.Romance.

 I will always have a real strong romantic relationship with my coffee and The New York Times. No, but for real…

The other day I overheard a conversation on the playground after I picked up my son from school. There was this eight/nine-year-old girl who spoke to her “boyfriend”. He told her he did not like her anymore because there is a new girl in his class. He added that she used to be the prettiest girl he has ever seen but now she is only the second prettiest, so he wants to “break up”. For some reason, I could tell that his message cut through the girl’s third-grade core and how she stopped believing in romance right there while she ran away and cried. 

All my life I longed for something different. Something out of the norm or challenging. Adventure spoke to me always. These days, I am not unhappy, I am just generally more skeptical of things; especially after hearing what this little boy did to the girl at the playground. I wanted to take her aside and tell her that there will be a lot more breakups and breakups and breakups and that this does not mean the world is coming to an end. It is all a learning experience and I know I was faced with the same type of men in my life until I learned my lesson. I learned that I simply cannot make things work when my gut tells me that this will turn out chaotic but I was just too blind to see and understand while rushing head over heels into something new. 

I gave up on all that and embraced a different kind of romance. To be all on my own. A relationship with friends, creativity, art, meditation, adventures, mindfulness and paying attention to what I really want in life. And yet. 

A little voice tells me that romance besides my New York Times is possible followed by an undeniable romantic type of pull of what is yet to be and to come. And in those moments, not thinking about my previous relationship(s), I could not help but wonder if that other type of romance involving another person may work after all. How can I believe in chakras but not in romance? I mean, all it really needs is two people pulling on the same string most of the time to make it work which does not sound so impossible or difficult. 

My problem was that I developed a clear idea of how I thought love should feel and how I could get this feeling in my life. I am an avid reader and obtained a lot of my relationship-knowledge from articles and books I have read throughout my teens, young adulthood and later on. Then I started to listen to Esther Perel to cope with my divorce.  According to her, a partner should never complete you. You complete you, your partner simply adds to your life because you are whole on your own. 

I clearly remember the point I fell in love. For real. The healthy kind. The good, nice guy. And I was shocked and horrified at the same time to experience a feeling that I thought I lost. I was suddenly feeling “fuller” or “more whole” if this makes any sense. I felt more secure than ever, there were no lies, no bs, no debt, no questionable purchases and fantasies that seemed to be out of a J.R.R. Tolkien novel. I asked myself initially if this feeling of awesomeness is okay because there was a sizable piece of my heart that has been missing, numb or was inaccessible for quite some time. 

I am fine on my own. I love to be by myself but I am also happy in a healthy relationship. Where it gets sticky for me is emotional dependence and trust. I do not want to be dependent on that other person emotionally or financially. The thought of dependency makes me cringe. Being in a long-term, normal and healthy relationship, I think it is okay to need the other person because you are committed to each other. You take the time and speak about problems and find solutions but do not cheat and justify it by making up excuses. 

A couple creates memories and plans a future together. You are covering each other, over and over again. I read this article, that ” intimate partners’ bodies become physiologically entwined and your partners’ soothing presence reduces your stress level and helps you feel more at ease”.  This sounds awesome and I feel it, but I believe to be in a romantic relationship it is important to be independent. I also want a more well-rounded way to describe my partnership in which there are two “me’s” and a “we”. I enjoy that warm, comforting emotion – that feeling where my heart feels so full and content at the same time. I will embrace love’s wholeness without fear. And if things do not work out, there is always The New York Times and coffee. 


.And Then You Die – Opening Up on PTSD.

“Seek the truth for yourself, and I will meet you there” 

[Disclaimer: not an easy read]

I suffer(ed) from PTSD for a while because I have dealt with a lot of difficult things in my careers as a police and security officer. I have seen many people die and there were many traumatic experiences when I pretended everything is fine but deep down, I was not fine at all. I could not “just” fill out that “dead-person-intake form” while I stood next to a person who jumped off the 9th floor of a building with parts of her brain stuck to my uniform and shoes.

Before that particular incident, my colleague and I were laughing in the police car. Everything was okay. We contemplated were to have coffee and a pretzel next. I remember it was a nice afternoon and I looked forward to the Metallica Concert that evening. The radio kept playing Metallica songs all day to promote the concert. The music in the police car droned on, but we stopped listened after the dispatcher told us to drive to the location where, according to neighbors, a woman climbed out of her window and tried to get to the top of the roof of her apartment.

I still did not put two-and-two together while we hurried to the scene. Maybe she wants to escape from someone who threatens her in the apartment? Maybe she tries to get into her apartment from her neighbor’s balcony because she forgot her keys? I was still gnawing on my lunch-sandwich. As a police officer, there are not real times to take a break. “I think something terrible is about to happen,” my colleague said. I did not acknowledge him but chewed ahead. I tried to put two-and-two together but my mind was blank. Blank as a white canvas. The woman took her own life. She jumped off the roof while my colleague and I drove around the corner. I saw her eyes while she jumped and I see them to this day. Wide open, terrified and scared. This is how I felt when I arrived at the scene. In her apartment, I wanted to find out if there were any screams for help. Anything, that could have explained what just happened. I did not find anything. I just saw a glass of red wine (still half full) with lipstick stains on it, a CD playing (Jazzonova) quietly in the living room and the window wide open. On the floor,  her black high heels.

It took me several hours to cry. I did go to the Metallica Concert that night because I purchased the tickets a long time ago. I was on my bicycle riding back home when I felt like screaming, crying. When I arrived home my neighbor asked me, “Why are you crying, what happened? Is everything all right?” And this was the point when everything came out: the complete waterworks. The wails and the screams and the snot. I went into some sort of depression this year and I knew I have to change my job. It was a sadness so deep that it physically hurt. I did not want to deal with suicidal issues and death on a daily basis anymore. I woke up crying sometimes because I thought I could have been able to save one suicidal person. In my reoccurring dreams, the suicidal people always laugh. I remember one particular dream when a person said, “Why do you care if I am dead when you are still so afraid to live your life?” I woke up crying. This all happened many years ago, yet it all seems so fresh.

Death scares us and because of this, we avoid to think and talk about it. Trying to figure out how some of the suicide victims I got to know personally must have felt, I can just say that I always saw and felt an endless and incomprehensible nothingness that they experienced. This made me think and come to the realization that if there really is no reason to do anything, then there I also no reason to NOT do anything; that there is no reason to ever give into one’s fear or embarrassment or shame since it is all a bunch of nothing anyway. By spending my life avoiding what was painful and uncomfortable previously, I had essentially been avoiding being alive at all. This woman’s suicide marked the clearest before/after point in my life. I really knew I had to change or turn my life around. I morphed into a new person while still carrying some of my insecurities, struggles, and baggage.  But this made all the difference and was transformational. Strangely, it was someone else’s death that made me appreciate life so much more.

The other day I went for a run. Running steadily, my leg muscles stretched and ached since I just started to train again. The cold wind screamed across my face but I kept running. I looked up. The sky was bright and beautiful. There was even a bit of sunshine. I was sweating, yet cold. Excited, yet nervous. Can I run away from it all? I stopped for a moment. Who is that at the horizon? I saw his familiar green jacket, his bicycle and I smiled. He smiled back and signaled me to run towards him. What if this is it? What if this is all there is? Then I would be happy. I shuffle on. In his direction. Against my mind. Against my thoughts and fears. One foot forward. Everything is okay. Being alive is so awesome.

.Mindfulness.

[Photo credit: Veronica Van Gogh]

I spent last weekend at the Rosseau Sanctuary as a holistic nutritionist (to be) and provided healthy vegan, lactose and gluten-free food for women who attended the event hosted by Jennifer Polansky.   It was an amazing, challenging new experience for me since I never cooked for so many people in this kind of environment but, in hindsight,  I enjoyed every minute of it.  I mentally grew and this process already started when I drove all the way up to the retreat from Ottawa through Algonquin Park. It took me almost seven hours to get to the sanctuary which was a great opportunity to practice mindfulness, peace, and quiet in the car. I so enjoyed the ride, even though it was not easy. I was tired, saw two wolves on the side of the road, did not encounter another car or human being for at least two hours straight and wondered what would happen if the car breaks down. This is what I basically looked at the entire time I drove to Muskoka:

Traveling is a fantastic tool of self-development simply because it extricates me from the values of my culture and shows that another society can live with entirely different values and still functions. On one of my walks “in the wild” last weekend, I had a great conversation with a local who moved to Muskoka from Toronto, got married, had three kids and lived there ever since.  They seemed happy; chaotic but content – the wife, kids, dogs, and cats running around in the house while I still tried to figure out where the main entrance was. They trusted me instantly, even when I said I would love to see their puppies in the backyard. This then makes me think and re-examine my own life. My brother told me, after he visited Russia,  that the most currency to be found there is trust. And to build trust you have to be honest. Being honest means, when things suck, you say so openly and without apology. I think trust lost its value because appearances became more advantageous forms of expression. This is why people start lying, say polite things even when they don’t feel like it, tell a little white lie and agree with people they don’t actually agree with. Why not just say what is on your mind?

Others pretend to be friends or partners. What I am facing these days is, that I never know anymore if I can trust a person but yet, I open myself up to opportunities and new people because I am always choosing. If I am choosing to make my relationship the most important part of my life, that means I am not engaging in and choosing to go to meth/cocaine parties all night long and come home at 7 a.m. We all worry about something in order to value something, right? And to value something, I must reject what is not that something. The something I don’t want in my life anymore. Nobody wants to be stuck in a relationship, for example, that is not making them happy. Nobody wants to be stuck at a workplace that does not make them happy and that they hate and don’t believe in.

Yet people choose these things. All the time. This is when I thought I have to become comfortable with saying the word “no”. In this way and rejection, it makes my life so much better. By just saying NO while a red neon blinking “STAY OUT and AWAY” sign is flashing and police are putting up tape that says “DO NOT CROSS” to make extra sure. There are healthy forms of love and unhealthy ones. Unhealthy love is usually when two people try to escape their problems through their emotions for each other or they are using each other as an escape. I think that on the other hand, a healthy relationship is when love is based on two people acknowledging and addressing their own problems with each other’s support. I believe now that in a healthy relationship, there are clear-cut boundaries between the two people and their values, and there will be an open avenue of giving and receiving rejection when necessary. Entitled people for example who take the blame for other people’s emotions and actions do so because they believe that if they “fix” their partner or friend and save him/her they will receive the love and appreciation they have always wanted. The victim and the savior, the person who starts fires because it makes her feel better and the person who puts out the fire because it makes him feel important. These two types of people are drawn strongly to one another. Their model for a “happy relationship” is based on entitlement and poor boundaries. Sadly though, after some time, they both fail in meeting the other’s actual needs. The sex is usually always good in the beginning but there is so much more to it all and to experience and explore together as a couple. In fact, their pattern of over- blaming and over- accepting blame perpetuates the entitlement and shitty self-worth that have been keeping them from getting their emotional needs met in the first place.

Acts of love are valid only if they are performed without conditions or expectations. Partners (or people) cannot solve problems for me. They can help and that makes me happy but I also know that I have to deal with the internal stuff on my own. I do not see myself as a victim.  Usually, the victims create more and more problems to solve; not because real problems exist, but it gets them the attention and affection they crave. The intentions are selfish and conditional and therefore self-sabotaging. Therefore, genuine or true love is rarely experienced and probably never will be.  And in the end,  innocent people lose their passport.

.Getting To The Heart of The Matter.

“Writing a novel is like walking through a dark room, holding a lantern which lights up what is already in the room anyway” – Virginia Wolf

I love coffee but I do not need it to fuel my mornings. Sometimes, when time permits, I write at a coffee store around the corner from where I live. It is such a nice, cozy and welcoming place. I usually go there alone when I work, but there is always someone to chat with or listen to. I am spending a great deal of time working on my second book, which can be exhilarating and exhausting, but always blessing. Despite all the craziness in my life and in the world, I must continue to do my work. Creating takes much of the artists time, and may seem a self-serving prospect. But my directive is, to offer something meaningful, that hopefully provides a transformative experience. May it be through thought, tears, laughter or illumination ignoring the voice in my head that wonders if I really have anything of value to add.

“Look behind you. You are not alone. Don’t permit yourself to be ambushed. Watch out for the snakes. Watch out for the Zeitgeist – it is not always your friend. Keats was not killed by a bad review. Get back on the horse that threw you” – Margaret Atwood

So there I sat, sipped my coffee and typed along while the snow came down quietly. I thought about my job search and the different turns my life may take soon when I saw the barista behind the counter wiping away tears. There is never nothing going on. While I think my problems are so severe, others are struggling as well or even worse. For the sake of keeping the costumers happy and caffeinated, this barista went out of her way but she had to deal with this one rude customer. Apparently, the argument was about a coffee order she got wrong and a tip of this costumer.

I usually leave something in the “Tip Jar” so this made me philosophize. I mean, really think about it – metaphorically, you could ruin someone’s life if you don’t tip them. Let’s say, for example, you did not leave the sixty-five cents change as a tip after ordering your large latte and ham and Gruyère croissant. Diane, the barista, now found herself short on bus fare to get to her second job because she is working to pay off her student loans. Had you tipped Diane more, she wouldn’t have to walk to her ex-husband’s house who read her a shitty poem in French that he had written after they broke up. Now they got back together, and Diane is miserable. Also, if you would have tipped her more, she could have afforded a haircut before her job interview with the government the next day. An interview for a well-paying full-time job. She did not get the job and decided to live with her ex-husband again because it is “convenient”.

The barista looked over, smiled at me and I realized who really deserves a commendation. I chatted with her a bit on her 20-minute break to learn more about her profession and cheered her up a bit. The conversation was unsurprisingly full of insight. Have you ever wondered what a barista deals with on a daily basis? Grab a Cup of Joe for this one.

So what happened earlier? Why did you cry? 

This customer is a “regular”. He comes here every single day and orders the exact same thing without even looking up from his phone. If it takes too long (in his opinion) he starts to argue with me or any barista here in a very mean way. I wonder sometimes how miserable his life must be if he treats me like this. What is going on in his life?  I am just doing my job the best I can. At least look me in the eyes when you order or invest just a few minutes in what is happening around you before you put in your order. Also, do not let your anger out on me because neither do I. It would be so much easier if we are all just nicer to each other.

Does it annoy you to see the same customers every day? 

Most people are very nice. They ask for my name, smile and have a little chat while waiting. For others, ordering coffee is just part of their morning routine and I respect that. What drives me crazy is, when customers come in every day, ask for complicated orders that are not on the menu and don’t want to pay for all the components of that order. It is that type of entitlement that really drives me crazy.

Do you judge patrons based on what they order? 

There are of course certain drinks that I think will taste better with less of this and more of that but that does not mean you should not order them. Of course, I will make you that drink because we all have different tastes, likes, and dislikes. The other day I was wondering why a customer wanted to have steamed milk over a brownie but hey, you like what you like. Your money, your order, your drink.

What’s your weirdest/funniest interaction ever with a customer?

Sometimes customers ask strange questions and I think that answering those feels like explaining Valentine’s Day to extraterrestrials. Kind of like, we give each other gifts because we love each other but then there is a mutant flying baby that also shoots people, but just metaphorically.  Sometimes it is also weird when I try something new with the customer such as new coffee blends or new ways of preparing different types of coffee (“Have you tried oat milk yet?”). Also, someone asked me once to put “Dick Rider”, “It’s Over”, “Hail Satan” or “Douchbag” on the cup after I asked him for his name. Also, I will not draw a penis on your cup.

Do you pay attention to who is tipping how much and for what?

I do pay attention to who does and who does not tip but not always. It is usually not how much but whether the customer tips at all. When someone does tip, I see it as a sign that they were happy and satisfied with my service or I feel like I connected with someone and they tip after I helped them in some way. I do understand that paying $5.20 for a latte is kind of expensive, that you probably do not want to tip when I put your croissant in a bag but we have to live, too. Don’t even ask how much I am making in one hour. Just don’t!

Do people still order real milk? 

Some do, but not many. People are really into soy milk these days, even though it is even more expensive. The latest thing, however, is oat milk. It is really growing since we started offering it as a milk alternative. I love the flavor and it is so easy to make at home, too.

Do you ever go overboard on caffeine because it’s free? 

Every. Single. Day.

.Joel Lately.

Did he swallow a bat?  Oma and Opa sent a package from Germany and in it was this amazing jar of Nutella. Do I, as a holistic nutritionist to be, agree with this? YES! It is all about balance and moderation. Like it is with everything in life. Eating Nutella once in a while is not a bad thing because I feed my son many good things and make sure he eats nutrient-dense foods most of the time. He is a very strong, healthy child overall so I think I do something right.

He turned five in October and I have to say, this is the most amazing and stressful time.  Now I experience single parenting at its best. I have help from my friend(s) and my friend’s parents but most of the time, I am sailing this ship alone making sure it does not sink. Joel is a very easy child. Raising and getting to know him while connecting with his soul is awesome.  I can have a normal conversation with him. He understands, he responds, and he is so involved into science, art,  building and creating things. I can take him anywhere I want to go, and I do because I cannot afford a babysitter. I sometimes feel that he knows I am struggling and that this is a very difficult time in my life, so he behaves and helps me most of the time, ha.

The other night, Joel and I visited a friend for supper. We walked to her place and suddenly, Joel turned to me and asked, “Does the universe end? Is there a wall or something?” Ahm… yeah, big question, Joel. We passed a man walking his dog (“cute doggie, I want one”) and I told him about the universe expanding, and the work of astronauts, reminded him about the exhibit we have seen at the Space and Aviation Museum (Life in Orbit) and that time we met his hero Chris Hadfield. When Joel asks questions and then after I explained it to him, asks another follow-up and another one, I have explained the meaning of life to that child in the end.  I love it because it reminds me what is important and to simply listen to him.  For some time now, he is getting really curious about the world around him and wants to know how it all works.  He is at such a sweet age where everything feels enticing and magical.

How awesome are kid’s questions? They just drop them into regular chit-chat. Apparently, children ask an average of 73 questions a day, which sounds about right.

There are a few more that Joel has busted out lately:

Is infintiy a number? Mommy, show me the Pi-number? Well, since I am really good at math, this turned out to be no problem at all…

Does the moon really always follow us? Where is the Northern Star? (show me, show , me show me…… )

How do we make water?

Do we bury bodies or just skeletons? Can I dig one up? Why not? When ghosts show up in my dreams, are those dead people?

Where was I before I was born? (Seriously, 5 years old)

Mommy, do you need to pay the bank to get some money?

Mommy, you always tell me not to eat so much before swimming. WIll I get a cramp if I eat and then swim? What if I swim and THEN eat? Or if I drink and then eat, then swim, then sleep……… [this usually goes on forever]

Mommy, can you believe that living things MAKE living things? Me: Yes, my love. Him: Like, BIRTH living things. Does that hurt? Me: …..

Mommy, why can’t I see my eyes?

Mommy, where do babies come from? Me: Ask Kevin.

Mommy, what does love mean? Me: when someone likes someone a lot. Joel: So, I love you forever. Me: sigh…. (tears)

Here are some more fun things my son is concerned about:

Joel sees how my friend plays the guitar and he wants to play, too. I asked him the other day if he would like to take lessions. Joel shook his head: “I don’t want to play real guitar yet. I like when Kevin shows me how to play but for now, I rather want to play pretend guitar.”

On a snowy, cold day this week: Joel: “What a great day to play basketball or soccer”. Me: I don’t think it is possible. Everything is covered in snow. Joel: “Let’s call Keith. He will go with me to the soccer field and play forever if you don’t want. Then we have ham steak. Don’t worry, Mommy.”

“Mommy, how long until I am older than you?”

Joel: “What does revolution mean?” Me: “Where did you hear that word?” Joel: “A song on the radio.  (long pause) The song went a bit like something, something, something, something, something, revolution, something, something, something, something, something,….”

Joel: “I made two new friends at school today.” Me: “That’s awesome. What are their names?” Joel: “I don’t know their names! I can’t remember everybody’s name!”

.Embrace Imperfection.

This blog post was triggered by a conversation I had today. I want to write about imperfections and perfectionism. This is probably a topic we can all relate to at some point in our lives. To make it personal: it is definitely something I can relate to and have previously struggled with.  It is not something that overrules every aspect of my life anymore, it rather focuses more on specific things. Previously, one thing I struggled with was that whenever it came to the content I created online or actually anything creative I produced, I felt it is not perfect which was a huge source of anxiety for me.

There was a time in my life when I worried that I am bad at being myself or being authentic which is a really important part of my life. When I take a step back or do not want to share certain private things, it is because vulnerability is still a scary thing for me. It is scary to admit that our life is not perfect.

I read The Gift of Imperfection by Brené Brown and one of my favorite quotes from the book is actually her definition of imperfections which is, that perfectionism is an addictive belief system that if we do everything perfectly we can avoid or minimize the chances of being judged, blamed or feeling ashamed. When I read that, I thought that this relates to me at so many levels. I am German, so being perfect is something that runs in our DNA. Feelings I previously had when I moved to the U.S. in 2005 were for example that I sounded weird because of my accent or I did not want to say anything at all to avoid feeling stupid or to reveal lack of knowledge. But it was not just about that. It was more about this underlying fear or attempt to avoid being judged for who I am or for what my life really looks like which was often really messy.

Life is sometimes messy and can throw us all over the place. Especially, if we are not grounded. According to our Energy Chakras, to be grounded means, we should feel stable and independent, have energy, vitality, and strength and are comfortable in our physical body, in groups or in the world as well as have a sense of belonging. We usually do not live the perfect life; at least not all of the time.  When I mentioned “messy”, I am not necessarily talking about my kitchen or bathroom (German OCD Cleaning at its best!) but the complexity of all the struggles that I go through, the fears that I have, my relationships with others.  But the reality is that nobody is perfect. Perfect does not exist. There is no such things as that. No matter what we do, judgment and criticism is always going to exist in our lives even if we try to make everything as perfect as possible or try to live up to these standards that we create for ourselves.

I think that living in this world these days with being exposed to social media everywhere and that we can reach out to anyone anytime it is important to realize that this is also a place where we compare our lives. Other people you see online with perfect polished images and seemingly perfect lives can distract and put you down. It can give you the feeling that you are not good or adequate enough. Or it may give you the feeling that you need to have what they have to be happy, and be accepted, worthy and all those things.

For a lot of us, perfectionism also manifests as a deep fear of putting anything into the world that is imperfect or quite not what we want it to be. Or we have this fear of failure, to make a mistake or we don’t do the thing we want to do because we feel we will mess up. It is the difference between striving to achieve something as best as we can versus being so fixated on the things that do not matter such as what other people think is good or how others perceive us. Perfectionism can be such a paralyzing part of life. There was a point in my life where I literally had to force myself to feel this discomfort of what I perceive to be imperfect by simply telling myself: It is fine. You are enough. It is enough. It will do. Because that is how I feel I rise above anything in life that I am afraid of. Sort of like doing it anyway, feeling it, experiencing it and gaining confidence in that way by understanding that perfection does not exist.

F*** Botox and plastic surgery! I feel that imperfections shape me into who I am in so many different ways. They are what makes me quirky, unique and different and I am able to sit down and embrace those and accept what makes me me.  I am my own unique opinion, belief, preference, and style and that is when I can really be liberated. This is when I can ultimately relate to others realizing that we go through all the same bs*** anyway. It is okay to be ourselves. It is okay to not be perfect. It is okay to have wrinkles. We do not have to be someone else to fit in or any of those thoughts to be enough; because we already are.

.Holistic Nutritionist: Meet Kristin Jillian Shropshire – An Interview.

Photo credit: Laura Kelly Photography

This is an informational interview I conducted for The Institute of Holistic Nutrition. Find out what a Holistic Nutritionist does and many more interesting insights. Enjoy!

KRISTIN JILLIAN SHROPSHIRE 

is a Registered Nutritionist (IONC), Registered Acupuncturist (CTCMPAO), and Faculty Member emeritus of The Institute of Holistic Nutrition. Between 2015 and 2018, she taught Advanced Nutrition Research, Symptomatology 2, and Comparative Diets. Kristin also has a master’s degree in Natural Health Sciences, as well as certificates in Biofeedback and Advanced Tibetan Reiki. She has her private practice at The Glebe Health House. Her business website is www.kristinshropshire.comKristin focuses on stress and nervous system disorders, fertility and family planning, pain management, healthy aging, diet optimization, and meal planning.

What does a Holistic Nutritionist do?

“Simply put, a holistic nutritionist strives to advise people regarding what constitutes a healthy diet. Foods are considered for their individual nutrients, but also for their synergy. Foods are evaluated based on the quality of the nutrients they contain—not just the quantity.

A (w)holistic nutritionist seeks to support the health and wellbeing of the whole person by teaching them how to optimize their diet for their individual life situation. This includes—but is not limited to—age, activity level, metabolic type, food sensitivities, etc.). A holistic nutritionist understands that a healthy diet is rarely a one-size-fits-all proposition. He or she will, therefore, work together with their clients to design a healthy eating plan that will suit his or her clients’ health goals, as well as their lifestyle. I like to think that a good holistic nutritionist would also find a way to satisfy his or her clients’ taste buds along with meeting their health objectives.” (winks)

Why did you choose this profession?

“I was always very enthusiastic about health and wellness. At a very young age, I knew that I wanted to become a medical doctor. More specifically, I saw myself becoming a pediatrician. All of that changed when I was 14 after I suffered a severe side effect to a standard antibiotic. The results were swift and intense. After no more than 36 hours on the antibiotic, I developed symptoms of what was eventually to be diagnosed as anxiety and depression. My symptoms were extremely severe. For five years, I could barely step outside my front door without experiencing crippling panic attacks. I had to homeschool (in partnership with the Ottawa Carleton District School Board’s Visiting Teachers program) throughout the majority of high school.

After being told by my physician that there was nothing that Western medicine could do for me, I started to examine the healing options offered via alternative medicine.  Holistic nutrition, in particular, caught my attention. While I credit numerous therapies with helping me to regain my health, including Chinese medicine, homeopathy, Reiki, talk therapy, etc., there is no doubt in my mind that holistic nutrition played one of the most vital roles in my recovery.

After suffering the way that I did, I decided that I wanted to dedicate my professional life to helping others reclaim their health. I still feel so much gratitude for those who helped me along my healing journey. One could say that I wanted to pay that kindness forward. Since holistic nutrition and Chinese medicine were two of the modalities that I found helped me the most, that is where I chose to focus my own education and clinical practice.”

Share an experience you had in dealing with a difficult person and how you handled the situation?

“To be quite honest with you, I have been very lucky and have not been faced with any particularly difficult clients thus far. That said, if I had to pick something, I would say that my greatest challenge has lain in finding the balance between giving clients good value for their money while respecting my own time and experience. For instance, should a client email me with pages upon pages of new questions that would take me in excess of an hour to answer, I might suggest that these questions be reserved for their next appointment. Certainly, I am happy to answer quick questions, such as, “What was that brand of bread you recommended to me?” That is a quick and easy answer. I love helping people but, over the years that I have worked in private practice, I have had to learn that it’s okay to love myself enough to set boundaries when I feel that someone is (often unconsciously) taking advantage of my time and genuine desire to be helpful.

Tell me how you organize, plan, and prioritize your work?

“I like to think that am a fairly organized person. When someone comes to see me for an initial nutritional consultation, it is my standard practice to generate a report following our meeting, detailing the health information that I feel will help to empower them to make the lifestyle changes required to attain their health goals. I also include a sample one week meal plan based on their health goals, dietary preferences, and so on. Given that it usually takes me at least three hours to prepare my client reports and I am committed to delivering completed nutrition reports to my clients within a week of their visit, this can take a lot of planning!

While I strive to work on my client reports at my earliest convenience, I have chosen to only rent out office space at Glebe Health House four days a week in order to give myself an extra day to catch up on any required paperwork. On Tuesdays, I work from home, prioritizing completing client reports, bookkeeping, and continuing education.

I am strongly driven by a desire for self-improvement. That is why spare time usually finds me with my nose buried in a nutrition or Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) textbook. This is a regular part of my Tuesday work day. Continuing education happens on other days, too, but almost always Tuesdays.

I was blessed to grow up in a very supportive family. That said, I want to succeed based on my own merits. Part of that includes making enough money that I don’t have to be dependent on anyone. By virtue of well-structured planning and organization, I feel blessed to be able to do what I love, gaining a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment by feeling like I am making a positive difference in the world, without feeling financially stressed.

Life is all about balance. I strive to live a life I love while preparing for the years ahead. Plan for tomorrow, but live for today. If we can make a positive difference in the lives of those around us, while we do so, all the better.”

Provide an example when you were able to prevent a problem because you foresaw the reaction of a client?

“Whenever possible, I strive to warn my clients about the possible side effects of their lifestyle changes. For instance, if I have recommended that a client consider adding probiotics to their regime, I try to forewarn them that it is not unheard of for the body to respond to the new, beneficial bacterial cultures with symptoms ranging from bloating to gas to increased defecation. By educating my clients ahead of time regarding the possible side effects that their body might experience, while it adapts, I find that my clients and I are often able to circumvent problems that might have arisen from fear of the unknown. As they say, knowledge is power.”

How do you deal with “being a therapist”?

 “While I think that there is great value in having clear, compassionate channels of communication with clients, I think that it is very important for holistic nutritionists to be aware of their scope of practice.  A holistic nutritionist is not a psychologist. As such, when required, it can be very important to set clear boundaries. I have yet to ever feel the need to do so, but I always keep the possibility of recommending that a client consider seeking the professional help of a licensed therapist in the back of my mind should I feel that they need more help that I am capable of providing—help that cannot be solved by changing one’s diet.”

In your experience, what is the key to developing a good nutritionist/client connection?

 “In my experience, the key here is, to be honest, genuine, compassionate, and kind, while allowing the client to make the final choices regarding what they feel is best for them. For instance, should a client tell me that they wish to pursue a vegan diet for ethical reasons, even if I think that they might benefit from consuming animal proteins, I will cede to their wishes and help them to design the healthiest strategy to optimize their health, while staying true to their ethics. It is my place to help offer education, not impose my own opinions onto others.

Listening is vital. While I might have my own professional opinions regarding best nutritional practices, it isn’t my place to judge anyone else’s choices. Unless I have walked a mile in their shoes, that would be unfair.

Likewise, I strive not to ever judge my clients’ “missteps.” For instance, I would never wish to make anyone feel bad by asking them what they thought they were doing by drinking this milkshake or eating that cheeseburger. Should they make the choice to consume such foods, I try to ask them why they felt compelled to indulge in the milkshake or the cheeseburger. I seek to understand their motivations so that I can better help to offer them a more healthful alternative. When I have a better sense of their motivations, I am better equipped to make recommendations that might help them to more easily implement the healthy lifestyle changes I am recommending.

At the end of the day, it is all about wanting to help my clients. I am not a tough love person. If someone wants that, they had best seek out another practitioner. I am all about education, empowerment, and celebrating every little victory. After all, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I say, let’s celebrate each and every one of those steps.”

Describe the methods you use to develop and implement dietary-care plans and provide nutritional counseling.

“I like to work with each of my clients on a one-on-one basis. While I think that it is true that there are some global recommendations that can help most people, I find that I can best help my clients by tailoring my recommendations to them specifically. For instance, what are their favourite foods? Do they have any allergies, sensitivities, or foods they just don’t enjoy eating? What appliances do they have at home? If a client doesn’t have a blender, it isn’t going to do them any good to have me recommend a smoothie recipe. Likewise, if I don’t take a client’s likes and dislikes into the equation, they aren’t likely to enjoy my proposed dietary changes enough to stick with them for long enough to notice a significant change in their overall state of health and wellness.

I am a visual person. As such, when factual explanations don’t serve to adequately illustrate my point, I often rely on creative mental pictures to help explain things and get my messages across. For instance, while trying to explain why it’s important to prioritize healthy foods, I somethings explain that eating the “right” foods and the “wrong” foods can be seen as a “Good Team” vs “Bad Team” battlefield. Whenever we eat something “bad,” the enemy gets more ammunition. When we eat healthful foods, we are empowering our own army. The type of ammunition given out is influenced by just how healthy or unhealthy our choices are. For instance, if we eat too much fruit, we might be giving the “enemy” a slingshot to use against us. Lots of slingshots add up, but one isn’t really that big of a deal. If, however, we go out to dinner and eat a big, greasy pizza followed by a deep-fried candy bar, we might have just given the “enemy” a few cannons to use against us. Few people are going to eat perfectly all the time. The trick is to make sure that with are giving ourselves more “ammo” than we are giving the “enemy.”

What is the most challenging part of your job? Have your ethics ever been tested?

“I think that the most challenging part of my job is that I have to be an entrepreneur as well as a healthcare practitioner. One has to wear a lot of hats when running one’s own business. I love what I do, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that learning to balance all of the myriad aspects of my job has been stressful at times. I am not just a holistic nutritionist and an acupuncturist. I have to be a secretary, bookkeeper, and marketing manager, too. Thankfully, I am pleased to say that this has gotten much easier over the years.

My ethics have definitely been tested. On several occasions, I have been asked whether it might be possible to issue an acupuncture receipt for a nutritional consultation or vice versa. While my heart goes out to people who are just trying to optimize their benefits in order to improve their health, it’s against the Code of Ethics of my regulatory College to do so. As such, this is not something that I will do.

I consider it an honour and privilege to be entrusted with the health and wellbeing of others. As such, I will do everything that I can to support my clients in their efforts to get well. While I will not falsify receipts, if I have a client who needs more treatments than they originally thought they would in order to attain their health goals and they are struggling to pay for the treatments, if it is within my power, I will lower my rate in order to accommodate their need. It bothers me greatly when people can’t get the health care that they require because they can’t afford it. While I can’t afford to treat everyone for free, it brings me joy to do what I can to help others. After all, I know how much I would appreciate it if I ever found myself in a similar situation.

Please share an experience in which you taught (successfully?) a difficult principle or concept 

“That’s an interesting question, as it depends on what each individual client considers to be a difficult principle or concept. That said, I would have to say that teaching clients about the difference between glycemic index and glycemic load falls into this category. I love the “Aha!” moment that I see reflected in my clients’ eyes when they have learned how they can successfully incorporate healthy foods that they previously thought denied to them, such as cooked carrots and watermelon, without unbalancing their blood sugar levels.”

Is there a trick to persuade a person to change their behavior or way of thinking?

 “I think that it is important to recognize the importance of baby steps. Change doesn’t have to be extreme in order to be meaningful. In fact, so often, seemingly small things like drinking more water can make an enormous difference.

In my experience, long-lasting change doesn’t usually occur overnight. It is often enough to make slow and steady changes. To use the same example, if a client tells me that they only drink two cups of water every day, instead of suggesting that they jump right to trying to drink eight or more cups of water per day, I suggest that they aim to drink three or more cups of water per week. Once they achieve their goal, we celebrate the victory. We then move on to four, then five, then six, then seven, then eight or more cups until our ultimate goal has been achieved. Setting reasonable goals is a great way to keep people motivated.

I also find that clients benefit from having a solid sense of what is motivating them to achieve their goals. If their will to change their diet and/or lifestyle is strong enough, they will have the necessary motivation to overcome any and all obstacles that they encounter along the way.

Tell me about research you have planned, conducted, and/or evaluated? Please tell me about your teaching experience at IHN.

 “I am not currently working on any particular research. That said, since one of my primary clinical focuses is fertility and family planning, I am always reading the latest research on the topic in order to improve my knowledge. The more I learn from different experts, the better able I am to devise more complex treatment plans (when required) in order to best support my clients.

I loved teaching at IHN. It made me ridiculously happy to share my knowledge and help to inspire a new generation of holistic nutritionists. That said, as I got busier in the clinic, it became too much to teach at the same time. I might rejoin the IHN faculty someday but, for now, I have chosen to place my focus on my private practice.

 What is your top advice for me starting out my own business?

“I find that it is often prudent to have an alternate source of income when starting work as a holistic nutritionist. It is not easy to build a private practice. While it is possible to make a comfortable income working exclusively as a holistic nutritionist, doing so takes time, perseverance, and ingenuity.

In my experience, most students benefit greatly from leveraging their past experience and education. If possible, try to connect your previous work experience to find a niche that you are uniquely qualified for. Network. Use all of the connections available to you to politely request guidance regarding opportunities that might be a great fit, not only for you, but also for other people that they know.

If your past experiences and education don’t offer you appropriate job opportunities, I would consider adding additional certificates and diplomas. The knowledge gained in the holistic nutrition program at IHN is extensive, but I find that new graduates really thrive when they are able to combine holistic nutrition with something else. Sadly, for so many, certification as a holistic nutritionist alone isn’t enough to earn a comfortable wage.

In terms of work environments, I would recommend investigating available opportunities at popular medical and/or holistic clinics. While renting space might take a financial investment, working out of a location that already has a lot of traffic can help people to learn about you and the services you offer. This is of enormous benefit when starting a practice.”

How many clients do you see a week and do you have a final comment?

 “I see about 15 clients in an average week. Holistic nutrition is a wonderful field. I certainly feel proud to be a part of it. Thank you for being interested in my opinions and insights into this field that I love so very much.”

Thank you so much, Kristin.

.FIVE.

Today, we celebrated Joel’s birthday. I still cannot believe he turned 5. In the morning I walked in his room with a homemade muffin and a candle in it singing happy-birthday.  He got dressed quickly because he knew his gifts were in the kitchen. Thank you Oma and Opa in Germany!!! We had breakfast, talked about our dreams like every morning but one question came up. “When someone does not call or send a gift on my birthday, does this mean they don’t love me?” I told him, that sometimes people are very busy and have no time but they still love you and sending gifts does not mean someone loves you. It takes a lot more than that. These are just materialistic things. He was fine with this explanation.

All his friends came over to our apartment and this birthday party was fantastic. Wine for the parents, food, snacks, candies, and the kids played so nicely in my son’s room for almost 2 hours straight. I had games planned, stories I wanted to read to them but they seemed so calm and content. No tears, no fights, I just let the kids be kids and play. No entertainment needed. This made me think of my birthday parties at my parents’ house. It was always awesome and comfortable. Often, I tie memories and experiences in my life to the things I had during those times. How much fun I had as a kid during my birthday parties; I want my son to experience the same things. Family, comfort, safety, and calmness even though these kids were losing it playing. [Joel’s room is still a disaster but who cares]. And I know he will remember this party, these feelings, and emotions he had because he lived in the moment. And so did all his friends.

While I sat in the kitchen with parents who wanted to stay and decided to hang out at my little apartment I thought about living in the moment. I sat there with them, we talked and it felt good. There were no problems. Often, the only difference between a problem being powerful is a sense that we chose it, and that we are responsible for it in some way. But if we shift our mind and say that it is all okay and it will all work out, it will. And experiences and memories shape us into who we are in this exact moment. While talking to the other moms I realized that our memories are built into us, and make us who we are. It was amazing to listen to some stories one mom shared about importance. While we may not remember the exact situation or times that something important happened in our lives, the results are within us. And they shared some of those experiences while the children played. It was awesome. After all, we have evolved to become the people we are today because of those past experiences.

Most of the guests left at around 6.45 pm. Some really close friends stayed longer. It was awesome to talk and hang out and chat about Panda Watch. Eventually, the guests left and we took my son to bed. He curled up and told me that he loves us and said thank you for everything. My heart melted. I cleaned up and started working on my assignments for school when my son called me again. He was still up because he was so excited and wanted to cuddle with me for a bit.  While I climbed up in his bunk bed he asked me who my (super)hero is. I told him that I do not have a (super)hero. He said that he loves me and that I am his hero because I have superpowers to make a party like this. He kissed me goodnight and fell asleep within five minutes. I stayed in his room for a bit longer and wiped away a tear or two.  What a fairytale ending to a perfect birthday party.

Am I perfect? No way. We are all always choosing. Choosing to send a gift, choosing to send an email or making a phone call. There is just this simple realization that we, individually, are responsible for everything in our lives, no matter what the external circumstances are. We cannot always control what happens to us but we can always control how we interpret what happens to us, as well as how we respond. We are always responsible for our experiences. It is impossible not to be, right? Choosing to not consciously interpret events in our lives is still an interpretation of the events of our lives. Choosing to not respond to certain events is still a response.

Am I my son’s role model? Yes! He trusts me. I am his safety and security without shame, guilt, insecurity or blame. Whether we like it or not, we are always taking an active role in what is occurring to and within us. We are also always interpreting the meaning of every moment and every occurrence and choose the values by which we live and the metrics by which we measure everything that happens to us. Even if it is a kids’ birthday party. The real question is: What are we choosing to give a f*** about? What values are we choosing to base our actions on?

I received great feedback for Joel’s birthday party from parents already which is so great. It was my pleasure! As it turns out, these days I have had many worthwhile parenting experiences on my own. Do you want to know my secret?  I share emotional stability, I am warm and friendly, energetic, compassionate, and intuitive but also open, sincere and excited about life. This is such an easy way to give and receive love and have healthy relationships with people (like this afternoon). But what it all boils down to is that my heart is full, as is my life.

.Ghosts In The Shell – Two Phonecalls.

I sat in a café the other day and overheard a phone conversation a man had with a friend. I sometimes pretend-listen to music when I am at a café while working. Simply because I love to hear what people have to say, especially at this little particular café. The man who sat next to me initially spoke to the waiter telling him that a friend of his recently got diagnosed by his therapist with an “emotional cold”. He explained that he has been seeing this therapist for many years now and he had to schedule an appointment the other day because he was simply dragging his body around like a kid in trouble while examining his life and the world through dark- colored glasses. He added that he felt hopelessness, inadequacy, self-doubt and social dread. His house started to become really messy while he just laid on the couch and looked like a sad version of himself. And then out of a sudden, it stopped raining, the clouds parted, the sun came out and the sky turned blue again.

The waiter looked at him puzzled raised an eyebrow but kept listening. “I felt better. Even great. Out of a sudden, I had so much energy again. I remembered that I have my friends, family, and my health and all is good,” he added. The waiter asked, “How can this be? How can you feel so low for a while but ultimately be just fine?” and while wiping some crumbs off the table, he added, “well, maybe this was just this emotional cold your therapist suggested after all.” Wiping crumbs off my keyboard, I thought about if emotional cold could indeed be a thing. Is this natural?

This made me think that we do live in an era of increased mental health awareness. Everybody seems to have a therapist on speed-dial. I guess the difference between real depression and emotional cold would be that one can easily “snap out” of the latter but it takes a long time to deal with the former and/or medication is required. I get the emotional cold sometimes when things are out of my control, I cannot change them but I worry about it. What usually helps me is, I pinpoint what it is that bothers me (sometimes it is literally just the workload for school or planning my son’s Halloween Birthday Party). Then I usually find a balance between nurturing my “cold” and letting it run its course but without indulging in it too much. I simply just put one foot in front of the other. It usually never lasts very long which is good. Sleeping, general relaxation, meditation and talking to family and friends help me. For me, the goal is to find something positive to build on while having a perspective when I am down and to give my body and mind a little pause when it clearly demands it.

I typed most of this while the man spoke to the waiter. He finished his coffee and croissant, gave me a little nod, then left. The waiter cleaned the table and received a phone call when I was about to leave.

“Oh, Mark, how are you doing? What is going on? Anything exciting happening? How are the kids? How is Lisa?

Yep, I got your email two days ago saying that you are going away and that you will never come back. I thought it was a joke. Ottawa is so nice.  Sorry, I just did not have the time to send you an email back. I am so busy these days. I know, I should have sent you a quick reply.

What do you mean you are traveling and not coming back? What about Lisa and the kids? Is it for your job? Did you finally get that promotion? Where are you going? Can I come and visit you?  What do you mean Lisa and the kid’s stay in Ottawa?  Well, initially with your new job you will be very busy but eventually, you will settle down. Maybe your family will join you.  I guess I will visit you then. I will miss you like crazy, Mark! What the hell, what about our book club and the meetings?

What do you mean you won’t have internet? You know there are internet cafés, right?  There won’t be internet where you are going? Where are you going? What’s with all the secrecy. When are you leaving? Okay, you don’t know exactly but you know it is very soon. Well, this sounds all crazy, Mark. Seriously.

Yes, I do listen. I listened to every word you said. We are friends for over 30 years. Mark, are you in some kind of trouble? Do you need money? Do you need help?

Okay, you don’t need money, you don’t have internet, you don’t have a computer…. you cannot call or email me; you might as well be dead, buddy. Come on, give me some sort of hint. Yeah, I love you, too, but c’mon. What’s with all the emotional love-you-stuff anyway?”

Mark hung up.

.Consistency.

I mentioned this in previous posts but I have to say it again. This year has been one of the most challenging ones for me for sure. A lot of things changed. My environment and a lot of feel-good moments and habits just went out of the window. Add a ton of unnecessary stress, and the picture is perfect. After a while, this began to take a toll on my wellbeing. I reckon, there is only so much a person can take while keep moving forward. A little while ago, I made a couple of promises to myself that this insanity cannot bring me down and nobody can make my world fall apart or my empire crumble. I am strong. I promised myself that I will meditate every day, eat healthy and fresh food 95% of the time, to move my body and sweat, and to rest and sleep enough. This changed my life and eventually turned into a daily ritual. I would like to share how these little promises have kept me accountable and how I have been able to stay consistent over the last couple of months.

First, it is important to be realistic. It is easy to come up with goals in our head that we constantly repeat to ourselves. Some goals are often very big and rather discouraging from taking even the first step. I will graduate from The Institute of Holistic Nutrition soon and healthy living is obviously important to me. I also know that recommending clients to switch their diet and cut out everything they love to eat won’t work. Baby steps. For example, if you want to change your diet, cut out all refined sugars for a start. This is more than enough for most people.

I started meditating for 5 minutes initially. An hour might be unrealistic as a starting goal. Set goals that are easy to accomplish or alter them slightly to fit your needs. Listen to your body. Rest and say no when your body tells you.

Make time and prioritize. My little personal wellness rituals do not take away from my social time either. If I have dinner plans with friends for the evening but I haven’t eaten anything healthy all day, I may either go with them anyway and eat better the next day or I invite them over and we cook something healthy together. Or I will have herbal tea instead of coffee. Or an apple instead of a glass of wine (Yeah, right. There is no way those two cannot co-exist. It is the only way to make it sustainable!)

What it all boils down to is mindset and to be realistic. And the truth is, that accomplishing big goals just simply does not happen overnight. Usually, there is pretty hard work involved. I used to think all or nothing which usually stopped me from starting in the first place or made me quit shortly after. Things have gotten better as soon as I changed my mindset and recognized that everything counts towards the bigger picture. These days, one of my goals is to save money and rather invest in experiences than materialistic things. My friend is really good at saving money and I learned that finance is the best way to realize how every little thing counts. He saved that $1 the tooth fairy brought while I bought bubble gum. Oh, my son is about to lose his first tooth. Sigh! Playground talk: The tooth fairy rate is $5 or a small toy. When did that happen?

Staying consistent with my goals is of course not easy but I have created these promises from a place of self-love. It might sound cheesy but if the goals I am setting do not evolve from a loving place, I know I will end up hating myself if I do not measure up to perfection some day. There are of course also times when I over-spend, when I eat unhealthy food like nachos. There are also times when I do not have the best workout, especially not after those nachos but I forgive myself and promise to do better the next day. I have learned to fuel my rituals with compassion, love, and kindness because frankly, this is the only way to get to where I want to be. Self-hate prioritizes self-destructive activities over self-improvement.