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

Bust a move- W.I.S.E. Project 2017 #tenacioustuesday

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I have promised to inundate you with a tale of my personal struggles.

The problem with posting a video on your social media saying what you are going to talk about the next day is that you are committing to it, so even though I have gone for a float, my head feels rather clear and I would rather eat my Finish chocolate and listen to audible; I have promised to inundate you with a tale of my personal struggles. Sounds incredibly exciting, I know.

If we are talking personal struggles I could talk forever about how unfair it is that when I wake up and pluck all the grey out of my eyebrows that I am left with half an eyebrow that I have to fill in, only to discover that I have three brow pencils in my make-up bag that are empty, so I consider using the color stick that I use fill in the greys that grow in between colorings along my hairline. Oh middle age; *I shake my fist at you*. It is sad really that in our twenties we have shiny hair and taut bodies but we really haven’t a clue about self care and emotional well being. Now that we are at an age that we are figuring it all out, the things that really matter, we have to worry about leaving the house with half an eyebrow and our clothes on inside out. Life is not perfect, but it is a journey and we are responsible to make it the best one possible, even with half an eyebrow.

I know that my situation of struggle I am about to share is not unique. I know that a lot of people have been affected by the Boom and Bust of Alberta’s economy. To many who work in the energy industry, the current downturn is the worst they’ve experienced.

I moved to Alberta in the summer of 2008, I was originally not so thrilled about the idea but my husband started working in the Alberta Oil sands in the fall of 2007 and at one point we spent over 6 months apart. It was the best decision for our family and nobody in their right mind would move their family across the country without putting in a great deal of effort to make it work.

There was some negativity surrounding our move, from family and friends alike, the same negativity exists today, almost ten years later; and it is based on a lot of assumptions about our lives and what would be best for us. The truth is that we have worked hard to do the best for our family, we have had great times and great struggles. Geography has been one of the greatest struggles, not just being away from our Nova Scotia family, but being away from each other!

In 2008, I sold our rural Nova Scotia house privately and spent weeks packing up our belongings before my husband arrived to sign the papers for the sale of our home and pack up the U-Haul. He drove across Canada with our belongings and our dog, I flew with our 7 and 3 year old girls and our cat.

In July of 2008 we moved into a house that I had never seen, not even in pictures. My husband had seen it once and determined more than anything that it was a safe Edmonton neighborhood for his wife and children as he would continue to work over 400 kms away.

In 2008 the Alberta Oil sands was experiencing existential growth. Workers were coming from all over Canada and when companies could not keep up with the demand they were hiring foreign workers to work in the service and construction industry for much lower wages.

We were able to live a life that wasn’t possible in rural Nova Scotia, opening up a world of opportunity for our children

We were able to live a life that wasn’t possible in rural Nova Scotia, opening up a world of opportunity for our children, seeking and nurturing the sports and arts activities that they were passionate about. Life was busy for both of us, my husband running a crew and working 80 hours weeks, sometimes working 21 days in a row in remote parts of Alberta and B.C., away from his family and me as a mother and a wife with a full time job, volunteer work and children in extracurricular activities, missing my husband.

I am sure our story sounds very similar to many  people who came to Alberta to work and raise their families. It wasn’t an easy life but it was a different kind of struggle than we had back home. In our beautiful province of Nova Scotia we were no strangers to financial struggle but the boom mentality was all new to us. I was way too caught up in the in the thick of it to consider that what goes BOOM, also goes BUST!

We bought a house when the market was at an all time high; it seemed a waste to keep throwing money away on astronomical rents.

For someone who came to Alberta very unsure I was able to navigate my way very quickly and make a place for myself here. Though I will always consider Nova Scotia to be my home, I am proud of the way that we dug in as a family, put in the hard work, and built a life.

There have been hardships all along. We have no family here and at times that can be very difficult. Being away from your significant other is a challenge as well , and as bad as it is for me, I recognize that he is the one that misses his children’s milestones as he moves place to place, saying goodnight via text in a different bed that is not his own.

Then when he came home we tried to jam the two weeks we missed into a 4 day visit. This sometimes meant spur of the moment trips to the mountains for relaxing time because otherwise you were inundated with things that needed done around the house and the four days were stolen from you in a flash.

Before things went completely bust there were hiccups, company issues, growing pains, last minute job changes and getting by on our savings during the down times. When we got through it we high fived each other as we have several times over the years because, once again, they couldn’t keep us down for long.

Then things go to BUST. It happened really quickly. The Alberta economy was devastated and though it started primarily in the Oil sands you learn pretty quickly how that trickles down, how many sub industries depend on the oil industry.

We had already depleted our savings and good graces during the hiccups. We found ourselves sadly unprepared for the bust. Even then we tried our best to be optimistic.

My husband is a fighter, he didn’t take more than a moment to feel sorry for himself, and he went out and started drumming up work in the residential construction industry

My husband is a fighter, he didn’t take more than a moment to feel sorry for himself, and he went out and started drumming up work in the residential construction industry. In a short time he landed some commercial work as well and his work ethic led him to a new career in the commercial restaurant trade. Diversifying your skills in this economy is essential. The money was a lot less but it meant being home more and being a part of a growing company that did not depend on the unpredictability of the Oil sands.

My husband being home more seemed sadly short lived. As with any growing company, the work area expanded to take him once again throughout Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan. My husband spent almost eight months away from his family last year just to try to stretch the two ends of the rope to meet in the middle. Everything about our lives seemed to be hanging in the balance, relationships are strained and financial struggle is imminent as you are trying to keep up with mid boom debt on a post bust budget.

Once again, we reached deep within yourselves and decided that we will put in the fight of our lives, personally, professionally and financially.

Once again, we reached deep within yourselves and decided that we will put in the fight of our lives, personally, professionally and financially. We were committed to putting in the hard work because the promise of extensive work at home and being together as family full time was worth that effort.

Unfortunately, elsewhere; someone else is succumbing to the burdens of mismanagement during an economic downturn and my husbands hand was forced , once again to change jobs quickly. He believed in the potential of his company and promise that his hard work and sacrifice would reap the reward he desired, being with his family full time.

I could tell how torn he was to be returning to an industry and a life that he had hoped to leave behind.

He packed his bags on  Sunday night and said goodbye to his children. I could tell how torn he was to be returning to an industry and a life that he had hoped to leave behind. Realistically, one can look at the situation as an outsider and say we should be grateful. We are grateful, for many things, we are not grateful however for the time we spent apart and we have heard the “no money is worth that!” We know that too. It is not about “money” at all, except that we are trying to keep a ship full of holes afloat on a stormy sea.

We bought our house during the boom, to sell now would mean we would most likely lose any equity we put into the house. To go back home seems like an ideal idea when you think of it in terms of family and friends. The thought of the easy relaxed lifestyle we could adopt is very tempting.  However,  if we stop to construct a plan we can’t help but realize that we have over the years romanticized the idea of “going home’.

The thought of coastal drives and Sunday family barbeques brings a tear to my eye.

Being with all of my children, watching my grandkids grow up and being close to family and old friends is one of those ideas that make your heart swell with longing. The thought of coastal drives and Sunday family barbeques brings a tear to my eye.

Then I am forced to think of the fact that if we sell our house right now we could lose all of our equity, our girls have on countless occasions flat out refused to move from the only home they have known for ten years, and we would be jobless in a province that is not bursting with economic opportunity.

So, even though it feels like we have been on the same uphill foot path forever, maybe our miracle is on the other side of the mountain. We need to make healthy decisions regarding our financial future and keep moving even though it feels like we have been stuck in the same spot way too long.

We are grateful we are able to maintain close connections with most of our family and friends even though we are on the other side of the country, our hard work has afforded us some great opportunities and we have made great memories. Perhaps on the other side of this we will once again high five each other and remark how we couldn’t be held down for long.

I can’t even begin to imagine what the future will bring, it seems best to just focus on today.

I know that we all face our own personal and financial struggles. I am interested to know how you cope during times of stress. Do you believe in retreating to safety or do you just keep swimming in the hopes of one day moving forward? When you can’t get ends to meet no matter how far you stretch them are you able to keep a cool head and do the next best thing or does it tear you apart?

I believe that we can help each other. I look forward to your input!