Connections and belonging: sense of self (post 3 of 5)

While it’s important to connect with others – like we do when helping people, truly belonging means being true to yourself first. Having a strong sense of self means knowing what you value and what you can/will be flexible on and what requires sticking to your guns.

Brené Brown uses the acronym BRAVING when describing trusting ourselves, or others, and how to be both vulnerable and courageous:








You can learn more about Brené Brown’s teachings on vulnerability and bravery here.

When we have a sense of belonging within ourselves (being true to ourselves authentically) it is easier to have confidence in our connections (and have a sense of belonging) to others/in community.

Connection with self

When I was married to my children’s father I lost my sense of self. We went through some very difficult things that I never imagined would be repeated. And yet, it happened at least once more and was even harder the next time around. Partially because of my rocky connection to my own self.

The first time I was young and naïve and thought my marriage had to last forever. I honestly felt like I couldn’t live without him. I couldn’t imagine the thought of failing at my marriage. I went through a lot of reading and therapy around practising forgiveness. But I no longer felt like I deserved to be with someone who would never take action(s) that would cause me pain.

Taking inventory

It was only after our marriage ended that I started looking hard at myself and who I had become. I took the time to think about what had brought me joy in the past, and whether I was including it in my present. It turned out that I wasn’t. I started running and cycling again. I pulled out my camera and re-learned how to make great photographs. And I started writing again. I felt more like myself and was better able to deal with the death of my marriage.

I can’t recall how much of our relationship problems I had shared with my closest family and friends during the second half of our ten year marriage. I do remember feeling judged for making the decision to end things when I did. My family made an extra effort a relationship with my ex for the sake of our two children. I always had a difficult time with asking for help. But I remember one day going to my parents and asking them to consider what I needed, not just their relationship with the girls’ dad. I pointed out that my ex had the support of his own family and didn’t need to be supported by mine, especially at the expense of my own well-being. I just needed to know they were in my corner and accepted my decisions were what was best for me and my girls.

Social supports

The dissolution of our marriage was never easy. But it became much more bearable when I knew I was giving myself the time and grace that I needed. And that I could count on the social support of the people who were most important to me.

Who are the biggest supporters in your life? Can you be brave enough to share with them how you really feel and what makes you, you? Can you be vulnerable with them? Is it a reciprocal support going beyond a statement that they care? Who do you provide that social support to?

I challenge you to take a look at Brené Brown’s BRAVING inventory and consider what you can do to be both vulnerable and courageous with yourself.


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Drop me a note in the comments below, or connect with me on Instagram, or Twitter @ceilidhontherun, email me at trish at trishblogs dot com, or use my contact form.

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Connection and belonging: helping connection (post 2 of 5)

It is only natural that when someone experiences trauma and survives they may wish to help others. Interestingly, by helping others who have been through similar experiences we create more opportunities to make meaningful connections. Social connections help ourselves get better. The connections we create when helping others also serve to develop stronger sense of self and healing within.

Helping experiences straddle multiple types of connections that are beneficial to both the recipient and the helper: the joy of helping others; connecting with our own values and self; and staying in the moment grounded in the present, including a sense of place. Empathizing with others within appropriate contexts can have a big impact on how we experience our own emotional response to trauma.

Helping connections

Shared experiences – even around separate incidents with similar stories – can bring people together and foster a sense of belonging.

When we share our truth – about the experiences that have shaped us – we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and show our authentic selves to others. We can form stronger connections both with those we share experiences with and the places in which we experience them. From this can form a sense of belonging (reducing instances of loneliness).

One of the worst feelings in the world is to feel completely alone and believe that it will never get better. Yet the greatest hope and healing can come from knowing these moments of loneliness are finite – that the feeling will have an end; and that we belong to a community in which we do not have to face our hardships alone.

Can you think of a hard thing that you have experienced that others may have similar experiences with? How can you connect with others and help around this common hardship?


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Connection and Belonging, How we heal (post 1 of 5)

When I consider my chronic pain and where it all began… I find myself thinking of: connection and belonging and my own healing journey…

…  all that I’ve learned about trauma and how it affects our health – both emotional(mental) and physical…

… how my own story unfolded and the impact various stresses had on my own connections to people and place…

… how my physical health has slowly improved significantly over the last few years…

Loneliness: the impact of connection and belonging on healing
Photo by Paul Wesson Photography

It has become clear to me that connection and belonging have had the most significant impact on my life and healing. I suspect that to be true for most, whether struggling with chronic health concerns or otherwise…

Lost social connection and belonging

  • Moving across the country, leaving loved ones behind…
  • Breakdown of marital relationships…
  • Lost friendships…
  • Death of loved ones…
  • Abusive relationships…
  • Lost family connections…
  • Workplace stress and breakdown…

Any ONE, any number, or ALL of these stressors can elicit a trauma response. At the very least they can be the reason that we are less resilient when trauma occurs. Without important connection, and belonging we can be at risk of turning inward more and more, with no real incentive to draw us back out. What inspires you to do hard things? More importantly, who do you share your journey from inspiration to hard work to reward with?


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Drop me a note in the comments below, or connect with me on Instagram, or Twitter @ceilidhontherun, email me at trish at trishblogs dot com, or use my contact form.

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What sparks joy for you?

So many organizing, de cluttering, self-help gurus tell you to think about what sparks joy for you.

Declutter by getting rid of things that don’t bring you joy…

When overwhelmed by the chaos or demanding schedule – such as it is- of your life, focus only on the things that meet your basic needs or spark joy in your life.

It’s true that by eliminating things that don’t bring you joy, you will make room for more joy… But it is also true that experiencing joy can be a mindset shift.

We can become blind to, or stop noticing the joyful things in our lives. There is a reason the figure of speech “stop and smell the roses” is so poignant. So how do we experience more joy without purging things that once brought us joy but doesn’t right now? Or when we can’t eliminate everything from our busy lives that is not joyful?

Mindful experiences can help. Practising gratitude… Acknowledging joyful things in our lives…

Help to feel the joy we’ve become blind to.

So, what would happen if we left our headphones at home while out walking the dog? What if we made a point of noticing the colours of the newly blossoming cherry trees along the way… rather than the latest news podcast or music blasting in our ear buds?

Gratitude sparks joy

What if we took a few moments everyday to note (in a journal like I am writing this in right now) just 2 small things – one that I am grateful for and one that sparks joy in me?

Here are just a few of the things I’ve made note of recently…

  • my dog’s excitement to see me after 5 hours… 5 days… 5 minutes…
  • my competent & reliable staff team
  • memories of childhood captured in my dad’s photographs
  • tasty ice cream treats
  • sunshine and sand or dirt beneath my toes
  • three day weekends

Practise Gratitude / Finding Joy

Not only does this practise make me more likely to look for the joy and/or things I’m thankful for… but it also creates a stronger authentic connection to myself and the things around me each day.

If you wanted to be more connected to your joy, what joy would you make note of right now?

#sparksjoy #findthejoy #practisegratitude #gratitude #journal #gratitudehournal #joyfulconnections #authenticconnections


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Connections with memories

Connections that we form with people and the world around us have a huge impact on us as individuals. Over our lifespan we see many of our social connections (friends and family) come and go. It’s inevitable that relationships change over the years, but we will always have that time, those memories, and a foundation of connections that we can return to in our minds and emotions.

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”  ~Dr. Seuss

Revisit memories

I’ve been converting old family photos and slides to digital format recently. Then I’m curating them to preserve our family stories. 

Just making connections with memories in photographs again takes me back to a place where I can relive the feelings/emotions from those days. It’s not exactly the same feeling as the being there in real time but it can be a close second – if you allow it to be. 

Just as visualization exercises can mimic the experience enough to have an impact on our brains and emotions, so too can connections with memories.

That’s why it is so important to practise living in the moment – both during real time events and when recalling memories.

Sensory memory triggers

Sensory experiences with links to my past stories like smells or sounds (i.e. music or the sound of someone’s voice) elicit a nearly involuntary response. Flashbacks are triggered in a vivid way. 

But photos I find require a little more intentionality. I suspect it has something to do with perspective. First, they are two dimensional. Second, they often are taken from someone else’s perspective. Especially if we appear in the photos ourself.

Allowing the time and headspace to “re-live” the event can elicit the same emotions of the experience itself.

This photo of my siblings and I takes me right back to one of our cross country adventures. We were moving for a posting with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police force from the North West Territories to Nova Scotia. We drove south to Vancouver and then East. The trek took weeks with countless stops along the way, visiting family and friends that we hadn’t seen in years. It was a time when we were each other’s playmates and closest friends. This photo reminds me of the move, but more importantly of the connection I felt with my family and the places and people we visited along the way.

Do you have any photos or other mementos that you could intentionally relive the emotions of the past through?

#authenticconnections #familystories #memorykeeping # phototherapy


Drop me a note in the comments below, or connect with me on Twitter @ceilidhontherun, email me at trish at trishblogs dot com, or use my contact form.

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Authentic Connection

Do you know how it feels to be disconnected from everything around you… while continuing to go through the motions? Have you found yourself without authentic connections? Have you ever found yourself surrounded by people, while feeling completely alone? 

Depression & Anxiety

Many call this a symptom of depression and/or anxiety… along with: feeling blue; irritability; lack of interest in things we normally are interested in; fatigue; agitation; sleeplessness; trouble concentrating; etc. 

Studies have identified loneliness and lost connections with others as a cause, not a symptom [of depression or anxiety]. This will come as no surprise to most of us who have lived with challenges of mental/emotional health. 


Humans need social connections to thrive. We know that the downward trend of our authentic connections with others has been happening while there have also been increased rates of depression and anxiety. There is often a direct link. Loneliness = poorer emotional and physical health. So what is the antidote? More authentic connections (relationships) in our lives. But how do we make this happen when we feel so disconnected?

Relationships with friends & family

Authentic Connections
Photo by Karl Magnuson on Unsplash

When my children were young we had just moved for my [then] husband’s work with the military. We had a roller coaster relationship. We moved to an entirely new community and province. And then he was deployed.

I felt alone and struggled with the blues but I knew that I needed friends around me. While the girls’ dad was deployed just months after we moved, I immersed myself in our community – the military family resource centre became our second home. We made friends and helped one another through difficult times.

My parents were hugely supportive and I counted on them to talk about the important things – and the small day-to-day things – when contact with our deployed soldiers was so limited.

I joined mom & tot groups, attended art classes, went to special events, and I volunteered.

It was thanks to those friends, and my parents, that I no longer felt so lonely and that depression was not long lasting.

Authentic connections

Now I know that’s over simplification. But it many ways it is just that simple. Spend time connecting with friends and family and we will naturally reap the benefits of authentic connections. 

Making new friends and having a close supportive relationship with family doesn’t just happen. It takes effort and intentional living. But it is one of the most effective and easiest solutions to loneliness, and the negative effects of it in our lives. 

When is the last time you reached out to a friend?


Drop me a note in the comments below, or connect with me on Twitter @ceilidhontherun, email me at trish at trishblogs dot com, or use my contact form.

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Lost legacy stories

We lost a lot of the legacy stories when we lost my mom seven years ago, it was sudden. She was sick for 8 weeks with what was later determined to be pancreatic cancer. 

Mom was the glue of the family. She also knew the family stories better than anyone. Unfortunately, as much as we’d intended to, we didn’t get them written down. 

Photos & albums

We had lots of family photos which mom had divided between her & dad’s for their family albums, and each of us kids. But given how young she was when she died we did not anticipate running out of time to get the stories recorded. 

Legacy Stories in chaos
Legacy Stories in chaos


I inherited a lot of family heirlooms after she died and mom was the only one who knew which grandmother the depression glass belonged to, or who the bone china tea cup came from… I wish I’d written the stories down when she told me before. 

Recorded stories & backup files

One thing I *have* made time for is keeping my children’s photos organized and documented. They are in scrapbooks with journaling to document the who, what, where & when…. film photos printed & mounted in scrapbooks, negatives safely stored, digital photos in printed books, and digital images backed up. There is a gap of about 3 years that I need to go back and fill. And my own photos from prior, as well as the ones from my mom still need to be curated. But I still wish I had those other stories recorded to share with my girls.

A friend of mine once had her laptop stolen, on which all of her photos were stored, and was the only copy. Since then, I’ve been extra careful to backup all photos. And I’ve spent time getting them organized, and still have gaps to work on, but now that I have a system it’s so much easier to maintain things.

I have them up-to-date and in printed photo books up to 2018. I love that. And I hope to get caught up on the rest soon.

Lost legacy stories

Do you know anyone who was devastated by the loss of family legacy stories? Did it motivate you to get your own safeguarded? Do you have tips to share? Or questions about how to do so?

Use the comment section below to share yours!


Drop me a note in the comments below, or connect with me on Twitter @ceilidhontherun, email me at trish at trishblogs dot com, or use my contact form!

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Mind over matter. The brain beneath my chronic pain.

When I was 11 I had a gymnastics coach who wondered if I might have juvenile arthritis. I was in pain often and I was training for gymnastics a few times a week. I have no idea if the pain that I had then is linked with the chronic pain that I experience today. I do think that some of my childhood contributed to it and probably contributes to the pain that I experience now.

I have been learning a lot about ways that emotional trauma has an impact on health, especially on chronic pain. One of the things that I’ve learned is that trauma or adverse childhood experiences and high levels of stress all contribute to chronic pain. Regardless of where the chronic pain stemmed from. Even when someone has pain resulting from an injury. When it becomes a chronic pain there is usually something in our past associated with trauma or stress. And likely something from childhood.

I didn’t have a traumatic childhood, but I do think that I had a stressful childhood. I don’t believe stress is necessarily a negative thing. There is definitely negative stress. But some of the stresses are good stresses. There are positive things that cause stress. Things like getting married, child birth, moving to a new place where you are starting a new job… But at the same time there are also negative stresses like a car accident or bullying or domestic violence that are also traumatic. Stress and trauma contribute to the way that your brain is wired. That has an impact on mental health and on how your body experiences pain.

Mind over matter. 

This isn’t to say that pain is all in your head. Unfortunately some people do believe that. But that’s not at all what I’m saying.  Our brain is wired and has receptors for pain that are developed in our childhood and are affected by our life experiences. So when you have an experience of high stress… that will have an effect on how your brain is wired. Both with how we experience those emotional situations and also with things like pain.

Childhood stresses

So when I was 11 years old I was a child of an RCMP member (Royal Canadian Mounted Police, a federal police force). That meant that we were usually transferred to a new posting every 3-5 years. I had already moved halfway across the country twice by the time I was 8. The move at age 8 moved us to an isolated community in the north. As caucasian English speakers we were in the minority. That doesn’t mean that we suffered from discrimination. In fact the opposite was true for “whites”. Even though the white English were less in numbers we still held greater power. We held the professional service positions that had brought us to the community: police, doctors, teachers, firefighters, etc.

We moved to that community from Saskatchewan. I was one of the few white girls in my class and I very quickly became a target of a bully. I lived in the community at a time when children were held back if they didn’t do well in school. Today we know for social development it is important for children to learn with their peer groups – even if they haven’t mastered the skill level to move on. At that time I had a 16 year old girl in my grade 5 class. I was 10 years old. And she decided that she didn’t like me. She harassed me, physically attacked me and tried to taunt me into fighting with her.

This is an example of the kind of stress that I experienced in my childhood. I think that it may have contributed to my health condition then and today. At the time these things didn’t really feel so serious. I certainly didn’t attribute it to the pain I was experiencing when I was in gymnastics.

Chronic acute stress

Skip ahead to today. I believe my development of fibromyalgia more than 15 years ago is due to chronic acute stress. Some of the stress hasn’t been traumatic. Some of the stress has been from some of those positive life changes.

I moved a lot. I enjoyed moving. I liked the change. I liked getting to know new communities… new people and learning a new culture. Those things, while I experienced them as positive stress, were stressful things. And were experiences that would have had an impact on my brain development and the wiring of those pain receptors and how my brain interprets the things that my body experiences.

Now Distant Thoughts

Marital stress

I have experienced quite a number of  traumatic things in my adult life. A marriage that ended after ten years. During which my ex-husband had two affairs. Moving multiple times. When we were looking for new opportunities and then because he had joined the military, and then when we were posted. We had two children during that time. I changed jobs multiple times because of those moves. Some of those things were positive. But, it was a roller coaster of a marriage. And the things that I think had the biggest impact on my health were those of highly traumatic negative stress.

Own your choices

Since that time I have also had a couple of very negative work environments. I ended up taking a medical leave and eventually moving on to another job. Making the decision to move on was a difficult one. And I made that decision again three years ago. I moved to a job that definitely allowed for a decrease in that stress, but also meant a big decrease in my pay cheque.

Significant loss

I lost my mother 6 years ago. It was quite sudden. We were close. I had just moved back to Nova Scotia where my parents were living, a few years before. We had lived a long way away from each other for quite a while. We didn’t live close enough to see each other everyday, but close enough that we could see each other when we wanted to.

When I lost my mom I felt like I’d lost a huge piece of myself. I’m sure most people who lose a parent at a young age feel that way. My mom was 59, I had eleven year old and nine year old daughters who were very close to their Nanny. I lost not only my mom, but the biggest support in my life.

Mom was someone who understood what I was going through. She also had chronic pain. She also had fibromyalgia. Mom could relate to my migraines. Mom would take care of me. She was one of the few people who did.

My own theory for a number of years now has been that my life of chronic acute stress has been the main cause of my pain, chronic sleep issues and frequent migraines.

Improving mental health and chronic pain

I’ve been learning a lot about things that we can do to improve our health and especially our pain and mental health. Each of those things can be isolated when describing what they are and how to treat them. But they are interconnected and have commonalities both in cause & effect and in treatments. So one of the things that I have learned will have the most significant benefit is to address those root causes. Of where the pain, the depression, the anxiety, the migraines, the chronic health issues all are likely stemming from.

Things like mindfulness practise. Things like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). By addressing childhood adversity in a way that you come to terms with and can separate those experiences from your pain conditions our health can improve. I’ve found a number of different experts from both traditional medicine and from a psychological perspective who say a lot of the same things.

Of course we need to address the things that are very clearly physical. Like eating right. And physical activity. And doing what you can to improve your sleep. Based on the routine that you have every day and the things that you consume.

Mom: A life force that lives on within and around me.

The brain beneath my chronic pain

But there is this whole other piece that can also help to integrate the way that your brain processes experiences and the way that your brain tells you your body is experiencing things. It is actually those pain receptors that can be positively affected by psychiatric and psychological treatment.

Mindfulness isn’t this hooey, soft, ineffective trend that people do just to feel some inner peace. Practising psychological, CBT, psychiatric treatment or emotional therapy are actually ways of changing the way that you brain perceives experiences.  Physical and otherwise.

I’m starting to practise some of these exercises. And I’m beginning to find that even the way that I think about my pain and how I am feeling each day is different than it was before. I have heard a lot of positive reports from others doing these exercises too.

These are not things that would be of concern medically or counter-indicated. They are not exercises that could result in making things worse. Unlike the medication that is prescribed to me that might have side effects or could result in addiction. Sometimes there are physical therapies that a person can try that can actually cause injury if not done properly.

The exercises that I am talking about are gentle exercises of your brain. At their very worst they could have no positive effect. At their very they best they could help me feel better.

Choose to feel better

People need to be hearing that we have control over how we perceive (feel) our own physical experiences. We are able to change our mental health. And we can do so by making choices and by doing exercises that require a little bit of discipline. But are actually quite easy to do without needing a lot of professional guidance.

A picture of mental health. Photo credit: Debbie Roberts

Photo credit: Debbie Roberts

So that’s where I am at.

I am starting to make these exercises a part of my routine.

It’s not easy. When you start from a place where your day to day means just getting through the day. Feeling completely spent, exhausted and uncomfortable. Maybe even in intolerable pain. It is very difficult to see where you can make the time and mental space to do these exercises.

So, I’m starting small. I’m starting with little short exercises a few times a week. Hopefully increasing that to several times/week soon, and then to a daily practise.

Once I have a daily practise, I will increase the length and number of exercises that I do. I can change the connection that my body has with my mind and my emotions and how I relate to the world. Both the physical environment around me and the people that I have relationships with.

I’m going to share a few resources that I have found really helpful.

I would love to hear your story and if you’ve tried any of these things, what kinds of outcomes you’ve had. Maybe there is some way that we can hold each other accountable. I’m going to do a challenge myself next month and I hope that you will join me. We can be accountability partners and supports for each other and others in need as well.

Sign up for my free worksheet to help you figure out your own wellness goals. Join my facebook group and tell me what your intention is. I want to hear how you plan to challenge yourself to get better.

Family traditions

What family traditions do you have and share?

There was a time when one of our family traditions was that I wrote a lengthy newsy letter to include in Christmas cards that I mailed. I’m not sure when or why I stopped the practise. It wasn’t just that I stopped mailing cards. For a while I sent my annual family newsletter via email.

Holiday cards

My mom used to do so as well only she called hers “Holiday cards”. They never made it in the mail in time for Christmas.

We’d run through the past year chronicling the highlights. We’d share the highlghts of each family members’ adventures and misadventures.

This year in an effort to connect better with loved ones I decided to revive one of the family traditions. Only I chose to go back even further to the days when we hand-wrote most of our correspondence. Rather than send the same family newsletter to each recipient, we wrote a personal note to each.

Snail mail

I wanted to include a short hand-written note with each card. After about 4 cards I had to mail them off as is, in order for the rest to arrive on time.

If I were to revive the whole tradition I’d write a newsletter about our bi-annual family New Year’s Eve party (kid-focused); my oldest’s learning to drive and her new-to-her car; my youngest’s move to the much bigger English high school, but remaining in French (immersion instead of francophone); how the girls continue to perform: signing in music productions; and their busy schedules with dance and part-time jobs; they’ve added tutoring to the repertoire this year. And I’d share how lucky we’ve been to have a new member of our family since summer of last year; and how his family includes us all and makes us feel like part of their family.

For the first time in years I planned a vacation (without kids) and had a great travel companion to come with me. My youngest did some of her own traveling this summer, flying unaccompanied for the first time and spent two weeks away from home.

It’s really been a pretty fantastic year!

What family traditions mean the most to you?


Drop me a note in the comments below, or connect with me on Twitter @ceilidhontherun or email me at trish at trishblogs dot com!

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