Transforming loss into gratitude this Thanksgiving

This is my first Thanksgiving without my mom but as the holiday approaches I feel such gratitude — not only because she was a wonderful mother but because of how I believe she’s doing right now.

As I’ve mentioned here before, my mom’s last couple of years weren’t her best. She would tell me all the time that she just didn’t feel like herself.

As it turned out, some of that may have been because her cancer had returned, even though none of her tests had shown it. But it was more than that; my mom didn’t feel like the person she’d been all her life.

Anxious days, restless nights

Her resilience, humour, even her faith, seemed to have deserted her. In their wake were anxious days and restless nights full of worry and fear.

That is not to say that my mom didn’t experience moments of joy with family or friends, but something in behind that temporary happiness, was missing.

After I returned home from her memorial service, I thought about how upset she’d been and I prayed that she was feeling better.

Then one night as I was doing that, I had a very strong sense of her calm, secure and confident presence. I knew that she was content and happy. The stress of the last few years had evaporated.

Temagami Trail, c. M. Romig Dawson (my mom) pastel, 1997

It seems incorrect to call this my first Thanksgiving without my mom because in some ways it doesn’t seem like she’s gone. It seems like she moved and lives somewhere else, some place I can’t reach by phone.

But I know she’s fine and that’s why I’m grateful. My mom is herself again.

In fact, that is the idea that drives BrattyKathy — to really live is to be fully yourself, no fear, no apologies, no holding back.

Happy Thanksgiving, Mom.

c 2014 Kathy Barthel

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Is what you are thinking right now, helping you?

When I got back to my parents’ house the day my mom passed away, I saw several little notes she had posted around the house. There was one on a kitchen cupboard door and another on her bedside table. They all said, “Is what you are thinking right now, helping you?”

My mom was not herself the last couple of years. When we talked on the phone she would often replay, over and over, negative stories from the past — stories of hurt, disappointment or regret.

Nothing was ever resolved; she’d just relive the same negative thoughts and feelings every time.

Is what you are thinking right now, helping you?

When she would start talking like that during our phone calls, I would often ask her if what she was saying was helping. Was it making her feel better?

I wanted my mom to stop and recognize what she was doing to herself. I wanted to help her break the pattern.

I suggested that she write that question out as a note to herself, and put it up around the house wherever she would most easily see it. That way, whenever her thoughts took a dive, she’d be nudged to replace them with something more positive.

Seeing those handwritten notes for the first time, with the words “Kath’s idea” in brackets, was a bittersweet reminder of how hard my mom tried to overcome a habit many of us have.

We play negative thoughts or experiences over and over again in our minds without even realizing it. Thoughts like, ‘I’m not good enough…’ or ‘I can’t do that..’ or ‘They’ll never hire me…’ Or maybe it’s an event that hurt you long ago, but you just can’t stop thinking about it.

Negative thoughts expand 

It really is true that what you think about, expands. If you wake up in the morning with a negative thought or memory — and don’t get rid of it — it will spread out like a glob of toxic sludge. 

It will fill up large parts of your day and suck the energy right out of you. And if you’re telling yourself you can’t do something or things won’t work out, that is exactly what will happen.

Being a brat is about ripping the rug out from under those negative thoughts and ditching them, before they have a chance to spread.

You can break negative thought patterns

You can reprogram your thoughts. It only takes about 21 days to form a new habit. You just have to do the new thing — consistently — for 21 days and you’ll begin to see change.

Mom and me in front of Tom Thomson shack, McMichael Gallery, Kleinburg Ontario

(Me and my mom, the artist and poet, Muriel Stewart Romig Dawson)

So starting today, whenever you realize you’re thinking something toxic, do what my mom did.

Ask yourself, “Is what I am thinking right now, helping me?” If it isn’t, replace that negative thought, immediately, with something positive.

Do that for the next 21 days and let me know how it goes. I’ll be doing the same, so we can check up on each other.

Brats have to stick together.;)

c 2014 Kathy Barthel

The secret to your success is in your childhood

If you want to know what you should be doing for a living, look at your childhood.

Back then you knew what you loved to do and you did it. You didn’t need to take a course, survey your friends or consult a career coach.

Everything was clear.

I was an instigator. In elementary school I got other kids to follow me around the yard at recess, singing songs I had chosen and written out on long sheets of paper.

I came up with new painting techniques or created completely new kinds of paintings — and became very annoyed when other kids copied them. I loved performing and collaborating on plays. I got great marks in English class.

The things you loved to do as a kid reveal your talents and personality and they provide the clues to what you were meant to do in your career.

Think back to elementary school:

What were you always doing every chance you got?

What did you get in trouble for?

What did you excel at?

What did you hate to do?

Doing what you’re good at — or what you love

You were yourself back then, the same self, with everyone you met. You hadn’t learned to suppress some of your personality to please others, to make them feel better about themselves or to fit in.

Back then, you didn’t just do what you were good at, you did what you loved!

I knew the difference between the two when I was 10 but I only discovered it years later. I remember the year and even the restaurant I was in when the ‘revelation’ occurred to me.

The full monty

Being a brat means defying any social convention that tells you it’s too late to reconnect with who you really are.

It is never too late to make a change — if you want to.

Being a brat means giving the world the full monty! No holding back, no excuses.

Don’t compartmentalize yourself, don’t keep those aspects that are most truly you from the rest of the world where they could do so much good.

They are connected to your strongest talents and gifts.

If you’re not doing what you love for a living, what did you love to do as a kid?

The secret to your success is there.

c 2013 Kathy Barthel

How Katharine Hepburn changed my life

When I was a kid I lived in the country, far away from the big city.

I knew that if I wanted to go to university — and get away from my current circumstances — I would have to make it happen myself. I would have to organize it and finance it on my own.

But sometimes when you feel you’re on your own, you’re not. Often there is someone whose example gives you the courage to make a major change.

For me that person was outspoken actress and icon, Katharine Hepburn (below, in a 1940 still by Clarence Sinclair Bull, for The Philadelphia Story). She played feisty, independent-minded women in films and was much the same off-camera.

Katharine Hepburn, The Philadelphia Story, 1940 by Clarence Sinclair Bull

“That’s all there is to life, being part of it.”

I read those words of Hepburn’s and I never forgot them.

As a teen I desperately wanted to be part of life — a richer, bigger life — which to me meant going off to university and living in a big city. There was energy there, intellectual stimulation and fresh, new ideas and ways of looking at the world!

I had outgrown my circumstances. I needed to stretch and grow and learn, to be challenged. I was hungry for it.

Hepburn’s independent spirit reinforced my resolve. I watched her films and read everything I could about her. Her passion for life and her view that you must take responsibility for your own destiny inspired and empowered me. It made me feel bold and strong.

Where would I be without Hepburn’s inspiration?

How I could have changed the course of my life without her inspiration is something I won’t allow myself to consider. Altering my circumstances was so critical to my well-being and to my future, that I cannot imagine what would have happened had I not done it. I won’t let myself imagine it.

Feeling inspired gives you courage and reinforces the courage you already have. It helps push you to make the changes that will move you forward and into a healthier place.

Katharine Hepburn’s advice for living:

  • “Life is to be lived. If you have to support yourself, you had bloody well better find some way that is going to be interesting. And you don’t do that by sitting around.”
  • “Without discipline, there’s no life at all.”
  • “The thing about life is that you must survive. Life is going to be difficult, and dreadful things will happen. What you do is move along, get on with it, and be tough. Not in the sense of being mean to others, but being tough with yourself and making a deadly effort not to be defeated.”
  • “We are taught you must blame your father, your sisters, your brothers, the school, the teachers – but never blame yourself. It’s never your fault. But it’s always your fault, because if you wanted to change you’re the one who has got to change.”

But don’t forget your sense of humour. This quote inspires Bratty Kathy every single day:

“If you obey all of the rules, you miss all of the fun.”

c 2013 Kathy Barthel

Negative self-talk: kick it to the curb

If you think you don’t deserve it, you won’t get it.

Do you ever tell yourself: I don’t deserve to have a loving partner; I don’t deserve to be financially comfortable; I don’t deserve a good job. In other words, I don’t have a right to those things.

If you’re guilty of that kind of negative self-talk, think back to your childhood.

Every child deserves to be nurtured 

When you were little, did you deserve to be loved, nurtured and cared for? Did you deserve to have your talents and dreams supported by the adults around you? Did you deserve to have friends to hang out with and fun things to do?

Of course you did.

Maybe you didn’t get what you deserved but that wasn’t your fault. It was the fault of the adults around you; it was their responsibility to provide those things for you. You didn’t have to “earn” them by being pretty enough or smart enough or popular enough. You just deserved them. Period.

Every child deserves to be loved and nurtured, made to feel special and to know that their talents and personality are unique and wonderful.

You deserve a happy life and a successful career

Now you deserve the adult version of those things — a good career that utilizes your talents and gifts, people who support and believe in you and financial stability. You deserve all of that; you never stopped deserving it.

You’re that same little child, just older. You still deserve a good life. 

Negative thoughts change your life 

But if you’ve adopted negative self-talk that says you don’t, then you are setting yourself up for struggle and heartache.

You may think, “Why should I try for those things? I’m not one of those people who has a nice home, a great job and a holiday every year.”

If you’ve been listening to that negative voice, that lie — and believing it, then you won’t create a life that makes good things possible. Thinking you don’t deserve them will remove the confidence you need to pursue them.

Being a brat means exposing anything false and being empowered by the truth — not choked by lies. The idea that you “don’t deserve” success is a lie. 

But changing your thought patterns takes time so be patient and keep trying.

Whenever you think, “I don’t deserve good things”:

1. Remember when you were a child. You deserved good things then and you deserve them now. That hasn’t changed.

2. Ask yourself: Do I feel better when I think this way? Do things improve? Are these thoughts helping me create the life I want?

3. Replace negative thoughts with positive ones: I deserve a fulfilling career; I deserve a partner who will have my back; I deserve to be financially secure.

4. Be a brat. Rip the rug out from under any lie that says you’re not good enough. Smash it. Kick it to the curb!

c 2013 Kathy Barthel

Why Bratty Kathy?

Friends told me I shouldn’t do it; I shouldn’t call the blog Bratty Kathy.

Chatty Kathy they understood, but Bratty Kathy? They worried that people might think it was all about sex.

They worried that what I would say might be misinterpreted. Marketers thought that well-mannered women wouldn’t consider themselves brats and might not embrace the blog.

Kathy on stone ledge piece of grass in mouth 698 px W x 498 px H

Giving brats a bad name

Those things never occurred to me but it turns out that the word brat does have a negative connotation. Even my beloved Oxford English Dictionary describes it this way:

Brat= (n) derogatory a child, esp. an ill-behaved one (origin unknown)

When I google images of “bratty women,” I find idiotic pictures of women sticking out their tongues. I had no idea there were so many art directors and photographers with such a singular lack of imagination.

My definition of a brat

“brat” = (n) someone who goes against the grain, stirs things up to make people think, to make a difference, witty, clever, surprising, a maverick, sexy, fearless, optimistic, aware, ageless, alive.

I know quite a few women who fit that description and who would probably like to get their pictures taken.

Owning it

Bratty Kathy is about them and about everyone who has ever fallen in love, thought they looked fat, worried about money, felt old or lonely or had an awesome love life. SPOILER ALERT: there will be sex.

Bratty Kathy is about getting out of your own way so you can live the life you want in the wild and unpredictable 21st century.

It’s about being comfortable in your own skin and owning who you are, all of it, including your flaws. Especially your flaws. It’s about grabbing your life by the throat and living it. It’s about not being suffocated by the “accepted wisdom” that tells you what you’re supposed to do, or what you’re supposed to think, or what you’re supposed to feel, just because of your age. And if some of those limiting beliefs are in your own head, ditch them.

Kathy jean jacket 398 px x 398 px

Here’s a little chart to show you what I mean:

THE ACCEPTED WISDOM WHO YOU REALLY ARE
Old Ageless
Out-of-touch Aware and engaged
Sexy?  Are you kidding me? Sexy and…H O T
Humourless Funny and witty
Status quo Rebellious
Stuck-in-your-ways Flexible and adaptable
Dull Kick-ass

In other words, a brat.

Bring it on

When I read those words in the right-hand column, I think about my grandmother when she was 83. My wedding photos were being taken in the park and she was sitting on the grass, feet straight out in front of her, snapping pictures. All of those words fit her, including sexy—just ask her boyfriends.  My grandmother was a well-mannered, well-brought up woman and most definitely a brat. It is to her (and to my mother who is not a brat) that I dedicate Bratty Kathy.

If the OED says a brat is “ill-behaved,” bring it on.

P.S. A friend of mine told me about hanging out with his 20-something kids and sharing their experience of being young and full of promise. His bittersweet story has stayed with me, along with the idea that it can be hard to feel hope and promise when you’ve been beaten down a few times. But that’s exactly why Bratty Kathy exists—to recognize that none of us is full of bratty bravado every day and that to put your whole heart into something, to push your spirit, talent and voice out into the world, is risky.

Bratty Kathy will always be powered by a tender heart because to shine like a brilliant, flawed sun takes guts and sometimes you are regrouping after a failed attempt. Sometimes you live in the shadow of the sun.

Bratty Kathy is about all those bumps in the road that you never saw coming and the idea that to make it work, you may just have to bend the rules on occasion.  That’s often where the fun is.  Just saying so makes me feel bratty again…

c 2013 Kathy Barthel