Susan Coles

I have to say I was shocked when Patricia said I was nominated for Woman of the Week. I’ve been in awe of the nominees – what they’ve overcome, accomplished and continue to do in pursuit of living fully. I have an issue with my own worth – I compare myself to others too much and feel I come up lacking. (I know I’m not alone in this which is why I’m sharing.) So my first thought was to decline. But then I thought, someone felt I’m worthy of this honour (thanks mystery nominator!), and three good friends I spoke with said the same thing. So because I trust these friends and value their opinions, I’m challenging myself to push past my insecurities, investigate what others see in me, and be open to accepting the good without feeling I have to be perfect to be worthy.

I’m a 62-year-old woman, daughter, sister, aunt and friend. I’ve never been married and have no children but have always been very connected to my 21-year-old nephew.

I enjoy being creative. I started drawing as a child and it was my passion for many years. I had a silk painting/fashion business, have designed jewellery, and enjoy painting, fabric arts, photography, writing and designing/making things with wood. These are things I now want to choose more of to find my balance.

My other favourite things are getting together with friends to discuss the mysteries of life (ours and in general), reading, traveling, fighting against injustice, puzzles, games, going to the movies and food (especially when enjoyed with others). I’ve been retired for more than 8 years so have more time to do these things, though not as much as I thought – life has a way of filling it if we aren’t careful.

A big part of my identity is tied to helping others – I remember this from when I was a young child. As with most things, there are pros and cons. It’s wonderful to be able to help people and see them benefit from it. It can also feel wonderful to feel needed. But the truth is that I’m often quite drained from this and leave myself little energy for taking care of me. I believe in every aspect of life our main challenge is finding balance. There’s a fine line between helping and enabling and another one between taking care of others so much that we don’t take care of ourselves. And I know sometimes we choose this to avoid facing our own “stuff”. My ongoing challenge is to choose to be on the right side of those lines.

Who inspires you in your life and why?

My nephew for his amazing self-awareness. He’s struggling with depression, anxiety and addiction and feels overwhelmed by life. He’s torn between feeling like a helpless little kid and a young adult. But he has so much insight, is so interested and concerned about the world we live in and wants so much to figure things out and make a good life. I doubt he knows it but he challenges me daily to question my long-held beliefs and behaviours to see if they’re still worth holding on to.

My best friend BTL who’s overcome many things in life, including an abusive childhood and first marriage, to find true love in her second marriage to a man who loves her and her kids unconditionally. She’s chipped away at the wall she created to protect herself so many years ago and is now choosing to let her light shine.

Mom who managed our family life so well with her loving, capable, intelligent ways. She worked outside the home off and on while raising 4 kids. Dad, being a product of his time, was okay with her having another job as long as she could do it and run the house! When she and Dad split 40 years ago she moved into her new life with my youngest sister and made a career for herself, enjoyed a full social life and remained the center of our family life for years, even including Dad in all our family events.

My sister who’s also been struggling with depression and other issues for years but has overcome a big one and is working hard to rebuild her relationship with her son.

My dear friend JEMT who is working so hard to keep her head above water while going through cancer treatment and supporting her husband with dementia and her adult son who has a disability and lives at home. She works every day to manage things while keeping a space for hope for all of them.
So many of my friends and women in this group for how they’ve figured out how to deal with huge challenges in their lives … or are dealing with them even if they don’t feel like they’ve figured anything out!

What have been some of the biggest challenges you have had to overcome in your life?

I can’t claim to have overcome some of these yet but …

Learning that life is not fair. I’m all about fairness and justice. As a kid I often said, “That’s not fair!” and Dad replied, “Life isn’t fair.” I hated it when he said that but I remember thinking years later, “Dammit, Dad was right!” I see this every day in many ways. I still find it hard to accept that (karma aside) there’s no magic Fair-o-Meter making sure everything works out fairly in the end.

Learning balance in every aspect of life. This includes in helping others vs. myself and in fighting my perfectionist tendency to accept that done is better than perfect. (I know I’ll reread this profile later and think about what I could have said differently but I’m proud that it’s finally DONE!)

Dealing with depression for years and recently, loneliness and social anxiety. It means working hard to get outside of myself and find joy and happiness again in my life.

Watching my nephew struggle. He was taken from his mom and our family when he was only 8 years old and put in CAS care. It was devastating and totally unfair. I didn’t see him for 1 1/2 years but fought to get him back in my life and for him to see his family again. There were many difficulties, including no contact with my sister/his mom for 5 years. He lived with me for a while but still spent many years in foster care. At 21 he has huge challenges ahead, dealing with how all this affected his self-worth. I have to accept that this happened and move forward. I have to grieve the loss of my happy, carefree little nephew while holding hope in my heart that he’ll find that beautiful spark again. I have to allow him to work through all this in his own way while being there for him – a fine balance that I struggle with daily.

Seeing both my parents in cognitive decline. Mom has Mild Cognitive Impairment – often a precursor to dementia. In the past I found myself often being impatient with her. I still have to watch myself but now understand that underlying my irritation is my deep sadness that my mom is not able to be all those things she once was. She’s still very active and social but it’s a struggle to build a new relationship – so many things we enjoyed sharing just don’t work anymore. Dad’s had dementia for a few years. He’s in bed most of the time and has withdrawn from most of life. It’s difficult to connect with him, especially since our connection was mainly intellectual. Besides the emotional challenges, there are the practical. We need to move Dad to get more care than he gets now and we’ve discussed when we’ll have to approach Mom about no longer living on her own.

Overcoming some of these means just plowing through when all I want to do is feel sorry for myself!

What did you do to move through them? What did you learn?

Let’s say it’s a work in progress.

I reach out to friends. I have some very good friends, some who’ve been there for me for decades. When I’ve felt the need, my circle of friends has expanded. 3 years ago it was by meeting some of the Ladies Who Lunch when I helped with a local fundraiser. From there I’ve met so many beautiful women including Pierrette and the many caring and supportive women of Women Living Fully.

I’ve been in cognitive therapy off and on over the years, which has helped me gain some insight. I’m also using other healing methods to get to the underlying issues that hold me back from being the best I can be. I’m currently in a parenting program that’s helped shift my relationship with my nephew and others.
I’m also asking for more help from my siblings with family issues, which allows them to step up more. Now I look at our relationships differently and see more strength in them.

I’ve learned to be grateful for what I have and the choices available to me that many don’t have.

What are you most proud of?

Fighting to get my nephew back in our lives. It hasn’t been easy but it was all SO worth it.

Taking a big risk when I was 25 to move from Ottawa to St. John’s Newfoundland on my own where I lived for 3 years. I made so many fabulous friends there and found a beautifully different culture that I treasure to this day.

Taking another big risk when I was 33 to leave my government career and start my silk painting business. Even though I went back to the government after 3 years, I learned so much about myself.

I’m always proud when I speak up for things and people I believe in.

What do you want younger women to know?

Hmmm. I’ve taken to my 60s to get this far and still have a long way to go! I remember myself as a young girl who never questioned her self-worth. I was loving and confident verging on cocky. I spoke up for truth and fought for those I felt were being treated badly. I don’t think I cared if it meant challenging power. While I continue to fight for these things, something happened around adolescence (partly to do with the boy-girl thing) and I lost a lot of my belief in my own worth.

I would say, go back to your child self, the you that didn’t yet think to compare yourself to others, that believed you were worthy simply because you existed. If you can’t recall such a time, look for it in a young girl you know and imagine yourself in that wondrous space. Draw on that, be easier on yourself and see if you can’t do amazing things.

What does living fully mean to you?

I haven’t quite figured it all out yet but am working on it! Here’s what I think it will look like:

Pushing past my fears (of failure, of someone thinking negatively of me) and stopping my “Yeah, buts …” cold in their tracks.

Accepting that what others think of me is their business; what I think of me is my business.

Establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries in my relationships so I have energy to take care of myself.

Having the joy of creativity in my life.

Letting go of outcomes and focusing on the journey.

Loving myself enough to choose to take care of me more, to be a more loving, kind, fun, relaxed and fulfilled woman.

Favourite quote?

“Don’t compare your insides to someone else’s outsides.” – Anne Lamott, author, from TED2017

Here’s what I shared with a friend’s daughter when asked for “words of wisdom” for her 30th birthday. It’s my twist on Dad’s words to me: Life isn’t fair but just because it isn’t fair, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try every day to live with kindness, generosity, love, and compassion.

I also added “No matter how much you spend on a vacuum cleaner, vacuuming is NOT fun!” 😉

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