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

Can’t fight the moonlight-Wise Project 2017 #tenacioustuesday

I can’t help but notice the difference in the way that people are reaching out to me and connecting with the blog and the Facebook page since I lost my husband. When I had a simple little happiness/mindfulness project I obviously got some positive feedback but it has been nothing in comparison to the response I have received most recently. Even though I talked about depression and the affect that it had on my marriage for quite a while, my posts were wrapped in hopefulness and confidence. Though I hope that my most recent posts are cloaked in a bit of hope as well I am fully aware that they are enveloped in heartache and that can be pretty heavy. I have started to worry that people much prefer the Michelle that is broken wide open, aching, heartbroken and lost, to the optimistic and encouraging Michelle.

People are lost, afraid, ravaged by shame

It has certainly given me something to think about until I started to recognize the common theme from the people that were reaching out to me and it is undeniably suffering. People are lost, afraid, ravaged by shame, shattered by hurt and impaired by fear. They are anxious and they feel alone. We all crave the warmth of genuine human connection but our afflictions sometimes hold us back. When we are overcome with anguish we don’t want to share our misery with happy shiny people and because people shy away from talking about their own pain, we often assume we are alone. Alone can be a pretty dark place when you are suffering.

We often don’t realize that our stories connect people. When we are willing to be vulnerable and lay our broken hearts on the table to be picked over we are offering a life-raft to authentic human connection. If sharing our agony and our struggles but also our optimism in the face of our greatest fears can let one person know that they are not alone I for one think it is worth it.

Unfortunately, sharing our tragedies and our hardships also leaves us wide open to judgement and speculation. Not everyone is able to reach inside and touch their own blackness , so they deny their own truth while projecting unto others instead. On our own journey’s it is an important  to recognize that and do our best to keep it out of our energy.

Sometimes we are guilty of understanding only from our level of perception and there is nothing wrong with that if we are willing to just hold space with someone who is suffering, to bare witness to their pain without trying to take it away, minimize it or find reasons why they are at fault for it.

Pain

We don’t know what to do with it. I remember being a kid and falling off my bike and scraping my knees and my mom chasing away my tears and trying her best to whisk away my pain as soon as possible. Our whole lives we want to do the exact same thing as our Moms did by getting rid of our own pain, and sometimes the pain of others, as soon as possible. The problem is we never learn to sit with pain or find the lesson in it and when it becomes uncomfortable we to often pass our pain on to others to avoid looking inward and resolving our own fears and heartbreak.

It is sad really. It is not our responsibility to fix others but it is also not acceptable to hurt others in order to dismiss our own suffering.

He carried pain, wounds and regrets that he was unable to reconcile

My husband was an amazing and loving soul that suffered depression and anxiety and he was attacked by his own mind. He was the life of the party but often felt alone and isolated. He was the best father and husband but too often felt like he wasn’t worthy. He was his worst critic, never feeling good enough. He was always the loudest person in the room yet admitted to me that he often felt alone in a room full of people and that even the thought of it made him cringe. He worked insanely hard and often felt cheated. He never thought that people took things as seriously as he did and when things didn’t work out he took it upon his heart.  He sometimes craved a different scenery or a change of pace but when he slowed down the voices that were loudest were the ones that told him that he wasn’t good enough. He carried pain, wounds and regrets that he was unable to reconcile. He used alcohol to crowd out the voices and numb his pain but unfortunately you can’t selectively numb. When you numb pain, you also numb joy  and then you are left in the tattered wreckage of your own mind. My husband was high functioning, so people told him that he was OK or that he would be OK. Nobody could feel his pain and unlike other diseases they couldn’t see it either. He even got really good at hiding it from me. He was loved by so many people and liked and respected for so many things that it is hard to fathom how he could ever lose sight of that, but depression is not selective, it plunges the most amazing humans into it’s destructive darkness. So often when people try to share their suffering, they are told that everything is going to be OK and as desperately as they want to believe it, it is not always possible for them to do so. There is still a great deal of stigma attached to illnesses of the brain and therefore people are afraid to reach out for fear of seeming weak instead of sick or worse yet crazy. Kirk collected a group of friends around him that similarly suffered and he was able to open up and share with them and champion and cheer-lead for them. Like all pain, people with depression need to be recognized and taken seriously and not judged for something that they cannot control. Sadly, this is not always the case.

More funding and research into disorders of the brain, early childhood trauma,  the effects of sexual abuse and violence, PTSD and depression, anxiety and mood disorders is urgently needed. Less stigma, better and more thorough methods of diagnosis and treatment and more qualified doctors to ease wait times and prevent, short dismissive visits. As the rate of people trying to seek treatment steadily increases the Mental Health system and those trained in primary care are often ill equip or understaffed. Logistically it is a nightmare inside of a nightmare.

No two experiences of grief, trauma, loss or suffering will be the same. Unfortunately their is no band-aid solution

I love my husband  immensely and losing him to this type of battle has been horribly devastating for me and my family and all of his friends. There are so many unanswered questions and and so much life left undone. He fought hard, he fought many battles. He will always be our hero. Just like someone loses their battle with Cancer, Kirk’s illness took him from us. It is cruel like any other disease but possibly more so because of the unknowns. We had an entire life planned and now I am forced to be grateful for the memories we made and accept that things are different now. I wish I could have taken away  his suffering as much as I wish someone could swoop in and take mine; but the human experience requires that we put in our own work, harbor a strong belief that we are not alone or weak and hold onto hope that things can get better. Sadly, love alone cannot mend a broken heart or fix a broken brain.

No two experiences of grief, trauma, loss or suffering will be the same. Unfortunately there is no band-aid solution or easy button. People suffer with illnesses and their families suffer as well, people suffer in relationships and people suffer who are not in relationships, people suffer from stigmas, from judgement and misunderstanding. My husband taught me to look at the big picture. When we are willing to see the bigger picture that is out of our view, to love more and judge less we become a lighthouse for others instead of a storm.

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. ~ Dalai Lama

Healing takes time and it can be horrible. I have met and talked with so many people in  various stages of suffering and or healing. It is not a race. It requires one small step every single day and the knowledge that one step forward and two steps back is not failure, it is the cha cha.

Your stories are powerful vessels, and when you speak them, you own the rights to them and you can write your own daring ending. You have the power through sharing your stories, whether it be to a friend, a neighbor or a stranger to forge legitimate connections and  let others know they they are not alone in this world. Human connection shrinks the mass of space between us.

Life can be callous and cruel. If the best we can do is be kind to ourselves and extend love to others instead of judgement then I would like to believe that is a good start 

Often I hear “You are so strong, I don’t know how you do it?”

To be honest I spent most of the weekend is various stages of disbelief, deep pain and emptiness, but when I have a moment of clarity I try to grab a hold of it. Depression is something that my husband and I worked through together for several years, it was important for me to work on myself and be as strong as possible so that when there were times that he needed me to hold it all together I could put in my best effort.  I know that days like these are inevitable and that I will have many more but I also know that occasionally I will need to take steps towards acceptance as well, as I move towards the healing process. Yesterday I signed up for Deepak Chopra’s Self Discovery Workshop that has given me access to a group of loving, brave and encouraging people from all over the world, I went for a hike and I  spent the afternoon talking to an old friend that is also in the midst of a heartbreaking struggle. In speaking with her and upon gentle but persistent coaching from my sister in law I realized that there are some things that I am holding in my energy that are preventing me from taking steps towards healing.

Last night was a full moon and the energy surrounding a full moon is phenomenal. It is the best time to set intentions and to release the things that do not serve you; things that are blocking you on your journey. I know that for me this will be the most difficult journey I have ever faced and I know that I have some baggage that I need to get rid of so I sure as heck am not going drag around anyone else’s. I am going to throw away any negativity that has been directed at me since my husband’s death and try to accomplish one goal each week this month, no matter how small and celebrate it. I am going to encourage our children to do the same. I smudged my entire house and garage to promote healing and peace and I feel like I am working towards something.

You are never alone. We are all in this together.

 

                                                                  Namaste 

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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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