The Climb- Wise Project 2018 #TenaciousTuesday

It has been thirteen months since I lost my husband to the unfathomable darkness of depression. I know nobody would say thirteen months unless they were referring to a baby, they would just say a year but in this case the distinction seems important.

I grabbed a glass of wine after dinner tonight and came out to the deck to watch the colorful sky. It had been a hot day; there has been a heaviness to the heat the past couple of days, almost as if it was sitting on top of you. I had come home early to enjoy the sun in my backyard and almost immediately the sun vanished beneath a gray mass of clouds that seemed to appear out of nowhere. I put some shoes on and played catch with my youngest daughter until we decided to beat the rain inside as the sky hinted that there was an impending storm, possibly a good one.

We watched some TV till Morgan came home with her friend and I went upstairs to make dinner. I cannot believe I am saying this, but I made spaghetti tacos for the girls. Apparently, it was a thing on ICarly and Haley has been asking me to make them. Morgan was initially as freaked out as I was at the idea but seemed to enjoy them and Haley seemed beyond enamored by them. I opted for a stir-fry with this amazingly flavorful cauliflower rice. It just seemed like a normal day, almost an unfamiliar normal, one I truly haven’t seen in a lifetime. I did the dishes after supper, still peeking out the window occasionally to see if it had begun to rain. The rain was still holding off, and the sky beheld the same dismal color it had been earlier perhaps just a slight shade brighter. I decided to sit outside and enjoy a glass of wine and Morgan and her friend appeared and chatted a bit before going to meet another friend. At eighteen Morgan keeps busy with her crew, avoiding quiet times that make her think and feel too much on bottomless repeat. She is not ready to release the pain and sometimes I think we get so used to pain that we wrap ourselves in it like an old blanket and its Saturday night on the couch with your favorite Netflix series. It’s worn and not entirely cozy but there is a certainty to it at a time when everything feels uncertain. Tonight, she came out to the deck and we shared some laughs. She looked nice in her Halifornia Baseball Tee and I wondered for a second if it was mine because we have the same one. The sky had started to darken again just before they left but I found myself moments later staring up at it, a tiny bit confused. The sky had completely changed in a moment that I somehow missed; it was almost like a seamless day to night transition during live theatre. Somehow I blinked and missed it entirely. It was pretty in a weird sort of way, it was like the colors of the bags of cotton candy hanging on the side of the food trucks at the summer fair, the colors started to merge together, like the faces and the people that flock to the little food mobile all day to buy water and French fries. All of the sudden Haley burst out the door running into the lawn and standing on the fire pit, rambling about the sky and how she always used to stand on the fire pit in Grade 7 and take pictures of the sky. She just finished grade 8, probably one of toughest years in all her academic ones but she pulled through it and kicked its ass on the way through. I realized that I used to take a lot of the pictures of the sky as well and besides our recent vacation in the Okanagan where I dedicated time every day to stare up into the sky picking out the funny, dirty shapes in the clouds I had not been doing so. I stared at the moon and the stars at night and meditated fresh air every day of my holidays, yet it is July 30th and this is only the second time this summer that I have sat in my backyard. That feels important. It took thirteen months.

Haley and I continued to chat about the sky and take pictures of its rapidly changing color. It was not the most amazing sky I had ever seen, it wasn’t even close to being great, but it was beautiful in its unique normalness, changing quickly into moodier cotton candy colors. Almost immediately upon noticing the temperamental palette the curtain dropped abruptly leaving the evening sky draped in a deep navy velvet. I am listening to Ben Caplan crooning and sipping on a glass of red wine and kind of swaying in my seat and writing and figuring it out and sharing it with you almost simultaneously. After all we have been in this together, for a while, you and I. You have told me that sometimes my pain has been an escape from your own and that my healing makes yours seem hopeful and possible. You cry with me, remember with me, laugh with me and sit and hold space with me just as you would for your oldest, dearest friend. In most cases I am not your friend, most of you don’t even know me personally and even those of you that would say we were close if I won the lotto or became famous, you may not recognize me anymore. When I put my shattered pieces back together I had to put them back differently. I was forced too, everything was different, as am I, and sure as shitheels I am never going to be the same again.

Like I said, you are me and I am you. Our struggles are different but we both bare the scars of black nights and early mornings on no sleep. The memory fades but you remember how easily you can slip back into that hole. You are also starting to see how easily you can stop that manipulation, the lure of familiarity, and the decent into the darkness. You are starting to see that tomorrow is a new day; you get one every 24 hours. There are days that are easy and days that are hard, none of us are immune to those.

I walk on my lunch hour at work and I am lucky to live in a city with a large urban parks trail system surrounding our river valley. I have become a creature of habit and I take the same route 5 days a week finishing with a ladder. Every day I climb the ladder. When I first started I had to catch my breath several times and then I just stopped halfway through to suck in some air and then as time passed I made it closer to the top without a pause. Some days now I don’t stop at all and some days I stop out of habit. Some days are just hard, unexpectedly, as if I cannot get enough breath into my lungs and the air feels like a massive weight sitting on my chest. I have no explanation except for sometimes life is unexpectedly hard.

I realized that very day that I have been climbing for what seems like forever and it seems like I start over at the beginning every single day. The beauty in that is that I do, I start over every day. Nothing is permanent, no feeling of despair or hopelessness or heaviness that threatens to suck you in. Joy is not permanent either; it weaves in and out of our lives, knitting our memories into stunning tapestries. The magic happens when we realize that we choose how we feel in every single moment and we can chase the bleak shadows deeper and deeper into a pit of desolation or we can follow the wonder, the pleasure and delight as it unites our memories with the sunrise and launches our hopes into the sky to land on the brightest star. Our inner world is married to our outer world and what we give our attention to sets our intention. If our intention is to seek and create a life filled with joy and to meet the highest version of ourselves, if we continue to make that choice in every moment, commit to that climb, the universe will feed on that energy like a hungry traveler and lead us and guide us and move obstacles out of our way.

We are not alone. We are never alone. Just as you and I share in our most difficult struggles and laugh together during times of joy, the universe; the birds, bees, mountains, ocean and trees move simultaneously in a hypnotic dance to produce love, joy, creativity and gratitude in our lives. When that awareness is present I believe anything is possible.

There are times in the last year that I believed life was merciless, torturing me and feeding on my agony like a vulture but a very wise man told me that Kirk would heal through my healing and that one thing has been everything really. My husband spent a great deal of his life in pain, unable to achieve the peace he desired. If I chose to sit in the blackness would I keep him there with me?

Acceptance is vital. There are so many things in our lives that can be changed that we nonchalantly accept but we fight so damn hard against the mountains that are impossible to move. We use all of our strength fighting battles that cannot be won while laying our swords down during the most important of all crusades, the fight for our lives.

I realized one day that Kirk was not going to join me in that pit of despair but his spirit along with so many loving and kind people was offering me a hand to pull me out, I just had to grab unto it every single time I started to fall. The hand was always there, it would always be extended. I choose to fall or climb, that realization has been profound.

In those early days I believed that if I allowed my self to heal that I wouldn’t feel Kirk with me anymore, that he would sense that I no longer needed him and his presence would quickly fade away. I sought some guidance and I depended a great deal on faith and trust and what I learned was that as I continue to heal not only are my memories more vivid but my awareness of his existence in my life is unmistakable. Our souls are eternal and I am confident that he will encourage me always. I know he will be with me no matter what but when I find myself in a dreary place I imagine him sitting there with me saying “C’mon pissy pants, snap out of it!” he much preferred fun Michelle, who doesn’t?

It is those times when I feel happy and free that I feel him the most. I was at a concert last week and I had so much fun and danced non stop. I felt surrounded by his love and approval and I feel like, without earthly limbs I dance for him. When I love and laugh and dance, he does the same, just as when I cry and sit around in my jammies eating endless carbs and feeling like crap, so does he. There is an amazing amount of freedom in knowing that I am guided and supported, always, I just need to continue to climb.

I finally realized that it is not about the view from the top.

Grief is an unimaginable journey, but it is not something to get to the top of. I don’t think you ever stop grieving someone you love but I do believe it changes shape, it cloaks you in a weighty and gloomy sadness but over time instead of wearing it like armor you gracefully drape it over you like an elegant shawl made of courage.

The top just seems final, like a place where you stop learning and I feel like I have a lifetime of learning to do. Death has taught so much about love and living but it feels like there would never be an end to what I could learn about my purpose here in this astonishingly big but enigmatically small world.

Every day, all day, it is a journey, it is a climb.

I feel like slowly, grace and healing is making its way through my house and the last couple of days it has planted itself in my backyard. I can’t even believe how absently I was ready to accept that there would no longer be laughter back there, no welcoming the sun or bathing in moonlight. It is amazing the things that we will accept when we have the power to change them.

How ironic that it was a perfectly normal day that seemed so extraordinary in my heart.

Our journeys are unique to us but often they intersect at the crossroads and we lean on and learn from each other. Shared wisdom and vulnerability is significant and valuable to healing and growth.

Sometimes the first step is the most important part of the journey.

“There’s no glory in climbing a mountain if all you want to do is get to the top. It’s experiencing the climb itself- in all its moments of revelation, heartbreak and fatigue-that has to be the goal.”

~Karyn Kusama

Love Story- Wise Project 2017 #TenaciousTuesday

The very best kind of love should feel like freedom. Love shouldn’t feel weighty or reserved. It shouldn’t make you feel shackled. Love should make you feel like you can fly.

Image Credit Pave it Forward-Tumblr

the love

we were promised in fairy tales

was never something

for us to find

it has always

been something

for us to create

~ Tyler Kent White

I was the little girl that believed in fairy tales. I had an eager imagination and I was captivated by the notion of grandiose castles in magical places, of tiny fairies, fearless knights, fire breathing dragons, beautiful princesses, handsome princes and of course happily ever after.

I still believe in a certain type of fairy tale, In fact I believe I have lived one, but the problem is that we get our idea of fairy tale love from a ninety minute children’s movie, and though we see struggle, and the all-consuming love that we are told lasts forever we are not shown the day to day challenges; the in-betweens. We don’t get to see what happens after babies, financial struggle, pimples, snoring, weight gain, exhaustion, lack of faith, loss of trust, anger, infidelity, disrespect, failure to communicate and a myriad of other issues that plague modern-day relationships.

We are also never shown the most important love of all, the one that makes everything else possible.

There are indeed romances that withstand the test of time, of bruised hearts and saggy butts, though I am sure they do not happen by accident. To anyone who has looked at another person and truly felt that they loved them head to toe, inside and out; no matter what, and meant it, I am certain that the one thing these relationships had in common was that they loved themselves first.

It is categorically impossible to love another person entirely without first loving yourself.

I lost my husband, my great love, to suicide in June of 2017. I have since realized that nothing in this world has taught me more about love, than death.

Death doesn’t end love, in fact, I have said many times that if you ripped me apart limb by limb you would find the residue of our love on my skin, in my bones and in every drop of my blood pumping furiously through my veins. I will love Kirk always and it is that very thing that propels me forward.

In the last several months of our earthly love affair, I learned to love Kirk unconditionally in a way that I never thought possible. I studied a lot about depression, anxiety and trauma over the years and though I could never understand how it felt from the inside, Kirk and I had finally come to a fearless and brave understanding that landed us in a place of complete vulnerability, a place that for most of our twenty year relationship I wasn’t able to visit because I didn’t love or trust myself enough to allow myself to be wide open.

I know that towards the end, Kirk kept a lot from me. I know now that he was inconceivably terrified of what was happening to him. Even amid soul crushing sadness, I never loved him a bit less for leaving.

This time last year Kirk and I were sitting on a patio overlooking the city lights of downtown Vancouver and having a huge discussion about the possibility and probability of unconditional love. From the beginning of our romance, there was never a shortage of love, but there was also anger, fear, resentment and walls that we built to protect us from hurt. For a long time, we depended on each other to provide all the feelings we desired to feel because we never learned to create that joy for ourselves. Desire morphed into entitlement creating huge issues for us.

There were times over the years that you couldn’t put a breath in the space between us, I can recall laying in this very bed I am writing from and feeling so close to Kirk I felt like I was inside him. As strange as that may sound I don’t know another way to elaborate on that kind of intimacy. There were other times that I feared loving him too much or giving too much of myself. I always wanted something in return for my love so in those times when Kirk was internally struggling with himself, I struggled with just loving him right where he was.

When I started The Wise Project I genuinely learned to love myself as I was, for who I was, every step of the journey. That unapologetic self love finally allowed me to love Kirk right where he was, all his lightness and even the horribly scary darkness that he tango-ed with. I didn’t just love him on the days that he was lovable or on the days when I could feel his love for me, I just loved him. I realized that any decision or choice he made was not a reflection of me or my worthiness and it didn’t affect my love for him or myself. I just kept loving him, even on the difficult days.

When a life ends you will never wonder if you loved too much.

Most will say they have loved with their whole hearts and most of those will even believe that they have. Often in our relationships we will feel unsatisfied or even slighted. We may feel unloved or unlovable, but it is important to remember that the person you so desperately desire to love you can only love you to the capacity that they love themselves.

If you do not love yourself unconditionally, your heart will not be open to receive all the love waiting for you. We are not taught self love in school and few of us can boast being taught it at home.

Kirk’s illness robbed him and everyone that loved him. He has a beautiful soul that will live through thousands more journey’s, bringing love and light and wisdom to others.

His tale is a tragic one.

Our tale is heartbreaking; and you may wonder how I could ever talk about our love and fairy tales in the same story. After all, where is the happily ever fucking after anyway?

Sometimes I feel like I have this huge magical secret about love that I want to share with the world. For a brief time, I loved another with all my heart and soul, from head to toe, void of ego or chains. The magical feeling it gives me to recollect it is indescribable and the only thing that made that kind of love possible is that I gave it to myself first, that is the big secret. If we do not love ourselves entirely, how can we seek and expect that love from others?

I can remember the exact moment I achieved that boundless and profound love. Blanketed in fearless courage and wrapped in delicate vulnerability, never did I imagine having to say goodbye to it so soon.

That type of love is so huge that it will never truly leave you and you will carry it with you everyday and use it to light up the sometimes cold, dark world around you. It feels like I imagine a bird would feel being released from a cage.

The physical love Kirk and I shared is no longer possible, but the love remains; as dazzling as a star-filled sky on a cloudless June night. It ebbs and flows with the pull of the moon, retreating to the sea to renew and restore and wash over me again and again to remind that I am a love warrior.

I have loved.

I have lost.

I am love and I will always return to love.

I came from Love, I am Love and I will return to Love. Love casts out fear. A woman who has recovered her true identity as a Love Warrior is the most powerful force on earth. All the darkness and shame and pain in the world can’t defeat her.

~ Glennon Doyle Melton, Love Warrior

Kirk often told me that his depression put chains on our relationship, on our love. I finally realized that the very best kind of love should feel like freedom. Love shouldn’t feel weighty or reserved. It shouldn’t make you feel shackled. Love should make you feel like you can fly. A love driven by value and desires should be liberating.

I know Kirk didn’t want this, but I also know that he guides me, and he knows that this gift of love that I give to myself every single day makes me unfuckablewith. I cannot be twisted, damaged or broken because I am strong enough to bend.

I am imagining a new type of Fairy Tale, one where the heroine saves herself because she is a bad ass fearless warrior. I created it myself and I get to write the ending and erase and rewrite the ending…and rewrite the ending again as many times as I damn well please!

Love is something you share

Because you have it, not

Something you give desperately

because you need it.

~ Humble the Poet

Beautiful Trauma- Wise Project 2018 #TenaciousTuesday

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“I actually don’t mind falling apart. It gives me a chance to go, “Okay, NOW we have something to put back together’ Falling apart makes you stop and at least look at your arms and legs and god forbid, your eyebrows. You create a kind of ground zero for yourself.”

~Jann Arden

Dear beautiful people,

Some of you will think I am crazy for posting this, it started out as is me journal-ling, trying to pull myself out of the dark depths despair. For no apparent reason I found myself in the powerful grip of grief and trauma this weekend. It doesn’t come knocking and wait for you to let it in. It barges in aggressively and unannounced, wreaking havoc. It brings with it crippling fear and anxiety. It feels familiar yet like the scary stranger your parents warned you about when you were a kid. It doesn’t feel temporary and I think that is the most frightening thing of all. It robs you of the very best of yourself and you need to stand toe to toe with it. At your weakest, you need to fight your hardest battle, the battle for yourself. Some of you will understand this in a very intimate way, some of you face this daily. You fight an invisible sickness that screams at you from the inside. This is for you…

I am not OK. I am not OK. I am not fucking OK.

I am looking at the splendid sun filtering through the blinds of my picture window, tiny snowflakes are gently swirling around illuminated by the early afternoon light. My dog and my brilliant green Ficus are basking in the warm rays as my oil diffuser sends calming and healing bursts of lavender through the air. I am sipping on coffee brewed in my new Chemex, it’s Coast to Coast Damn Good drip, a smooth yet discreetly smoky blend, one of the best cups of coffee I have ever had to be honest. George Michael is seducing me with his familiar and pleasing tone softly in the background. All of the elements are here. It should be a good day but I feel like I am on the outside looking in.

I cannot stop seeing myself sitting on the step with my head in my lap in total shock wondering what the fuck I am going to do. For two days I have been stuck in that horrible day in June when I came home on Father’s Day to find that my husbands demons had stolen him away from us. I did everything I possibly could till the paramedics came, using all the skills I had learned in my First Aid and CPR course a week prior. I remember how freaked out I got imagining trying to save a stranger, nothing can quite prepare you for using your training on the love of your life in the most heartbreaking and tragic circumstances imaginable. When the Paramedics took over I collapsed on the corner of my step, I just sat there in front of the kitchen door, knowing that I had had to go inside and console and reassure our girls, tell them everything was going to be okay, that we were going to be okay but I couldn’t move. It felt remotely similar to how I felt when my Dad died suddenly when I was just 16, like everything was moving lightning fast yet in slow motion. That there were expectations and I needed to make a move.

I am so goddamn sad looking at that woman with her head in her lap. I hurt so fucking bad for her. She hurts so bad for him, the life that he should have had, for her children and the memories they won’t get to make with their Dad, she knows all to well what they will miss. I can’t stop sobbing for her. Her pain has me immobilized.

What the F is happening to me???

Looking at her is tearing me to pieces but for some reason she is all I can see. It doesn’t matter if my eyes are opened or closed, I see her, I feel her. She is a part of me. She is in color, yet I am in black and white, all the good in me, all the love, laughter and color has faded. I am an empty, colorless shell. I don’t know why. I don’t feel real. None of this feels close to being fucking real.

She is me. I am her.

I see all of it. The entire day and the days that follow keep playing in my mind like a bad movie. It seems to be in slow motion but for some reason I keep coming back to her. She is not moving, she needs to do something. She needs to fucking do something!!!

Her pain in that moment is ripping me a part piece by piece and seeping into the pores of my skin, my blood and my being. Her and I are one, yet I don’t want to know her. I can’t function as her.

That woman was like Humpty Dumpty after he fell off the wall, except she put herself back together. I know she did because I helped her. I don’t understand why she can’t move and why I am being suffocated by her pain.

Give me back.

It was a sunny day in June, not too hot, just right if I remember correctly. I just wanted to BBQ burgers and curl up and watch a movie with my husband. None of this could be right. This couldn’t be my life.

All the sudden I heard the sounds of the neighborhood, kids playing, birds singing, the bus stopping across the road. It was all very intense, as if everything had been temporarily paused while my body waged war with my mind rendering me unable to think or feel or move my limbs for what felt like years but was more likely just minutes. My body fought against it, but eventually I got up and held unto the side of the house, steadying myself until the dizziness gave way I and went in to face our children and a whole new life I never wanted.

Until that day I couldn’t even say the word suicide out loud without stammering. It always came out in a whisper, like a mouse standing in the middle of a castle and trying to yell. When all my senses came back I knew I would need to say the word. I would need to say it over and over. Even in those horrible first moments I knew how important it would be in everything I said and did moving forward, to acknowledge Kirk’s demons, his illness, his pain and his suicide. Saying it takes the power out of it, it takes the stigma out of it. People are shamed by their thoughts of suicide, by their fears of being unworthy and broken. That shame multiplies in the dark recesses of their minds and mocks and belittles them. We need to shine a spotlight on suicide, hold it in the light so that people are not afraid to talk about their scariest thoughts.

I still and will always believe that our stories are such powerful messengers. We are never alone. We have so much to learn from one another.

Last night I went to bed knowing that I would not sleep. My limbs felt hollow but curiously heavy and I couldn’t control my tears. They were silent for a time, just leaking down my face slowly at first and then falling so fast that they were blinding me, eventually turning into choked sobs. I laid back on the bed and I actually could see myself falling, it was the first time I noticed that I was seeing myself in black and white, like all of the color and anything good had been drained out of me and my world. I was like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. I could see myself, limbs outstretched and falling, with nothing and nobody to grab onto. I started to get scared because there seemed to be no end to the blackness I was falling through, and I didn’t want to allow myself to fall so far that I couldn’t claw my way back out of the dark this time.

I dozed off for an hour at best and found myself in a dream. Everything was normal, I had just cleaned the house and the kids and I were all waiting anxiously for Kirk to come home. The dream seemed to last forever and we were all just fucking waiting around for Kirk to come home. Kirk doesn’t come home. I just laid in a pit of murky nothingness until 7 am when my brother started texting me.

I have always held tight to the fact that no matter what is happening in my life, no matter what kind of struggle I am facing, the moon and the sun have NEVER let me down. There will always be darkness pushing up against the light; like when a cloud passes over the sun and seems to swallow it whole, but there is always a glimmer of moonlight to counter the darkness of the night and the sun always rises to meet the morning. No matter what shitty things happened the night before the sun never says, “Fuck it! I’m out”.

The sun keeps showing up.

Even in the dark heaviness of it all I have a sense that I can find my way out. I have been here before, I need to stand up and fight and follow the breadcrumbs. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, it is a luxury that many people do not get. I don’t just have the means to fight this, I have a responsibility.

Healing is not a simple, one size fits all solution that will miraculously cure all suffering. Grief is not linear and pain is not predictable. What I do know is that many of us have suffered trauma, to one degree or another. We are all survivors of something. We can imagine ourselves as self-sufficient or strong or unbreakable, but the truth is nobody is immune to struggle, and struggle doesn’t make us weak. Denying our struggles, fleeing our pain in record time, heaping our pain unto others and concealing our unhealed trauma behind work, food, booze and sex does not make us strong, it makes us sick.

Today I went and sat in the corner of my step by my kitchen door, the place where I abandoned a part of me several months ago. It was -16 and I cried, and my tears nearly froze to my face. It was a little bit humbling. I have been doing really well so to find myself so lost and hurt was confusing and unnerving. I was never separate from the woman on the step, we are the same. I needed to go out and pick her up and bring her along on my healing journey. I needed to marry the pain with the present. I need to heal every bit of me so I can continue to move forward.

My husbands story was much different than mine but so similar to many others who cannot seem to find the light, the beacon of hope in the darkness.

Tomorrow is #BellLetsTalkDay but in reality we need to keep talking loudly; every single day. Some people struggle with Mental Illness their entire lives, the impact of not talking or keeping Mental Illness that thing we talk about in hushed whispers has not and will not help.

Let’s get real.

Let’s talk.

Let’s be authentic.

Let’s be vulnerable.

Let’s share our stories and our struggles.

Let’s be good listeners to the important people in our lives and if you are hurting please reach out.

You are important, you are worthy, you are loved. Do not suffer in silence.

Silence is a serial killer.

Mental Illness is a sickness, not a weakness. Spread the word.

#sicknotweak

“We cannot judge a human life, by how it ends and we so often do, what we die of has nothing to do with what we “lived for”…

~ Jann Arden

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xo Michelle

Fuck the Walk -Wise Project 2018 #TenaciousTuesday

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I had quite a weekend and there were moments that I felt like I was walking on sunshine. I adore those moments where I feel at relative ease and in my belly, I feel rumblings of excitement for the future. There are fleeting moments where I feel like if I had wings I could surely fly and there was definitely a time that I didn’t think I would experience those feelings again. Those feelings come and go for me and sometimes mired in the darkness of grief that euphoric feeling gets very cloudy, but I always know with certainty that I have control over what I choose to feel and what feelings I choose to hang onto and move forward with. That is an extremely powerful realization for me and sadly, not everyone gets that fair shake.

Support and non-judgement can go a long way

This weekend I had the great pleasure of meeting and speaking with Michael Landsberg. Michael is a Canadian sports journalist and the former host of Off the Record for TSN. Michael has also had an impact on many lives as the face and voice of #sicknotweak where he talks openly and honestly about his struggles with Depression and Anxiety, helping people to understand that Mental Illness is a sickness, not a weakness. Michael was in the city doing a talk to Pharmacists about their role in dealing with people suffering with their Mental Health because ultimately the conversations that we have with people have the potential to change a and sometimes save a life. Support and non-judgement can go a long way.

 

When I found out Michael was coming to speak in Edmonton I called the coordinator of the event and was able to get myself on the guest list. A great lesson I have learned in the past several months is that you can often get what you want by simply asking.

 

When I met Michael he was warm, funny and forthright.  I immediately recognized something in his eyes, the friend I had brought with me had the same look and my late husband carried it as well. It is the look of someone that has struggled with tumultuous depression. It is the look of great strength from having battled in a way that I cannot possibly understand.

 

Michael talked about waking up in the morning and realizing that he was not going to experience any joy that day. I had heard Kirk say that on more than one occasion and I found it extremely difficult not to take personally. It was something that I wrestled with but hearing someone else speak of that feeling and others nod knowingly put it in a much different perspective for me.

For the most part Mental Illness is a lifelong struggle

Depression is a chemical imbalance that creates unique feelings in the individuals it affects. Depression is something that the healthy brain cannot quite understand, yet it wants to and often arrogance makes us believe that we do. Regularly parallels are drawn between sadness and sickness as if they are the same, and we truly want to believe we have the cure all. We believe we have suffered, we believe we have experienced depression and we believe that we have beaten it. For the most part Mental Illness is a lifelong struggle. Most of us successfully tackle sadness, grief and/or adversity in our lives; those are situations, not sicknesses. The distinction is a very important one because mental Illness is a sickness, not a weakness. People do not often beat it, they battle it and whether they do that with a combination of medication, therapy, diet and exercise…it is a commitment. For those that have suicidal thoughts living another day with the pain can feel scarier than death.

 

Michael asked how many people who suffer have been told “You should go for a walk”

There were laughs, knowing nods and audible gasps throughout the room and then Landsberg said three very important words, “FUCK THE WALK”

 

Going for a walk, taking up a hobby, watching a movie, thinking positive are all really great things, they are not a cure for mental illness. I truly believe that leading a healthy lifestyle can be beneficial to everyone, but I also believe the narrative that we use when talking about mental Illness can often do more harm than good. I asked as a friend or family member how can you best support someone who is struggling with depression. Some of the feedback was that rather than tell them what they should be doing (FUCK THE WALK), ask what you can do for them, ask how you can help. Listen.

Listen to understand, not to reply.

 

If you suffer from Depression reach out to your loved ones. They cannot help if they do not know how. Let us help you.

A PhD does not protect you from Mental Illness

Michael told us about a talk he did with fifty Psychiatrists where he asked them to raise their hand if any of them had ever suffered depression. The fact that not one person in that group raised their hand spoke volumes. A PhD does not protect you from Mental Illness. The absence of honest sharing among that group reiterated that a stigma still exists surrounding mental illness; a delusion of weakness, even amid the very people that are trained to help.

 

Just yesterday morning I got a message from an old work colleague and friend of Kirks. He had had just found out about Kirk’s death. He was devastated. He had questions.My first instinct was to ignore the message, it was my birthday after all and I did not want to spend it in tears. I quickly realized that that was selfish, but if I was going to answer I had a responsibility to be honest. I told him that we lost Kirk to suicide in June; I told him everything I knew, I told him about the darkness that Kirk struggled with for much of his life. We talked for a bit and shared stories and a couple laughs and some tears. He loved Kirk and I felt I owed him some time and some truth.

Silence is a killer

I don’t want anyone to be uncomfortable talking about Kirk’s suicide. Suicides largest collaborator is silence and what you don’t hear in the awkward silence at the end of a phone call is the person you love begging for help. Silence is a killer.

It means that he never gets to feel that wildly uninhibited feeling of walking on sunshine, but it also means that he has given up the 0-3 range as well and that is huge

When I was feeling the immense feeling of walking on sunshine it was halted by the realization that Michael and many others may never get the opportunity to feel those amazing feelings. As Michael explained, he has been on medication for a very long time and it significantly limits his range of emotion. If I experience emotions on a scale of 1-10 his range is 4-7. His commitment to continue to battle his illness and live the best life possible means he has given up 8,9 and 10. It means that he never gets to feel that wildly uninhibited feeling of walking on sunshine, but it also means that he has given up the 0-3 range as well and that is huge. He explained that to the healthy brain it is inconceivable that one would give up the ability to experience those upper ranges of joy but that those that suffer the devastating affects of mental illness like himself will tolerate the intolerable because it is better than the alternative.

 

I highly recommend the sick not weak community for candid conversation about Depression and Mental Illness. In cases where we cannot help, we should never harm. Let’s be kind to one another.

It’s a heartache- Wise Project 2017 #tenacioustuesday

My late husband Kirk was my cheerleader. He literally thought that I was capable of anything and he encouraged me to be all that I could be. I never really believed in myself the way he did sadly, and he never believed in himself the way that I believed in him.

It is probably one of life’s greatest tragedies, that people discover much too late their passions and purpose in life; yet they say there are gifts in grief and for me nestled in among the heartache and sadness I have discovered my self-worth, my resiliency, my fierce need to be my authentic self, profound acceptance and a deep appreciation for kindness and empathy.

I opened up my email today and I receive Daily Spark emails from Heatherash amara who wrote one of my favorite books; Warrior Goddess Training. The emails always include a very inspiring quote and then her thoughts on the attached quote. Below is today’s email.

Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom. ~ Rumi

 

Wisdom does not come without the scouring of pain to deepen your soul. But grief can either harden our hearts or polish us smooth so we shine with an inner sun. Pain can be a beautiful spade to break up the soil and allow the water of compassion to penetrate deep into our bones. Today, let the poignancy of life – the grief, the pain, the loss  – be allies rather than an enemies. Hold hands with these companions and let them sing you the song of wisdom from the heart of experience. ~Heatherash amara

 

This literally sang to my heart today. It is no secret that that mindfulness has been so helpful to me in moving through grief, I am human, and I have good days and horrible days and that may never change. I am continually working hard to move forward in my life and be a role model for our children, to let them know that loss is not something we will ever stop feeling but we do not have to be afraid to live a big, colorful life.

There are a lot of questions and assumptions when you lose someone so tragically to suicide. In fact, just this morning I got a message from someone that said, I keep looking through your pictures and you and Kirk seemed so damn happy. That was all real, Kirk and I share, and always will share a great love but his depression and anxiety was also very real too, and as many people that suffer know all too well, sometimes it is in the dark hours that you spend alone that you are plagued with doubt, fear, uncertainty, racing thoughts and sometimes an overwhelming nothingness. I am choosing, every second of every day to focus on everything I gained by loving Kirk and not just on what we lost. I have a deep understanding of love, compassion, pleasure, joy and happiness. If anything, loving Kirk and losing Kirk validated how very tangible those things are, and how important they will continue to be in our lives.

I have spent many mornings in the last several months very afraid that I was losing myself in grief. I can only imagine that depression creates a very similar fear. I never imagined finding myself in this spot, but it is where I am and I need to meet myself where I am, not where I imagined I would be.

I am working with a personal coach to help me realize the most important things in my life, set goals and be accountable. I have also been using some mindful strategies to deal with trauma and loss and encourage healing for me and my family. A lot of you ask how I do it. Truthfully a lot of it is faith and deep breaths but below are some things that have been valuable to me:

 

1.     Don’t be afraid to reach out and/or accept help and support. It may come from unlikely places. Your circle will inevitably change but your energy will attract the people that you need in your life right now. We often wonder out loud why those suffering with depression do not reach out for help but truthfully, we know how hard it can be to take that step. Friends, spiritual leaders, support groups and professionals can all ensure that you do not deal with trauma alone.
2.     Tap into your internal strength. Remind yourself that you have made it through all the terrible things life has thrown at you so far and this is no different. You are a warrior. Pain has a memory but so does courage.

 

3.     Keep yourself centered through the agonizing feelings of grief. When the tides of heartbreak and helplessness wash over you don’t have be afraid to feel all the emotions; tears are sacred and cleansing, but don’t forget to breath, take deep breaths and allow them to guide you back to the present.

 

4.      Picture what a future will look like for yourself. Even amid immeasurable pain and loss it is OK to imagine what your future might look like and take baby steps to move forward.

 

5.     Practice Mindfulness: While doing grounding practices such as meditation, yoga, or even walking in nature remember that grief is not linear. There is no way over or around grief and there are no shortcuts. You will have good days and bad days, in no order. I liken grief to seasons and during the bitterly frigid winter I remind myself that inside of me is an indomitable summer.

 

6.     C.S. Lewis said, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear” Part of our journey through grief is realizing that our fears hold us captive. We fear that moving forward is moving on from our loved ones, we fear that their memories will fade as we heal and that if we let go of the pain that grips us that we will be letting go of our loved ones forever. Pain during the grieving process is inevitable but fear can create unnecessary suffering. Our love is immortal, but our suffering need not be.

Remember that every single journey begins with a single step.

 

 

xoxo

Michelle

 

 

 

Everybody Hurts-Wise Project 2017- #tenacioustuesday

I had a fire in my belly when I recorded the little rant below and I felt compelled to share it with you. I had one of those moments where you want to wave your finger with attitude and snear “oh no you didn’t!”  

It started out innocently enough, someone stepped into my office and asked me how I was doing and I believe they were genuinely concerned but they were not expecting me to answer that question honestly because apparently feelings are a thing of the past. 

I suppose they were expecting me to plaster a smile on and say I was doing good but I was caught in the midst of a bad moment on a very challenging day. Tears were already beginning to leak out of the corners of my eyes so when I was asked how I was doing I answered truthfully as tears filled my eyes and slowly rolled down my cheeks. 

In what I can only assume was misguided concern, I was told “Don’t cry, don’t cry! You need to be strong!”

I replied that I was strong and that there was nothing wrong with crying.

My visitor persisted to tell me that I couldn’t cry, that I needed to be strong.

I am strong I replied.

I was also offended.

 

 

I didn’t sprain my ankle. Three months ago today I lost my husband, the love of my life and the father of my children to suicide. Caught in the cruel and relentless grip of depression and anxiety his illness became larger than him. Sometimes I cry because the thought of the pain he endured fighting his illness overwhelms me, sometimes I cry because I miss him so damn much it hurts, sometimes I cry for our children and all of  the special days that they will have to celebrate without their dad and sometimes I cry because my day is lonely and empty and the future seems scary. Sometimes I just cry.

Crying does not make me the opposite of strong. Crying makes me a living, breathing, emotional being with real thoughts and feelings. There is no less strength in my tears than in my smile. 

I am strong enough to allow the pain because pain is a part of life. Life is beautiful but it can also be brutal, and it is during the most brutal times in our lives that the most powerful lessons are learned, the biggest changes are imminent and the greatest potential for growth is laid at our feet.

Vulnerability is the best measure of courage, that is the soul of all the work; the willingness to show up and let ourselves be fully seen and known.  ~Brené Brown

I don’t like pain, and I don’t like spending a great deal of my life with smeared eye make-up , but I know that pain has a reason and purpose and as I move through this pain there will be many uncertainties and plenty of tears. The pain will change me, that is my only certainty right now.

How I respond to that change, whether I go through the pain or grow through the pain is entirely up to me.

There is no short cut through the pain I am feeling, the only way around is through and I will not hold my tears or hide my pain for anyone else’s comfort.

As a society we have become so accustomed to hiding our feelings that we have come to believe that “emotionless” is a strength of character. “Head up, stay strong, fake a smile” has become the words to live by and meanwhile we have a whole generation of emotionally sick people, afraid to share their feelings for fear that they may be looked upon as weak; when the strongest and most courageous people in the world are those that are willing to show up and be seen, especially during the greatest struggles of their lives.

I think what the word needs is a big collective cry and then we can rise up and be the people we are meant to be, emotions and all. xoxo-michelle1

 

 

 

 

 

Blown Wide Open

 

“Tomorrow we die, today we love.

We are living in some precarious times, I can barely turn on the news as the anguish and ambiguity of it all serves only to compound my grief and fear. I am trying desperately to navigate my way around what feels like a whole new world, a world without the love of my life and somehow that feels like enough right now. My world, along with the rest of the world seems to be blown wide open.

Back in May I attended a Workshop at Wellness on Whyte and one of the facilitators; Dr. Geha used a quote that had a profound affect on me, and though I have mentioned it here before it certainly strikes a much more familiar chord with me now. She said “Tomorrow we die, today we love.” She later told me that to her it sums up our human purpose in one broad stroke.

We are here to love.

I read that quote earlier today and I was thinking about that workshop and what a powerful experience it was for me. I had been struggling with my teenage daughter for quite awhile, as she unknowingly struggled with the affects of untreated ADHD and I had been fighting with the demons of my husbands depression for several years all the while trying to accept that I was enough and that I was worthy of all the love and care that I was giving to everyone else, that I deserved saving too. In January of 2016 I finally decided that my health and wellness was important; if I was going to continue to be strong for my family when they needed me. You never know what lies ahead of you, the best we can do is learn from the things that are behind us. When we have moved through and processed the pain, we need to let go and keep the lesson.

I have been trying to very hard not to spend a lot of time on “what if” but it is an impossible place not to visit periodically when you lose someone so tragically to suicide. I know that something drew me to that quote this morning, and I contemplated long and hard. People do not understand illnesses of the brain, and people that suffer them do a great deal of their suffering in silence. Lost in pain, sometimes those left behind sift through the wreckage eager to lay blame or find a reason.

I did know that my husband suffered, I did however not know that he was suffering that day and I certainly do not know how much he was keeping from me in the months leading up to that day, to avoid drawing me into his pain. These are things that I will never know. I do know this with certainty, I am not to blame. I loved him with all of my heart and when he was in pain and acting out of fear I loved him even more. I spent a great deal of time slaying demons and chasing away ghosts, just like you do when your children are small and terrified of things that lurk in the darkness.

The problem with Mental Illness though is that the ghosts that lay down with you at night also wake up with you in the morning, they are with you throughout the day and they shout at you internally. They are inside of you and it gets really tiring trying to remember that they are not really a part of you. Silencing them is a constant task. My husband tried excessive work, booze and even drugs to chase them away when their voices were loudest. Unfortunately the medicine he chose to shut them out eventually helped them to grow stronger.

Lost in disbelief, the survivors look for reasons and some, in moments of weakness and distress look for people to blame

My husband was not a large man physically, but he was a huge man in every other sense. He was a huge presence, he had a gigantic personality and he loved big. Sadly, these illnesses that we judge are so often misunderstood and are very complex, deteriorating the minds and the lives of our loved ones almost invisibly. Lost in disbelief the survivors look for reasons and some, in moments of weakness and distress look for people to blame. Kirk and I talked about the illness a lot but during the worst of times his initial defense was to try to shut me out. He didn’t necessarily want to suffer alone but it broke his heart to have me suffer along with him. That weighed very heavily on him. I thought I understood the illness quite well, but I could only understand from my level of perception, the illness didn’t inhabit my body and mind and scream at me from the inside out.

Love is really all that I am qualified to give

This week I have been offered some amazing and unexpected kindnesses, and every time someone reaches out to me and embraces me in love and understanding it gives me a moment of lightness. The other thing that I have been offered which has been a blessing wrapped in a helpless ache is many glimpses into the minds of people that suffer deep depression. It has been a blessing because people are willing to open up and share their experiences and help separate myth from reality and tell their stories about how the illness feels from the inside out. They do this out of a want to end the stigma and to ease my heart and stop that endless train that powers through my head asking me if I could have done more.  I say helpless ache because there is little I can offer to ease their pain, I can offer gratitude that they want to help me by sharing their authentic stories of deep pain and suffering, and love because I do love them and love is really all I am qualified to give.

Kirk didn’t rebuff his life or all of the great things in it; he didn’t choose to leave behind his children, his wife or his family and friends. Depression stole his joy and in desperate times it withered all of those great things he had and made them smaller than the sickness. He died from an illness. Some people have expressed anger and tried to assign blame to people, places or things. That has not been a part of my journey so far, I have felt anger but not anger towards him. When my Dad died of a heart attack, I wasn’t mad at my father. I was mad at the illness that took him so young.

He really implored me to not be so judgmental, I was guilty of seeing people and situations through a small crack in the blinds and he inspired me to open the blinds, throw back the curtains and look for the big picture, offering love before judgement

Kirk was an amazing husband, father, son, brother and friend. He was a strong and conscientious worker and he was unbelievably smart and caring. He had wonderful things in his present and great things on the horizon. He would often tell me that I taught him and showed him so many things about love and friendship and respect but he did the same things for me. He lifted me up when I was down and took my hand and led me into adventures and taught me how to be spontaneous and to have a good time. He really implored me to not be so judgmental, I was guilty of seeing people and situations through a small crack in the blinds and he inspired me to open the blinds, throw back the curtains and look for the big picture, offering love before judgement.

He was loved and he loved, but his health was compromised. The disease became larger than him. He didn’t die because he was selfish or weak or hardhearted. He was sick and he died of an illness.

Nobody can tell a person how to grieve or how they should feel or give them a step by step manual and tell them what stage of grief they should be at. Grief is a personal journey. There are several things that I am relying on to guide me through this time of deep sadness.

  1. Hope

Hope is a huge. Hope is optimistic. Hope is the light at the end of a long dark tunnel. Hope is a trust in the process and the belief that better days are on the horizon. A glimpse of hope during difficult times is the promise that there is a light that resides on the other side of darkness.

2.

 Acceptance

The willingness to lean into uncertainty and accept what is. To reasonably accept that you do not know what is coming next. To recognize that it is OK not to be OK all of the time and to put your faith in the Journey. To accept challenges as they come and rise to meet them and be open to the changes and the development of character that comes with facing uncertainty and fear.

3.

Connection

As humans we are hard wired for connection but I have found that in the last several months the political climate in the world has divided us into smaller groups and created an us vs. them mentality. I have always been very led by energy so I try to limit my exposure to large groups of people and prefer a small friendly tribe. Sometimes a large part of my interactions are online but I try very hard to remind myself of the importance of human connection and of gathering the right people in my sphere of influence.

4.

Purpose

Why are we here on this earth and why does it matter? I have believed for quite some time now that our fundamental purpose is to love. Love is not a luxury, love is a necessity, not just personally, humanity requires love. I saw a video recently where a little boy talks about why humans are on the earth longer than dogs and the little boy explained that humans are put on the earth to learn to live a good life and love and be kind to people. He went on to say that dogs already know all of that so they do not need to stay as long. That really touched me, especially since most days I would like to replace a great deal of the humans in the world with dogs. That being said, it is unrealistic to think that we can or should love everyone but I think we need to start by loving ourselves, loving our lives and loving the earth. When everything we do is rooted in love I think our potential for growth is unparalleled.

Marrianne Williamson said something that really spoke to me. “One of the most tragic ironies of human existence is that we conspire in the belief, most often unexamined, that violence is more powerful than love. We spend hundreds of billions of dollars on ways to kill each other, but a tiny fraction of that amount on ways to help each other….as though it isn’t masses of desperate, hopeless people who are the main recruits to the collective pathologies that threaten us. This one awakening, harnessed and turned into political force, would completely change the direction of human history.”

I choose love as my purpose right now; I believe that it will successfully guide my children and I into the future. I could be jaded in the face of profound sorrow but I would not take back a second of the love Kirk and I shared to ease one second of my sadness. In the words of the late Henry David Thoreau:

“There is no remedy for love, but to love more”