Bathtub Revelations on Stress.

My heart was pounding! I felt the bed shaking.

Lub-dup- Lub-dup- Lub-dup- Lub-dup- Lub-dup- Lub-dup.

Was he going to feel it through the mattress?, I thought to myself, worried I was going to wake Mr. ET. I tossed and turned, trying to get comfortable, holding my heart tightly in fear that it was going to leap from my chest. I was unable to find a comfortable position and I couldn’t shake the feeling. It was getting worse and everything was getting faster. I was beginning to burn up and my thoughts were racing.

Holy-outstanding- financial-obligation! How did you manage this one?

You are holding a debt, how can you be back in school?

How do you expect to pay this off while being a student?

You’re only grazing the surface of your debt.

The minimum payments are sucking your funds.

I shot up in bed. Sweat dripping from my face, I couldn’t catch my breath.

Lub-dup- Lub-dup- Lub-dup- Lub-dup- Lub-dup- Lub-dup.

My mean self was kicking my ass. And then, in one fell swoop, I lost the battle.

What is wrong with you? Seriously, something is wrong with you! You just continue to rack it up even more!

aphroditeI flung out of bed, raced down the hall and threw myself into the shower, nightgown and all. I knelt down in the tub and with the water beating down on my crumpled body, I cried. Actually, I sobbed. The warm water eventually ran out. I stripped off my soaked nightgown, dried myself off and climbed back into bed next to my sound sleeper.

That was my first panic attack.

As a nurse, I feel like I’ve heard the countless ways that stress can harm our health. We often speak about how being stressed can lead to a variety of health issues including obesity, skin disorders and heart disease but what interests me is the effect stress has on our bodies at a deeper level. Deeper beneath the surface, stress equally affects our bodies on a genetic level. Health psychologist, Elissa Epel, studied a group of mothers caring for their chronically sick children and examined their genes and what she discovered is truly amazing. Epel found that the stress experienced by these mothers led to “fraying” of the ends of their chromosomes. Think of it as the unraveling ends of an old shoelace.  Normally, the fraying of chromosomes is an expected process of aging yet with these women, the fraying was happening so quickly due to stress that it had already accelerated their aging process by ten years.

telomere pic

However, not all hope is lost and there are ways to ward off the effects of stress on our bodies. According to Epel, reflection and acceptance are key steps in reducing the “fraying” of our DNA. The I-coulda-shoulda-woulda dialogue doesn’t help anyone. Reflection is the constructive tool of the worrier, turning negative thought into a useful assessment.

Maybe I should only pay with cash from now on. 

I’ve recently found another way of managing the stress by slipping into a yoga and pilates routine. Normally, I’d opt for a nice long run, but due to a minor knee injury I’ve had to hang up my running shoes this fall. As a trained Ayurveda practitioner, I have a deep respect for yoga. As a nurse, I can understand the physiological benefits and as the girlfriend of a skeptic, who likes to eat bacon and question anything not firmly grounded in science, I know I need to offer a little evidence. Researchers have been studying the effects of yoga on anxiety and depression since the 1970s. Yoga helps regulate our stress response mechanism, assisting us in properly dealing with future stressors. A recent study has even provided MRI confirmation that everyday yoga enthusiasts have significantly higher pain thresholds, as yoga calms the stress response system. German researchers tested this notion on “emotionally distressed” women. One group partook in two 90-minute yoga classes a week while the other group of women continued in their normal routine without practicing. Three months later, the women were retested and the yoga group found their depression and anxiety scores reduced by half. Yoga is even being considered for future treatment for people suffering with post-traumatic stress disorders. The skeptics may not be reaching for a yoga mat just yet, but these are remarkable findings, no?

My debt is real, it’s large and it’s ugly. It won’t magically disappear and it will certainly not decrease in size if I continue to supply myself with the quick mood-boosting purchases like I have done in the past. I have to deal with the stress and not sidestep it any longer, if not for my hot water bill then for my health and delicate DNA. I strap on my runners and go for walks, dance around the apartment to a new playlist every week, have mind-blowing sex and laugh as much as possible. I also make a point to set aside thirty minutes a day for my own unique yoga-pilates-danceathon routine set to the soundtrack of whatever makes me move at the time.

My panic attack this past August sparked this stop shopping and behavior analysis journey of mine. It has got me thinking and journaling of why, on a personal level, I’ve gotten myself into such a financial mess. I’m finding myself fascinated by how some of us in society have become paralyzed by our poor ability to cope with stress. It makes me wonder, why have we continued to evolve with a weakness for coping with psychological stress?

Tips to share:

Take the time & shake it off or as Lady V says, walk it off!

We can chose and learn all sorts of ways to relax but the key is to make it a lifestyle change. Yoga, walking, hiking, dancing, etc… heck, it could even be taking a bath with a good book. I think the key is to simply play a little more. My accountant Mr S. teaches fitness classes at his office for his colleagues. I think he’s great.


Aside from a lampshade and a wonderful yet completely unnecessary book on sewing projects, I’m proud to report no nonessentials purchased!

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The Lost Shift Dress in My Closet’s Abyss.

Cheater!!” Mr ET shouted, as I emerged into the living room.

What?” I shot back. I was completely taken off guard by his reaction. I was standing before him in my chic outfit paired with green wedge suede shoes.

That’s new!!” he bellowed.

What?” I shot back, defensively and confused.

“That dress. I’ve never seen that dress,” he explained.

I was being falsely accused.

It’s not new, I swear!” I began to plead with him.

I don’t know, I’ve never seen it,” he continued as he skeptically circled me.

I…I don’t know why you’ve never seen it,” I said, turning slowly, following his gaze, “I suppose I forgot I owned it. I’m not cheating.

Are you sure?” he questioned.

Honestly, I think I’ve owned it longer than we’re been together, “ I implored, pleading my case.

The truth is Mr. ET had a point. I have previously lied about shopping.

This adorable shift dress, with its subtle elephant stencils decorating the top and its bright yellow skirt was without a doubt memorable. He certainly had a point; this number was certainly unforgettable so why had forgotten about it?

It had gotten lost at the back of my wardrobe, only to be discovered a few weeks ago during my big sweep of my closets and drawers. Less is more. The cliché clearly holds some truth as I now see the benefit of having less in my closet. Less allows for choice. I whittled down and donated half of my possessions, from shoes to dresses and I now have more options available to choose from. Finally able to see what I own, I’ve been walking out of the apartment in different ensembles. When the closet was full, I was left with no choice, always choosing among the first few items on the rack. Everything else was out of sight. According to research, the same order effect influences whom you vote for at the ballot box. Studies found that in one out of every 10 elections, the first name on the ballot will win just because it’s first. They also calculated that being in the middle of the list lowers your chance of winning. Ouch! Another reason my elephant dress wasn’t a first pick.

Our ability to consciously process a certain amount of information at a time is small and the time we give to that process is even smaller. Think of it this way, we handle 40,000,000 pieces of information every second, but only 40 of those make it to our conscious brains. I think back to when I would peek into my closet and pick amongst the first items within sight. The clutter and constant disorder deterred me from wearing the items at the back. I couldn’t consciously process them, so I opted for the easy picks and grabbing what was available in the front. I continued to shop, for various reasons, but I can now see that as my closet grew, the new purchases covered the older items and it just snow balled. No wonder I felt as if I had nothing nice to wear, my wardrobe was self-imploding.

Speaking of picking the easy options, we, actually most primates, are genetically hardwired to take shortcuts. The shorter alternative route is always sought as we do our best to conserve our energy; we conduct our activities of daily living (think food, sex, shelter) by exerting the minimum energy needed to do the tasks and no more. I begin to see how the energy I expended sorting through the mess in my wardrobe could be used elsewhere. I had to lighten the load.

Whittling down our choices in order to facilitate decision-making is certainly not a new concept. Psychologist Barry Schwartz wrote, “Choice no longer liberates, but debilitates”. Owning nice things isn’t a problem, but it doesn’t mean that owning more beautiful things is necessarily better. The beautiful items in my closet were not being enjoyed simply because they were too many. I came across another writer expressing the same frustration I’ve been experiencing. She wroteI feel that within my own closet I often have too many choices, so I just keep wearing the same shirts every week. I empathize with you, Megan.

Trop de choix, tue le choix is a French saying that underlines the enigma of choice. It translates to too many choices kills the choice. We live in a world where there are simply too many options for a simple need. We only use a dime size of it a day, so why are there entire aisles dedicated to toothpaste or shampoo? With so many different scents, colours and varieties, our choice becomes difficult. Something simple becomes trivial and we find ourselves wasting time trying to make sense of the options. Who wouldn’t enjoy making fewer time-consuming and ultimately tedious choices?

Tips to share:

Think of the essentials because if it isn’t of the essence, then there’s no space for it. Stick to the choices that matter, the needs and the reasonable desires. Eliminate the rest.


I’ve been good this past month. Only one small slip with a beautiful Guatemalan blouse- funds went directly to the Women’s Association, so I get part marks off, no?

My apologies for my mini hiatus- my Psychology courses have kept my typing time to school related projects these past 4 weeks.

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Fall Cleaning.

My front doorway is full of stuff. The apartment is clean and clear of most of the clutter and I’m anxious to get to Goodwill. I’ll drop everything off and be happy with the thought that all my things will find a new home where they will be used and enjoyed. Our poor dog is walking around a little more distressed than usual; I’m assuming he thinks we’re moving again.

I’ve spent the past two days sorting and doing major triage in every room of the house. Clothing, shoes, bags, books and other random items have all been packed and are ready to go.  I’ve slimmed down my library of books I no longer need and, more importantly, thinned out my closet. I’ve removed tripled or quadrupled items. No one needs dozens upon dozens of floral blouses or four nearly identical navy blue dresses.

It’s been a busy week, which has unfortunately left little time for writing.  I’ll share my details in my next entry!


Tips to share:

I advise everyone to do some Fall Cleaning.


No unnecessary spending to speak of.

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Tipping the Scale with Cake.

I made five cakes over the span of five days last week. Mr. ET’s mom gave me her delectable Plum Tarte recipe. She had baked it for us last time we visited. It was simply too delicious not to try out myself. I didn’t eat all the cake; I assure you I had help. The cake was delicious or as Mr. ET said, “just like my mom makes it!”  I was filled with pride; I was able to nail the task, a big achievement since I tend to be a bit of a disaster in the kitchen.  I had successfully made these cakes and even grew confident enough to change it up a little as I replaced the plums for strawberries and cinnamon with coconut flakes. I was finding great pleasure in utilizing a new achieved skill set, so what’s the problem you may ask? Baking isn’t a problem but too much of anything can be. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with baking, just as there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with shopping. The problem lies in excess. I over did it with shopping which landed me in debt and if I continue baking at the rate I’m going, my roommates and I would have ballooned over the course of this month. I found myself missing the mark again on balance. I was feeling that same buzz about the cake baking that I did about shopping; my cue that was I overdoing it, again.

It was my search for balance that led me to Ayurveda and it was my weakened post-malarial state that brought me to Guru A’s clinic. I had returned home from Rwanda cured of the parasite but weakened. I was given an extensive list of recommendations from Gura A. I followed the diet, took the herbs and did my yoga. I followed the recommendations to cool the excess heat, increase the water to calm the fire and unblock the mud. It was as though I had breathed life back into my veins as I unclogged my blockages, flushing out the toxins and restored my harmony. I was the creative, curious and happy young woman again. For a short time, I felt at peace as I had found equilibrium.

The beauty of Ayurveda is its philosophy that humans are each our own small universe and in order to stay healthy we must exercise balance. The five elements you find within our world are separated into three states of being, which are called doshas; Vata (air and space), Pitta (fire and water) and Kapha (water and earth). Everyone is made up of all three of these energies. Since we are all unique beings, we hold these doshas in distinctive quantities. Ayurveda teaches us “all things in moderation” and holds a formula for equilibrium. Ayurveda is a lifestyle of maintaining balance and bringing ourselves back to the centre when we stray to the edges. The recommendations are specific such as fennel tea to ease a strong digestive fire or the soothing qualities of nutmeg for insomnia and anxiety. They can be extremely detailed, advising against wearing red colors for Pitta imbalances to the specific hours of the day to engage in physical activity according to your dominating dosha. If followed closely, these diverse recommendations hold the potential to realign us. Over time, self-awareness develops as we sharpen our ability to recognize the qualities of each elements and what can send you off balance. After studying Ayurveda, I’ve gained the knowledge to heal my physical self and continue to step that much closer to understanding how to remain in balance. As long as you take care of your elements, you can retain tranquility. Isn’t that what equilibrium really is, finding peace?

I’ve rid myself of the shopping but there remains an underlining source that continues to push and pull me into excessive behavior. I continue to compensate with the wrong things. In the mean time, my prescription has been to practice moderation, in all areas of my life. Mr. ET has commented on how I’ve appeared happier lately. I’ve been filling my days with various activities, between my schoolwork, writing, nursing, watching movies, reading books, exercising, seeing friends and sewing. I’ve been finding pleasure in various areas at an even tempo. Balance has seeped its way into my study methods as I avoid cognitive overload by switching subject matters up, taking spaced out breaks when I find myself no longer absorbing or better yet, not enjoying it anymore. I’m listening to myself rather than acting on autopilot.

Replacing one behavior with another is where I find many of us fail when kicking bad habits; we tend to find shelter within another bad habit. I want to get to the point where it’s no longer a fight, where one element isn’t overpowering me and another isn’t pulling for my attention. Our culture has supplied us with the options to purchase pills and engage in treatments that don’t necessarily address the source or cure our ailments. We have developed means to be able to live more comfortably within our imbalances. These methods are merely letting us off the hook for an instant. It’s a quick fix. With my excessive cake-making or shopping, I find myself asking, how can I enjoy these pleasures without tipping the scale towards excess?

Tips to share:

Try new things, such as baking, yet avoid the repetition and excessive behavior. Either find another recipe or pick a new task. Swimming? Paint by numbers? Needlepoint?

If you find yourself baking many cakes, stop or invite friends over…


I treated Mr. ET out to his favorite Chinese restaurant Wednesday evening. We were celebrating his acceptance into his masters program! Aside from groceries and two cappuccinos, I have no unnecessary spending to report. 

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Self-Control & Chicken-noodle soup.

I’ve been glued to my dining room table these days as I study for my midterm exams. When my brain gets overloaded, I slip into my old habit of online shopping. Although tempted, I’ve gotten better at catching myself before entering dangerous waters. I’m learning new self-control methods. I’ve mastered two recently, the ol’ get-the-hell-off-the-computer maneuver (executed with great finesse) or my new favorite, the sign-into-my-online-banking, a fear-inducing method.

I was home, sick with a cold at the end of last week. It knocked me off my feet and into bed for a couple days. With a laptop at my fingertips, I found myself tempted to browse the online clothing racks. My runny nose, swollen throat, painful sinuses were indeed a real breeding ground for plenty of uncomfortable feelings. Being sick certainly can do a number on your self-esteem. I felt like a loose canon on the Internet. This got me thinking about the causal relationship between my physical well-being and my self-esteem and self-control.

Since Mr. ET had disarmed my access to my Paypal account, I safely browsed through my abandoned eBay profile. I combed through my purchase history, matching dates with last years sick days. I found the week when I was home last March with a sinus infection. There were multiple purchases during that exact time frame. I was appalled that I had managed to spend nearly two days worth of pay from my couch; obviously executed with no self-control. I continued to investigate. After my marriage ended it appears I went out and dedicated an entire paycheck to pick-me-up-purchases. I’ve rid my closet of most of these purchases since they later reminded me of the hurtful feelings I was staving off with these exact items. Other moments of weaker self-control were found before the start of my period and after one disappointing grade on an assignment at school last fall. By examining my prior eBay purchases, I discover a pattern. In difficult moments, I take my disappointment and self-doubt straight to eBay, boosting myself with quick and comforting purchases.

When I think of self-control, I tend to think about concrete instances where self-control aids or would have aided in a situation. My favorite memory of an instance of no self-control was on Christmas morning over ten years. My little brother Mr. M barely slept that night, full of excitement and all those magical feelings kids under the age of ten are filled with the weeks leading to Christmas Day. He sprung out of bed that morning and beelined his way downstairs to the Christmas tree. I was still asleep, waiting for a more appropriate hour to rise out of bed. I can only imagine this excited little redhead in his PJs at the foot of this beautifully decorated tree. I walked into the living just as he had finished ripping open his last present and when he saw me it dawned on him exactly he had done. Oh shit! As we anxiously taped up the boxes and rewrapped all the presents, it was clear to me that no big sister lecture was necessary, my little brother had learned his lesson on self-control.

Although lil’ Mr. M had this big slip very early on Christmas morning, he was running on little sleep and the pressure of waiting till the adults were awake was too much. Research has shown that our ability to exert self-control decreases significantly towards the end of the day. We have an even lower reserve when stressors are at play. In my case, I was sick, feeling low and barely capable of making myself a bowl of soup, so in turn my self-control levels were down, allowing myself to find fading moments of comfort in my online shopping.

On a more encouraging note, like our weakened immune system, our depleted self-control reserve can be refilled and simply with rest and a dose of positivity too. According to researchers, a lack of energy, physical or emotional, will contribute to a decreased ability to assert self-control. If we regain our bearings and recharge ourselves, studies have shown this will greatly increase our capability to stave off temptations or even kick a bad habit. This certainly makes sense. I always feel stronger after some rest and a bowl of chicken-noodle soup or Jewish Penicillin, as my grandfather used to call it.

What do we do when our self-control reserve runs low? Perhaps we should begin to utilize on our adult selves the same rationale we do with children in regards to their downtime. Parents set aside nap time or quiet time for their children to avoid irritable behavior. This is imperative in order to steer clear of the temper tantrum, a troublesome dip in a child’s self-control.  I now see the logic to Mr. ET’s four o’clock mandatory nap. However, an afternoon snooze would not be affective for myself, as I wake up drowsier. The concept is right, yet we can’t just go pass out whenever we feel our willpower slipping. How do we reinstate self-control when trying to shake bad behavior?

Tips to share:

For online shoppers:

  • The get-the-hell-off-the-computer maneuver. Just shut the computer down, move away from the table and go for a walk.
  • Sign-into-your-online-banking, a successful fear-inducing method.
  • Extra tip, courtesy of the Duchesse: Use the “watch list” option on eBay and see how taking a second look at the item later may have you thinking differently about buying it.


No unnecessary spending to report. Flour, sugar, fruit, etc… cake ingredients. I’ve been home more these days, utilizing study breaks with baking cakes (and in turn increasing jogging time). Leather swatches for a project, perhaps not an imperative buy…?

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The Desires & The Essentials.

I came so close on Wednesday. I had a skirt and a top in my basket. I got sweaty. A transaction that normally would be over within a couple clicks was slowed down. My awareness disarmed me. I was the jailbird caught in the searchlight as I attempted to climb the last fence. My heart rate sped up, I felt dizzy and nauseated, and everything was moving fast, the makings of a panic attack. I pushed my chair away from the table, slammed the computer shut and jumped to my feet. I began to pace the living room as my inner conflict escalated. It sounded a little like this:

– It’s only 20$.

– I know, it’s not that much but…

– Come on, the pie you bought the other night cost just as much.

– That’s different; it was for a dinner party.

– Oh whatever. Listen, I know you have a problem, but slips are expected. This is an addiction after all.

– Intentional failure is just cheating.

– Oh, puh-lease, not if you don’t tell anyone. Use the Mastercard. Hush hush!

– I can’t.

– This isn’t fun anymore. It’s boring.

– It was never meant to be fun.

– It’s hard.

– I know.

– Just get it! It’s only 20$.

– I don’t have 20$.

– This sucks. You know you want it.

– I don’t need it!

The words flung from my mouth, like a ninja star; sharp, fast and accurate. Those four final words, emphasized with need, won me over.

Having more than what we truly need was the topic of conversation a couple weekends ago. Mr ET and I met Lady M for dinner and drinks at Sir K’s bar. I know this is beginning to sound very Seussian and mysterious but a certain level of anonymity is important and fun. Sir K is knighted in my narrative because if you’ve ever met him, you’d agree that he’s a lot more sophisticated than a mister.  K is always meticulously put together yet never overdone, always exuding a high level of class and style with ease. During our conversation, Sir K reveals to me that he has a rather small wardrobe and after a little prodding, he later text messages me the approximate details. Six pants, four pairs of shoes and maybe twelve shirts. I then began to tally up my own wardrobe. Once I hit forty shirts, I simply stopped and closed the drawers. After many donation runs to local charities, gifting Tash-me-downs to friends and several trips to community thrift stores, I find that I still own too much. Why do I need all these clothes? My friends are right, I will never have enough places to go and people to see to wear all this stuff.

I believe life lessons can be found everywhere and some of my favorites come from children’s books. I appreciate the honesty and the simplicity the authors bestow upon their audience. Robert Munsch’s book Too Much Stuff could have been written about me. I see myself in Temina, the little girl who owns 37 dolls and 500 toys. In the story, the family goes to visit her grandmother and her mother informs her she can only bring 1 doll and 1 toy. Impossible!

I completely sympathize with little Temina. The clever girl packs 20 dolls and 20 toys. She lags behind as she lugs her oversized backpack through the airport. In the end, Temina realizes she can’t play with all her toys and dolls at the same time, so she shares them with the other children on the flight. Temina had too much stuff, too much to do anything with. Like Temina, I have accumulated so much that I can’t possibly ever use it all. It would take a whole lot of energy and creativity to wear every single item of clothing in my closet. Implementing all these items into outfits that fit my everyday life seems daunting and exhausting. I continue to wonder why I own what I own.

I recently read an article in the New York Times about a man who only owned fifteen items. Matt Hyde, a self proclaimed vagabond and minimalist, sold all his possessions except for fifteen items which he threw in his backpack and hit the road, traveling to fifteen countries over two years. The idea of simply owning fifteen items excited me. It made me wonder what that would even look like. I found myself looking around my apartment and wondering what my fifteen would be comprised of. As inspiring as Hyde is, I still believe owning a second pair of jeans is rather important. Fifteen items would not be practical or fun, at least not for myself, yet the concept is certainly moving. Before I buy something, I’ll try and picture it among my fifteen required items and I could evaluate its necessity from there. I will evaluate how this particular item will enhance my life and how it suits my needs. What would a truly necessary item even look like? It certainly wouldn’t look like the two similar-looking pairs of saddle shoes on my shoe rack.

I believe indulging oneself is healthy and important. I love fashion, I adore fudge and I enjoy a good bottle of wine. I am not suggesting that we deny ourselves all pleasures, however these pleasures lose their potency if overindulged. I’m finding greater clarity as I distinguish more between the two categories, my wants and my needs.

How do we pull back the blinders and reveal our true needs as opposed to something we simply desire?

Tips to share:

Defining a necessary purchase requires more thought. I’ve made a point of trying to picture if there is something I already own that could be used as an alternative before I make a purchase. I bought underwear and thermal socks the other day. The needs for these particular items could not be fulfilled by anything else I already owned. However the need of the polka dot blouse, which I admired in the window display, could be fulfilled by the countless other blouses already housed within my closet.


I used part of my art supply store gift certificate, which was given to me by friends/former colleagues.  Other than that, I picked up some groceries, a pumpkin pie for a dinner party and underwear & socks, I have spent no unnecessary funds. Good week!

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The Fox and the Earrings.

Our houseguest Lady J arrives today, which in turn has sparked some fall cleaning. I’ve been storing some stuff to make room for our friend’s 4-week séjour. As I sorted through the bathroom shelves, I discovered 21 tubes of lipsticks and glosses, different shades and textures, many of which unused. I have over 250 dollars worth of unused rouge in my closet. The two tubes of Candy Apple red tells me these were not thought-out purchases but spur-of-the-moment ones.

This past month of analyzing my behavior and patterns has provided me with invaluable inside information. By becoming more self-aware, I’m giving myself the upper hand as I hold myself accountable for my behavior. According to studies, people who are quitting smoking will probably find it easier to avoid cheating if their smoking spots are near window reflections. Apparently we are less likely to cheat if we can observe ourselves doing so. As our daily lives evolve into faster paced and immediately gratifying experiences, I’m seeing a greater importance in slowing myself down and taking out my magnifying glass in order to analyze and understand my behavior.

I bought 9$ gold-plated earrings on Thursday. In my defense, I was replacing the earring that I had lost in Boston this past August. That right there is straight-up finagling and it enables my bad behavior. That rationale has been one of many nonsensical justifications that I have used to restore order with my moral compass. Did I need these earrings? No, I certainly do not need any piece of jewelry. It’s not like I was replacing a lost contact lens or a dead battery to a laptop. I have many earrings. I wanted these earrings to match my treasured gold necklace and there’s nothing wrong with that. However let’s call a spade a spade; I never needed the earrings, I simply wanted them.

One cannot underestimate the power of rationalization because a rational judgment call such as I don’t really need another pair of jeans, could quickly be outmaneuvered with If I had a pair in black then I could wear them with everything. Our ability to rationalize can overpower and mute our inner voice, which may in turn cheat you out of some hard-earned cash. As my conscience cries out, you know better, the battle ensues, and eventually I win with a, but Tash, it’s not like they’re new earrings, they’re just replacing what you already owned!

I outplayed myself. I knew I wasn’t meant to be shopping but I wanted the earrings. These two conflicting stances were destabilizing my conscience. When one’s view of the self is not consistent with what the self does, this experience is what psychologists refer to as cognitive dissonance. In order to save my self-esteem from this battle, I must regain control and restore harmony, thus enter the defense mechanisms that ensures homeostasis.

This inner-conflict reminds me of an Aesop fable that illustrates this point beautifully. I loved these fables as a child; little life lessons wrapped up in short stories. I was a particularly lucky little girl as I had them sung to me by Momma K. Hearing the story of a crocodile eating a monkey sung to you in a patois accent wrapped in a jovial melody still makes me laugh to this day. But, I digress… The particular fable I’m thinking of is The Fox and the Grapes. The story is of a fox that hankers after grapes hanging in a tall tree. He is filled with desire for these particular grapes but is unable to reach them off their high vine, thus choosing to despise them. He tells himself they are sour and not as delicious as he had imagined. This change of attitude, however irrational it may be, serves to calm his inner conflict over the grapes. The fox walks away grape-less without feeling defeated because in his eyes the grapes just weren’t that great. While the fox uses rationalization to quash his need for the grapes, I find myself rationalizing how to obtain them and justifying my need for them. The fox’s humble and wise approach allows him to leave without being disappointed. On the other hand, I leave feeling guilty with grapes in hand. The fox has taught me a lesson. Rationalizing may make me justify the purchase but I could also master it like the fox did to convince myself that the gold-plated earrings just wouldn’t satisfy me.

I’m realizing that what I’ve mastered over the years is the ability to rationalize the hell out of the most unnecessary and sometimes idiotic purchases. I say idiotic because who else buys two tubes of Cherry Apple red? I have always found a way to make my purchases acceptable ones to me. This is the ugly side of rationalization but as the fox shows us we can rationalize for good as well. How do we teach ourselves to act like the fox when we are already so comfortable with allowing ourselves to get what we want?

Tips to share:

Reduce the importance of the conflicting belief. Act like the fox. They are 9$ and could irritate my ears or I’m sure I have some lovely gold-colored earrings that will work just as well.


Aside from the Monday morning grocery run and the 9$ earrings, I picked up some printer ink, razors, a gift for my friend T and attended her birthday dinner, all of which were very essential. The cab ride home perhaps was not.

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Falling off the bike.

I confessed to my mother as she drove me home Monday night that I had slipped and bought a blouse. I was wearing what I had dubbed my “shame blouse”. I walked into the apartment to find Mr ET and our friend Mr L on the couch watching football. I admitted to cheating having bought 2 items after I had left them at the baseball game on Sunday. Did I say 2? Like a child keeping secrets, the more I’m questioned the closer I get to the truth. I bought 3 items for 36$. And so this is how I became a cheat and a liar over the span of 24 hours. I’m not doing so hot.

What happened? I had chosen a particular route home because as far as I could remember the street was shopping-free and predominantly residential. I came to a corner where I discovered a window display full of second hand lace blouses on mannequins sporting lovely fall patterned skirts. This unforeseen obstacle sent me into a bit of a tail spin, where I found myself pacing outside the store, not unlike a crazy person looking for a unicorn. “Come on, T, just go in. I refuse to become a hermit over this issue. How are you realistically going to live in this city?” And so I walked up to the door and opened that can of worms.  It began innocently enough, just me testing my boundaries and browsing the racks. But as soon as I walked into the changing room with 6 items in hand, it was clear I had entered the lion’s den. I was fresh off my fourth entry, feeling wonderful; full of insight and new understandings and then poof, just like that I fell off the wagon. I was bored. I tested myself and failed.

Later that week I got into an argument with a friend. It was nothing dramatic, just frustrating more than anything. There was certainly no yelling, no tears were shed and dinner was enjoyed together in the end. I came home later that night, and while I split my attention between an episode of Louis CK’s Louie and my computer, I bought something online. Like a moth to a flame, I burnt myself again. It started with some browsing of embroidered jewelry patterns and then next thing I knew I had entered a bunch of numbers and hit the submit order button. The purchase was like having a stiff drink to take the edge off my tough night.

There clearly is an undeniable emotional component to what happened. Did I feel better after? I kind of did. Fast transaction, easy peasy. The game changer now is that I’m aware of the behavior. The inevitable guilt set in much faster than usual, as I didn’t even make it through the evening before my culpability robbed me of a couple hours of sleep. I will not sit here and blame an argument with a friend for my slip. I can see that it was likely an unresolved feeling that in turn triggered my purchase, which as a result served to clear gloomy air that had lingered post-argument.

I read a quote painted on a wall somewhere that said; “Fail early, fail often” and I thought it was brilliant, and dispensed the advice to the teenage boys I used to work with at Youth Services. I can now see how it applies to me and quite perfectly too. As a society, we strap so much safety padding on our children, protecting them from falls. We instill too much fear in the inevitable fall and failure. We learn from our slips and falls. How else does one learn to ride a bike without getting a little banged up? I know I tipped and fell dozens of time before I learned how to maintain my balance.

Since my slip with my online purchase I’ve continued to connect the dots, tracing back my steps on when I started using this action as a coping method. We perhaps don’t necessarily learn from the failure itself, but it’s the priceless analyzing of our actions afterwards that uncovers where we went wrong and other invaluable insight in order to make the changes. I remember it took me days to kick my training wheels and get a little dirty. It required a lot of practice and perseverance to pick myself up again and get back on that bike. The scars on my right knee are reminders that I tried hard enough and eventually found my footing.

Looking back, I can see myself having tried several different things before using shopping as my feel good fixer. Perhaps I ate sweets, or smoked a joint or maybe it was the time I took up photography? They were probably all successful in distracting and comforting me from a particular negative emotion. I can’t shake this image of Goldilocks, testing out the porridge bowls, chairs and beds before she finds one that fit perfectly. I still need to find one that perfectly fits…

At some point though I discovered the benefit of the high felt after a purchase and a coping mechanism was mastered. If habits are learned responses to certain stimuli, how do we unlearn our learned behavior?


Tips to share:

Become more attuned to the triggers. Developing the ability to recognize the feelings that would normally require a transaction to follow suit.


Aside from the necessary food costs, the 36$ for the 3 items  & the online purchases, Mr. ET and I checked out the World Press Photo exhibition which was informative and inspiring and definitely worth the 8$ student price.

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Buddha, Yeshi and Me.

My two-week mark of no shopping has come and gone. I remember the second week of quitting smoking to have been the more difficult period but lucky for me the beginning of the fall semester has been a good distraction. I’ve had several friends check in and ask how I’m holding up. I found this question funny, making amusing remarks of how the mailman thinks I’ve died because the flood of packages has stopped. It’s been challenging.

Friday I picked up the printer Mr. ET and I have purchased. We are both students and know this will save us money and time over the next couple years. As I exited the store I was flooded with thoughts as I approached the mall, which housed the subway station underneath. “I’ll just walk straight to the escalators”, automatically became, “this would be a good opportunity to get my friend T her birthday present”, which then spiraled into “well, if I must go into a store I really should go into this one because they also have a terrific sale section!” The dialogue became so quick, intense and was clogging my thinking; I nearly had to cup my hands over my ears. Should I call a friend? Jump into a taxi? No, that would be a waste of money!! I was slipping into panic mode. I took control with an imaginary slap across my face and followed it with a “Get a hold of yourself!” I made my way to the bus stop bypassing all dangers but not without suffering a little.

My inner skirmish outside the electronics store made me think of the time I had sought the help from a Buddhist temple. I met with teacher Lama Yeshi twice a week to discuss Buddha’s teachings and learn meditation. Our sessions became more like a cultural exchange experience. Yeshi learned the intricacies of this young western woman’s inner thoughts and he bestowed upon me small gifts of how to change my behaviors. I found a clearer center but only briefly.

Buddha broke down the path to resolve our suffering within the Four Noble Truths. The Second Truth is where I felt Buddha left a little too much unexplained for my comprehension at the time. The Second Truth is exactly what I’m doing here, seeking to determine the cause of my actions, my perpetual cycle of what Buddha calls suffering. I can relate. My lessons should have come with a beating stick for the really important points. “Hey Tashi, we are specifically talking about you and that new polka dot skirt you’re meditating in today!” Yeshi was attempting to highlight how to let go of material goods and find peace within myself, to love myself. I remember being moved with the lessons and recounting Yeshi’s insight to friends and family, but I wasn’t able to do the homework outside the temple doors. Now, as I’m slowly peeling back this onion Yeshi’s teachings are resonating clearly. I’m getting it, Yeshi!

In Buddhism, desire and ignorance are depicted at the root of suffering. I equate desire with material goods, which our society has placed on pedestals, raised beyond their actual value with beautiful advertisements and endorsements. We always want more and as a result, we continue to long and spend our hard earned money on stuff that can only bring about unsatisfied feelings and suffering in the form of the debt that comes with it. The objects can never satisfy us. I would gladly trade in half of my shoes, skirts and shirts to shrink my debt. I could then work a little less, have more time to enjoy my family, friends, education and passions. It’s ignorance that tells us otherwise, I’m kicking myself for not having recognized this earlier.

In keeping with the Buddhist notion, the possessions we collect and don’t need become our hold and security blanket to this physical world. A world that is finite, as we will have to de-claw ourselves from our TV, iPhone and shoes one day. Come to think of it, I remember when I worked as a palliative care nurse, the people who found satisfaction outside of the things and items they owned, typically had more peaceful experiences in their final chapters. I have personally witnessed men and women coming to their own realization regarding this. They shared that it’s the cherished memories and experiences that bring comfort and warmth when reaching our end. These items we accumulate cannot be our comfort in this world, they are only decorations and distractions.

I had an Ah ha moment the other day. I realized I’ve never used the library. Sure, I’ve used the space, researched in their archives but aside from checking out books to increase the length of a bibliography, I’ve never really used a library card. I’ve accumulated a lot of books over the years. I’m curious- how many people with library cards have shopping problems? My guess is not too many. All right, yes, books are positive purchases as they enrich and teach us but it’s fact that I’ve had to buy, own them, which intrigues and disturbs me at the same time.

What does that say about someone, being able to borrow, use and return it? To enjoy it, let it go and move on. Where along the way did owning something become more valuable and necessary than enjoying it?


Tips to share: Remove your credit cards from your wallet and for the online shoppers, erase the payment information from your online profiles and Paypal accounts. If you don’t trust yourself, report them lost and get new ones with new numbers.

Tally: Aside from groceries, a bottle of wine (birthday gift certificate!), fabric for a friend’s birthday present (I’m making something) and the printer, the only questionable spending would be the delicious cappuccino I rewarded myself with after my cold sweat incident outside the electronics store. Only fair, right?

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Smoke and mirrors.

Body image. It’s incredible how loaded two beautiful words combined can become.

The way that I have viewed my body most of my life can be equated to the experience of walking through the hall of mirrors at a carnival funhouse. One moment I’m relatively satisfied by what I see, feeling confident and beautiful. Suddenly, in the next reflection, I notice a flaw and everything changes. What was initially an “I’m looking good” day quickly dissipates into, “wow, my arms look pretty thick in this blouse.” The confident feeling fades as quickly as I pass from mirror to mirror. Was it a misshapen windowpane or the real me? These garbled perceptions of my body have been deceiving me for over 15 years.

I’m ashamed to admit that I can only recall two moments in my adult life where I’ve truly felt comfortable with my size and shape. My post-malaria body and the summer my marriage ended. After recovering from malaria I was left 15 pounds lighter, a shocking 25 size in my new jeans. I felt like I looked great, having achieved the unachievable but in reality I couldn’t keep a meal down. I could fit in actual “skinny people” jeans yet I was slipping them off more times than I could count, shitting my way through the day. When my marriage came to an end several years later, so did my appetite for most things, especially for food. This was an absolutely ludicrous and unfamiliar reaction for me. The emotional turmoil cut my appetite completely. I drank green smoothies for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the first month. My weight loss made me look more like the women we worship and deem beautiful in magazines, but my body was so incredibly ill.

We all come in different shapes and sizes yet we continue to refer to others and ourselves in rather linear terms: petite, average, curvy and large. Megan Fox is 6 inches shorter than I am and Heidi Klum is 3 inches taller than me. These are details that I neglect when comparing myself to their body frames.  I have blond hair and light eyes like Scarlet Johansson but she is 5 inches shorter than I am, has half my shoulder build and double my breast size. All these women are beautiful and anatomically completely differently than I am and of each other. It boggles my mind that we continue to measure beauty and strive for the ideal size using these women as our quintessential objectives.

I remember pulling out a dress from my closet that I loved but didn’t wear often to give to my Lady V. She’s a touch taller than I am with longer legs and until then I hadn’t realized that even though my stunning friend has a little waist, she also has wider hips. The dress didn’t fit her the same way it fit me. I found comfort in this moment. I’ve always found Lady V to be beautiful and to know that her and other beautiful women can’t fit in to one universal size reaffirmed that women can be beautiful in all shapes and sizes. I hadn’t imagined there was something larger on my slender friend other than her long legs. It’s clear to me that when it comes to sizes, we can perceive others and ourselves in very narrow contexts. Even if my two girlfriends and I shop the medium sizes at most stores, we are still shaped very differently. I have a longer torso, making a tunic a more comfortable cut on me when my other friend Lady M could rock it as a mini dress.

Most people I know have a complex, something they are trying to change or hide. I’m beginning to think that one of the reasons I’ve shopped, and to the extent that I’ve done, is an attempt to camouflage these flaws and insecurities. I’ve been clothing and covering up my insecurity with my body for years. It is only now that I am managing to catch up and settle into my own skin, breaking away beyond the smoke and mirrors of fashion and clothes.  I can equate the act of purchasing new pretty cover-ups and accessories to searching for a chosen exterior.

My psychologist friend Mademoiselle I shared an interesting statistic with me over lunch this week. She said according to recent studies, they have found the rate of depression in most African countries to be substantially lower than that in the western world. She tells me that it seems to be related to the difference in lifestyles, saying, “t’es dans autre chose” (their focus is elsewhere).  When your daily activities are more closely related to immediate needs, you’re left with very little time to reflect upon superficial issues. I find this fascinating. I’ve always felt that the happiest people I’ve ever met are people I’ve befriended upon my travels in Africa. Are we westerners simply too preoccupied with our individual neurosis because we have the time to reflect upon these hang-ups? In a world where our immediate needs are met more easily and in comfort, have we left ourselves available to over-analyze superficial physical attributes such as plump tummies, softening breast tissue and untoned arms?

Tips to share: Lady K shared some very useful tips with me. Here are the two I’ve started with.

  • Unsubscribe from all shopping sites including, flash sales, etc.- Done!
  • Establishing clear rules such as “absolutely no clothes for 6 months”- Done, I’m doing only socks and underwear until my 31st birthday (July). I have enough to last me through the upcoming seasons.

Tally: Aside from food groceries and toilet paper, I bought my boyfriend Mr. ET two chocolatines (essential in his world), a 2$ second hand clock radio to listen to the news in the apartment (it doesn’t work…), 2 tickets to a friend’s documentary film and 8 buttons for 4$ to redesign an old Sex Pistols t-shirt. I know, not all were terribly essential, so I believe I’ll need to clarify what is essential but all in all not bad?

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The 8 dollar dress phenomenon.

There’s nothing quite like that unnerving and queasy feeling of logging into your online banking. I’ve developed the habit of never doing this before eating or shortly after a meal. To this day, I still have my fingers covering my eyes, as if preparing for a gruesome horror scene, as the page slowly loads. According to Statistics Canada, the disposable income (spending money) of Canadians has increased this year however don’t get too excited because by early June, our household debt has reached a record high of 152% of that disposable income. Ouch! So, what does that say about me? I suppose this needs to be put into perspective for each individual case regarding their income and spending. Let me be clear here, I am nowhere near the dangers of bankruptcy, however I am carrying debt on which I make all my payments and will be doing so for some time to come. I can slowly pay off this debt but this is a perfect example of the income not being sufficient enough to carry the output, my spending. The same principle is applied with calories and fat, you need to balance the input of food vs. the output in physical activity in order not to gain weight. In this case, rather than gaining weight the danger is going into debt.

So how do you justify your debt when that balance is tipped? I have a few techniques, better known as excuses and commonly referred to amongst psychoanalytical therapists as rationalizations. An awkward chuckle is typically heard over the phone after I make a witty remark about my spending while speaking to the bank representative, who follows with a friendly “But ma’am, I have seen far worse.”  My favorite is when they actually reaffirm one of my preferred excuses, “but I see here that you’ve always had a steady income…” Yes, this is true. I have worked full time nearly every year since I was 16. Aside from several volunteer stints abroad, I have worked steadily full time and this has been a crutch for me. With these rationalizations I allow myself to continue my shopping patterns over and over again by allowing my guilt to subside for the time being. Because why else would an intelligent woman spend money she no longer has?

An old friend of mine wrote me last night congratulating me on my new undertaking. Lady S shared a common dialogue that I typically run through my head.

She wrote, “Just because the dresses are $8 does not mean you have to buy them all!” A sale or a good price doesn’t give you the okay to purchase. Trust me, the only thing all those lovely 8$ items give you is a green light to get 10 of them, because it’s a deal.” It’s as if my debt has curbed my behavior in search of a deal – not to stop spending but to do so on in a less expensive manner, a shopping moral compass if you will. This then leaves me at the end of the day with 3 sundresses, 3 blouses, a skirt and a belt to tie it all together. I’m still 150 dollars in the hole.

Lady S also highlighted another favored rationale for the discount purchase- vintage gems and second hand finds. The inner dialogue then becomes something more like this, “it’s just 8$ and second hand, so actually it’s a deal and ecological too!” Throw in the eco-friendly nature of buying recycled or reused goods and the historical mystery behind them and it becomes, once again, very difficult to resist. I won’t be able to find something like this anywhere else, I tell myself. And so a purchase is made…

Interestingly, the more I read about compulsive shopping and continue to examine my own shifting patterns over the years, the more the absurdity and illogical nature of my shopping habits become apparent. I know I don’t have the money. (I’ll dive into credit accessibility another day). It comes down to this overwhelming desire to buy. Regardless of your finances or even your ability to rationalize the behavior, a transaction will be made. So, why do we make the purchase? Am I simply masking the undesirable emotion of the moment (boredom, self-doubt, body image) with a pretty dress or turquoise earrings? And if so, can you really fix an emotional reaction with a physical response?

Tally: Aside from avocados and bananas yesterday, I only have 1 pint of beer at a friend’s comedy show to declare. Now since alcohol is not my vice and amateur comedy requires at least one alcoholic beverage, this brings my tally to no non-essential spending to date.

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The contract.

Hello and welcome to my little spot on the net.

I’m a North American woman who has been wrestling with a shopping problem for several years now. Actually, it’s officially a decade and a half this year- how sad is that? I’m relieved to say my style has flourished yet extremely embarrassed to admit how far in debt I’ve fallen.

Choosing a title for this blog sparked a lot of ideas and theories. It made me recognize even more that my problem with consumerism isn’t a simple one. It’s a complex web, so the Serial Shopper, the Compulsive Patron or even the ever popular Shopaholic just wouldn’t represent this space properly.

I don’t really like the term shopaholic. I can’t help but think of cute things, like pink dresses, dainty handbags and 6 inch high heels, none of which I own myself. The name Shopaholic has also been tied to humorous tales of people falling into debt in funny ways and then selling their things and living happily ever after- all while wearing adorable cardigans, name brand skinny jeans and Jimmy Choo pumps.  Again, it’s not real or at least, it’s not my reality.

I’ve come to suspect that we are all unwittingly bound to society by a social contract and within that contract there are several guidelines regarding how we contribute financially. In order for the wheel of capitalism to continue spinning and the economy to flourish, we need to spend. We are encouraged by all sorts of methods, mediums and booby-traps to spend, spend, spend and to do it beyond our means. This is not to say I am relinquishing myself of all financial responsibility. I would like to be especially clear on this point- I am responsible for my debt, no ifs, ands or buts about it. My goal here is to examine how many different elements are at play. These elements are working against me and my wallet therefore I must arm myself to navigate among the sharks. I want to change my perception of myself and how I live, participate and contribute within our society and to do so, I must begin by breaking my contract.

I’ve set a goal- as of September 1st, 2012- this past Saturday, I have made a commitment to myself to stop all unnecessary spending. Since this is not my first rodeo, I know that in order to insure success I must grow and become more aware of the elements at play. This is the reason I’ve decided to take this experience to the internet and share it. I’ve chosen this domain (couldn’t resist the internet pun) to broaden my knowledge as to why we shop and better yet, why we do so in such excessive amounts and with such compulsive behaviors. In order to change my behavior, I need to understand what influences it from the get-go. I don’t want to get ahead of myself. As I sit here writing this I know no one out there knows I’m writing this but hopefully more and more like minded people will gravitate to this space and we can learn and share from one another.

I would be happy and grateful for your thoughts. Let the games begin!

Tally: Aside from groceries, no non-essential spending to speak of to date.

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