The Climb- Wise Project 2018 #TenaciousTuesday

It has been thirteen months since I lost my husband to the unfathomable darkness of depression. I know nobody would say thirteen months unless they were referring to a baby, they would just say a year but in this case the distinction seems important.

I grabbed a glass of wine after dinner tonight and came out to the deck to watch the colorful sky. It had been a hot day; there has been a heaviness to the heat the past couple of days, almost as if it was sitting on top of you. I had come home early to enjoy the sun in my backyard and almost immediately the sun vanished beneath a gray mass of clouds that seemed to appear out of nowhere. I put some shoes on and played catch with my youngest daughter until we decided to beat the rain inside as the sky hinted that there was an impending storm, possibly a good one.

We watched some TV till Morgan came home with her friend and I went upstairs to make dinner. I cannot believe I am saying this, but I made spaghetti tacos for the girls. Apparently, it was a thing on ICarly and Haley has been asking me to make them. Morgan was initially as freaked out as I was at the idea but seemed to enjoy them and Haley seemed beyond enamored by them. I opted for a stir-fry with this amazingly flavorful cauliflower rice. It just seemed like a normal day, almost an unfamiliar normal, one I truly haven’t seen in a lifetime. I did the dishes after supper, still peeking out the window occasionally to see if it had begun to rain. The rain was still holding off, and the sky beheld the same dismal color it had been earlier perhaps just a slight shade brighter. I decided to sit outside and enjoy a glass of wine and Morgan and her friend appeared and chatted a bit before going to meet another friend. At eighteen Morgan keeps busy with her crew, avoiding quiet times that make her think and feel too much on bottomless repeat. She is not ready to release the pain and sometimes I think we get so used to pain that we wrap ourselves in it like an old blanket and its Saturday night on the couch with your favorite Netflix series. It’s worn and not entirely cozy but there is a certainty to it at a time when everything feels uncertain. Tonight, she came out to the deck and we shared some laughs. She looked nice in her Halifornia Baseball Tee and I wondered for a second if it was mine because we have the same one. The sky had started to darken again just before they left but I found myself moments later staring up at it, a tiny bit confused. The sky had completely changed in a moment that I somehow missed; it was almost like a seamless day to night transition during live theatre. Somehow I blinked and missed it entirely. It was pretty in a weird sort of way, it was like the colors of the bags of cotton candy hanging on the side of the food trucks at the summer fair, the colors started to merge together, like the faces and the people that flock to the little food mobile all day to buy water and French fries. All of the sudden Haley burst out the door running into the lawn and standing on the fire pit, rambling about the sky and how she always used to stand on the fire pit in Grade 7 and take pictures of the sky. She just finished grade 8, probably one of toughest years in all her academic ones but she pulled through it and kicked its ass on the way through. I realized that I used to take a lot of the pictures of the sky as well and besides our recent vacation in the Okanagan where I dedicated time every day to stare up into the sky picking out the funny, dirty shapes in the clouds I had not been doing so. I stared at the moon and the stars at night and meditated fresh air every day of my holidays, yet it is July 30th and this is only the second time this summer that I have sat in my backyard. That feels important. It took thirteen months.

Haley and I continued to chat about the sky and take pictures of its rapidly changing color. It was not the most amazing sky I had ever seen, it wasn’t even close to being great, but it was beautiful in its unique normalness, changing quickly into moodier cotton candy colors. Almost immediately upon noticing the temperamental palette the curtain dropped abruptly leaving the evening sky draped in a deep navy velvet. I am listening to Ben Caplan crooning and sipping on a glass of red wine and kind of swaying in my seat and writing and figuring it out and sharing it with you almost simultaneously. After all we have been in this together, for a while, you and I. You have told me that sometimes my pain has been an escape from your own and that my healing makes yours seem hopeful and possible. You cry with me, remember with me, laugh with me and sit and hold space with me just as you would for your oldest, dearest friend. In most cases I am not your friend, most of you don’t even know me personally and even those of you that would say we were close if I won the lotto or became famous, you may not recognize me anymore. When I put my shattered pieces back together I had to put them back differently. I was forced too, everything was different, as am I, and sure as shitheels I am never going to be the same again.

Like I said, you are me and I am you. Our struggles are different but we both bare the scars of black nights and early mornings on no sleep. The memory fades but you remember how easily you can slip back into that hole. You are also starting to see how easily you can stop that manipulation, the lure of familiarity, and the decent into the darkness. You are starting to see that tomorrow is a new day; you get one every 24 hours. There are days that are easy and days that are hard, none of us are immune to those.

I walk on my lunch hour at work and I am lucky to live in a city with a large urban parks trail system surrounding our river valley. I have become a creature of habit and I take the same route 5 days a week finishing with a ladder. Every day I climb the ladder. When I first started I had to catch my breath several times and then I just stopped halfway through to suck in some air and then as time passed I made it closer to the top without a pause. Some days now I don’t stop at all and some days I stop out of habit. Some days are just hard, unexpectedly, as if I cannot get enough breath into my lungs and the air feels like a massive weight sitting on my chest. I have no explanation except for sometimes life is unexpectedly hard.

I realized that very day that I have been climbing for what seems like forever and it seems like I start over at the beginning every single day. The beauty in that is that I do, I start over every day. Nothing is permanent, no feeling of despair or hopelessness or heaviness that threatens to suck you in. Joy is not permanent either; it weaves in and out of our lives, knitting our memories into stunning tapestries. The magic happens when we realize that we choose how we feel in every single moment and we can chase the bleak shadows deeper and deeper into a pit of desolation or we can follow the wonder, the pleasure and delight as it unites our memories with the sunrise and launches our hopes into the sky to land on the brightest star. Our inner world is married to our outer world and what we give our attention to sets our intention. If our intention is to seek and create a life filled with joy and to meet the highest version of ourselves, if we continue to make that choice in every moment, commit to that climb, the universe will feed on that energy like a hungry traveler and lead us and guide us and move obstacles out of our way.

We are not alone. We are never alone. Just as you and I share in our most difficult struggles and laugh together during times of joy, the universe; the birds, bees, mountains, ocean and trees move simultaneously in a hypnotic dance to produce love, joy, creativity and gratitude in our lives. When that awareness is present I believe anything is possible.

There are times in the last year that I believed life was merciless, torturing me and feeding on my agony like a vulture but a very wise man told me that Kirk would heal through my healing and that one thing has been everything really. My husband spent a great deal of his life in pain, unable to achieve the peace he desired. If I chose to sit in the blackness would I keep him there with me?

Acceptance is vital. There are so many things in our lives that can be changed that we nonchalantly accept but we fight so damn hard against the mountains that are impossible to move. We use all of our strength fighting battles that cannot be won while laying our swords down during the most important of all crusades, the fight for our lives.

I realized one day that Kirk was not going to join me in that pit of despair but his spirit along with so many loving and kind people was offering me a hand to pull me out, I just had to grab unto it every single time I started to fall. The hand was always there, it would always be extended. I choose to fall or climb, that realization has been profound.

In those early days I believed that if I allowed my self to heal that I wouldn’t feel Kirk with me anymore, that he would sense that I no longer needed him and his presence would quickly fade away. I sought some guidance and I depended a great deal on faith and trust and what I learned was that as I continue to heal not only are my memories more vivid but my awareness of his existence in my life is unmistakable. Our souls are eternal and I am confident that he will encourage me always. I know he will be with me no matter what but when I find myself in a dreary place I imagine him sitting there with me saying “C’mon pissy pants, snap out of it!” he much preferred fun Michelle, who doesn’t?

It is those times when I feel happy and free that I feel him the most. I was at a concert last week and I had so much fun and danced non stop. I felt surrounded by his love and approval and I feel like, without earthly limbs I dance for him. When I love and laugh and dance, he does the same, just as when I cry and sit around in my jammies eating endless carbs and feeling like crap, so does he. There is an amazing amount of freedom in knowing that I am guided and supported, always, I just need to continue to climb.

I finally realized that it is not about the view from the top.

Grief is an unimaginable journey, but it is not something to get to the top of. I don’t think you ever stop grieving someone you love but I do believe it changes shape, it cloaks you in a weighty and gloomy sadness but over time instead of wearing it like armor you gracefully drape it over you like an elegant shawl made of courage.

The top just seems final, like a place where you stop learning and I feel like I have a lifetime of learning to do. Death has taught so much about love and living but it feels like there would never be an end to what I could learn about my purpose here in this astonishingly big but enigmatically small world.

Every day, all day, it is a journey, it is a climb.

I feel like slowly, grace and healing is making its way through my house and the last couple of days it has planted itself in my backyard. I can’t even believe how absently I was ready to accept that there would no longer be laughter back there, no welcoming the sun or bathing in moonlight. It is amazing the things that we will accept when we have the power to change them.

How ironic that it was a perfectly normal day that seemed so extraordinary in my heart.

Our journeys are unique to us but often they intersect at the crossroads and we lean on and learn from each other. Shared wisdom and vulnerability is significant and valuable to healing and growth.

Sometimes the first step is the most important part of the journey.

“There’s no glory in climbing a mountain if all you want to do is get to the top. It’s experiencing the climb itself- in all its moments of revelation, heartbreak and fatigue-that has to be the goal.”

~Karyn Kusama

Love Story- Wise Project 2017 #TenaciousTuesday

The very best kind of love should feel like freedom. Love shouldn’t feel weighty or reserved. It shouldn’t make you feel shackled. Love should make you feel like you can fly.

Image Credit Pave it Forward-Tumblr

the love

we were promised in fairy tales

was never something

for us to find

it has always

been something

for us to create

~ Tyler Kent White

I was the little girl that believed in fairy tales. I had an eager imagination and I was captivated by the notion of grandiose castles in magical places, of tiny fairies, fearless knights, fire breathing dragons, beautiful princesses, handsome princes and of course happily ever after.

I still believe in a certain type of fairy tale, In fact I believe I have lived one, but the problem is that we get our idea of fairy tale love from a ninety minute children’s movie, and though we see struggle, and the all-consuming love that we are told lasts forever we are not shown the day to day challenges; the in-betweens. We don’t get to see what happens after babies, financial struggle, pimples, snoring, weight gain, exhaustion, lack of faith, loss of trust, anger, infidelity, disrespect, failure to communicate and a myriad of other issues that plague modern-day relationships.

We are also never shown the most important love of all, the one that makes everything else possible.

There are indeed romances that withstand the test of time, of bruised hearts and saggy butts, though I am sure they do not happen by accident. To anyone who has looked at another person and truly felt that they loved them head to toe, inside and out; no matter what, and meant it, I am certain that the one thing these relationships had in common was that they loved themselves first.

It is categorically impossible to love another person entirely without first loving yourself.

I lost my husband, my great love, to suicide in June of 2017. I have since realized that nothing in this world has taught me more about love, than death.

Death doesn’t end love, in fact, I have said many times that if you ripped me apart limb by limb you would find the residue of our love on my skin, in my bones and in every drop of my blood pumping furiously through my veins. I will love Kirk always and it is that very thing that propels me forward.

In the last several months of our earthly love affair, I learned to love Kirk unconditionally in a way that I never thought possible. I studied a lot about depression, anxiety and trauma over the years and though I could never understand how it felt from the inside, Kirk and I had finally come to a fearless and brave understanding that landed us in a place of complete vulnerability, a place that for most of our twenty year relationship I wasn’t able to visit because I didn’t love or trust myself enough to allow myself to be wide open.

I know that towards the end, Kirk kept a lot from me. I know now that he was inconceivably terrified of what was happening to him. Even amid soul crushing sadness, I never loved him a bit less for leaving.

This time last year Kirk and I were sitting on a patio overlooking the city lights of downtown Vancouver and having a huge discussion about the possibility and probability of unconditional love. From the beginning of our romance, there was never a shortage of love, but there was also anger, fear, resentment and walls that we built to protect us from hurt. For a long time, we depended on each other to provide all the feelings we desired to feel because we never learned to create that joy for ourselves. Desire morphed into entitlement creating huge issues for us.

There were times over the years that you couldn’t put a breath in the space between us, I can recall laying in this very bed I am writing from and feeling so close to Kirk I felt like I was inside him. As strange as that may sound I don’t know another way to elaborate on that kind of intimacy. There were other times that I feared loving him too much or giving too much of myself. I always wanted something in return for my love so in those times when Kirk was internally struggling with himself, I struggled with just loving him right where he was.

When I started The Wise Project I genuinely learned to love myself as I was, for who I was, every step of the journey. That unapologetic self love finally allowed me to love Kirk right where he was, all his lightness and even the horribly scary darkness that he tango-ed with. I didn’t just love him on the days that he was lovable or on the days when I could feel his love for me, I just loved him. I realized that any decision or choice he made was not a reflection of me or my worthiness and it didn’t affect my love for him or myself. I just kept loving him, even on the difficult days.

When a life ends you will never wonder if you loved too much.

Most will say they have loved with their whole hearts and most of those will even believe that they have. Often in our relationships we will feel unsatisfied or even slighted. We may feel unloved or unlovable, but it is important to remember that the person you so desperately desire to love you can only love you to the capacity that they love themselves.

If you do not love yourself unconditionally, your heart will not be open to receive all the love waiting for you. We are not taught self love in school and few of us can boast being taught it at home.

Kirk’s illness robbed him and everyone that loved him. He has a beautiful soul that will live through thousands more journey’s, bringing love and light and wisdom to others.

His tale is a tragic one.

Our tale is heartbreaking; and you may wonder how I could ever talk about our love and fairy tales in the same story. After all, where is the happily ever fucking after anyway?

Sometimes I feel like I have this huge magical secret about love that I want to share with the world. For a brief time, I loved another with all my heart and soul, from head to toe, void of ego or chains. The magical feeling it gives me to recollect it is indescribable and the only thing that made that kind of love possible is that I gave it to myself first, that is the big secret. If we do not love ourselves entirely, how can we seek and expect that love from others?

I can remember the exact moment I achieved that boundless and profound love. Blanketed in fearless courage and wrapped in delicate vulnerability, never did I imagine having to say goodbye to it so soon.

That type of love is so huge that it will never truly leave you and you will carry it with you everyday and use it to light up the sometimes cold, dark world around you. It feels like I imagine a bird would feel being released from a cage.

The physical love Kirk and I shared is no longer possible, but the love remains; as dazzling as a star-filled sky on a cloudless June night. It ebbs and flows with the pull of the moon, retreating to the sea to renew and restore and wash over me again and again to remind that I am a love warrior.

I have loved.

I have lost.

I am love and I will always return to love.

I came from Love, I am Love and I will return to Love. Love casts out fear. A woman who has recovered her true identity as a Love Warrior is the most powerful force on earth. All the darkness and shame and pain in the world can’t defeat her.

~ Glennon Doyle Melton, Love Warrior

Kirk often told me that his depression put chains on our relationship, on our love. I finally realized that the very best kind of love should feel like freedom. Love shouldn’t feel weighty or reserved. It shouldn’t make you feel shackled. Love should make you feel like you can fly. A love driven by value and desires should be liberating.

I know Kirk didn’t want this, but I also know that he guides me, and he knows that this gift of love that I give to myself every single day makes me unfuckablewith. I cannot be twisted, damaged or broken because I am strong enough to bend.

I am imagining a new type of Fairy Tale, one where the heroine saves herself because she is a bad ass fearless warrior. I created it myself and I get to write the ending and erase and rewrite the ending…and rewrite the ending again as many times as I damn well please!

Love is something you share

Because you have it, not

Something you give desperately

because you need it.

~ Humble the Poet

Freedom-Wise Project 2018 #TenaciousTuesday

 

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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

Torn Cape- Wise Project 2018 #TenaciousTuesday

I was feeling a little heavy the last couple of days, sometimes the weight of the hatred and the negativity in the world is a lot for my heart to process. I believe our fundamental purpose here on Earth is to love so when I feel such disparity between what I believe should be and what actually is I struggle. I know that it is important to keep shining my light and the candles that need lit will find me but today I gave my flame a little rest and handed the reigns over to my beautiful and huge hearted daughter Morgan. Morgan often struggles with the injustice in the world around her, with love, with overwhelming emotion and self identity. Yet I see her at the tender age of eighteen, curiosly finding her freedom, her wings and her courage to fly. To say I am proud would be an understatement. As I post this I am reminded that in life and love sometimes we are the teacher and sometimes we are the student. Sometimes it is okay to shut up and listen.

Listen. Learn.

xo

Michelle

“There are moments when you fall to the ground
But you are stronger than you feel you are now
You don’t always have to speak so loud, no
Just be as you are
Life is not always a comfortable ride
Everybody’s got scars that they hide
And everybody plays the fool sometimes, yeah
Just be as you are”

~Mike Posner

Recently I engulfed on a journey and as selfish as it may seem the adventure is all about me.

This expedition is so utterly important because there are prominent parts of me lost in the atmosphere and I can’t just stand here anymore and feel half full. As an optimist I know how extraordinary life can be and to prosper I can no longer put limitations on myself for those who say they love me.

To some this may be a tough pill to swallow but in this world our being is all that we truly have promised to us, something that will always be there no matter what.

As human beings; without even realizing, we give away abundant fragments of ourselves. Me, myself… I’m a culprit of this, but I’ve come to understand that the more I give away the less complete I feel.

There are times that I am like a thousand piece puzzle but I’m not absolutely sure where the other five hundred segments went.

I’ve spent my entire life in a cape trying to be everybody else’s hero and I often forgot about the most important person in my life; me!

Being an empath, I devoted a great deal of my energy trying to be everyone’s super hero and I unknowingly put myself in a corner.

When I love someone I give all of me to them, I’m not the type to half do things. In other words my brain is here but my heart is doing all the thinking. As someone who feels everything all at once at such a deep level; I hopelessly, fall. For me it’s so incredibly hard for me to say no. The anxiety of not fulfilling the wants/needs of others is overwhelming for me and though it would be so simple to say yes, I know I must reverse it.

On June 18th on Father’s Day my dad was swallowed whole by the darkness. I’ve now lived just about eight months without him. I’ve spent about seven of those worrying about others, putting my feelings aside, and being the hero that I needed to be for everyone. Now at the core I feel damaged and cracked.

Luckily my parents built me strong and taught me that I can get through anything. So now I am grieving, loving and breathing.

Today I am alive and I know that tomorrow is not guaranteed so I’ll walk this path and learn to love myself.

Deep down I know he’ll be walking right beside me, holding my hand.

Love has flaws. In love there is loss. Within love there is me and there is you.

Remember that none of us are broken. We all have battle wounds that turn into warrior like scars.

Loving and learning

Morgan DeBay

Beautiful Trauma- Wise Project 2018 #TenaciousTuesday

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“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

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xo Michelle

I Am the Highway- Wise Project 2018 #TenaciousTuesday

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Highway through Banff National Park

I was about 20 years old and living in London, Ontario and I hung out with a group of Western University Students that for a moment in time were a cross between an episode of Friends and a season of Seinfeld.  The leader of our pack was a hot artist named Adam from Vancouver that dated my friend Krista for a New York minute. My entire life up until that point could have had its own soundtrack and I loved the evenings that we spent at the local brew pub; The Ceeps; singing along with faithful Rick and his guitar and his tireless repertoire of classic songs that were our parent’s favorites. This morning I was driving Morgan to school and Neil Diamonds Sweet Caroline was playing on the radio, Morgan turned to me and said “every single time I hear this song, no matter where I am I swear I can hear you singing.”

Immediately I was transported back in time and I was a very young woman with her friends at the pub onstage with Rick the regular local talent singing alcohol induced back up and never missing a “bump bah bah” in the breath between lines in the chorus to Sweet Caroline. To this day, I never miss a beat and it quite touched me that a memory of mine has sparked a life long memory for her.

Saturday Haley and I were driving home and I was singing and truck dancing along to the radio when Haley shouts “Turn it up that’s my jam!” To see my thirteen year old belting out “If you like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain,” has to be right up there with my proudest Mommy moments, right up there with one of my children saying to me “You can do it put your back into it or ‘Cause your friends don’t dance and if they don’t dance well they’re are no friends of mine’ “

These are important parenting moments, this is how you know that you are getting through, this how you know that no that matter what, that they are watching you and listening to you and what you say and do really does matter.

So let’s get back to my hot friend Adam. I was twenty and still going to Classic Rock concerts and dance concerts like C & C Music Factory and Ace of Base. Bands like Soundgarden and Nirvana were a whole new sound for me. Adam was very influential to everyone in our group and he introduced us to this unconventional passage between the 1980s hard rock-heavy metal and post punk alternative rock. Like him, I became a huge fan of not just Soundgarden but of singer and songwriter, the late, great Chris Cornell.  I equally loved Chris with Audioslave and the song “I am the highway,” has not just had an impact on me it would also be a part of the Soundtrack of my life for so many reasons that would take me years to explain.

The world lost Chris Cornell to Suicide on May 18th, 2017, one month before we lost my late husband Kirk in the same tragic way. I was devastated and didn’t understand. Not only had the world lost an amazing artist, a loving father and husband, so much of my memories of the last twenty or so years would always be tied to a Chris Cornell Lyric. I recall very clearly the night Kirk and I sat in the garage paying tribute to Cornell and really absorbing some of his song lyrics for the first time. Kirk kept saying to me “He was tired, so tired” and clearly he understood on a level that I never truly will. He pointed out the lyrics to Like a Stone which we had sung along to hundreds of times without really considering what we were hearing…

On a cobweb afternoon
In a room full of emptiness
By a freeway I confess
I was lost in the pages
Of a book full of death
Reading how we’ll die alone
And if we’re good, we’ll lay to rest
Anywhere we want to go

Chris poured his heart and his soul and his pain into his lyrics for years. So many of us were comforted  by his words without ever really knowing why.

As much as I have said over the years “You’ve been thunderstruck!” or “I like big butts I cannot lie” I have said “I am not your rolling wheels, I Am the Highway!”

To be perfectly honest I  didn’t know why that lyric resonated so much with me and though I loved it, if you asked me to explain why I would never have been able to come up with an authentic answer that I felt good about.

I knew the lyric meant something to me and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what Chris had meant when he wrote that amazing line.

Today, in a conversation with Morgan where I told her that she was responsible for only herself and her decisions and that she gets to decide who she is that song lyric popped in my head. Ironically Tom Cochrane’s Life is a Highway was playing at the time and it hit me with such clarity.

I will never know what was in Chris Cornell’s head or heart when he wrote that lyric but I finally know why that song lyric means so much to me.

“I am not your rolling wheels, I am the highway…”

I will never be who you decide I am.

I define who I am.

So simple.

You are in charge of your thoughts, your emotions and your actions. You decide who you are.

“I am not your carpet ride, I am the sky”

In the grand scheme of things this may seem very unimportant but for a woman like me who lives her entire life in song lyrics and movie quotes, and is trying her best to raise young women that are fearless and committed to bringing good to the world, it really means a lot. We are living in precarious times and never has it been more important to be who you truly are without letting anyone else define you.

There are many times throughout my young life that I have allowed myself to be defined by others but when we lost Kirk it was astonishing to me that anyone would have the audacity to try characterize who I was, who my children were and what our relationship was as a couple and as a family to fit their own agenda. I admit that there were days that I just felt lost and I didn’t want to get out of bed. The thing about life is that to live it well, it requires you to show up, even when it is really fucking hard. Nobody is immune to struggle.

There were days I had to remind myself several times a day that I was still me, that I lost Kirk but I didn’t lose me.

I am still the highway.

All day, every damn day.

 

I Am the Highway

Audioslave

Pearls and swine bereft of me
Long and weary my road has been
I was lost in the cities
Alone in the hills
No sorrow or pity for leaving I feel

I am not your rolling wheels
I am the highway
I am not your carpet ride
I am the sky

Friends and liars don’t wait for me
I’ll get on all by myself
I put millions of miles
Under my heels
And still too close to you
I feel

I am not your rolling wheels
I am the highway
I am not your carpet ride
I am the sky

I am not your blowing wind
I am the lightning
I am not your autumn moon
I am the night
The night

I am not your rolling wheels
I am the highway
I am not your carpet ride
I am the sky

I am not your blowing wind
I am the lightning
I am not your autumn moon
I am the night
The night

Songwriters: Brad Wilk / Chris Cornell / Timothy Commerford / Tom Morello

 

Fuck the Walk -Wise Project 2018 #TenaciousTuesday

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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.