The Completionists Manifesto

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Challenged for time? Realise that your home is filled with half begun/half finished projects?  Feeling overwhelmed and disconnected? Needing support and motivation?

The Completionists aim to meet with one simple project at a time to complete.

This is facilitated by small groups, meeting regularly in local communities, sharing company and time and energy whilst providing positive support towards completion of tasks.

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Each person brings a project to finish, usually individually, by the end of an hour. For example; tasks can be as simple as folding washing, putting a photo in a frame, writing a chapter, sewing a hem, drawing a picture, making a card, copying a recipe.

The outcome of the meeting is that tasks are completed, a sense of achievement is gained and a feeling of belonging is provided.

As simple as that.

 

 

 

 

 

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Dream A Little Dream

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It’s the last day of 2015.

Dreams do come true.

This time last year I wrote about New Year’s Resolutions and how to work towards change. I was confident that I was moving into a healthy, happy year having spent the year recovering from my second time with cancer whilst using up all my long service leave from work. It was my time to turn my head towards a new life and reintroduce myself into my work as my last child was entering school. Then in January, the week my daughter was about to start Primary School I found myself back in the chemotherapy ward. Cancer was back. Not a great start to 2015.

Somehow, through all the haze of chemotherapy, uncertainty and grief, an idea crystallised. It had been bubbling in the back of my brain since my first dance with cancer – that terrifying one step forward, two steps back lurch. It started with lying in bed recovering after a session of chemo and letting my mind wander down a path of possibilities. I came up with a title for a gift that I wanted to give to all the family and friends that had helped me over the years. The title was “This Present Moment” – a play on words to symbolise “present” as a gift and as a call to be in the moment. I waited until my cancer was stabilising. I daydreamed a bit more. Then, when more of my energy had returned I met up with my artistic cousin Grace. We talked about life, light and darkness and creativity. In particular, how creativity helped with the darkness and how mindfulness encouraged the light.

We brainstormed the themes of life that had reignited happiness and health. Love, faith, hope, compassion, kindness and gratitude. Joy, creativity, connection and more.

I worked on the words, part memoir and part guide on what helped, including some of the breathing exercises I used when I was trying to sleep and quieten my scattered brain. Grace drew exquisite mandalas – one for each theme. We met every now and again and compared our notebooks. I decided if we were going to make this beautiful idea into a book I would need to set up a publishing company to make it happen. My sister Kim got on board, and we started Purple Cords Press.

It took six months – the six months from the end of chemotherapy until December – to write and illustrate and publish our first book – This Present Moment: An Art Therapy Journal. I am thrilled to think that we did this. With Grace’s illustrations and designs, with my words and stories….it is real. Dreams do come true. The book I always thought I would write someday, became this year’s reality.

We printed 1000 copies. We launched the book on Dec 10 2015. Today, as I write we have sold over 300 copies.  There is no greater feeling to know that something beautiful has transformed through a very difficult year.

I write this tonight on the eve of a new year surrounded by wonderful family celebrating happy moments together. My daughter thrived during her first year at school, my son really clicked in to reading, my husband played in his band at our favourite venue, I wrote a book

This Present Moment has made 2015 a creative triumph…despite the heartache. This is living. Bringing a little dream into being. Bring on 2016! May it be your creative year.

imageThis Present Moment: An Art Therapy Journal is available at
http://www.purplecordspress.com

I had to do something…

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I have had the most incredible week. It started with a CT scan on Monday. A peek at my insides to prove whether the new drug had reduced my tumours considering the chemo hadn’t worked for the first six months of the year. As usual the build up to the scan was worse than the actual scan itself- although I did get punctured more than necessary to administer the contrast dye. I have “shy” veins. They don’t like to present themselves to needles! Unfortunately the new drug causes me to bruise easily so my right arm ended up looking like an extra from the Thriller video… By Monday night I was freaking out. Why haven’t I heard about the scan? They’d most definitely have the results by now. I really ramped up the “scanxiety” as I noticed more and more niggly pains in my back, across my chest and in my abdomen. 
By Tuesday afternoon I had done my best to distract myself from the impending doom. I called again to remind my oncologist’s secretary that “I still hadn’t heard and I didn’t want another night to freak out!” Ten minutes later – I had my results. No progression of tumours, lymph nodes all in the normal range: the new drugs had worked….welcome to REMISSION! 

I’ve experienced numerous joys in my life and this is right up there. Hearing that there is a future, let alone a brighter future, is unbelievable! I can only sum it up by the feeling of being able to breathe out now. My husband and I couldn’t contain our happiness. We just glowed! Our children understood, by my careful way of describing why I was getting teary whilst hugging them more than usual, that their Mum was so much better. The hugs and kisses I received that afternoon were sweeter than anything!
On Wednesday I woke up whistling and I bounced out of bed and ironically played “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want” by The Smiths very loudly. I have certainly got what I want. To be here. No active cancer. Right now I am “cancer free”. I also know that with stage 4 secondary cancer I will technically never be “cancer free” and certainly not “cured” but for now…right now…I am free of active growth. That’s good enough for me. I’m so lucky I was able to access this new drug Kadcyla. It is a miracle drug, although not without side effects. I know how incredibly lucky I am to live in this country where I have access to health care and the latest medical breakthroughs. Which brings me to Thursday. 
On Thursday I decided to see if I could reduce some financial stress related to a number of large bills being due at the same time. Yes, unfortunately despite the elation of living without active cancer I still had to deal with the minutiae of life. I made the mistake of thinking I could ring an insurance company for a quick quote to see if I could reduce our insurance premium before I nipped out to the shops to prepare for a visit by my gorgeous friend, Rachel from Melbourne. I now know…there is no such thing as a quick quote! 
One and a half hours later I was off the phone having pried myself away from the hard sell to close the deal by standing my ground. I needed to have some time to discuss and reflect. I previously wouldn’t have felt I could have been assertive in this way, but having cancer changes you in ways you can’t always predict. I’m much better at boundary setting! 
Rachel arrived with flowers, Mumm champagne and nougat, and we had a delicious catch up, covering so much ground in an hour before school pick up. I ignored the insurance company phone call back. I had no urge to commit to a changeover until I’d spoken to Simon. The desire to close the deal was pressing hard for that employee and she called a few more times before leaving a message promising to talk with me first thing on Monday morning. 

That night Simon, Rachel and I talked, ate and drank in great happiness, with Daniel, Rach’s partner, arriving later in the evening to join in the frivolity. 

I mention all of this – the celebration, the love, the friendship, to illustrate the ease of life! Especially now that I have the scan results to prove it! I also mention the insurance quote because, yes the new quote would save us some money if we ever needed to rely on insurance in times of emergency. It would actually end up costing slightly more than what we were already paying but it would pay out more if we needed it. Which leads me to Friday. 

On Friday Rach, Daniel and I walked the kids to school. It was a glorious blue sky Brisbane day. Not a cloud in the sky. I bade them farewell too as they went South and I headed to Art Class. Art Class was a celebration of life again. Seated amongst familiar faces – all women who have faced this hideous sickening cancer. There was so much joy, laughter and love in that room as always, but especially so when I shared my news. 

We painted Monet. A beautiful calming waterlilies scene from Monet’s garden. 

    

Then it happened. On the way home from art class as I drove through Rosalie and Paddington streets, past the character housing and chi chi boutiques and craft shops I heard on the radio the heartbreaking voice of a father in acute pain. The grieving voice of the father of a little boy who had washed up dead on the beach trying to flee a war zone. I hadn’t even seen the photo- that would come later to haunt my dreams. It was the sound of one mans’ anguish that choked me up and caused huge hot tears to drip from my eyes to my chin in an endless stream. I could barely see to steer these familiar safe streets. 

Here I was. So damn lucky. Born into a very lucky country. No war here. No need to flee in desperation for a better life. Even with stage 4 cancer I have a much better life. I was so upset. I was also angry that this happens. That it happens all the time to families across the globe. War that kills in so many ways. And the sense that our government was contributing to the pain by their stance on refugees arriving by boat. These are not illegals. These are people. Families who had to make a heartbreaking choice to leave a dangerous land by heading out in a perilous sea. What sort of choice is that? I had to do something. 

I stopped to buy some milk and bread. She stood outside the supermarket. Our eyes locked. Her name was Serat. She was from Eritrea. She beckoned me over. Synchronicity.  She was working for the UNHCR. I wanted to help. But I wondered did I really have the money? These days charity is not putting a couple of coins in a bucket. These days there is direct debit and minimum year long commitment. I thought hard. I decided quickly that any gains made by cheaper premiums on insurance could balance out the cost of a dollar a day for a year to help families out of great pain. I have a home, safety, a community and a place where I belong. Surely I can give. I wanted to do something. Act on the emotional pull that had been building inside me. This is an emergency.  UNHCR is the United Nations Refugee Agency. A large proportion of money donated goes directly to help those in need. Food, shelter, medical supplies like safe birthing kits (soap to wash hands, scissors to cut the umbilical cord) all essential requirements. Serat could not thank me enough and told me should would pray for me. 
I did this because I had to. I felt morally, ethically and humanly obliged. I write about this because if you were seeing those pictures of that little boy face down on the shoreline you might have felt overwhelmed too and wondered what you could do. This is what you can do. Support organisations like UNHCR and World Vision that work directly with humanitarian crises like Syria or Sudan. 

What a week. 

Friday afternoon I picked up my cousin and aunt from a huge cruise ship at Portside and we had a lovely family catch up with my mum, brother and sister. That evening we toasted to family. 

On Saturday morning we went to the School Fair. The kids were so happy and excitable. They went on all the rides, drank and ate mostly sugar, and had a ball! Such abundance and community. A wonderful day. Again I say we are lucky and blessed 
Saturday night Team Meg- my support sisters from the school – all joined me, Simon, my sister and great friend Angie, for a remission celebration at our local- The Junk Bar. It was pure happiness and a great feeling of love amongst the Lemon Royales.  I have really found the most beautiful people through the school extended family. Such deep connections – all equally important and cherished. I also love The Junk Bar  so much, they really make you feel special- even shouting me a Lemon Royale in the house! 
Tonight, after a relaxed and happy Father’s Day Sunday, celebrating the best man on earth, my darling Simon, whose parenting is patieht, generous and kind, I again feel so full of gratitude. We are here. Our kids are with us under the same roof. We have love and food and (finally) good health. 

Tomorrow I will have a call from a very keen saleswoman from the insurance company. How do I tell her I won’t be taking up her offer after all? I won’t be able to afford her greater coverage for slightly more (about $360 more) per year. I have given that money away. Invested it in a tiny slice of humanity instead. For families that have no insurance against the cruelty of life. The unfairness of a child being born at the wrong time in the wrong place to a family that has no choice but to try and find a better life. 
How will I tell her? Well, I guess I’ll just tell her the truth. I’m a bleeding heart. A very much alive and grateful bleeding loving living heart. 

“I’ve always depended on the Kindness of Strangers….”

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While I love the quote from Blanche DuBois in The Streetcar Named Desire I disagree… Strangers can be kind but nothing beats the kindness of friends! 

It’s been a long half year in a fog of exhausting medical treatments punctuated by some lovely family moments. Towards the end of six months of intense chemotherapy I had the unexpected and devastating news that the drugs had stopped working…my tumours were actually growing rather than shrinking. 

Thankfully, even with The Verve’s song “The Drugs Don’t Work” playing constantly through my head for weeks, I was eligible to start a new drug for my condition. A new hope. 

Through all of this time my family and  I have experienced incredible kindnesses. We have received beautiful cards filled with supportive messages every Thursday for six months from a wonderful family, letting us know that we are firmly in their thoughts. Another beautiful family heard that I was carrying home litres of soda water every time I shopped so they left a SodaStream appliance at my door! I have received handmade jewellery, make up, homewares, clothing, flowers and many delicious meals. Vouchers for dinners, high teas and massages. Offers of after school play dates and drive homes. One time I came home from school drop off and found an anonymous blue envelope stuffed full of money in my letterbox!  

The support and generosity has been overwhelming. It fills us with gratitude. Such kindness. 



The thing is, what I’ve missed the most during the last six months is the feeling of personal connection I have with my friends and extended family- it is my life blood. Chemotherapy takes so much away by bombarding both the healthy and unhealthy fast growing cells. I have great respect for it as a treatment- it has saved my life in one form or another three times now- yet it obliterates so much more than the cancer. My energy. My interest. My attention. My motivation. My ability to really feel part of life rather than looking at life from the sidelines. It’s been a hard year. 

My new drug is working. It’s three weekly and I’ve had it twice already. It’s not without a difficult period of side effects but by the second week after administration I suddenly emerged. Wholly myself again for the first time this year. My energy and spirit returned. My positivity soaring….my heart is open with the need to connect and the need to complete. 

I am so pleased to finally announce the first Completionists meeting for 2015. 10am Thursday 16th July, my place.  

To my friends and extended family who have helped (and continue to help) both me and my family I wholeheartedly thank you. I hope to extend the same kindnesses where I can when I can. Because the difference you have made to me, when I couldn’t extend myself to you, has been lifesaving. 

Coming Clean

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I started The Completionists blog almost a year ago. It intended to be a rally against procrastination, lethargy and isolation of modern parenting life. Do one thing. Finish it. Surround yourself with others to help cheer you on. Complete those things that swirl around the “to do” list in your head. Clear your mind while you tackle your unfinished business.

I did not intend to make The Completionists too personal. Its function was motivational not confessional. Yet I am drawn now to “come clean” on why this “do it now” attitude means more than ever. In January this year I was diagnosed with a reoccurrence of Stage 4 Breast cancer. Something I have been managing since March 2010. Just months after my second beautiful child was born. My perspective on life, whilst always had been positive, was now time pressured. How much time do I have? The question is in fact universal. “How much time does any of us have?”
I write because I enjoy writing, I write about the mind because I’m a psychologist, I write about motivation because sometimes I need some and sometimes I’m bursting at the seams. Because life is short. A moment can last forever but the years roll by in the flick of an eye. We are all timeless and yet time limited. When we wake we have twenty four hours ahead of us. If we have free will we can choose what we do with those precious and seemingly abundant hours.
Find the pocket of time you need. It might be in the car driving somebody somewhere. It might be standing over the stove making dinner. It might be in the shower, the only refuge from children and technology…  Ask yourself “what needs doing right now?” Breathe focus and compile a list of three things. Small or large. Reflect back to Decembers’ New Years resolutions. “Am I on track”? “What do I need to tweak?”
If possible prioritise any creative task that you find enjoyable that will set the scene for completion. For me this has been making a small template of a drawing/colouring in book for my kids.
One step at a time. One task at a time. You can do it. One life to lead. Make it count. Don’t leave things unfinished.
Connection and Creativity. These are my Big C’s.  When  I die, and I hope it won’t be for decades to come, I want to die knowing that every creative bone in my body had dried up and every reserve for connection was emptied. Because whilst I was alive I lived a full and creative life full of healthy relationships with family and friends.

 

Changing your Lightbulb

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When I was studying psychology at university I used to love this joke:

“How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb?”

The answer:

“One. But it has to want to change.”

It sums up all the truest things about people and motivation. It says that no one can make lasting change until they are ready.

It is natural to want to do things differently. We learn from mistakes and that ultimately makes us better humans. It is also natural for us not to see what could benefit from change for a long time (sometimes never!) We continue to do the same things that destroy us over and over again (poor relationship choices, unhealthy ways of thinking, consuming or acting) thinking we will get a better outcome each time. And we act surprised when we don’t…

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got” – Mark Twain (but also attributed to Henry Ford and Albert Einstein!)

Regardless of who was responsible for the quote (and for me it was another gem from a university lecturer), the importance of making a change, small or large, will create a difference in your life and move you forward.

          

What is it that you think you can do better? Eat healthier, move more, create more, connect face to face more, worry less, listen more, be more mindful of everyday moments. These are all things that we start listing every year as we change over calendars. There is the promise of a fresh start and a new hope that comes from new year’s day. Using a significant marker like the first day of the year provides a line from this day forward compared to the life before. There is nothing new in creating resolutions, there is nothing magic about them not working either. For some, the mere idea of setting up a resolution is self-defeating, so they don’t bother. A resolution for no more resolutions! I’ve said this too, but more important than listing a whole heap of resolutions is: don’t give up on yourself. You are never too old to make a change.

For those who are grieving the loss of loved one, which is itself, a forced change, a new year brings mixed emotion. There is part hope and part misery of entering a new long road without the one who was cherished most. It might only be a small consolation, but  this human experience is universal and life will go on in different ways to the way that had been imagined. If it has been a horrible year, a difficult year, an intensely sad year, than the next year may be a less horrible, difficult and sad time and that we may have even more courage to journey through it. We live in hope.

On the last day of the year, I can’t help but think that the psychologist in the lightbulb joke would probably follow with another question: “When is the best time to change a lightbulb?”

The best day to change would have been yesterday, or ten years ago or whenever you realised that change was needed. The second best day to change is today. So don’t hold back, make those resolutions, do something differently. Start with small changes, like trying something new to eat or drink or dancing in the dark, or not ending the same conversation you always have in an argument. Or finishing a project you never thought you would. Like this blog post, after four drafts in three different directions!

Be open to change. Be ready. Happy New Year.

Come back to The Completionists for how to keep those changes in place in 2015.

Pulling in the Reins

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It’s around this time of the year that the urge to catch up with everyone you know exerts a strong pull. It’s like the last number on the calendar is the deadline for every social event imaginable like there will be no other time again. Parties, picnics, get-togethers, drinks, dinners and lunches. Awards nights, celebration functions, Christmas ‘do’s, end of year concerts and end of year break up parties, gift exchanging catch ups and mum’s nights out. And that’s before Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve and the travel that goes into those occasions. It is known as the “busy season” for very good reason!

I don’t like to miss out on much. I like to jump on in and get involved and celebrate with wonderful friends, family and colleagues. I love this time of year but I am also mindful of the energy required to meet all these engagements.

Why do we stretch ourselves out so thin that we are run ragged into the new year? I’m thinking hibernation might be a new holiday destination! Do less! Spend less! Move less! Just Be…

Would it be ok if we say YES a little less frequently. Pull back on the reins and stay close our immediate loved ones. Keep our full attention where it best needs to be and take it easy on ourselves (or in the words of that old song “Make it easy on yourself”).

I’m going to try that out in these last weeks and I hope that you can too. Do what you can do, not do what you feel you have to do. Is that bad for a self confessed Completionista? I think it’s been a long year and the need for a slow wind down is justified. It’s also been a quick year – gone in the blink of an eye. The idea behind the Completionists was to finish things and connect with others. If you start less you finish more! But seriously, if you refine the demands you put on yourself it can free you up to achieve those goals that are really worth completing.

I have attempted to keep 2014 the year of the ‘Simple Things’. My novel is over 35,000 words and building, I have conquered the art of an A-line dress and pyjama pants sewing, I have painted a picture every month, I can dance in the dark like no one is watching (which they aren’t) and I have loved creating The Completionists Community. The kids are thriving, my love is continually growing. Life is good.

In the words of Simon & Garfunkel (recently – and wonderfully – used as our School Bell):

“Slow down. You move too fast. Got to make this moment last…”

There will be more time for everything and everybody next year, and most happily, The Completionists will continue on!

The last Completionists meeting for 2014 is 11am Wednesday 10th December, my place. Meet with one or more tasks to complete!IMG_3591.JPG

Putting yourself “out there”

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I am writing a novel in November. It is the ultimate challenge – not just in the obvious way of having to write so many words. It is also a challenge to time keeping, my family commitments and most importantly a challenge to my sense of self. Who am I to write a novel? Isn’t that the most self indulgent thing to say?! Who would want to read it? My ideas aren’t that great or interesting. Worse still, what makes me think my life is full enough to write about? Isn’t it the height of conceit to think of writing about my life?…the hate list rolls on. There are more excuses that could sink this little ship before it sails out of view. So I am choosing to do what I would usually do which is to not follow through. By this, I mean not follow through on these negative self sabotaging ideas that keep me from doing what I would really like to do. Which is to write a novel.

I am writing the novel at the same times hundreds of others are writing novels, as part of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month http://www.nanowrimo.org). NaNoWriMo (the best name!) happens every November. I have thirty days to write my 50,000 words, which works out to be roughly 1500 words per day. It sounds like a heck of a lot of words, yet I happily have made a good start on day one of just under 3000 words. I am also keeping in mind that weekends are going to be productive than weekdays so I want to get ahead.

I can’t explain how liberating it is to ignore all the who, why and how questions and focus on the DOing. I had the same sense of this process when I completed and hung my “We are the Lucky Ducks” artwork in our loungeroom a couple of months ago. Previously I would be scared of hanging up an overtly simplistic artwork which conveys such a deep meaning hidden inside a very trite message in full view. It exposes your inner world to criticism and scrutiny. Yet, what do we have if we play it safe? We would never do anything for fear of being noticed.

Yes there is a fear of failure. You tell people you are writing a novel and there is pressure to perform. That’s part of the motivation, so you can own it and use it. I have always been one of those people who have said “I’m going to write a book one day” but have I yet? It is always easier to say what you are going to do than doing it. Or easy to say “I could’ve painted that” or “my five year old could have drawn a better picture than that” but did they?

Don’t die with your music still inside you. Listen to your inner intuitive voice and find what passion stirs your soul- Dr Wayne Dyer

I have changed my outlook so much more in the past few years. Maybe it is getting older, having faced death twice or having had children who demonstrate a “jump in” attitude but I now no longer care so much about what others think. Of course I’m not a fan of being trashed and yes, like all of us, I absolutely love hearing positive feedback (I’m really not fishing here!), but it really is surface stuff, like the icing on the cake. I know that I create for me, and if I can live with what I have created than it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.

If you have a burning desire to do something, to create something, a feeling that gnaws at your soul, why not respond and take up the call. If not you, then who? If not now, then when?

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