The Luxury of Hope

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When high profile celebrities like Chester Bennington of Linkin Park and Chris Cornell of Audioslave, Soundgarden and Temple of the dog fame commit suicide, people take notice and discussions are had and opinions are shared. The contemplation’s we hear over and over is how they had everything and it must have been drugs and how selfish they were to leave their families behind.

People are talking, that is a good thing. People talking out their ass, not so much, but unfortunately we live in the digital age when anyone with a keyboard can share their opinion, most of them have no basis in fact or knowledge of the subject, certainly not compassion, but as mob mentality works, a bunch of people agree and what could have been a healthy discussion surrounding mental health, brain disorders, depression and anxiety has turned into a literal shit show and nobody’s mind has been changed and several people are hurt and pissed off.

There is a large stigma surrounding the topic of suicide and mental health and attempts to have real and intelligent conversations and to create change has never been more challenging. The truth is expansive and sometimes it is OK to sit a subject out and just listen, maybe learn something. Talking is healthy, offering your baseless opinion is not helpful and quite frankly it does not make you a leader or a “voice to be heard” it makes you an asshole.

Chester Bennington was vocal about suffering through child sexual abuse by an older male, he spoke of suicidal thoughts and using drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. He was vocal about the horrors that he encountered in his own head and described the space between his ears as a “bad neighborhood” and how keeping busy by being a husband, a father, a bandmate and a friend was the only was to stay out of that bad place. I watched an interview where he talked candidly about his pain and anguish and the radio DJ that he was talking to was a bit uneasy with Chester’s honest and forthright portrayal of fighting the beasts of depression that plagued him. Chester seemed intent on staying on track as he was discussing his life, his music, his lyrics and the expectations that are placed on celebrities to have these perfect lives. Chris Cornell was fairly vocal about his own struggles as well, perhaps in a quieter way but if you ever sat down and read any of the lyrics that they wrote their pain and struggles are framed in their music forever. I was so choked up after Chris Cornell’s passing and my husband and I read the lyrics to Like a Stone and were overcome with emotion. The music that soothed us for years was the story of someone else’s inner turmoil. Kirk got it on a much different level than me and I finally understand that. I remember one time remarking to Kirk about him having a “depressive episode” and he said, “I don’t think it is a series of episodes, it is just one big one, it is never far away”

In a 1994 Interview with Rolling Stone Chris  was asked if he perceived run-of-the-mill depression as a comfort zone, he replied, “The problem is, no one really knows what run-of-the-mill depression is. You’ll think somebody has run-of-the-mill depression, and then the next thing you know, they’re hanging from a rope. It’s hard to tell the difference. But I do feel that depression can be useful. Sometimes it’s just chemical. It doesn’t seem to come from anywhere. And whenever I’ve been in any kind of depression, I’ve over the years tried to not only imagine what it feels like to not be there, but try to remind myself that I could just wake up the next day and it could be gone because that happens, and not to worry about it. And at the same time, when I’m feeling great, I remember the depression and think about the differences in what I’m feeling and why I would feel that way, and not be reactionary one way or the other. You just have to realize that these are patterns of life and you just go through them.”

Cornell’s suicide made us question whether you can really outrun the beast. Chris had completely changed his life and his lifestyle, he went to rehab, he gave up drugs and alcohol, he fell in love and got remarried, yet as he told Men’s Health Magazine, “For me, I always had one foot in this very dark, lonely, isolated world.”

Is there an escape from that or do you just run and run and run until you get too tired and the demons catch you? They are stronger, faster prey and they are always waiting. In my disbelief and sadness over the death of an idol Kirk kept telling me that “he just got tired babe. He was too tired.” I know now that he knew that feeling all too well. We had talked plenty about going to bed with and waking up with the same ghosts and the impact that has on your body and mind. He too got tired.

These are high profile celebrities so we hear about their suicides. Unfortunately their circumstances are not unique and money and fame is not a cure all. Suicide is happening every single day and it is taking the lives of the people we love. 

The brain is so important to every single thing we do in our lives and if something is not firing right in our brain it can  make our lives absolute hell, yet unlike Cancer where we commend those who suffer for their bravery and we applaud their fight as radiation rips through their weakened bodies in an attempt to fight the evil that lives inside of them, and then if they lose the battle we call them heroes, instead; for those that suffer the devastating effects of mental health disorders and lose their battle we call them selfish. Instead of seeing a person that that is brave and fought as long and hard as they could while facing the terrifying destruction of their own self from the inside out; we call them a coward. We call them weak.

Often suicide is not a choice, it is the result. Sometimes suicide is not a careful plan it is a saving grace, a release from the pain. As horrible and tragic as it is we need to stop blaming the victims of these horrible diseases. We need to end the stigma and stop inserting our fears and our bias and calling it truth. The truth is expansive, and the hard truth is that no two people have the exact same reality. Our personal world is constructed by our brains. Our interpretation of the signals we receive create our day to day reality as we interact with people and our environment. No two realities will be exactly the same. Because our brains are different our perceptions will be different. Some mental illnesses have been linked to an abnormal balance of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters help nerve cells in the brain communicate with one another. I cannot stand in judgement of anyone and say for certain what goes on in their brain and I can certainly not begin to imagine what goes on in the brain of someone who suffers a debilitating illness that affects some of the most important organs, systems and functions in their body.

If you choose to sit back as a keyboard warrior, shouting your judgements and baseless accusations you are a SELFISH, WEAK COWARD.  I hope I did not stutter.

When I was in grade 6 I recall being a bit infatuated with Greek Mythology and there was a story about Pandora’s box. As the legend goes in ancient Greece there were two brothers named Epimetheus and Prometheus who upset the gods and upset Zeus who was said to be the most powerful of all gods. To punish the brothers Zeus constructed a woman of clay, having the goddess of Athene breathe life into her, Aphrodite made her beautiful and Hermes taught her to be both charming and deceitful. Zeus called her Pandora and sent her as a gift to Epimetheus.

Epimetheus had been warned about accepting gifts from the gods and though he knew better Pandora was so captivating and beautiful, he was taken by her and agreed to marry her. Zeus gave Pandora a beautiful box as a wedding gift with one stipulation, she was never to open it. Pandora was intrigued by the box but put the key on a high shelf and agreed not to open it. Several times Pandora faltered, her curiosity getting the best of her and she reached onto the high shelf for the key fitting it into the lock only to feel guilty and change her mind at the last second. One day Pandora gave in to her curiosity believing she would go mad if she didn’t open the box. She slid the key into the lock and opened the box slowly, anticipating fine silks, gowns, jewelry or coins. None of these were packed in the box. To her horror, Pandora found that Zeus had packed the box full of every terrible evil he could think of.  Out of the box poured all the evils of humanity; poverty, disease, plague, misery, sadness and death, all shaped like tiny moths stinging Pandora over and over and she slammed the lid shut. Pandora could hear a voice calling from the box, pleading to be let out. Epimetheus finally agreed that there could be no worse horror than had already been released, and he slowly opened the lid once more.

The only thing that remained in that beautiful box of horror was hope and it fluttered out of the box like a beautiful dragonfly, touching the wounds created by the evil creatures and healing them. Though Pandora had released pain and suffering to the world she had also released hope to follow them.

Every single day we encounter the horrors of disease, sickness, poverty, misery, sadness and death. Imagine for one second if you were denied the luxury of hope. That is what mental illness can do to your brain. It can take away your hope! Until you are in a place where you have no hope you cannot in good conscious stand in judgment of someone who has been denied something that you take for granted daily.

 

I have shared this excerpt from a speech by Theodore Roosevelt many times and I will continue to share it a million times if that is what it takes.

                                                          THE MAN IN THE ARENA
Excerpt from the speech “Citizenship In A Republic”
delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

 

Seasons in the Sun-W.I.S.E. Project 2017 #tenacioustuesday

I have a thousand things that I want to do today but my mind is incapable of sifting through them and putting them in any sort of order. I got up today and showered, I put clothes on, I fed the dogs, I diffused some essential oils, put in a load of laundry, washed dishes, swept the family room, read one page of a book several times and listened to Brené Brown’s Rising Strong as a spiritual practice on audible, I also opened my computer. It is noon on Sunday. It may not seem like much and it is certainly not all that I had planned to do when I was driving home from work on Friday. For some reason in those moments when I was driving down the road I had a sense that I could spend the weekend doing all sorts of productive things that when I woke up on Saturday felt impossible. On Saturday, I felt immobilized in my grief. Being in the world without Kirk feels incredibly scary and even knowing that we can and will move on and that we will be ok, right now I am existing in fear and I feel powerless to leap over it. I feel like every day if I inch my toes forward just a tiny bit, I am making steps towards making steps. The steps feel scary, though they should feel like a step in the right direction they also feel like a step away from Kirk. I know that my daughters are feeling the same way, they catch themselves in a moment of lightness and they immediately feel sad because we sense Kirk all around us and we feel like the minute he thinks we are OK we won’t feel him anymore.

I have been struggling with a tweaked back all week. It is nothing major, it is from a tumble down my basement stairs and it re-occurs periodically during times of stress. My chiropractor is great and would fix me up in seconds but I have been reluctant to get rid of it, almost as if it is a comfort to feel pain physically, instead of just mentally. It lets me know that my pain is real and when my mind is struggling to overcome the mental pain I know that my body has stepped up to take on some of that burden. It then occurred to me how difficult it must be for people who suffer from depression and disorders of the brain and how that pain over time can manifest physically and make everything hard.

“Depression is such a cruel punishment. There are no fever, no rashes, no blood tests to send people scurrying in concern, just the slow erosion of self, as insidious as cancer and like cancer, it is essentially a solitary experience, a room in hell with only your name on the door.”

~ Martha Manning, Undercurrents

 

Kirk and I were together for 19 years, we struggled through those hard years when you don’t really know yourself so it is hard to truly know each other. I spent a great deal of my life learning to love myself so that I was able to love Kirk without crowding him out with my insecurities and worries. I had to process the importance of vulnerability in relationships and embrace the reality that to love another person fully you couldn’t protect your heart, you had to be all in, and love and life doesn’t come with any guarantees. The beauty of putting the hard work into loving and accepting yourself and embracing vulnerability over pride in your relationships is that you can love someone exactly as they are. You eliminate that overwhelming need to change your partner, because you realize that you are only responsible for changing yourself. When you love someone for who they truly are you get to see and be loved by the best version of them. When you love someone as they are they feel invested in, and a person that feels appreciated will always do more than expected. I always loved Kirk and I know that he always loved me, but it was really in the last several years that we learned to love each other well. We were still far from perfect; I don’t think a relationship exists that is perfect, relationships are just imperfect people that refuse to give up on each other even when things are tough.  We had many tough times but we also had many good times and through it all Kirk was more than just my husband; he was my lover and best friend.

Several days after Kirk left the world I was in our bedroom and a binder fell off the shelf and landed on my toe. I recall that some strange things had been happening and after yelling an obscenity I looked up, threw my hands in the air and yelled “what are you doing to me?” I knelt and picked up the binder and about six papers folded over, had fallen out of the binder and onto the floor. I started to shove them back in the binder but for some reason I opened them. A couple of months before Kirk and I were laying in bed and we each did this survey that asked us key questions about what we thought each others’ strengths and weaknesses were as well as our own and some questions about our relationship. There was a question that asked, “what would you change about your relationship?” Kirk had answered “nothing”. There was a question that asked what you liked best about your relationship and Kirk answered, “We don’t hate on each other anymore, we just love.” If that binder hadn’t fallen on my toe I am not sure when and if I would have ever come across those papers. It was such a powerful memory for me and the thought that it may have never been recovered, either physically or in my mind, was sad. I remember how grateful we were feeling that night because once again we felt like we had outwitted the demons of depression that tried to pull us a part. I can remember feeling so close to Kirk as I was curled up to him that night that I felt like I could crawl inside him. That may sound absurd but I am not sure how else to describe it. Depression robbed us of a lot of time and joy, so we loved really hard during what I called “the in be tweens”.  Knowing that depression for Kirk really never went away, if anything it just became more manageable or he got better at hiding it, of that I cannot be sure. I cannot say with certainty how he was feeling, but I can say that according to what he wrote and how he made me feel, he was in a good place at that time. Kirk also had high functioning anxiety and he counteracted feelings of shame and inadequacy by working as hard as a person could possibly work. He was a machine and although physically he was often spent, he did derive a great deal of satisfaction from the hard work he put in to every task he took on. It is impossible to say what goes on in another persons head but I recall him telling me one time what it felt like to have depression and anxiety, he said it felt like someone ripped your heart out of your chest, filled it with hornets and put it back in, it was one moment feeling absolutely nothing and the next feeling everything all at once, it was feeling alone and overwhelmingly lonely in a room full of people, it was 1000 thoughts running through your brain at 100 miles per hour, it was feeling like you are not good enough for the people you love no matter how hard you try and being exhausted but not able to sleep. Too me it sounded tremendously crushing and I honestly wonder, even now; how he was able to be so much to so many people and work so hard with that overpowering burden. He did though, because he was so much more than depression and anxiety and the demons that haunted him in dark times. He was a father, a son, a friend, a confidente, a co-worker and my partner. He was laughter and love and joy and fearlessness.

My favorite song growing up was Seasons in the sun, Kirk never liked it but he would play it for me periodically because he knew it reminded me of simpler times. He had a his own lyrical version of course that included the unforgettable line “fingers in our bums” and of course I would pretend it infuriated me when he sang it that way. Seasons in the sun always represented to me the easy carefree days of childhood but it popped in my head today and it is actually a song about dying which I guess I always knew but today the lyrics hit me harder than ever. Kirk and I often talked about how hard times really made us appreciate the good times. Would we really appreciate the sunny days the way we do if it wasn’t grey now and then. Lately the days seem to be dimmer and they just fade to black and start over again. Maybe grief is like a season, and sort of like a brutally cold winter where we bring out our mittens and wool socks; only in grief we unpack the memories of our good times and we wrap ourselves in them until the spring comes.

Goodbye Michelle my little one
You gave me love and helped me find the sun
And every time that I was down
You would always come around
And get my feet back on the ground
Goodbye Michelle it’s hard to die
When all the birds are singing in the sky
Now that the spring is in the air
With the flowers everywhere
I wish that we could both be there

~Terry Jacks, Seasons in the Sun

Shotgun Rider-W.I.S.E. Project 2017

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I was driving to Larch Hills in British Columbia with the kids at the end of June, we had planned a family vacation and vow renewal but the trip turned into an opportunity to delay reality and work on some healing time and an occasion to spread some of Kirk’s energy and spirit in some of the places in the mountains that he loved.

We all take on roles in relationships and Kirk was the driver in ours. I drove occasionally when we were together but Kirk was a terrible passenger so it was likely on road trips that he was behind the wheel.  He randomly and often sent me Tim McGraw’s song Shotgun Rider and when we were together it was one of the songs that we waltzed too. I liked being his shotgun rider and every single time he sent me that song I teared up.

On the way to Larch Hills our roles were forever reversed and I had a great deal of anxiety about the long drive and about carrying my husbands spirit in a handsome ceramic urn, resting in a silk lined box. Trust me when I say that it is just as weird as it sounds and it caused a lot of uneasy conversations and awkward moments between the kids and I throughout the entire trip. Questions like “Is Dad in the truck? Do you want to bring Dad inside? Is Dad going to sleep in your room? Can Dad be my partner in Scrabble? DON’T knock your Dad off the table. Spreading ashes is arduous as well, it requires a great deal of mental energy. Admittedly there was a lot of beauty and therapy in spreading the energy of the person you love in all of the places he loved. It took on a life of its own.

After sleeping for less than two hours the long drive on a holiday weekend was extremely tedious. I feel like at some point that Kirk put his hands over mine on the wheel and instilled in me a confidence that I have never had while driving. I have never driven the Kicking Horse Canyon stretch of highway, for some reason I have always had an irrational fear of it. I found myself sailing through it confidently and I knew for sure that Kirk had my back the entire time. We had been in and out of radio service throughout the mountains but when we turned the volume up during that uneasy stretch of highway Tim McGraw crooned

 “I don’t ever want to wake up,
Lookin’ into someone else’s eyes
Another voice calling me baby
On the other end of the phone
A new girl puttin’ on her makeup
Before dinner on Friday night
No I don’t ever wanna know, Oh Oh
No other shotgun rider, beside me, singin’ to the radio, Whoa Oh, Oh Oh”

 

I knew in that moment, with certainty; that he was right there with me and this time he was my Shotgun rider. Big fat tears rolled down my cheeks and it is one of those moments in your life that is agonizingly horrible and achingly beautiful at the same time.

Bravery, courage and vulnerability are frequent words on my blog. They are powerful words that have a big place in my life but I don’t think I could have ever imagined the magnitude of those words in relation to grieving the loss of my husband.  Some days just putting my feet on the ground feels brave. As a strong woman, who has always considered myself independent, it is unnerving for me to feel so unsafe in the world. There were many times over the years that I know that I had to be the sturdy one but the truth is that Kirk had this larger than life personality and I felt protected, even when he was away. Being in the world without him feels incredibly scary and uncertain and my confidence in myself and the entire world has been inconceivably shaken.

I always thought of courage as doing something even though it feels scary and for me loving someone through every imaginable scenario for nineteen years has taken an insane amount of courage. I thought it was daring to love someone fully and completely because relationships are ambiguous at best. I wonder now if I ever truly considered the impermanence of it all; the question of mortality.

Brené Brown says that vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage are not always comfortable but they are never weaknesses. Vulnerability means choosing courage over comfort, it is in fact the most accurate measurement of courage. In a world where our ultimate purpose is to love; we often get caught up in our own pride and our own fears. Loving someone doesn’t come with any guarantees, but if we protect our hearts from feeling discomfort we also shelter them from joy. Loving my husband, not just when things were great or during the difficult times, but now when I can only put my love out into the world without any expectation of getting it back; is possibly the most vulnerable I have ever been.

I feel an unthinkable emptiness that I cannot begin to describe. One of the last things that Kirk said to me was to hurry home so that we could curl up and watch a movie. I want to curl up with him so bad and right now it doesn’t feel like that feeling will ever go away. I feel incredibly robbed. Depression; the thief of joy has stolen my lover and my very best friend.

Today; July 13th , we would have celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary, boasting almost 19 years together. We would have posted a vacation picture announcing our vow renewal and talked to each other, as we did every year; about how grateful we were to have made it through all the struggles. I have always believed that you are lucky if you find one truly special person in your lifetime that changes and challenges you. Whether or not that relationship lasts you come out of it with wisdom. Kirk was one of those truly special people that challenged me, loved me, taught me and believed in me. Even the struggles, the tears, the hard lessons and the endless efforts were bound in love.

The result of that type of passionate love and enduring friendship is crippling heartbreak.

We had plans, we had Netflix series to finish, movies we wanted to see, children to raise, grandchildren to spoil, places we wanted to go and so much love to give! There was a homemade potato salad in the fridge that Kirk was so excited to eat with his barbequed hamburgers. It feels like my life is suspended in mid air!

My heart and soul hurts for all the memories we didn’t get to make and all of the milestones to come that our kids will long for their Dad.

I wouldn’t trade a second of our time together; even the struggles we shared; but right now, I can only take baby steps. I am not prepared for any big steps that will take me further away from the love of my life and right now it takes all my strength just to be present.

I know that sadness will linger in our lives but eventually it will be mingled with occasional laughter and happy times; even though right now it feels far away.

Broken hearts take time to heal. It wouldn’t be right or honest of me to pretend otherwise. I have decided that the very best I can do today is to acknowledge the sadness and pain that lives inside me and resides all around me,  not to try to fill the empty spaces or ease the discomfort. I have decided to simply allow my self to move through this at my own pace; knowing that there will be good days and bad days and that one day I will be ok. My girls will be ok.

Grief is not a journey that you can walk in a day and this is not a race anyway!

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Take these broken wings-W.I.S.E. Project 2017

 

“take these broken wings

and learn to fly again

and learn to live so free

and when the voices sing

the book of love will open up

and let us in” ~Mister Mister

I have been quite vocal about Mental Illness on my blog for awhile now but never in my want or need to raise awareness did I think I would be in the spot I am right now.

On Fathers Day I spent the day with my husband, the father of my children. It was a great day. We were in his garage where he liked to listen to music, watch TV and hang out with friends. We laughed a lot and talked about our upcoming vacation. The girls had made their father a book for Father’s Day and we read it out loud and shared a lot of laughs together. At 5 pm on Fathers Day Kirk passed me my ringing phone, I saw that it was Haley’s music teacher and I knew immediately that I was late for a rehearsal that I had forgotten about entirely. We had to run out quickly but Kirk and I talked on the phone on the way and he asked me to hurry home because he wanted to cuddle and watch a movie. He texted me throughout the rehearsal sending me hearts and I love you and some weird emoji of him giving the finger which he said was a joke. I missed a phone call from him as we were in the middle of rehearsal. At 5:45 he messaged “I love you” and I replied “I love you. See you soon”. I arrived home at 6:25. I came in through the front door, said hello to my daughter and her girlfriend who had just returned from the store but continued to walk towards the back door to go to the garage. I saw from the kitchen but didn’t trust my eyes until I was on my knees at the threshold of the garage door screaming and my husband was hanging from the ceiling. We have weathered the stormy waters of depression together for years but things had been good and it wasn’t on my radar to be worried. I know that Kirk often talked about being tired but I think he was much more than physically tired. He was fighting a battle that even I could not begin to understand the magnitude of. Something happened that day that I cannot begin to imagine. In a breath, he went from anticipating a quiet movie night curled up to me; to leaving this world. The horror for me, my girls, our family and friends combined could obviously not compare to the horror he suffered in that moment. I will never know.

 Friday afternoon my girls and I arrived in Larch Hills in the Okanagan/Shuswap area of British Columbia. The trip here was a Christmas gift to our girls, a summer vacation away from everyday life, we had intended to bring the dogs and my husband I were going to renew our wedding vows to recommit to each other after a difficult 2016. It has turned into a journey to healing.

My husband worked away a lot in 2016 and spent a great deal of the year in the throes of depression. The trigger I believe was a work injury that left him struggling to do his job as well as he would like to and being away from his family for extended periods of time. I recently found a message from him shortly after he left for that work trip saying things didn’t feel right there without us and he much preferred to be at home where he could walk inside and the girls and I were there. Even still, when the depression hit him full force I didn’t recognize it immediately and I was really thrown by his actions and the things that he was saying to me. He made several attempts to try to get me to leave him saying he was no good and I could be so much happier without him. He later admitted to being overcome by something that he had little control over. He tried to drink it away and spent many an evening alone enveloped in blackness.

He described what he was feeling as if something was pulling him away from us and he wanted us to be safe and happy before he spiralled into the dark abyss. He talked about ghosts and demons and how he could no longer keep them at bay. It was a terrifying and heartbreaking time for both of us and there were nights that I would stay on the phone with him till he fell asleep and I was certain he was OK. There were others that we barely spoke. Everyday he was battling the stresses of his job, worrying if we were ok and fighting something that he had very little control over. He suffered the emotional scars of childhood trauma and often told me that he was like a little boy crying in the corner; waiting desperately for someone to save him. As someone who had an immense and unwavering love for him, his fears and recollections broke my heart. I wanted nothing more than to save him but at some point, I came to the realization that I alone could not save him, so it was essential to save myself. No matter what Kirk thought was best for me, I would never have walked away from him and not looked back when he was depressed any more than I would have left him if he was suffering with cancer. When you love someone the way I love him you are always all in, regardless if you are guaranteed anything in return. I know that his attempts to distance me and keep me safe during times of darkness was his way of loving me just as fiercely and fully as I loved him.

In 2015 Kirk found himself in the middle of a serious bout of depression and he was unrecognizable to me. I know that a lot of people think camp living and being away from home and his family were causes but the causes of his depression happened a long time ago, the onsets were most likely triggers, like camp living, being away from his family and using alcohol to cope. This episode happened while he was working at home in Edmonton. He was building a restaurant and working as if he were three people but that is just what he did and he was often taken advantage of because of it. He only knew one speed and he had a deep need to work as hard as humanly possible. He always had something to prove and he was always in a competition with himself. As much as working himself ragged had an affect on his mental and emotional health; it also provided him with a great deal of confidence and validated him in ways that you and I can only begin to understand. Kirk was never satisfied with just doing a good job. He had to do it better and faster than anyone before him. Since moving to Alberta in 2007 he had mastered oilfield modular camp installations, commercial renovation, commercial and restaurant development as well residential renovations. If he had not done something before and it took some time to learn, he would just work longer hours to get it done right. When anyone in the chain of command failed to do their part to get a job done on time he would take on their job as well, even if that meant sleeping on the floor at a jobsite for a couple of hours so that all deadlines were met, all promises and obligations were fulfilled and he could come home to be with his family knowing that the client was happy.

In the summer of 2015 Kirk became someone I did not know. I have often thought over the years that alcohol was a trigger for him and perhaps that is true in ways but it was also his medicine. At camp, drinking with his buddies and co-workers prevented him from being alone at night when the grip of whatever chased him was strongest. I can recall Kirk being almost catatonic during that time in 2015. He would look right through me and he would tell me that he knew I was always there but he couldn’t always feel me there. He seemed so lost, like he was an empty shell. I was in shambles trying to figure out how my husband had gotten so far away overnight. He was destroyed by it as well and it was not an easy time. We went to a doctor together and through speaking with both of us the doctor believed that he might be bipolar. Kirk and I had both thought for a while that that might be the case. I admit that during our younger years I sometimes thought that he was an asshole and didn’t understand his struggles. I know that even growing up his depression and anxiety and possibly ADHD presented as anger. The realization that he suffered depression and anxiety wasn’t something we discussed at length early on. As our relationship developed over the years we saw our share of struggles but we also developed a deeper trust and Kirk started to open up to me about things that had happened in his childhood that forever hurt and tormented him and that he felt like he couldn’t get away from. Much of his life was categorized by high highs and low lows, which led to bad choices and destructive behavior. As he matured and we developed a closer, more honest relationship he tried very hard to smooth out  those peaks and valleys and was committed to being a good father, husband and provider.  When the doctor referred him to a psychiatrist, with the assumption of bipolar disorder it felt like a small victory for us. Our relief however, was sadly short lived. Kirk spoke to a Psychiatrist in the summer of 2015. He said he bared his soul to him, not leaving out a thing, including his struggle with extreme highs and lows, things from childhood that followed him into adulthood, alcohol and drug abuse, anger, anxiety and sometimes delusions that had at one time or another resulted in suicidal thoughts. The Physiatrist told him that he was fine, suggesting only that he might have a mild case of ADHD but didn’t recommend medication because they probably would make him worse. He did not recommend therapy to Kirk either. Kirk said he felt like a number on a page with a long list of numbers and the Dr. ticked him off the long list and moved on.

I cannot even begin to describe how I felt after that visit. I cannot even begin to imagine how Kirk felt. He was in terrible pain and his mind was full of fear and worry and other things that I cannot pretend to understand. He was in a terrible spot and he was not given any medical support and he had trouble communicating to his family what was going in in his head. Even knowing that depression never really goes away, we somehow got through that time and continued to love each other and hold unto each other as tight as we possibly could. For the first time in our life together I was truly afraid for my husband during that time and started to reach out to people in our families and circle of friends for help. It was a hard thing for people to understand, there was a mixture of surprise and disbelief and even the suggestion that I walk away and save myself.

Through most of Kirks life and our life together depression loomed over us like a storm cloud; there were many long stretches of time that it seemed far away. I referred to these as the “in betweens”

The memory and fear of the darkness faded into memory, at least for me. I am not certain how much of the darkness faded for Kirk or to what extent that he was able to keep it at bay. I have to face the reality that he loved us so much that perhaps he hid a lot of his pain from us. That being said though, I know that our love and our good times were real, every time Kirk reached his hand out and asked me to dance, every time we talked about going home to Nova Scotia so we could be with Jeff and the girls or we looked at property in remote B.C. and talked about growing old and rocking on our chairs on the porch; I never doubted that he wanted and intended to do that with me. We made such beautiful memories together as a couple and as a family and even though Kirk had a number of very close friends there was never a question in my mind or his that we were each others best friends for life.

Fourteen months passed before the thick of the depression ripped through our lives again. It seemed to come out of nowhere and as I mentioned  his injury was the possible trigger but I am not sure how long it attacked him from the inside out or how long he was able to hold off the demons before I knew about it. Depression is a sneaky beast and it can quickly thrust you into dark rooms with no doors. I could very clearly describe how I felt during those times and my struggles, what I am not certain of is just how bad it was for him. I only know what he told me and it was heartbreaking.

I know that I had to fight through my own hurt and pain and be a friend to him so that he could feel comfortable enough to talk candidly to me without fear or judgement or hurt feelings. It is hard for people with depression to communicate with the ones they love because they cannot handle their hurt feelings. We had never faced a time in our marriage that was more honest, yet it was wrought with extreme emotional heartache. Kirk truly felt like he was being torn away from us and he was determined to make us safe and happy before that happened. It was a scary time but through love and understanding we were able to give ourselves the strength we needed to get through those grey days. I found Kirk a therapist and he tried once again to take steps to make things right in his life. Therapy was not something Kirk could commit to long term with his changing job landscape and he wasn’t honestly ready to go back in his story and sit with the pain and walk though it again to get to a place of acceptance and a path to healing. As painful and impossible as that seemed to him, he sat with the pain every single day, there was no shortcut around it.

He was able to set some boundaries with work though and time apart from his family. Christmas break last year was a time of healing for us and within a very brief time we were at a new, honest and warm place in our relationship. He promised to tell me when the darkness descended instead of trying to push me away. We made so many memories in the last seven months and stayed so close that you couldn’t put a breath in the space between us, even on the days when we were not physically together. We decided to renew our wedding vows on our summer vacation to recommit to a new and more honest way of loving each other and making the health of our relationship a priority that we put above work.

In the last couple of months Kirk had a job change that although he didn’t want it led him back to a company that had always treated him well and a job that he excelled at. He was doing well at work, excited for upcoming projects and very enthused about the crew that he was working with. He invited me to meet his crew and stay a couple of days which was really nice for both of us. In all his days in the Oilsands we never had that opportunity. He was home five days after my visit. He was going to be working in Edmonton the week prior to our vacation and he was excited about that and a week in the quiet hills of British Columbia. One of his last texts to me was “we are going to have a beautiful week together.”

I read something recently that said the relationships that we are assigned in life whether they are meant to last forever or not are assigned to provide us with maximum soul growth. My heart and my soul grew in immeasurable ways as a result of my love for Kirk and the love he gave to me. I learned as much about love and life from the good times as I did from the bad. The quote that was going to be displayed at our ceremony site overlooking the Shuswap River was from Wuthering Heights “Whatever are souls are made of, his and mine are the same” That book has been a long-time favorite of mine and I have a copy beside my bed that Kirk bought for me a month ago at a little book shop downtown. The book is driven by the torture and heartache of unrequited love. Last night when I picked it up I thought of my love for Kirk and his for me and how we never missed an opportunity to express our love for each other. I go to bed inundated with questions and wake up much the same way but my grief will never be wrought with regret. I will never wonder was I enough, did I do enough, did he know I loved him and supported him? I know in my heart that he knew, every second; except for perhaps that fateful one.

My heartache is not something I need to get over or move past. There is no magic expiry date to the pain that the girls and I are in. Instinctually our minds want to play out scenarios of what if on replay, even knowing that it serves only to intensify our pain and will not bring him back. Our journey is through grief, not to get to the other side of it; as that does not exist. Our hearts will never be ok with him not being with us but if everyday we move forward one small step instead of looking back in anger or trying to build a life on a foundation of what ifs; we will one day learn to accept where we are. We are different now and life will be different now. Our spirits are enduring and we will still smile and laugh and embrace experiences and opportunities, even through the sadness. As we heal we will love differently and see the world differently as we are forever changed and so is the world for us. Our sadness is ok, our pain is ok. We will be OK.

There are times in my life that I have lost myself in sadness and pain and had to work towards loving and accepting myself. I put in that hard work and when people say I am strong it is because I am strong and the moments where I lose it doesn’t take away from that strength, it means that I not only had the courage to love myself, I loved another person fully and I am feeling every bit of that loss.

Yesterday was a hard day and Morgan and I went for a hike to clear our heads. When we got to the lookoff point we remarked what a bitch it was going to be to get back because it was all uphill. We started out strong but I had to stop a couple times to catch my breath and I was either fighting off mosquitoes in the thick of the woods or the sun in the clearings. Our surroundings were beautiful; fragrant green trees, wild daisies and strawberry bushes, sunlight steaming through the trees while birds sang. I said to my daughter that hiking was like life, you keep pushing and climbing, taking moments to swat away the pests and others to take deep breaths and appreciate the beauty around you.

I thought about a hike that Kirk and I and the kids did in Slocan Valley a couple of years ago.  I was having a hard time with the elevation and I told Kirk to go ahead but he stayed with me encouraging me. That is how he was in life, he climbed and pushed and struggled through, barely able to swat away the pests or appreciate all the beauty that life had to offer but he never missed and opportunity to encourage someone that was struggling.

That is my guy, the person that I will remember. The countless memories and times we shared will help me to one day fly again!

Life in the Fast Lane-W.I.S.E. Project 2017 #tenacioustuesday

 

Saturday afternoon as I padded around the little cabin in my bathrobe, a leftover cheddar smokie drizzled with mustard and rolled up in a napkin in one hand and a Krispy Creme donut in the other I felt content. I unabashedly slept in, waking to roll over, stretch out and sleep again on repeat. It seemed like it had been forever since I had been able to do that and I wasn’t going to ruin it by feeling guilty. I happily had no responsibilities except to relax.

I had gone to visit my husband out of town and meet his work crew. He convinced me to stay an extra night but in the interim I had a whole day to myself to do as I wished. I was in the middle of nowhere so there wasn’t a whole lot to fill my time so I decided to just slow down and enjoy the quiet.

I was watching a Ted Talk with Carl Honoré about his bestselling book In Praise of Slow, about the slow movement. Carl explores the idea that if we actually slow down, in our speed obsessed society, we can actually accomplish more, be happier and create greater success.

Our culture of speed takes a toll on every aspect of our lives; living in the fast lane is damaging to our health, our diets, our well being, our communities and our relationships.  When we live our lives in fast forward, we are missing some of the most important things.

“Everybody these days wants to know how to slow down, but they want to know how to learn to slow down very quickly!” ~Carl Honoré

In the last couple of years since I started the W.I.S.E. Project one of my greatest challenges and desires was to be more mindful and learn to live in the moment. My entire life needed a complete overhaul to learn to live in the present moment instead of speeding through to the next. I learned that I wasn’t really connecting to myself and to the world around me, I was literally racing against time to accomplish everything I could possibly get done in a day. It made me ill, unhappy and detached. I longed to have deeper, richer and stronger relationships and wanted to take an active role in my own well being and pursue activities that I was passionate about but the truth was that I didn’t have time. To be clearer, and more honest; I didn’t make time and I equated a great deal of my self worth with how much I could do and how much I could achieve in a short amount of time.

The message of ‘less is more’ has many meanings and can seep into several areas of our lives. We collect things, more and more things that don’t matter; that clutter our lives and fill voids. We subscribe to the notion that time is money and we race against the clock, busying our lives and barely taking the time to just breath.

I do believe it is possible to slow down but it is an undertaking that requires careful thought and an honest desire for change.

“There is more to life than increasing it’s speed.” ~Mahatma Gandhi

Personally, one of my greatest tools in my battle against time and practicing mindfulness has been meditation. A daily meditation practice has allowed me to achieve something that I have always longed for; a strong and resilient mind among the chaos that is my life. I have discovered the luxuriousness that is silence and I crave more and more quiet and unhurried moments to ease my burdens and feed my soul.

Being still can seem strange at first. Most of us run on autopilot and we are trained to constantly be doing. For me, I often have to overcome the guilt that I should be doing something. Slowing down is healthy, silence is golden.

The World Health Organization has identified noise pollution as a global health hazard affecting both developing and developed nations. The impact includes hearing impairment, sleep disturbance, mental-health effects, hypertension and increased blood pressure. People surrounded by noise are often in constant states of stress, which can degrade their immune systems.

Slowing down and taking the time to embrace a quitter and yet more fulfilling existence is a healthy escape from the everyday that can be life changing for you and your loved ones.

Do you think your life could benefit from learning to slow down?

How do you find moments of calm in your busy life?

What do you value above all else in your life?

 

Three Little Birds-W.I.S.E Project 2017 #tenacioustuesday

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A few years back, possibly more as I am at the age that time is flying by in warp speed; I used to love the waterslides at World Water Park. They were exhilarating and I felt a sense of freedom and abandon as I was rushed feet first at insane speeds into the cool water. With age comes an awareness of our mortality and that feeling that we are invincible begins to fade away. Some people are very successful in defeating that feeling and proving that age is nothing but a number but as I stood at the top of the slide uneasily awaiting my turn to go on the slide aptly named “Are you fucking kidding me?” I imagined nothing but terrifying things and plunging feet first to my tragic death. My turn came way before I was ready and as I pushed off the side I was thrust into immediate darkness as the sides of the slide were completely enclosed. I struggled with several feelings that rushed to me all at once and though my mind and my body seemed to be going at a wild speed, some things seemed to be happening in slow motion. I coped by balling my hands into fists and squeezing until I was white knuckled, closing my eyes and bracing for the worst. Seconds passed which felt like years and I decided that if I was really going to die right now this would be the last exciting thing that I ever got to experience. I willed myself to open my eyes and embrace the darkness, I took a deep breath and un-clenched my fists and felt my body being rocked from side to side, the rushing water lifting me to the right side and then the left. Within seconds my entire body was dropped into cool water, rushing around my body and head. I felt this feeling of relief mixed with euphoria that filled my lungs and my limbs and shone through my heart. I didn’t just survive, I thrived. I had stared my fear in the face and on the other side of my fear was joy.

So many times over the years I have told my daughters that joy is on the other side of their fears. My oldest seemed to be so unwilling to embrace uncertainty and looking back seemed to have all sorts of irrational fears. Little things would cause an argument or a great deal of anxiety but for the most part she seemed like a loving, smart and athletic girl who had big plans and hopes for the future.

At ten years old when I couldn’t help her with math because she became too frustrated, once flipping the coffee table over or kicking the walls in her bedroom repeatedly when put on a timeout I assumed that it was goddamn hormones. Watching her struggle through the teen years was difficult and I accepted the therapist’s recommendation that she was a normal teen who just needed coping mechanisms. I agreed with that advice and would hear it and agree with it several times over the years; from therapists, doctors, school counselors and friends. I never once considered that my only coping mechanisms were tears, white knuckles or wine.

In her early teens she fell in with a group of girls who had little to no supervision so when I said No to her and we ended up in a screaming match and she later crawled out her bedroom window making me frantic with worry I cursed the damn hormones and those other parents who didn’t set boundaries for their children. At fourteen she struggled with her sexuality, but we loved her no matter what and genuinely just wanted her to be happy. We prepared for struggle as she found her way in the world and a therapist would assure all of us that she was going to be fine. She just had to learn to cope.

Over the years she would suffer ups and downs, I would see her dedicate herself to a sport she loved fully and completely and be filled with immense pride. I would see the amazing things that it did for her self esteem and her confidence but it all seemed like it hung in a very delicate balance, as if one bad game, play or unkind word from a teammate or coach could take it all away. Through it all I tried to encourage her to be herself and embrace her individuality and learn to love her differences and she did for some of the time…and then she didn’t. I saw as friends came and went and I told her that if she became the kind of person she would want to be around the right people would come to her life at the right time. She welcomed new opportunities and challenges; growing and learning new things and finding new passions, but on some of the days everything was wrong, very very wrong. She called herself ugly and stupid and she directed a great deal of her anger at me. She became disconnected from the things she loved and I blamed it on Netflix binges and encouraged her to leave the house and be active. I took her to the woods on a hike recently and she said how great it made her feel. The earth, the air and the trees reconnected her to something she had lost. Her anger in the weeks following seemed to worsen and those in between times when she was my sweet young lady seemed less and less. She started to lash out at her sister and what we perceived to be small things would make her feel rage. She told me she wanted to talk to someone, that she just had a lot to get out. I encouraged her to do her research and find someone she thought she could connect with as she had called the other Therapists stupid. One afternoon she called me after leaving the doctors office and said she had finally found a good doctor that listened to her and he was referring her to a Psychiatrist. We lucked out being the first people to answer the phone on a forty person waiting list and she got in to see the Psychiatrist without the typical five month wait. I took her to the train and she went by herself so she could feel confident in being completely honest about how she was feeling. I held back tears as the Psychiatrist called me and told me that he was shocked that Morgan had not been diagnosed sooner and that his diagnosis was clear without any uncertainty all. My heart broke as he told me that she had ADHD with underlying depression and anxiety, that untreated had also led to conduct disorder. The screaming anger, bad decisions and struggles with school and self esteem were all a part of a larger issue. The diagnosis was a bit of a blessing, but the fact that she had suffered for so long caused me an immense amount of pain. I should have known. I know that we cannot go backwards and we decided together that we would go forward. The doctor said that there was no way around medication; though he fully supports and encourages a holistic lifestyle he believes wholeheartedly the medication is needed immediately to help her, especially in school. She and I both believe that our Western society is way too medicated but we are also both tired and hopeful for a reprieve from the daily uphill battle that rages on and on.

We have been on this road for several years but our journey has just begun. Everyday brings something new and we are trying to find a way to stay connected as a family and face our challenges head on, without curling up in bed with ice cream and tissues.

There are things that are hard for her, things I cannot quite understand but I am trying my best. She is going to meditation classes with me and the first one she was so incredibly anxious I did not think she would make it through it but she was able to control her breathing and her anxious mind and find a little place where she felt safe. She actually fell asleep in class, which was the most amazing result for a first time mediator. She now refuses to go to any classes that are not facilitated by this instructor, she found a bit of safety and I am trying to understand.

She allowed me to share our story with the instructor, who is also a mom, and such a warm and genuine woman that people gravitate to her. When I explained to her that she had been told for years that she needed coping mechanisms she took a thoughtful pause and said “coping mechanisms? I don’t like that. I don’t like that at all. How about thriving mechanisms?”

That moved us and encouraged us at a time when we needed it. We do not want to move through our lives white knuckled, squeezing our eyes shut, binging on ice cream and wiping away tears. We want to be fully engaged in our lives, to encourage and support and love each other, even when things are hard.

When she is ready, my daughter wants to get involved on this blog and in the Podcast so that she can be a voice for other people that are struggling and do not know why. Right now she is busy learning how to thrive.

“Every obstacle is an opportunity in disguise”

~Deepak Chopka

 

I have been working extremely hard on my own mental health, I know that if I am not healthy than I will not be good to anyone else. I find that floating (sensory deprivation) is an amazing way to clear my troubled mind and reset. I go to Modern Gravity in Edmonton Alberta. I have amped up my daily meditation practice by attending unlimited classes with Lifestyle Meditation here in Edmonton. They have a variety of different classes for relaxation, stress relief, movement, creativity and balance. I try to get enough sleep; the absence of good and restorative sleep can be harmful to our bodies and our minds. Our minds are powerful messengers and if something is wrong it will tell us. Stress can manifest in all sorts of ways and make us ill. Not enough sleep can keep us from leading full and happy lives. I do a sleep mediation nightly and I created my own Guided Journey Sleep Meditation as a gift to my Mom but I am hoping to convince my daughter to do it with me tonight after our hike in the woods.

The keys words in the dictionary definition of Cope are struggle, deal and face. The key words in the dictionary definition of thrive are prosper, grow and develop. Which would you rather do in times of stress? The answer is clear for me, even through my instinct during times of stress has always been to curl up in the fetal position and hope for it to pass I am finding healthier ways to deal with burdens and I am hoping to be an example to my family.

This morning I woke to three little birds outside my window singing a pretty song. I know that was the great Bob Marley’s way of reminding me that every little thing is going to be alright.

 

Be WI.S.E. friends and take care of yourself.

Our minds are powerful messengers and when the burdens that weigh us down rob us of the healing and restorative power of restful sleep we find ourselves sick with stress. Join me for a guided journey to create calm, inviting you to a deep and restful sleep.

 

Be yourself- W.I.S.E. Project 2017 #tenacioustuesday

I don’t have any memories of being a baby but I recall this particular picture of me on my first birthday where I was standing on a chair staring at my birthday cake. My raven black hair was in disarray, framing my porcelain like skin. I was wearing this little red checkered two piece outfit with my belly peeking out of the top of the shirt. I have seen that photo so many times over the years and countless times over the years I have heard, “aww look how chubby you were.”, and “aww look at the belly” “so cute”

The dialogue that we use when we see babies is all pretty much the same, “look she is perfect” “look at those adorable chubby thighs” “he is going to rule the world someday” and my favorite (I might be quoting my mom) “she is so ugly, she is cute (because we all know that there is no such thing as an ugly baby) Babies are impeccable and we applaud their every milestone. Babies show up everyday and they smile at you even when they have sweet potatoes in their hair and a diaper full of shit. They are not self conscious, so a baby does not push you away when they are feeling gassy or bloated. They are little love machines, they want to love you and they want you to love them and they are generally quite enamored with themselves, and why shouldn’t they be? They get praised for pooping in a plastic pot.

Apparently when you are forty-three chubby isn’t as cute and way less people remark about my belly. (Thank god)

I have a lot of wonderful childhood memories. I was an imaginative child, I loved to play make believe and tell stories but I also liked to play outside all day. I loved to dance and do cartwheels and just about anything would make me laugh uncontrollably. It wasn’t unusual for me to come home with dirty or skinned knees from playing in the mud or falling off the monkey bars. The phrases I remember from adults during that time are all very similar; from parents, babysitters, teachers, grocers, “that’s not ladylike, be a lady, sit up straight, sit with your knees together, keep your dress clean.” At a certain point in childhood you start to become very aware of yourself; self-conscious if you will, and that wildly uninhibited sense of freedom and abandon becomes a memory.

When you are kid you always want to be older, I looked up to my cool cousins and desperately wanted to be like them. Then all of the sudden I was and Junior High was a whole new world to me, I had to leave the fun and safe environment of my elementary school to become a little face in a big crowd. I remember moving through the crowded hallways of my Junior High during class changes and seeing all of the pretty girls in the higher grades with their stylish clothes and puffy hairdos and for the first time I can remember not feeling “enough”

Not smart enough, not cool enough and not pretty enough. I can remember quite clearly admiring those girls in my brother’s grade. I was just entering this whole new world of Junior High but the Queens that reigned this new castle were very comfortable there. They looked immaculate and so comfortable in their own skin. I wanted to be them.

I lucked out ironically because one of the mean girls in grade nine took an awful dislike to me. There was no specific reason for her hatred for me, I just happened to be the in the wrong place at the right time and she took advantage of the opportunity to lash out at me. I became the object of her ridicule, anger and torment. It actually became one of the very best things to happen to me that very first year in junior high because I had an older brother and younger brother that harassed me constantly and toughened me up. This mean girl didn’t intimidate me as much as she annoyed me so I used my smart mouth to snap back at her and make her look stupid. That pissed her off of course and our chirpy banter stirred through the hallways during school and spilled over to after school hours and activities. I was secretly terrified of the bully’s best friend but way too cheeky and antagonistic to admit to that. My hutzpah attracted the admiration of some of those pretty grade nine girls that I wanted to be like. To have earned the respect of those girls awarded me a confidence that was unusual for a little fish entering a big pond. I have mostly fond memories of junior high but after a three-year stint it was time to move on to the huge pond, high school.

I met a guy that summer between junior high and high school and not just any guy; “the guy”. The summer of love quickly faded into the fall of responsibility and High School was a whole new ball game. That phenomenal confidence I had once had got lost in the endless hallways. I wasn’t the smartest or the funniest and I wasn’t the prettiest. I stumbled a bit and didn’t really know what crowd I fit into. The first several weeks of High School really sucked for me. I felt awkward, shy and lonesome for the first time in my school career. I eventually settled in and found several groups of people to pass the time with.

I can recall quite clearly that I used my smart mouth whenever I was feeling insecure or not enough. I felt like I was a smart girl, I had a passion for learning and I was an engaged student. I would spend hours in my bedroom studying, taking notes, highlighting and circling key words but that wasn’t always reflected during test time. I would second guess myself and erase things a lot; I rarely trusted my first thought. My oldest brother on the other hand sailed through high school barely opening a book. I remember getting a social test back and I was so excited to have gotten a 74 and a girl that I had gone to Junior High with was devastated to tears that she only got an 85. At this point I came to realize that I wasn’t the prettiest girl in this big sea and I wasn’t going to fit in with the smart crowd so I somehow had to pretend to be cool enough to get through school.

I started hanging out with this beautiful girl that really seemed to have everything going for her. She had golden hair and eyes the color of the ocean and she just lit up any room she was in. I loved her and she quickly became my best friend. I remember laying in her basement bedroom at her Aunt’s house staring up at the Marky Mark poster above her bed and wishing I was her. She seemed to be just enough of everything and by just being her friend I felt that somehow elevated me. I seemed oblivious to the fact that she was living in her Aunt’s basement instead of at home because she had troubles with her parents and that she continued to make a string of bad decisions because maybe her life wasn’t all sunshine and roses. I saw only what I told my mind to see. She is pretty, she is great, I need to be like her.

The summer before grade 11 I was still playing a cat and mouse game with “that guy” that I had fallen for the summer before starting high school. When he called me to come see him one hot July day I jumped on my bike and pedaled all the way there. That day changed my life!

I spent a good chunk of grade 11 pregnant after that hot summer day,  so when my friends and peers were going to parties and making great memories I was home on Saturday nights in my bedroom eating heavenly hash ice cream and watching my teenage belly  grow round; contemplating the future and decisions that no sixteen year old is equipped to make. Grade 12 was a blur at best, not only was I mourning the sudden death of my father before he turned forty years old but I was also grieving the loss of the baby boy that I had given up for adoption.

My best friend had moved away and would soon start a family at a very tender age and I struggled to fit in with people that I had nothing in common with. Their teenage struggles were so different than mine. I had tipped the scales between adolescent and adulthood and as much as I would have liked to pretend that I was the same, I never would be.

I endured some destructive judgement from my peers after I put my son up for adoption, and a decision that I had come to terms with as being mature and the best for him was turned into something ugly. There is no question that I had supportive people in my life, but the voices that made snide remarks to me about giving my baby away and those that stared at me and whispered became the loudest, but none of the voices could drown out my own voice in my head and I wasn’t really my friend anymore. I think I was truly never meant to fit in anywhere, I was meant to stand out; in a way I think we all are. We spend so much of our lives trying to stuff ourselves into boxes that were not made for us, dulling our sparkle so we are mere copies of the people that we stand next to.

I spent so much of my life afraid to stand out. I wanted people to forget that I was “that girl” so I just stayed small and followed along. When I had my girls I wanted to be a great mother, they became everything to me; leaving very little room for a relationship with my husband and no room for a relationship with me. I equated my self worth with how busy I was and how much time I dedicated to other people, I thought that self love was how much love I gave to others. I really never considered taking the time to love myself.

To be enough, I thought I had to keep giving to others and I was so tired at the end of the day that I didn’t have anything left over for me.

The months leading up to being reunited with my son that I gave up for adoption at 16, I was tormented. Would I be enough? I had these terrible feelings of inadequacy, that I should be more, do more, have more. Those feelings subsided for me immediately when we were united once again. It felt even silly that I had ever felt that way. He accepted me; he believed that I was enough!

Several years later I found myself in a spot where I was so miserable that I could barely get out of bed and I was in tears constantly. I had some wonderful gifts in my life but I wasn’t sure who I was and I still had those old feelings of shame and worthlessness. Those old voices that used to tell me I wasn’t enough came back when I was still but I was too mentally tired to keep being everything to every body. I finally realized that for my well being I had to dedicate some time to myself. That was all new to me of course but if I could tell you the single most important thing that I have learned it would be that life is all about love, it is our fundamental purpose to move through this world. We need to learn to love ourselves first, that is vital. We spend a great deal of time trying to get others to love us and wondering why things do not work out. If we do not feel we are worthy of time and love and investment in self care and self worth than why would we assume that others should invest in us. You can only give so much before your cup is empty and we all know you cannot pour from an empty cup. When we take the time to cultivate love and appreciation for ourselves, that love grows and touches every thing and every body in our lives. Instead of envying people and wanting to be them, we learn to admire them for the qualities that they possess. Most likely we see glimpses of these qualities in ourselves and when we appreciate them in others we are actually seeing a reflection. We can make choices to manage and grow these qualities that we desire to see more of. When we learn to love ourselves we don’t want to be anyone else, we can be happy for others and their accomplishments but also be quite happy to be ourselves. Comparison is the thief of joy, when we constantly hold our lives up against the lives of others we are literally stealing our own hard earned happiness.

This weekend I attended an I am enough workshop here in Edmonton hosted by Wellness on Whyte. One of the keynote speakers was the owner of Wellness on Whyte Dr. Geha Gonthier, B.A., LMT, ERYT, R.Ac.

Surviving her first cardiac arrest at 7 years of age, the doctors did not hold much hope for Geha. Through Europe’s integrated medical care, Geha met a doctor that advised her to come off western drugs and use diet and herbs to manage her chronic condition. Over time her condition improved dramatically and inspired Geha to make holistic medicine her life’s journey.

Over the last twenty years she has apprenticed with various teachers both in Europe as well as Maui on the subject of Chinese Medicine and herbs. In 2007 she received her Acupuncture Diploma after completing the program at Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton.

Geha has been practicing and teaching Yoga and Meditation for many years. The results of that are reflected in the gentleness and care she extends to her patients. The focus in her work is the integration of body, mind and spirit, encouraging profound healing in the most subtle levels of awareness.

I had read about Geha and was excited to meet her and hear her speak. After a glowing introduction that made me even more excited to be in her presence Geha emerged as this wonderfully warm, humble and beautiful woman who spoke of her life and experiences and that nagging feeling that had travelled with her throughout her life of “not being enough” I think it is always a little bit of shock when we hear from the people that we look up to that they face similar struggles, there is something very powerful and humanizing about it. During her talk she mentions a video by British Therapist Marissa Peer where she presents the idea of “I am enough”. I have watched the talk as well and I am not sure what segment of the talk resonated the most with Geha but for me there is a part where Marissa asked the audience to swing their left arm behind their back as far as it will go and hold it there a moment. She then asks them to drop their arm and relax for a moment. She then tells them she is going to again ask them to take their left arm behind their back but this time she is going to ask them to move it 1/3 more than they did previously, just a little bit more. She tells them to take a moment to think about it and then the audience all swings their arms back and manages to move them further than they did previously. Now if you recall, the first time she asked them to move it as far as it would go. She explains that their mind did that. They told their mind what to do and it obeyed. We tell our mind things everyday. Our mind obeys. “Don’t be foolish, you can’t do that. You are too thin. You are too fat. You are not smart enough. You are not good enough, pretty enough. You are not enough”

Our mind obeys.

What if everyday we told ourselves, “You are enough. I love you. You are amazing. You are doing a great job. You can do it. Go for it.” Imagine how different our lives would be if we all believed that we are enough. Maybe you don’t have a mansion and four fancy vehicles and a pool like Suzy in High School but you love yourself, your life has purpose, you are generous, kind, compassionate and full of love and wonder. That is more than enough!

Geha’s talk was followed by a forgiveness meditation by Mandy Trapp. I was very excited for this because Mandy is the owner of Lifestyle Mediation and I had attended her salute the sun yoga/meditation class the previous morning. Mandy is one of those sincere and buoyant people that others gravitate towards. Mandy graduated from Chopra University with their top distinction of Vedic Master Educator and has brilliantly woven her Chopra education with her athletic training education, various yoga certifications, and several trips to India and Nepal where she has founded the India/Nepal Yoga Project; a non-profit organization that empowers healing in those affected by the devastating effects of human trafficking. She has worked in the Wellness Industry for over 20 years and founded Lifestyle Meditation in 2012.

During Salute the sun Mandy reminded us that the no matter what goes on the sun rises everyday and even if it is cloudy and not able to shine it’s brightest light it still shows up every single day. She expressed to us that like the sun we are not expected to shine our brightest everyday, that some days just showing up might be our best. Life is hard and it really helps to have that articulated. We are way too hard on ourselves, pushing ourselves to always be just right when sometimes it is an effort just to put our clothes on right side out!

Mandy led us through a forgiveness meditation and I don’t know if you practice meditation or if you have ever been a part of group mediation but it can be very powerful. It is a pretty good assumption that people attending an I am enough workshop are seeking similar things so the energy in the room is mighty. The first group meditation I was ever a part of was during a talk with Deepak Chopra and it is a formidable memory.

Mandy presented a short talk on some of her own experiences and builds on Geha’s talk about being enough and that moment in our lives when things change for us. She asks us to go back in our mind to being a baby and introduce ourselves, she then asks us to find ourselves at that moment that things change, when the rules of the world have changed and look at and sit with and speak to that person. The meditation led us through the mantra “I’m sorry. I love you. I forgive you. Thank you.” So, I found myself mentally sitting face to face with a fresh faced but scared and lost sixteen year old girl. I apologized to her, she forgave me. I love her and she thanked me. To say it was moving would be under stating it. That morning I had had a major blow out with my 17 year old daughter and I pictured her carrying around this hurt, resentment and anger and not really knowing or loving herself and my heart broke into pieces and tears spilled uncontrollably down my cheeks with my head bowed to my heart silently repeating I’m sorry. I forgive you. I love you. Thank you. . As I reunited with my 16 year old self, I searched for a way to help my daughter.

Geha had quoted one of her own teachers in what she told me sums up our human purpose in one broad stroke, “Tomorrow we die, today we love”

Love is the most important thing. We need to breath from our heart, communicate from our heart. Our heart is the center of our spirit, our inspiration and our soul. We crave acceptance and approval from others but we need to be able to love ourselves and embrace our enoughness without waiting for others to give us praise or tell us that we are good or loved.

My job right now is to love myself so am able to love my daughters and hold space with them through their struggles. To not sit in judgment of them, just in love and encourage them to always be their own best friend.

Tomorrow we die, today we love.

Love yourself. Be yourself. You are enough. You always were.