Freedom-Wise Project 2018 #TenaciousTuesday

 

6358306185208975971969308494_freedom
Source (Google Images)

The other day a memory popped in my head of a summer evening a few years ago, my husband had made Margaritas and built a bonfire in the backyard and I was wrapped up in my purple fuzzy blanket which my husband affectionately referred to as my sooky blanket. The radio was blasting in the garage and like many a person before me in a similar scenario, on a similar summer night full of promise I belted out the familiar words “Freedoms just another word for nothing left to lose…” from my favorite Janis Joplin song “Me and Bobby Mcgee’.

Many times over the past several months that memory has invaded my thoughts and as I imagined Janis pulling her harpoon out of her dirty red bandana, and playing soft while Bobby sang the blues,  I also imagined Kirk taking my margarita out of my hand, moving my blanket aside and pulling me to my feet so we could dance, like teenagers, right there in our backyard.  ‘Feeling good was good enough for me’.

There is a picture from that night that my sister in law and my daughters wear around their neck. His smile is magnetic and it is just a great picture to a lot of people, a picture that shows the Kirk that we all like to remember , but to me it is also a memory, one that will be forever imprinted on my soul. A memory that reminds me what freedom feels like, one that reminds me to dance, love and sing (even though I am tone deaf)

Somehow, Kirk slipped away from me. His depression shackled him in chains and bit by bit took his freedoms away.

Freedom means different things to different people.

When I think of the word freedom, I close my eyes and imagine myself outside sucking in the air and screaming from the top of my lungs, not so unlike the Four Non Blondes song. Throwing my hands up in the air, face to the sun.

I think of how for months after I lost Kirk to suicide that I was bound by his pain without ever even taking a moment to feel my own. While the world slept peacefully each night when the darkness fell upon their piece of earth my heart waged a ferocious war with my mind. I was my own worst enemy and without realizing it at the time I had the potential to be my own savior as well. While Kirk slowly climbed a stairway to heaven, I quickly descended a stairway to hell. A dark place I created in my own mind, a place that kept me unwell, that kept me small and lost and not at all living. Somewhere in the darkness I found and followed a glimmer of light. What I sought was emotional freedom. I was being held captive by my own thoughts and emotions, much like Kirk was. The difference was even at my lowest I knew that I was in control, sadly unlike those that suffer the devastating effects of depression and the attacks by their own brain, I always had a sense that I was in charge.

Shortly before Kirk passed away he got home one night and we were in the garage listening to music, I ordered Pizza and the delivery driver that came to the door was one of the most captivating young men I have ever met. I was immediately taken in by his smile and his enthusiasm. He wasn’t at all alarmed that my huge dogs surrounded him in curiosity and he seemed so genuinely eager and absorbed in the very moment, the conversation and the experience. It remains a powerful and memorable encounter for me. His name was Mustafa and he was a Syrian refugee. In our short but impressionable conversation he told me a little bit about his country and how much he missed it. When I asked him what he liked about Canada, he answered with the same elevated level of enthusiasm that directed the entire conversation and the charming smile that I will never forget.

“Freedom,” he said.

For me, freedom is a feeling and thoughts and the independence to be in control of my own ideas, feelings and decisions, regardless of what mass media or society spoon feeds me. Freedom means emotional sovereignty, knowing that I am always in control of me. Freedom is courage and self determination. Freedom is a long country road and good music to sing along to.

Freedom for me has never meant waking up without the sound of gunfire, the threat of violence or without fearing for my life and the lives of my family. That has never been my experience.

As some of you may know, February is Black History month and zealous to learn about things that we either did not learn about when I went to school or subjects that were glossed over I spent some free time educating myself. There are a couple things that stand out in my mind and one is the last scene from the Idris Elba movie Sometimes In April. The movie is based on the dark and violent hundred days when Hutu Nationalists raised arms against their Tutsi countrymen in the African Nation of Rwanda, beginning in April of 1994. As brother turned against brother, lives and families were torn apart and over 800 000 lives were lost, forever changing history. There is a scene at the end of the movie where a woman stands up and says ‘I was there. I’m a survivor.” Her name was Martine and she was a teacher at a Catholic School when the Hutu Militia storms the school gunning down all of the girls with automatic rifles. Martine had been knocked out during the encounter and somehow she and one other girl survive the unimaginable massacre. When Martine stands up and says the three simple words “I am a survivor.” Every single hair on my body stands on end.

In the past several months I have often thought of myself as a survivor. Finding freedom over the experiences I have endured, without being reduced by them. I often imagine what being a survivor means to someone like Martine, what freedom means to her.

I also watched a compelling documentary on abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass who was born into slavery sometime around 1818 in Talbot County, Maryland. Douglass was chosen to live in his Masters house, believed to be his father. His mother died when he was between 7 and 10 years of age and he was moved around between slave owners and faced cruel but unfortunately not unusual punishment for its time.

He went on to become one of the most famous intellectuals of his time. A Baltimore slave owner’s wife taught him the alphabet and when she was forced to stop teaching him he learned from white kids and others in the neighborhood. Douglass, during his lifetime, advised presidents and lectured to thousands on a range of causes, including women’s rights and Irish home rule.

It was through extensive reading that Douglass’ righteous indignation to slavery began to take shape. He read newspapers keenly and sought out political writing and literature as much as possible. In later years, Douglass credited The Columbian Orator with clarifying and defining his views on human rights. Douglas shared his knowledge with other enslaved people and eventually found his way to freedom. Imagine what freedom meant to Frederick Douglas. Imagine what Freedom meant to someone born into slavery. Imagine what Freedom means to people whose ancestors were not born free.

Douglass said “Knowledge is the pathway to freedom.”

and

 “Knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave.”

As part of my healing journey I developed a Moksha that is on a sticky note in my office and I say it out loud when I am overwhelmed. I used to say it several times a day. A Moksha is similar to a mantra but the best way I can describe it is a liberation or a release, mine is “I am emotionally free.”

Freedom, the very word and the idea is a bit of a paradox.  Is Freedom just a state of mind?

I do this exercise inspired by Tony Robbins, gratitude visualization.  I also visualize what words like gratitude, freedom, courage, love and connection mean to me. I bring in memories one by one and then I visualize moments from the future. I am very aware that my memories and visualizations are due to my own experiences. I have not and cannot live anyone else’s experience nor define or deny what something means to them.

The last several weeks when I thought of freedom I thought of people whose mental illness traps them in a devastating experience in their own minds, of North Koreans and the communist regime that forces them into modern day slavery, I think of people like Mustafa and his family forced to flee the only home they have ever known to come to a country where they are looked upon suspiciously and called terrorists out of hatred and ignorance,  I think of those that are still fighting racism and bigotry by having the perceived audacity to want the same unalienable rights as their white neighbors, the right to the fearless pursuit of happiness that everyone else gets. The freedom to feel like an equal. The freedom to be seen and heard. The freedom to walk or drive to the store without being profiled and harassed because they look or do not look a certain way. I think of the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, mourning the loss of their friends to yet another senseless and horrifying school shooting yet fighting gun reform so they can feel a sense of freedom in their own communities and consequently I think of the youth of the Black Lives Matter movement who have been fighting the same fight for gun reform, to much less fanfare for years. Fighting for fair treatment from the very people sworn to protect them.

Freedom.

It means something different to everyone and we have to be aware and empathetic to the experiences of others, even though they may differ from our own. Some people fight for freedom every single day. Some people pass the fight down from generation to generation.

Nelson Mandela said “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in such a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others”

 

I imagine a world where we are able to love and be loved in such a way that we feel free, that we feel the freedom to be our true selves and live the lives we want to lead without fear and we genuinely want the same freedoms that we enjoy for others.

What does freedom mean to you?

 

“I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free… so other people would be also free”. ~ Rosa Parks

Beautiful Trauma- Wise Project 2018 #TenaciousTuesday

picsart_01-26-101402261154.jpg

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

~Jann Arden

Dear beautiful people,

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

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

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

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

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

What the F is happening to me???

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

She is me. I am her.

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

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

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

Give me back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The sun keeps showing up.

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s get real.

Let’s talk.

Let’s be authentic.

Let’s be vulnerable.

Let’s share our stories and our struggles.

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

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

Silence is a serial killer.

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

#sicknotweak

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

~ Jann Arden

20180126_2148321779847401.jpg

xo Michelle

Fuck the Walk -Wise Project 2018 #TenaciousTuesday

screenshot_20180116-1515521497386998.jpg

 

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

Support and non-judgement can go a long way

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

For the most part Mental Illness is a lifelong struggle

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

 

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

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

 

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

Listen to understand, not to reply.

 

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

A PhD does not protect you from Mental Illness

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

 

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

Silence is a killer

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

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

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

 

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

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

856560ce5eb8c414167c2531722e9a49--salsa-dancing-dancing-with-the-stars

 

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 

Image result for Let that shit go

 

 

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

maxresdefault
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