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.

 

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

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

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

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

~ Martha Manning, Undercurrents

 

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

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

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

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

~Terry Jacks, Seasons in the Sun

Shotgun Rider-W.I.S.E. Project 2017

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Every obstacle is an opportunity in disguise”

~Deepak Chopka

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Hand in my pocket-W.I.S.E. Project 2016

They will not give us back the times we have lost battling them but what it will give me is the certainty that they cannot overtake me, they cannot take what is mine

What it all comes down to
Is that everything’s gonna be fine, fine, fine
‘Cause I’ve got one hand in my pocket
And the other one is giving a high five

~ Alanis Morrisette



I woke up this morning feeling well rested and I thought I can be anything I want to be today so I decided to be grateful. It is October, there is snow on the ground, it feels more like Christmas than autumn, my husband just went back to work in another province, my house is in the the “disastourous aftermath” stage of my busy week, my laptop is not working, I took my vitamins on an empty stomach and all I can taste is fish oil, my coffee is cold, my yogurt is warm and my day is passing by too quickly for my liking but  even still I am feeling incredibly blessed. 

It has been a difficult month but there have been some bright shiny moments that have reminded me of my resilience and the fact that the most important things can never be taken away from me. 

My beautiful friend Ashley @photoswithashley recently captured my strength and spirit in some photos she took for me to update my blog. She made me feel beautiful and brave. I was holding back tears that morning because I felt choked by the uncertainties of life and I was struggling to be in the present and remind myself that worry takes the joy out of today but not the troubles out of tomorrow. 

Ashley is not only good at her job but she is a fantastic person to be around. She radiates a positive energy and gives me that gentle reminder that my time is valuable and it is ok to spend it alone or choose to be around people that leave me feeling energizied not drained. 

I have been suffering the devastating effects of depression for the past 18 years and there are many times that I feel like I am walking around in circles beating my head off of walls. There are many times that I have had to scoop my crying carcus off the floor and press the reset button. There are times that I have felt like an empty shell of a person walking around in a body. 

The biggest problem with the depression is that I don’t understand it. Not from lack of trying. I have read a thousand and one books, I talk to people, I read psychology today and I frequent online support groups but I will never have all the answers. The depression lives with me, around me, wraps its strong arms around me as I lay down to bed. It doesn’t live in me though. It has not invaded my insides. Its demons try to smother me and make me insigificant but they can’t enter me. They live inside the person I love, screaming at him from the inside. They are there all the time! Sometimes he can keep them at bay, their voices are a dull consistent hum like a fan in the background waiting for the right time to strike. When he is overworked, stressed and weary those demons are lurking around in the shadows like thieves. Stealers of joy. You can’t drink them away, they love self medication, it helps them to prey on insecurities and construct inpenetratable walls of doubt. 

Unfortunately you cannot love away depression either. Not your own and not anyone elses. Somedays it is hard enough to be your own cheerleader so being someone elses can become tedious. 

A therapist told me recently that I had to focus on me. She didn’t want to talk about my love, she wanted to know about me, my support system, my hobbies, my frame of mind. 

I hated her. I didn’t want to talk about me. I wanted to help the person I love. I wasn’t willing to talk about anything but so I decided she sucked. 

It took me some time to realize that I did have to focus on me. I needed to be strong and realize that depression could not rob me of who I am. It can take my tears and multiply my insecuries and amplify my fears but at the very core if I am certain of who I am depression cannot take that from me. 

Those realizations will not cure my loved ones depression. They will not take away his childhood trauma, his fears, his doubts or his loneliness. They won’t take the lives of the demons but they will diminish their power over me. They will not give us back the times we have lost battling them but what it will give me is the certainty that they cannot overtake me, they cannot take what is mine. 

If I can take care of me in the darkness and in times of stife  if I can remember that the light is in me than I can be stronger and I can face anything.

In relationships there are times when your partner will need you to be strong. There are times you will need them to be strong. I think it is one of the most important parts of marriage in fact. Relationships are like navigating a ship only when the waters get rough and too much to bear you don’t let the Captain go down with the ship. You grab the wheel and you hold on tight because four hands are better than two. 

When you truly love someone you would no more judge their battle with depression than you would if they had a brain tumor. You would be strong for yourself because during the times that they use all of their energy to struggle through their days they cannot carry you or comfort away your fears. You need to set boundaries and lovingly encourage them to be healthy and get the best possible help to keep them in the light. Demons hate the light. 

Depression and Mental illness affect your friends, your loved ones and your neighbors. People often suffer in silense. It is an illness that well meaning loved ones pat you on the back and say “perk up” Nobody brings you a casserole or offers to pick up some things for you at the grocery store. Survivors and their loved ones don’t wear brightly colored ribbons to let you know that once again they survived, they made it through the darkness. Lets start a conversation, lets talk about mental illness. Lets support each other and let people know that they don’t have to suffer in silence. 

Fast Facts about Mental Illness

http://www.cmha.ca/media/fast-facts-about-mental-illness/#.WAPPkr1rnqA

Who is affected?

  • Mental illness indirectly affects all Canadians at some time through a family member, friend or colleague.
  • 20% of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime.
  • Mental illness affects people of all ages, educational and income levels, and cultures.
  • Approximately 8% of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives.
  • About 1% of Canadians will experience bipolar disorder (or “manic depression”).

How common is it?

  • Schizophrenia affects 1% of the Canadian population.
  • Anxiety disorders affect 5% of the household population, causing mild to severe impairment.
  • Suicide accounts for 24% of all deaths among 15-24 year olds and 16% among 25-44 year olds.
  • Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in both men and women from adolescence to middle age.
  • The mortality rate due to suicide among men is four times the rate among women.

What causes it?

  • A complex interplay of genetic, biological, personality and environmental factors causes mental illnesses.
  • Almost one half (49%) of those who feel they have suffered from depression or anxiety have never gone to see a doctor about this problem.
  • Stigma or discrimination attached to mental illnesses presents a serious barrier, not only to diagnosis and treatment but also to acceptance in the community.
  • Mental illnesses can be treated effectively.