

Which brings me back to today and my two friends. I work with a bunch of really fabulous people and in preparing for an upcoming newsletter, two of the people I love the most at work took my picture. Not just mine, but, this is my blog and this story is about me so, yeah, they took my picture. First of all, it’s daunting to have your picture taken. I am a total slave to the new age technology that allows me to use filters and take a zillion digital pictures to capture just that right ‘one’. So, having someone else control the lens made me nervous. Plus, I like these ladies. I am “the funny one”. I can always make people laugh. So of course I struck some poses like a fake Hollywood celeb with that hand on the hip front leg cross pose (from which I almost fell over, and I was wearing sneakers, not heels) and one of me literally climbing the wall behind me. But then they just kept on taking face shots. Which, I admit, was the point, but, again, no control=panic.
My inner me was freaking out a bit, having a hard time smiling without instantaneously criticising myself for how I must look. My inner me was instantaneously cataloguing every flaw that I feel the worst about or obsess the most about. My inner me was being a terrible, insecure wise-ass with a giant magnified mirror in my face.
Suffice it to say there were some really nice pictures in the bunch, because of course they’re both great photographers, but, as the emails kept rolling in for me to check them out, I had a really hard time. How do you turn off an inner dialogue that has been a part of your life for as long as you can remember?
You don’t.
I looked at each picture. The ones that were silly, the ones that were awful, the ones with too much neck, the funny one where I tried to pull my neck smooth, the one where I’m trying to look serious and am clearly clenching my teeth. I looked at every one of them. And whenever my inner voice tried to be too harsh, I said, that’s not me. I’ve worked very hard on my inner dialogue over the years trying to correct a lot of toxic thoughts and thought patterns. It’s not easy. But that can’t be me anymore.
So, I picked a nice shot, and also said that I would be fine with the goofy one of me pretending to climb the wall. Because that goof who likes to make people laugh, that’s me.
And I’m pretty okay with her.

It starts (again)

I remember the fall of two years ago, standing in our kitchen the day Aislinn found out she was accepted early admission to Dalhousie. What a heady moment. What a proud moment. Now, it didn’t turn out that that was where she went for her first year of University, BUT, since our older two kids both delayed post secondary education, it was the first time we really had that “you’re accepted” thing and it really brought home for us the shift in the family. For years, it was the “older two”, then Ash (poor middle child syndrome, she was lumped in with either the “older two” or the “younger two”) and then the “younger two” or, the “little ones”.
Kathryn and Shawn Michael are close in age. They would have been 20 months apart, which is close by any standards, but, because he was a preemie, they are only 18 months apart. They were often mistaken for twins from about the ages of four/five, on. And they have always been the little ones of the family.
So, my older three kids have moved onward. They have all moved out, are working and living their lives. Which is still such a weird thing for me to say. But, they are all doing well, in the way young people do when they first live on their own, which is to say, they’re still all figuring it out and financially scraping by. That’s fine, they have loads of time.
Both Kathryn and Shawn M have jobs this year, which means they are both gone a lot. The house went from a smaller version of our regularly scheduled chaos to a very quiet one in one short month.

Yesterday, Kathryn texted me. She got early acceptance to Acadia. It may not be where she winds up going, but, that feeling in my stomach started all over again. Those little ones aren’t so little anymore. My baby girl is graduating high school this year and our baby boy, the little preemie who just turned 16 and is now 6’3″ tall, graduates next year.

I honestly don’t know where the time went! It seems like yesterday we were piling all the kids in the living room with their blankets and pizza from Lola’s and putting on a Disney movie for them before tucking them all into bed at 8:30 and now, my little adults are all either already flown the nest or making their plans for when they do.

Life moves quickly, my loves. And the older you get, the faster it goes.

Kathryn, I am so proud of you!! No matter which school you wind up going to, they will be richer for having you.


There’s a reason why flight attendants tell you to put the mask on yourself before you help someone else. You can’t save someone if you’re dying.
I’ve had a lot of conversations about care lately. Self care, caring for others, and what it’s like to watch someone you love spiral. When to jump in and try to rescue them, and when to put your own oxygen mask on first. It’s not an easy conversation to have, at any stage in life, about anyone you care about.
Some time ago it was myself drowning. Lost in a sea of depression, anxiety, bad choices, manipulations, disorders and juxtaposing addictions to the adrenaline and the guilt. It was a beautiful, chaotic tornado that kept on circling my life and taking down everyone in its path.
So what happened? Things came a head. Some people call it “rock bottom” but I kind of rebel against that term. I, and most people I know, have hit several low points in their lives. Rock bottom is not a singular event, but a way of expressing that things are pretty much at their worst in a given situation. So, there I was, on the “bottom” of whatever was going on in my life. Sitting in the eye of the hurricane. My family alienated, my husband pushed away, my kids, well, sadly, not taken into consideration. I was going through the motions of my life and I was doing it numb. So, I was told to get help, or move on. A crossroads. An ultimatum. However you want to call it. The status quo was not only hurting me, it was hurting everyone around me. Change or leave. Because staying on the ride of that tornado was not going to work anymore.
And so began a very long period of work. Hard, gruelling work. Dr’s, psychiatrists, counsellors. They all had homework for me. Some of the homework was in pill form and some was in conversation and some in journaling and some was solitary work to do when I was alone. But it was all work. Work to get up every day and make little decisions minute by minute that propelled me forward, not in circles and certainly not backward. And I healed. Slowly.
A funny thing happened. The more time I spent doing the work on myself, and taking care of myself, the better my other relationships got. The more I did the work the more I could actually feel the changes happening. My confidence came back. My appreciation for others and for even the simplicity of my surroundings came screaming back.
Now, I’m a few years removed from the hardest of those times and although I still have to do the work, it’s less *work* now. I’m off everyday medication and have been for a while. I feel good in my skin.
I was talking to a friend today who is going through a really rough time. A loved one is spiralling. In that tornado. Chaos and mental illness sometimes are the most common/worst bedfellows. And it gets…easy…to just stop trying. I know that first hand. All I wanted to do was lie in bed. And I felt that because I was clearly not well, people should go out of their way to help me. Bring me things, do things for me. It’s the ultimate check out of life. And, irony, I have someone in my life, more than one someone, who is also going through this. In all the cases, my own people and hers, the person in question does not want to do the work. Refuses to see that it’s necessary, even takes it as an insult that it’s being suggested. I get it. I really do. That tornado is strong. So is the addiction to being ‘the broken one’. It’s hard and it’s painful and the first instinct is flight not fight. In fact, it sucks all the fight out of you.
Fight you must. Because, and this is so hard, the people you love and lean on are getting tired. Burned out. And they are running out of resources to help. I told my friend today that however hard I thought it was coming out of it, it’s harder to watch someone else close to you. It’s harder to start telling them ‘no, actually, I can’t help you today. I can’t listen today’. Because it goes against everything that feels natural. We WANT to help those we love. But we can’t do it from empty tanks. And we can’t be part of the chaos for them. I watched my husband and even my children sit me down and tell me that if I would not help myself, then they were prepared to live a life without me. Because that was the healthiest choice for them and those were some of the worst conversations of my life. But, they also opened my eyes to what I was going to lose if I didn’t find my fight. I told my friend today, I can’t make the choice for her. No one can. But, she can’t save someone if she herself has no oxygen. Put on your mask, I said. Save yourself, and see how the view looks when you can breathe again.

We all have our hard things. Sometimes the hardest thing is to walk away. Sometimes the hardest is to stay.

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