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

 

 

 

 

 

World Suicide Prevention Day 2017

I still have a hard time saying the word suicide

I still have a hard time saying the word suicide. In fact there are a lot of times where I flat out avoid it.  I want desperately to continue advocating to end the stigmas surrounding mental health but sometimes when I am asked how my husband died it seems easier to say “he lost a long battle with mental illness”.
Even that leaves so many unanswered questions and I have so much I want to tell people about him. I want them to know that my husband Kirk was a wonderful father, and a loving husband and that his smile lit up my entire world. I want them to know that he was kind and had great character and that I adore him and always will. I want to say that he was incredibly funny and really strong and smart. I want people to know that he loved his dogs and his tiny old cat. He loved all animals really. They should know that he was a great friend to many and was valued as a son, a brother, a son in law, an uncle, a cousin and a co-worker. When I say my husband died of suicide I feel like there is so much left unsaid and the person on the listening end gets to form their own opinion on this man, my hero, the love of my life and father of my children based not only on their own bias but on the stigma attached to the word suicide.

Suicide is a battle lost with an illness that got larger than the person it had a grip on
I say the word and I pause, waiting for the other person to form thoughts and speak, most are lovely quite honestly but sometimes not and they say words that get into my skull and scream at me because dialogue matters. Therefore when someone says “commit” suicide I have to politely correct them. You commit murder, fraud, adultery…suicide is not something you commit. Suicide is a battle lost with an illness that got larger than the person it had a grip on, stealing their joy and their essence and filling them with endless darkness and fear. It is an isolating disconnect that happens to beautiful and wonderful people like Kirk and it is every bit as tragic as someone who dies in a car accident , and like a car accident it is not a sin and it is not selfish. It is a sickness, not a weakness.

“Well an accident is an accident”, they may reply “and suicide is not an accident”. Correct, but suicide is also not a way out of life. My husband didn’t plan to leave his family, and all of his plans for a future with us, whether he chose to leave or a higher power saw that he was too tired to fight anymore, what he desired to leave behind was the endless pain and suffering.

People who die of suicide want to leave behind black days full of self hate and feeling helpless and detached. Dismal nights fighting an eventual abyss where they long to feel something…anything and one day when the feelings they long for finally come they don’t march neatly in a row, they come all at once like an explosion. All the love they want to feel is there but so is the pain, the hurt, the isolation, the fear, the uncertainty, and the desperate loneliness and anxiety.

Sometimes the ghosts of depression would retreat a bit but they lingered close by

My husband spoke frequently about feeling like a scared boy trapped in a mans body, terrified and feeling fraudulent, never feeling like he was enough. He did everything he could to prove that he was enough but he rarely felt it. There was often a wall between him and his loved ones that he spent all day trying to beat down and the ghosts closed it each night in one foul swoop.  During these times he felt like he was a burden so he tried to drink away the ghosts and numb their hateful voices but it also numbed the love, the feelings of hope and the promise of joy.  It left him unsatisfied and weary. Sometimes the ghosts of depression would retreat a bit but they lingered close by and he began to live in fear of their return and to be honest, so did I.

I love him, even when he thought he was unlovable, in fact those are the times I loved him the mosf. Even during struggles we made our way back to the safety of each others arms; time and time again, constantly reigniting the flames of love. He recharged my soul and his loved filled all of the corners of my heart. He made me laugh and he challenged me. The love he had for our daughters was amazing. He was patient and generous and wanted them to have the best of everything.  He was so much more than the illness the resided in him. 

SUICIDE. When I say the word I feel like it rarely leaves an opening for me to go on to tell any of these things about him. SUICIDE is a conversation non-starter.

Close to one million people die by suicide annually

Close to one million people die by suicide annually. That is one person every forty seconds. Suicide thrives on desolation and secrecy. We don’t talk about it because it is scary, or because we fear being shamed or being called crazy or weak. As surviving loved ones we worry about the person we love the most being unfairly judged for an illness that consumed them from the inside out. We need to say the word, we need to talk about it, we need let go of our fear based bias so that we can effectively communicate with one another, and encourage those that are struggling with suicidal thoughts to reach out. A conversation about suicide is no place for ego. The stigmas surrounding mental health can have tragic consequences and every single day it affects someone you know. 

You are not alone, you are never alone. 

#SickNotWeak #WSPD17

The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.

~Marcus Aurelius

 

 

In the Middle of a Memory- Wise Project 2017

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I have been feeling on edge this past week, on the verge of crazy really. I am not deranged or boiling bunnies but I have been treading on some pretty unsteady ground with feet that sometimes forget how to walk. It feels like nobody could possibly understand the magnitude of all the emotions that I am feeling and how could they when I cannot seem to get a solid grip on them myself.

When you are bargaining with your husband’s spirit in the Tim Hortons drive-thru and assuring him that if he can find a way to come back in someone’s body that just passed, like in Drop Dead Diva, that you will not even care if he is big and hairy because you will love him anyway; it might be the time to hit the pause and reset button.
I went from a place of acceptance and hope, anticipating a future where my children and I could thrive, to drifting alarmingly quickly between heartache to daydreams and holding myself in a place of bleak despair.

One evening last week I was going through messages on my phone from Kirk and watching videos that he had sent to me when he was away. I enjoy seeing his smile and hearing his voice and my heart feels like it doubles in size when I read his heartfelt messages. What started out as an opportunity to feel close to him and the love we shared quickly escalated as I continued to take myself back and back and read messages from a time where Kirk was really struggling within himself and trying to explain his hurt and indifference to me. I became immobilized in the pain, allowing it to blanket me in fear, hurt and helplessness. For two days I could barely catch a breath, I shook constantly and my stomach was in complete shambles taking anything I dared to put into my body and ferociously expelling it. I was overwhelmed and I knew that I didn’t want to feel that way. I knew that there was no ‘what if’ that would change our story, but it was like being caught in a wildly aggressive current that I couldn’t free myself from. After two exhausting days of frantic tears and shallow breathing I did a grief meditation that allowed me to find that quiet place that exists in my mind, that place of non-judgement where I could sit in the witness chair as an observer. No yesterday or tomorrow exists there, only the present.

“Think of your mind like a snow globe that is shaken every time there’s a negative emotion. Meditation stills it, so you can see more clearly.” ~@londonmindful

I was finally able to doze off and I had a succession of dreams, almost like short movie clips of conversations I had had with Kirk. At the time, it seemed confusing and I barely thought of it in the morning until I found myself amid the same chaotic clips the following night. I woke up with a knowing. It was in everything Kirk said to me in those clips and in every conversation we had ever had. It was his pain. He did not want me to carry it. Though the blanket of sadness remains the black despair has loosened its grip on me enough to gain some perspective and breath again. I feel like I have taken ten steps backward in my healing journey but apparently grief doesn’t take the economy route.

“Be the silent watcher of your thoughts and behavior. You are beneath the thinker. You are the stillness beneath the mental noise. You are the love and joy beneath the pain.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

I spent a great deal of my life in the future or the past and invested a great deal of time on “what ifs”. I know that the present moment is all we have, yet time and time again I drag myself backwards or propel myself forward and get completely lost in anguish and fear.

I know that “keeping busy” is a good distraction but that I need to take the time to face my fears and my feelings head on and not suppress them so that they show up as unresolved complications later such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse or health related issues.

I am very aware that food, alcohol, TV, work and other distractions are temporary relievers and that activity, sleep, meditation and making healthy choices, along with allowing myself to feel what I am feeling as it arises is the best type of self-care.

I write because it helps me express what I am feeling, I know that there are several times that I was struggling throughout my life that reading and connecting with others in the midst of their pain reminded me that I was never alone. I can either live and love and learn, or I can suffocate in my sadness.

I went for a drive yesterday with no clear destination in mind and ended up at Value Village. Kirk and I went to Value Village a lot, he would buy several pairs of work pants that inevitably sat in a heap on our closet floor. I walked in and all the Halloween stuff was out. The girls are quite upset about the emergence of the season because Kirk is a Halloween baby and adored everything Halloween. We always put in the extra effort because of him. My friend and I were chatting and thought that maybe those hard days were the days that we should celebrate, if we start off by celebrating them right away then every year when those hard days, like his birthday and Father’s Day roll around we could maybe move out from underneath the grip of the dark clouds and celebrate him. Trust me when I say that he loved being celebrated…and celebrating!

Just the other night I had told the girls that I was thinking of picking up my vow renewal dress and spraying it with fake blood and doing a cool zombie face to greet trick or treaters. Haley was suitably horrified. Last year when Kirk was away on his birthday and not in good spirits, I re-created the shower scene from Psycho, fake blood and all and sent it to him. He loved it, but I had turned off my phone to finish my shower and he was calling frantically to make sure it was indeed staged. For me, I think celebrating that day, as hard as it will be, will be a good tribute to him. I am not sure if I need to ruin a perfectly good white dress to do it but it is one idea. I honestly haven’t been able to even think of picking the dress up and I know there are several good things I could do with it when I am ready.

I was leaving Value Village and there was a late twenties man smoking on the sidewalk, I would guess he was of Latin descent. He said excuse me and I turned around, he said “You are beautiful.” I said thank you and he replied, “Seriously, you are truly beautiful.” I stopped in my tracks for just a moment to acknowledge him suitably. I told him that I appreciated the compliment and as I continued to walk to my truck I recalled how that very morning during my meditation at Lifestyle Meditation, I was deep into stillness and calm and I had a vision of the universe revolving. I knew that it was my reminder that everything is connected. As crazy as I know it sounds, and I have already acknowledged being somewhat crazy; I feel that that the Latin man was just a messenger, knowingly or not; and that was Kirk reminding me that I was truly beautiful. It wasn’t about what I was wearing or that my hair was incredibly shiny yesterday or that my eyes were vividly green from being scrubbed by tears, it was how he felt about all of me.

I got in my truck with a smile in my broken heart and pulled out into the street. On the radio Cole Swindell crooned “In the Middle of a Memory” and that familiar warm feeling came over me. He would take my glass of wine and set it down and pull me into his arms and dance with me and tell me that I was beautiful. Sometimes it felt like we were the only people in the entire world that existed in those moments that we were lost in each other. Thank god for the red light as hot tears filled my eyes and temporarily blinded me, they spilled out of me, threatening to collect into a river and wash me away. They didn’t wash away my sadness or loneliness, Kirk left me in the middle of a memory and I am still desperately trying to come to terms with all of it. It did bring me a bit of clarity and gratitude though. I am gracious that I was able to share that kind of love with him, that no matter our faults, our challenges, our mistakes, and our intense ups and downs; our deep love for each other and our fight to always make it back to the safety of each other’s arms was unrivalled.

Our love is still in the universe, it will continue to guide us on our healing journeys. As I continue to seek opportunities for growth in this great big world, spreading kindness and love, and rising as resolute as an old oak tree, with deep roots, reaching further and further into the steady earth, discovering who I am meant to be in this wonderfully mad world; he will guide me and our children.

I will continue to embrace every seemingly crazy sign from the universe as I make my own way. (if you see me with some big hairy guy just smile for me 😉)

I will cry when I need to, whether I am happy or sad and even when my eye make-up is perfect. I will let the sunlight and the moonlight fill those darkened spaces in me and I will continue to breath deep and drink in the power and the destiny of the universe, I will not suffocate.

Inside of me I will carry a story of a woman that had the courage to love someone with her whole heart, even on the days when she could not be promised anything in return, a story of a woman that dared to love herself just as much, and to flood herself with all the kindness she deserved so she could turn around and share it with the world.

“The truth is, you never truly lose someone, because love is not a losing game. If your heart cared for someone, if it fought for someone, if it believed in someone; if it felt in a way that set someone apart, if it felt in a way that was honest, and all-consuming, and stunningly real — there is no going back. See, the best kind of love changes you. It teaches you and grows you. The best kind of love cannot be lost, it cannot be forgotten. It will always exist within you.” ~Bianca Sparacino

 

xoxo-michelle1

Total eclipse of the heart-Wise Project 2017 #tenacioustuesday 

We are all guilty of telling ourselves the same tired stories from our childhood and we so often dismiss how important the dialogue we share with ourselves and others is to our lives and our well-being.

There is a common theme we use surrounding suffering and struggle. We uses words like ‘cope’ and ‘survive’ and phrases such as ‘get by’

As well intentioned as we may be I believe that this dialogue has been exhausted and it doesn’t feel relevant to my rapidly changing situation.

In June I lost my husband, my best friend and the father of my children to a long battle with mental illness. Surviving and coping with his illness was an every day burden for him.  The very first day in the world without him was one of the hardest things I will ever have to face, along with the realization that our family, our children and myself will need to face all of the days to come. Loss makes you realize how precious life is and for me I now believe we should direct our energy into leading the best lives possible. To thriving.

Grief has more ups and downs then the my elementary school teeter totter during recess, but it sure makes you appreciate the value of moments.

On the weekend I was dizzy with grief, feeling one minute like I was floating on a calm ocean at sunset and the next a Tsunami hit. It was overwhelming but not unexpected and I have embraced tear stained as my new make-up trend.

I found myself in a fleeting moment of hope and anticipation and began to contemplate some of the things that my children and I have on the go in the foreseeable future and I realized that those worn out words and phrases do not have to continue to be a part of our story.

A word popped into my head that I was so excited about. I even convinced myself that I had made up the word until google confirmed that another wise person had beat me to it. The word and the concept is THRIVIVAL! The idea that instead of merely existing in the face of adversity that we can instead learn to live vigorously, cherishing each moment of our lives. Instead of just surviving, we can thrive.

Should our goals be set on coping, on surviving this relentless emotional storm, or should we focus on the strength in the inevitable change and commit to living our lives with purpose and intent, choosing a life rooted in love and doing well and being well?

I think the answer is clear. I believe our route is thrivival and though we may stumble occasionally on this hilly path the journey will be worth it.

Kirk would not be content to see us just get by. Nothing short of a life well lived would be sufficient; and with him as our guide we will navigate this new world with intensity.

If you are reading this I hope you will join us; take a look at your own life and make the choice to not only do what you love, be a person you love and put that love out into the world and make it a better place. You are the univere. Brace for THRIVIVAL

xo Michelle

 

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”

 

Rise up-W.I.S.E. Project 2017 #tenacioustuesday

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Phoenix Rising

Phoebe House Dewling was born in Newfoundland in 1889 and her first daughter Melvina was born when she was 21 years old. I don’t know much about Phoebe’s young life. I don’t know whether she had dark or light hair, whether she was thin or curvy or if she liked reading or preferred to knit and sip tea. I don’t know if we had met today if we would have anything in common, whether we would embrace and share stories or sit unsettled in silence. I do know that in 1917 a widowed Phoebe, having lost her husband Richard; arrived by boat to Halifax with her young daughter Melvina. Phoebe raised Melvina on her own until she remarried George Tancock in May of 1926. George and Phoebe had two more children back to back; a son Theodore followed by a daughter Phoebe like her Mom. Two years of marriage and two children later George died at sea leaving to grieve his 37-year-old wife, 18-year-old step daughter Melvina, two-year-old Theodore; and he was sadly predeceased by his wife’s namesake Phoebe who died shortly after her birth.

So much loss and sorrow.

Phoebe was my late husband Kirk’s great great grandmother. A couple of years ago I became fascinated with her story and the sadness that embraced her young life. I scoured through passenger lists, following the young widows journey from Newfoundland to Halifax, searched census information and imagined her struggles as a young mother and as a newlywed and mother once again when she married her second husband George. I felt anguish when I found George’s death notice, leaving her widowed with a young child once again, having already lost a husband and then a daughter.

I recall sitting in the rec-room with my husband, totally beguiled to tears by the threadbare story of his great great grandmother that I had mostly woven together with Ancesry.ca documents and filled in with my own sadness and angst. I imagined that George had promised Phoebe that they would grow old together, just as my husband, her great great grandson had promised me. George lost a battle to the Sea when he was 42 years old and my husband Kirk lost his own battle with depression and mental illness at 43 years old.

I hadn’t thought about Phoebe for a long time but she popped in my head today and I felt some of her sadness and struggle that I had always imagined on a whole new level.

Yesterday I attended a Transformational Healing workshop and was in the company of the most phenomenal women, each with amazing stories and struggles. Some of the stories moved me and at times, even in the face of my own agony I wanted to steal the pain of another to lighten their burden.

A voice inside me told me to deal with my own pain first, to allow myself to feel whole again so I could extend my wisdom of rising from great pain to help others.

In that room full of women, in various stages of physical life and struggle I was reminded that we are Warriors. From the beginning of time women have faced enormous tragedies and carried on in the face of pain.  Women have always been leaders in their communities, feeding the poor and nursing the wounded and sick, and holding space for their families’ pain all the while dealing with their own. They offer love and forgiveness and hope and they share those lessons with their friends, family and neighbors. Women show up, even when it’s hard and even when they think that it may not make a difference they keep on every day. I know this, I have always known this, I watched my own mother; widowed at 32 years old with three teenagers, she kept being a mom, our wisdom and our leader; even as she moved through her own great pain.

Writing has been a solace and a struggle for me this past month, I have talked about grief, about mental illness, about suicide and being deprived the luxury of hope but the message that I want to share today is that of  embracing hope.

Yesterday I was curled up in the fetal position, bound by deep sadness and emotional pain but today I am feeling the gift of hope. I know that my husband cannot be with me physically but I know that he is leading and guiding me and I need to stop fighting against that. I was feeling like any step I make is a step away from him, but it is actually just a positive step forward. Our relationship is not over, it has just changed forms and if I allow him to he will guide me towards all of the things that are meant for me.

Kirk encouraged me in so many ways; I have always said that he believed that I was so much smarter and capable than I could ever dream of being. He truly saw things in me that I allowed fear to get in the way of. The things that he wanted for me were things I also wanted for myself but could never quite grasp that I was worthy or capable of them. Fear was my crutch and fear was my cage, as it was for him in much different ways.

I read a quote recently that said FEAR can mean two things, Forget everything and run or face everything and rise. The choice is clear.

I have mentioned in a prior post a conversation that my daughter and I were having with Mandy Trapp, the owner of Lifestyle meditation where we were talking about coping mechanisms and she said “hmmm, I don’t like that, how about thriving mechanisms?”

That really resonated with me and it is never very far from my thoughts. Even those days when I don’t want to leave the comfort of my bed and I am clinging to my Kirk pillow crying and feeling nothing but despair, there is a little voice that whispers “when you are ready…”

For years we have bought and paid for that message that we just need to cope. Coping is just getting by, managing, and handling, muddling through! Why are we being taught to cope and not shown that we can thrive. What a strange concept!

Losing my soulmate to his battle with the demons of depression has been crippling. I have a lot of feelings to feel and a lot of dismal days ahead but he is showing me that I need to start taking my trash out. The garbage is piling up inside of me and I can’t keep pushing it down and piling more on top. One day soon I need to start taking that trash out one bag at a time, put it at the curb and watch the garbage truck pick it up and cart it away.

Being a part of a transformational healing circle was one of the most powerful experiences I have ever had. What I got to see is women that desperately want to be well but have spent their entire life holding things in and pushing them down and now they are overwhelmingly sick and struggling, I see women that have felt the weight of the world, of depression, of addiction, of shame and hopelessness; and though they fallen down and lost their spark they rose as the whole damn fire. Their struggles are not gone but they continue to face them head on with grace and resilience. I saw in every single woman in that group something admirable and I learned from every single one of them about who I am, who I want to be and who I can be.

I know my struggle is new and fresh and I know that this good hour that I am having may fade to black in the blink of an eye but I see who and where I want to be and there is a great deal of hope in that. I see the person I want to be for myself and the person that I want to help lead my kids through this tragedy and to a place where we can rise up.

There are many people suffering the devastating effects of illness and disease that have been denied the luxury of hope, not the least of those being depression and mental illness. For those of us with the comfort of hope in our lives we need to embrace it, nurture it, love it and watch it grow.

Let’s rise up!

“and still, like air, I rise.”

~ Dr. Maya Angelou

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.