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Skiing

This is a story about managing anxiety and I hope as you read through it you will glean helpful tips, though it's not written as a "tip" post. If you are seeking targeted and specific help in dealing with anxiety I have a resource at the end of this post, that I highly recommend. You can skip ahead to it right now if you need. Go ahead, I'm not offended.

You might also appreciate A personal experience with anxiety and positive solutions, a post I wrote last year.


Last winter my daughter hurt her wrists snowboarding.

When you're learning to snowboard you fall on your back end, a lot. My daughter injured her wrists from the repetitive action of bracing herself, on her frequent falls.

Wrist guards would have been beneficial right from the start, but we didn't know. This didn't happen to our son when he learned to snowboard, a few years earlier, so we weren't exactly "prepared" for it.

She iced and compressed, applied arnica cream, and with rest, her wrists were less sore so we thought it might "go away" on its own.

As winter gave way to spring and spring gave way to summer her wrists improved, and she would only experience mild pain with certain activities.

Then the beginning of this New Year Brienne re-injured her wrist skating. And that was our "this isn't going away on its own" wake-up call.

We got up early on a Saturday morning, so we could wait for two hours to see a doctor. He ordered x-rays (no fracture) and did a basic assessment that ruled out serious injury. He recommended physiotherapy, which has an approximate two year waiting list in the health care system. Or, we pay out-of-pocket for private physiotherapy and have immediate access.

We can't afford out-of-pocket physiotherapy right now, and waiting two years is not an option either, so we started Brienne with a mobility exercise program under Damien's direction. And my mom sent an essential oil for muscle repair.

And Brienne rested her wrists for the month of January. No skating (she's still too unsteady on her skates and if she falls she will likely strain her wrists). No snowboarding. Very limited co-op gym class activity.

We took an offensive strategy to treat the problem. And as parents we enforced more rest and recovery time. Brienne has a hard time slowing herself down.

As fascinating as this all is, this post isn't really a story about my daughter's injured wrists. It's about anxiety.

It's easier to talk about physical illness than it is to talk about mental illness and mental struggle.

I don't like to say I have a mental illness. I may be in denial but I look at my anxiety as a struggle and a weakness, a propensity to a certain type of thinking and thought patterns. It's my body, my health, I can call it what I like.

Whatever you want to call it, it's a struggle I have.

And I do better with this struggle when I treat my anxiety in the same way I approach my daughter's injured wrists, with a plan of action.

Firstly, there is no shame that Brienne hurt her wrists learning to snowboard and her brother didn't. Not everybody's the same. There is no shame that I have anxiety.

While Brienne is recovering and incrementally increasing mobility and strength in her wrists she has to abstain from certain activities, and she will have to actively engage in others, eg: specific exercises.

As someone who struggles with anxiety I will go crazy (it feels like I'm falling off the edge of clear thinking) if I don't abstain from certain things. And while I carefully watch what I allow in my life, I must also actively work on strengthening my internal responses and defences against anxiety.

A wrist injury presents an opportunity to pay attention to patterns of motion. To notice activities that cause pain and others that heal and strengthen. It's a wake-up call.

My struggle with anxiety is somewhat similar.

Like recovering from an injury. I manage my anxiety with a combination of discernment, rest, and specific exercises.

Discernment is knowing who I am and building appropriate boundaries.

I find building boundaries to be especially tricky now that I am embedded in community and in a more intricate web of relationships than I have been for many years; marriage, teenaged children, homeschool co-op, and church. Knowing where to give and where to hold back, this takes a lot of wisdom, soul-searching, as well as trial and error.

I can't do certain things that other people feel called to do. I can't engage in missions that are not my own. I cannot take on burdens that aren't mine to bear. If I veer too much into any of these territories, anxiety screams like a warming alarm. Which is maybe part of its purpose in my life.

I have a lot of capacity and capabilities, in the same way my daughter has a lot of energy and interest in sports. I have to build boundaries in my life to protect myself from over-engagement in certain areas of my life - social media, how I manage my online communications, what I give to each of the communities to which I belong. I have personal boundaries around how much I can assist my children in meeting their goals, how much I can assist my husband. I am finite.

My children are growing and increasingly have to make decisions for themselves but one of my chief roles as mother has been to be a gatekeeper, discerning what to let into our home and into my children's lives.

I have to be my own gatekeeper. No one else is going to do this for me.

Rest is taking regular breaks in my body and mind.

My rest looks like skiing once a week (yes, this is incredibly restful and rejuvenating for me), at-home retreat days, and scheduling "unscheduled" time in my weeks. Keeping blocks of time open in which I will not schedule anything.

I build rest into my plans so that I can say no to the other things (almost all of them good) that would compete for that time. I need open spaces in my week to putter around my home, to read, take naps, sleep-in now and again, and make stuff.

You can call it scheduled downtime, margin, Sabbath - whatever you call it - I must honor my needs for rest, fun and relaxation. And say "not now" to some of my own competing desires (to be productive, to "finish", to fix all the wrongs in my realm) and the desires and expectations of other people.

My anxiety exercises are the myriad of self-care practices I engage in.

Some are mental; meditation, truth-seeking and truth-speaking. Retraining my "mind" muscles to respond differently to stressful stimuli. Others are physical; outdoor activities and physical movement, a happy light through winter, dietary supplements, herbal adaptogen remedies and teas, essential oils. Some are relational; showing up as is, having courage, speaking truthfully, accepting and giving unconditional love in my core relationships. Others are spiritual; prayer and journaling.

It's all related. Discernment and setting boundaries is a self-knowledge and self-care practice. And setting healthy boundaries enables rest. The point is, discernment, rest and exercise are key parts to how I manage my anxiety.


I don't like easy answers because there is no such thing to complex problems. So I'm not going to leave this post on a three point answer to anxiety.

I want to share another part of this story.

While Brienne was resting during the month of January our family continued to go skiing every week. At fourteen, Brienne is old enough to stay home by herself but she likes to be with us and would be lonely at home, so she came and sat in the lodge while the rest of us hit the slopes. She brought school work, books, and TV programs downloaded to her iPad.

She kept mostly occupied but it wasn't the best of times for her. I felt bad but there wasn't much I could do about it except pop into the lodge more often than usual to say hi. I could be present as often as my own needs would allow. (I have to ski for my own health and wellbeing.)

Brienne was with us but it was lonely for her. Not as lonely as being at home, but lonely and a bit boring.

My own struggle with anxiety is never boring but it is lonely. Which is part of why I'm writing about it here.

My anxiety makes it hard to trust myself, it makes it hard to discern what voices to listen to. And sometimes the measures I take to protect myself and build appropriate boundaries remove me from other people and from certain activities.

And I question myself, "why can't I feel at ease in this situation that others handle easily?", and "why must I think, question, and wrestle deeply with ideas, situations and circumstances that other people accept at face value?"

And because it is anxiety, I feel a little crazy sometimes. And some days it takes all I have to bring truth and light to that craziness. It's a fight, and I get tired of fighting. And it feels lonely, even when I'm in a crowd of people, maybe especially when I'm in a crowd of people.

If you struggle with anxiety you too might feel lonely. People generally don't talk about their anxiety or other mental struggles. And if they do, other people, well meaning but ignorant of the illness, can be dismissive, or worse, provide cliché answers.

I had a tough spell with anxiety through the first weeks of the New Year. It comes and goes for me like that. My last bad spell was in October. I had the chance to get together with a friend a couple weeks ago, a dear woman who also suffers from mental illness and "problematic thinking". We laughed at ourselves and our struggles (you have to laugh sometimes, it is pretty crazy some of the stuff we think). We cried. We prayed. We asked God to release us of this trial but also expressed our gratitude that we can help ease each other's burden because of our own experiences.

I felt a little less lonely. And so did she.

That same week another dear friend reached out to me in her own need and as these things turn out, I needed her as much as she needed me. Again, I felt a little less lonely in my struggle. But most of all I felt loved, regardless. I felt like I had people in my corner.

We don't have all the answers for each other. We share what works for us in our individual struggle. We know each other's craziness but we still believe in the best of one another, we hold each other in light and love. But even with all that (and what a gift all that is), each of us essentially fights a battle on our own.

This truth is very acute in the most intimate relationship in my life, my marriage.

As much as we love each other, share our bodies and our thoughts, share a faith and life vision, share core values and love for our children, we cannot fully inhabit the space of each other's personal struggles. We hold each other through them but each of us has our own battles we must fight, our own injuries and illnesses we must contend with.

I can never fully understand the struggles, temptations, and challenges my husband deals with. And he will never fully understand mine.

And sometimes that feels lonely (one of my core longings is to be known and understood), but in reality that is a loneliness shared by everyone. We each have a perennial battle to fight. We have unique injuries and illnesses that we hope to heal. This is one part of our "common core", our shared humanity.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.
(author disputed)

You might not know the exact battle but you can be sure, we are each fighting one.

I take no pleasure in other people's suffering, weaknesses and faults, but there is the comfort of knowing you are not alone. And as much as I am able (remember: boundaries) I have found that honest friendships that provide safe places to talk about my crazy are a balm to this loneliness. These friendships are precious and necessarily few as being this open with people is vulnerable and sacred.


After a month of rest our daughter is snowboarding and skating again. I'm so happy for her but also grateful I don't have to deal with the mommy guilt that tugs at me as I ski while she sits in the lodge.

I took my own kind of rest during January also. I extended compassion and kindness to myself during a time of struggle. There is no other helpful option for me in these periods. And it seems to me the deeper I allow compassion and kindness to root in my heart, for myself and for others, the slightly less difficult the struggle is and less lonely I feel in the valleys.

It's not gone. It's not cured. It's endured.

But it's also shared, in connection and conversation with friends. It's assuaged with exercises of body, mind, and spirit and an increasing discernment and understanding of my limits, a keen self-awareness of my own purposes and my very finite nature, a nurturing of my fragile/strong self with love, truth, and kindness.

Help for your anxiety

I want to tell you about a helpful resource for thinking about and dealing with anxiety. One of my favorite bloggers, Heather Caliri, has published a mini-course about anxiety called Five Tiny Ideas for Managing Anxiety.

If you struggle with anxiety, as I do, you know that sometimes the only thing you can really grab ahold of are the tiny ideas.

Heather's writing, in general, addresses emotional, mental and spiritual health and well-being. She writes a lot about anxiety and I find it really helpful.

Heather isn't selling anything, the course is absolutely free, but you do have to subscribe. (You can always unsubscribe if you don't like them.)

Heather says, "Let’s face this hard thing together, okay?"

I couldn't agree more.

I welcome your comments or private emails about your own struggles or experiences with anxiety. Therapies, exercises and self-care practices that work for you. I'd love to hear what you've gained through this struggle.

Here are a few of mine: compassion, deeper friendships, empathy, self-awareness, and tools to share with others.

It's snowing this weekend. As I type this the air is thick with the flakes and I try to capture the magic with my camera but it never does the beauty justice.

I am (gratefully) way past the toddler stage of parenting and so instead of bundling little ones to go trundling and toppling through the snow, I am sitting right here, enjoying my Saturday morning cup of coffee, my tired teenagers still deep in sleep.

This is the most "open", unscheduled, at-home all day Saturday I've had since November. And I feel both giddy and deeply at-ease in the expanse of this day before me.


Early last month I wrote that I needed all of January to transition into the New Year. It was more like January and the first week of February.

It was a bit tricky to give myself this space and time while the world around me was marching forward with 2017 plans and purposes and the ubiquitous self-improvement projects. But it was worth the effort of holding space for this month-long transition, because come mid-February I'm not discouraged or exhausted by my New Year's efforts at "being better". Rather, by intentionally withdrawing from that fray and hype, by honoring a hibernate vibe, and being patient with myself and the slow progress of living, I'm better rooted in what my purposes are for this season and stage of life.

2017 is not "the" year I will conquer the clutter, overcome a perennial struggle, or achieve any great heights of financial freedom or self-expression. It will be a year, as every other year, of steady and slow progress, punctuated with beginnings and endings.

I see this year as a continuation of goals, purposes, callings, dreams, etc. of the previous year and previous years. My chief purpose of raising our kids, the job I set out to do eighteen years ago, remains the same but the little (and sometimes big) details in how I do that work change as the kids change, not with the flip of the calendar.

Great things will happen, I'm sure. New things and new directions are brewing, adventures and celebrations are being planned and executed. There will be accomplishments and things checked off my lists, while new items are added. I will not arrive at an end point but I will find myself further on the path.

It's almost the middle of February and I am nowhere near a winter breakdown. That is an "accomplishment", a self-improvement of sorts. I don't have any cabin fever or even winter angst. March is the month that carries a sense of foreboding for me. If things are going to go bad, that's when it's going to happen. But it hasn't gone really bad (where I'm crying for days on end and feel exhausted by the effort of life by 9 am) for three winters. But I know it could, so I watch with some vigilance for the signs of winter depression and do everything I can to bear up against such possibility.

Which is to say I ski. Oh, I ski and how I love it.

February is not a particularly beautiful month in my white, grey, and salted-sidewalks world. Maybe that's why people love Valentines Day so much, all those red hearts adding color to the drab.

I don't take a lot of photos this time of year. Of the couple hundred photos I took in the first seven days of February (yes, hundreds), seven of those were non-skiing photos. They were photos of Laurent's art.

I don't keep all the photos I take. I have a photo workflow which involves a lot of deleting. I also edit all my photos, and tag them with keywords so at any point in the future I can find photos with ease. It's just what I do.

But in February I do a whole lot less of that because I just don't take many photos. Except when it comes to skiing.

I've noticed in myself that the things I try to capture with photography are the things that are capturing my heart and/or enlivening my spirit. There might be a positive feedback loop involved here. When I intentionally look for beauty, I tend to notice it more.

Right now, my children are the throat-catching and heart-tugging beauty in my world. I guess that's been true for their whole lives.

My heart alternately soars with deep gratitude for the present moment while also feeling the stab of loss at their impended independence and separation from me. There isn't a scheduled date for that in our home, but it is the next stage. And in the same way I want to bear up against the possibility of winter depression, I want to bear up against the pain of this impeding change.

Celine has no plans to leave anytime soon and we are encouraging our children to stay close for post-secondary. It's their choice of course, but the financial help we can offer for the next stage of their life will be mostly of the room-and-board variety. It's why we moved to Montreal. By living in this great city full of amazing schools and in a province with heavily subsidized post-secondary education we've positioned ourselves, in the way we are able, to help our children pursue post-homeschool studies, should they so choose.

Celine graduates from homeschooled high-school this spring. Finishing this stage of her education, getting all her documentation in order, helping her consider and narrow down her options (and providing a loving push as necessary) - this is the stuff of my life right now that consumes a lot of my mental mothering energies.

We are about to cross a major threshold with our firstborn, and that transition is probably "the" big thing that is happening for me this year, as a mother and a homeschooler. Actively homeschooling and bearing the responsibility of facilitating and overseeing the education of my oldest child is one of the things I will release this year.

I spend a part of every other week (I have a schedule) working on Celine's transcript and portfolio. There are regular meetings with Celine and Laurent about their plans and purposes and how we will help them meet those goals. And when there are no defined goals, we help dig to the place in their hearts and minds where the desires and interests are rooted and we work out how those interests would translate into goals. This is how we homeschool and living this philosophy with teens is the most energetic part of the journey.

I'm freaked out a bit sometimes, but mostly I am exuberantly excited about this stage. I love homeschooling my high-schoolers. I have amazing kids. I wouldn't trade this time and effort for more money in the bank. I wouldn't trade it for more writing time (something that always feels in short supply). I wouldn't trade it for the career I am hoping to build once my homeschool career comes to an end.

Everything has a season. And this is my season of high energy and high activity with my teenagers.

My heart is full.

I am so thankful for our weekly skiing. It's our one day a week practice in which we continue, with the full and eager participation of our children, to stake a claim for family life, for having fun together, for enjoying winter. It is so worth all the effort and expense: the driving time, the gas, gear upgrades and making due with what we have. It's an investment in our family and our health.

It is the highlight of my week.

It's been a good ski season and I am so grateful for that. I was re-reading some of my posts from last winter. Last winter was hard in many respects. The skiing conditions weren't great. We had weeks and weeks of sickness.

It's probably the foil of last year that makes this year that much sweeter.


It's 11 am now and my fourteen year old, our youngest, has emerged from the cocoon of her bed. She's puttering around me in the kitchen, brewing herself a cup of black coffee; like mother, like daughter.

My boy, about to turn 16, is still sleeping, recovering no doubt from yesterday's full day of activity that didn't end till we got home at 11:30 pm. He was still gaming at 12:30 am, when I clicked off my Kindle and went to sleep. I have no idea when he went to bed, I do hope he will get a good ten hours of sleep before coming to for the day.

My oldest, seventeen, slept over at friend's house last night. I was the chauffeur responsible for transporting four chatty girls from co-op to the friend's house and I treated the girls to coffee at Starbucks enroute. The Starbucks was in a Chapters bookstore and so I found a table some way off from the girls to give them space. The sound of their incessant chatter and laughter, before they all dispersed to scour the bookshelves in silence (three of these girls are introverts), was more than worth the price of the lattes.

Celine's friend turned 18 this month and is celebrating with a dinner and swing dance party tonight. A gaggle of girls will be getting ready in a few hours for that party; doing hair, nails, and make-up in the fifties fashion.

Eighteen, it's coming for us soon. I am so happy for Celine's joy in having great fun with friends, but I am a little disappointed I'm won't be able to photograph her carefully planned and tailored outfit. Celine bought a skirt at a Montreal vintage boutique but did the final tailoring herself, of course.

Photographing my heart's joy and delight, it's what I do. But as my "delights" grow and move to independence, as they have experiences completely apart from me, in such healthy and beautiful ways, I guess I'll content myself with photographing the morning snow.

These Christmas stories are supposed to be short on words, as much for my own sake, as for yours. So I'll try.

When we moved to Montreal from the Gaspe peninsula 18 months ago a lot changed. I've chronicled many of those changes here on the blog.

Our life is all about raising teenagers now: socially, spiritually, academically, we are heavily invested in this phase of family life. And for us, that means we no longer have a one day a week practice. It's just not feasible for us at this stage of family life, with homeschool co-op, social engagements (the life of teenagers), and a commitment to and involvement in a church body (something our kids want as much as, if not more, than Damien and I).

I have mourned the loss of this part of our family life and history. We grew our kids up hiking in the woods, summiting mountains all over the east coast, in New England and Quebec. Family life evolves and life in the city is full of good things and bountiful opportunities but I miss this.

Skiing together is something we've managed to hold on to, though it too has evolved over the years.

We started out as backcountry skiers, with a hodge-podge of equipment designed for gentle slopes. The following year we got more serious about climbing mountains (on skis) and we decided to improve our skill and work on technique with a ski pass to our local hill, which we happened to live at. (Yes, we lived at a ski hill). That particular year we did a lot of skiing.

The winter preceding our thru-hike we trained for our hike by regularly climbing up the ski hill (on skis) and skiing down. The winter after our thru-hike we decided we'd stick to the ski resort skiing, a couple people in our family were tired of climbing mountains.

This is our second winter in Montreal. We're currently a crew of 2 snowboarders, 2 telemark skiers, and one alpine skier. We haven't been in the backcountry together as a family for a while. But we still make an effort to ski together. And we juggle homeschool co-op, work (someone has to earn the money to pay for all this), church commitments, and social engagements to make this possible.

This is our sixth year on skis as a family. Because we are self-employed homeschoolers we take advantage of the deeply discounted mid-week seasons pass at Bromont. (And this year we purchased the passes in October to make it even more affordable.)

Depending on Celine's plans for next year this may be the last year we are able to do this once a week, all together. (I don't want to talk about it.) It will be another evolution, another change. I'll face it when the time comes. This winter we're all still together in the outdoors, and hanging out in the ski lodge, one day a week.

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