How Much? And for How Long

Over the last month, this exact phrase was said to me by three different people, with regards to three totally unrelated issues. One person was referring to the overwhelmingly negative effects that a personal relationship was having. The second person was referring to lifestyle choices and physical health, and the third person was deeply troubled about whether or not to make a huge decision with regards to employment and relocation. It was all three times, a very valid question, and when it was directly asked of me, it took some processing for me to understand the questions. I realized the validity of posing such a question when it comes to health; physically, mentally and emotionally.

Some of you who know me personally or maybe follow me on social media might know that this month has been particularly challenging for me. I promised you transparency, here it is:

My grandmother passed away last week. She was extremely dear to me. Even as I type this out, I have trouble keeping my poop in a group and not bawling my eyes out. I miss her very much and most of all, because she lived so far away, I feel awful that I never got to say goodbye and tell her how much I loved her one last time. Her name was Isabelle. I created a flower garden in the corner of our yard and painted a memorial plaque in her memory.

The morning I received my father’s call to announce her passing, I was signing off some documents and making my second appointment at my dermatologist’s office. I’d just learned that I have precancerous cells (Actinic Keratosis) on my face and cancerous cells (Squamous Cell Carinoma) on my back. The doctor said he was very concerned. He treated a couple of spots and insisted that he see me again for a full body skin exam next week, along with another treatment, and other appointments to stay on top of things. I’m so grateful for the awesome staff there because when I got the call about my grandma, I was standing in their lobby and literally fell apart right there. These ladies held my hands, got me some tissues and comforted me. I was, and still am, very grateful. It was not easy to hear about this diagnosis. Not. One. Bit. There’s been way too much loss and pain associated with cancer in my life, but to face it myself? What do you mean, me?!

The worst part, and the reason I couldn’t hold it together anymore, was that I felt so alone. The one person I’d hoped would be there for me, was not. I was forced to face one hell of a difficult day, and get through it.

Thanks to my own will, my strength and my courage, I did exactly that.

How much? Obviously, it was a lot. And for how long? I’ve been facing many personal challenges over the last few weeks and the morning my grandmother passed away, it came to a boiling point. I had been holding back on facing, then walking through negative emotions and realizations about myself. I’d reached my limit. I couldn’t, would not, let myself sidestep anymore. It was time to go there.

The best part in facing those fears, facing those negative feelings, was that they no longer controlled me. Knowing that I could lose someone so dear to me like my grandma, be diagnosed with a serious health issue and deal with other and do it all on my own, gave me tremendous reassurance: I am capable of doing anything. Being heartbroken in the company of myself, and being able to embrace it, then work through it and walk away from it, gave me the knowledge that I can cope with intensely uncomfortable events and those emotions that come with them. I know my limits, and am not stuck. I am capable of finding solutions.

I remember when I quit smoking a decade ago, I clearly remember reaching my saturation point and making the choice to quit. I’d been a smoker for 10 years and the benefits of it had dwindled down to providing me something to do when I was bored or socializing. I was traveling in Montreal when I made my plan: I allowed myself 3 more days to smoke, including the last 3 cigarettes I had during the 3-hour drive back from the Calgary airport to Medicine Hat. I added daily walks to my routine, stopped hanging out with my smoking friends and I forgave those who made fun of my choices or weren’t otherwise supportive. I have been a non-smoker since August 23rd 2008.

Knowing how much you are willing to put up with, how much you are willing to do when it comes to dealing with something negative in your life can help you gauge your own turning point or limit. Being able to accept that sometimes, the more effort you put into something, it will not necessarily give you the results you were working towards. That’s okay. Sometimes, it’s best to take inventory of how much you’ve put into something and be realistic about what the benefits have been. Are you reaping a reward or are you just losing (time, money, body/health, mind, energy, etc.)? Sometimes you’ve got to press cancel instead of send.

Having a clear idea about how much time you are willing to allow those negatives go on for, and how much time you are willing to give them to exist, can give you hope in knowing it will not go on forever. It is empowering to know you can put your foot down at whatever point you choose to. Reminding yourself that change is a normal, natural part of our existence. ALL OF US. It’s reassuring to know that when you’ve been at something long enough, you can choose to do something different.

What kinds of negative relationships or lifestyle choices have you been putting up with? Are there specific behaviors you’d like to change? Habits you’d like to kick that are taking away from you, your well-being and your happiness? Have you ever sat down with yourself and had an objective look at what is holding you back?

Things to remember when you’re asking yourself how much and for how long:

  1. You have 100% control of yourself, and no one else. Ever.
  2. Identify what it is that you would like to change and a realistic time frame for this change to take place. Be specific.
  3. Come up with 3 macro/long-term goals, then 3 micro-changes (steps) for each that will contribute to achieving them.
  4. Change your routine. Change your habits. Change your way of thinking. As the old saying goes, “Keep doing the same thing, you get the same results.”
  5. Forgive. Forgive. Yourself, someone else. Just do it, learn from it, then move on.

This can apply to negative relationships with others, or with yourself. It can apply to negative situations you may find yourself in. It can apply to habits or lifestyle choices you’re not keen on and would like to change. Change is rarely if ever easy. However, most of us also know how valuable hard work is!

I’m a big fan of working outside in the garden (definitely a contributing factor to my recent diagnosis!). I love to work hard with my hands, dig, and build, tear things apart, do housework and do manual labor. I always feel a sense of accomplishment and I place a great deal of value in the time and effort that I invest in order to achieve something. That same feeling of reward, sense of pride and accomplishment often accompany any self-improvement project.

Some of the most important steps forward and the victories happen in your awareness. They happen when you make small steps towards your ultimate goal. So when they happen, reward yourself in a way that will benefit you.

If your goal is to decrease body fat and you’ve had a success in doing that, find a reward that will give you pleasure and will compliment that success. Take yourself out for a mani-pedi, take a friend out for a walk and lunch date, go out dancing, try a new class or activity you’ve been afraid to in the past, buy yourself a new clothing item or bottle of perfume. If lowering your blood pressure, getting more sleep or adding some down time to your hectic schedule, give yourself kudos when you actually do place your wellness at the top of your priorities and get that extra couple of hours of sleep or opt out of over-training at the gym or over-working at the office.

Finally, here is a question, or rather, a calculation I once did for a dear friend of mine who had been in a very negative relationship for a few years: Take the number of years, calculate the number of days, then drill down to the number of hours and minutes that have been spent on the relationship. Got it? Now consider this: You will never, ever get that time back. How much more, and for how much longer, are you willing to do this?

My friend ended that relationship soon after that conversation, and has been busy investing her time and energy into herself, and her current, healthy relationship. Like my grandma was to me, my friend has been a shining reminder to me, how precious time is and how amazing life can be when we invest in lifestyle habits that compliment us, in other people who return the love and gives us support, and when we invest in ourselves.

I’d love to hear from you. What have been some of your victories and struggles? When and why have you ever considered the questions, “how much and for how long”?

Thanks for reading.


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