Take these broken wings-W.I.S.E. Project 2017

 

“take these broken wings

and learn to fly again

and learn to live so free

and when the voices sing

the book of love will open up

and let us in” ~Mister Mister

I have been quite vocal about Mental Illness on my blog for awhile now but never in my want or need to raise awareness did I think I would be in the spot I am right now.

On Fathers Day I spent the day with my husband, the father of my children. It was a great day. We were in his garage where he liked to listen to music, watch TV and hang out with friends. We laughed a lot and talked about our upcoming vacation. The girls had made their father a book for Father’s Day and we read it out loud and shared a lot of laughs together. At 5 pm on Fathers Day Kirk passed me my ringing phone, I saw that it was Haley’s music teacher and I knew immediately that I was late for a rehearsal that I had forgotten about entirely. We had to run out quickly but Kirk and I talked on the phone on the way and he asked me to hurry home because he wanted to cuddle and watch a movie. He texted me throughout the rehearsal sending me hearts and I love you and some weird emoji of him giving the finger which he said was a joke. I missed a phone call from him as we were in the middle of rehearsal. At 5:45 he messaged “I love you” and I replied “I love you. See you soon”. I arrived home at 6:25. I came in through the front door, said hello to my daughter and her girlfriend who had just returned from the store but continued to walk towards the back door to go to the garage. I saw from the kitchen but didn’t trust my eyes until I was on my knees at the threshold of the garage door screaming and my husband was hanging from the ceiling. We have weathered the stormy waters of depression together for years but things had been good and it wasn’t on my radar to be worried. I know that Kirk often talked about being tired but I think he was much more than physically tired. He was fighting a battle that even I could not begin to understand the magnitude of.  Sometimes we are so tired that we need sleep and sometimes we need peace. Something happened that day that I cannot begin to imagine. In a breath, he went from anticipating a quiet movie night curled up to me; to leaving this world. The horror for me, my girls, our family and friends combined could obviously not compare to the horror he suffered in that moment as a victim of his own mind.  I will never know.

 Friday afternoon my girls and I arrived in Larch Hills in the Okanagan/Shuswap area of British Columbia. The trip here was a Christmas gift to our girls, a summer vacation away from everyday life, we had intended to bring the dogs and my husband I were going to renew our wedding vows to recommit to each other after a difficult 2016. It has turned into a journey to healing.

My husband worked away a lot in 2016 and spent a great deal of the year in the throes of depression. The trigger I believe was a work injury that left him struggling to do his job as well as he would like to and being away from his family for extended periods of time. I recently found a message from him shortly after he left for that work trip saying things didn’t feel right there without us and he much preferred to be at home where he could walk inside and the girls and I were there. Even still, when the depression hit him full force I didn’t recognize it immediately and I was really thrown by his actions and the things that he was saying to me. He made several attempts to try to get me to leave him saying he was no good and I could be so much happier without him. He later admitted to being overcome by something that he had little control over. He tried to drink it away and spent many an evening alone enveloped in blackness.

He described what he was feeling as if something was pulling him away from us and he wanted us to be safe and happy before he spiralled into the dark abyss. He talked about ghosts and demons and how he could no longer keep them at bay. It was a terrifying and heartbreaking time for both of us and there were nights that I would stay on the phone with him till he fell asleep and I was certain he was OK. There were others that we barely spoke. Everyday he was battling the stresses of his job, worrying if we were ok and fighting something that he had very little control over. He suffered the emotional scars of childhood trauma and often told me that he was like a little boy crying in the corner; waiting desperately for someone to save him. As someone who had an immense and unwavering love for him, his fears and recollections broke my heart. I wanted nothing more than to save him but at some point, I came to the realization that I alone could not save him, so it was essential to save myself. No matter what Kirk thought was best for me, I would never have walked away from him and not looked back when he was depressed any more than I would have left him if he was suffering with cancer. When you love someone the way I love him you are always all in, regardless if you are guaranteed anything in return. I know that his attempts to distance me and keep me safe during times of darkness was his way of loving me just as fiercely and fully as I loved him.

In 2015 Kirk found himself in the middle of a serious bout of depression and he was unrecognizable to me. I know that a lot of people think camp living and being away from home and his family were causes but the causes of his depression happened a long time ago, the onsets were most likely triggers, like camp living, being away from his family and using alcohol to cope. This episode happened while he was working at home in Edmonton. He was building a restaurant and working as if he were three people but that is just what he did and he was often taken advantage of because of it. He only knew one speed and he had a deep need to work as hard as humanly possible. He always had something to prove and he was always in a competition with himself. As much as working himself ragged had an affect on his mental and emotional health; it also provided him with a great deal of confidence and validated him in ways that you and I can only begin to understand. Kirk was never satisfied with just doing a good job. He had to do it better and faster than anyone before him. Since moving to Alberta in 2007 he had mastered oilfield modular camp installations, commercial renovation, commercial and restaurant development as well residential renovations. If he had not done something before and it took some time to learn, he would just work longer hours to get it done right. When anyone in the chain of command failed to do their part to get a job done on time he would take on their job as well, even if that meant sleeping on the floor at a jobsite for a couple of hours so that all deadlines were met, all promises and obligations were fulfilled and he could come home to be with his family knowing that the client was happy.

In the summer of 2015 Kirk became someone I did not know. I have often thought over the years that alcohol was a trigger for him and perhaps that is true in ways but it was also his medicine. At camp, drinking with his buddies and co-workers prevented him from being alone at night when the grip of whatever chased him was strongest. Alcohol though like any medicine, only treats the symtoms and although it may have numbed him enough to think he was holding it together there are certainly lasting and damaging effects of using alcohol to numb pain. 

I can recall Kirk being almost catatonic during that time in 2015. He would look right through me and he would tell me that he knew I was always there but he couldn’t always feel me there. He seemed so lost, like he was an empty shell. I was in shambles trying to figure out how my husband had gotten so far away overnight. He was destroyed by it as well and it was not an easy time. We went to a doctor together and through speaking with both of us the doctor believed that he might be bipolar. Kirk and I had both thought for a while that that might be the case. I admit that during our younger years I sometimes thought that he was an asshole and didn’t understand his struggles. I know that even growing up his depression and anxiety and possibly ADHD presented as anger. The realization that he suffered depression and anxiety wasn’t something we discussed at length early on. As our relationship developed over the years we saw our share of struggles but we also developed a deeper trust and Kirk started to open up to me about things that had happened in his childhood that forever hurt and tormented him and that he felt like he couldn’t get away from. Much of his life was categorized by high highs and low lows, which led to bad choices and destructive behavior. As he matured and we developed a closer, more honest relationship he tried very hard to smooth out  those peaks and valleys and was committed to being a good father, husband and provider.  When the doctor referred him to a psychiatrist, with the assumption of bipolar disorder it felt like a small victory for us. Our relief however, was sadly short lived. Kirk spoke to a Psychiatrist in the summer of 2015. He said he bared his soul to him, not leaving out a thing, including his struggle with extreme highs and lows, things from childhood that followed him into adulthood, alcohol and drug abuse, anger, anxiety and sometimes delusions that had at one time or another resulted in suicidal thoughts. The Physiatrist told him that he was fine, suggesting only that he might have a mild case of ADHD but didn’t recommend medication because they probably would make him worse. He did not recommend therapy to Kirk either. Kirk said he felt like a number on a page with a long list of numbers and the Dr. ticked him off the long list and moved on.

I cannot even begin to describe how I felt after that visit. I cannot even begin to imagine how Kirk felt. He was in terrible pain and his mind was full of fear and worry and other things that I cannot pretend to understand. He was in a terrible spot and he was not given any medical support and he had trouble communicating to his family what was going in in his head. Even knowing that depression never really goes away, we somehow got through that time and continued to love each other and hold unto each other as tight as we possibly could. For the first time in our life together I was truly afraid for my husband during that time and started to reach out to people in our families and circle of friends for help. It was a hard thing for people to understand, there was a mixture of surprise and disbelief and even the suggestion that I walk away and save myself.

Through most of Kirks life and our life together depression loomed over us like a storm cloud; there were many long stretches of time that it seemed far away. I referred to these as the “in betweens”

The memory and fear of the darkness faded into memory, at least for me. I am not certain how much of the darkness faded for Kirk or to what extent that he was able to keep it at bay. I have to face the reality that he loved us so much that perhaps he hid a lot of his pain from us. That being said though, I know that our love and our good times were real, every time Kirk reached his hand out and asked me to dance, every time we talked about going home to Nova Scotia so we could be with Jeff and the girls or we looked at property in remote B.C. and talked about growing old and rocking on our chairs on the porch; I never doubted that he wanted and intended to do that with me. We made such beautiful memories together as a couple and as a family and even though Kirk had a number of very close friends there was never a question in my mind or his that we were each others best friends for life.

Fourteen months passed before the thick of the depression ripped through our lives again. It seemed to come out of nowhere and as I mentioned  his injury was the possible trigger but I am not sure how long it attacked him from the inside out or how long he was able to hold off the demons before I knew about it. Depression is a sneaky beast and it can quickly thrust you into dark rooms with no doors. I could very clearly describe how I felt during those times and my struggles, what I am not certain of is just how bad it was for him. I only know what he told me and it was heartbreaking.

I know that I had to fight through my own hurt and pain and be a friend to him so that he could feel comfortable enough to talk candidly to me without fear or judgement or hurt feelings. It is hard for people with depression to communicate with the ones they love because they cannot handle their hurt feelings. We had never faced a time in our marriage that was more honest, yet it was wrought with extreme emotional heartache. Kirk truly felt like he was being torn away from us and he was determined to make us safe and happy before that happened. It was a scary time but through love and understanding we were able to give ourselves the strength we needed to get through those grey days. I found Kirk a therapist and he tried once again to take steps to make things right in his life. Therapy was not something Kirk could commit to long term with his changing job landscape and he wasn’t honestly ready to go back in his story and sit with the pain and walk though it again to get to a place of acceptance and a path to healing. As painful and impossible as that seemed to him, he sat with the pain every single day, there was no shortcut around it.

He was able to set some boundaries with work though and time apart from his family. Christmas break last year was a time of healing for us and within a very brief time we were at a new, honest and warm place in our relationship. He promised to tell me when the darkness descended instead of trying to push me away. We made so many memories in the last seven months and stayed so close that you couldn’t put a breath in the space between us, even on the days when we were not physically together. We decided to renew our wedding vows on our summer vacation to recommit to a new and more honest way of loving each other and making the health of our relationship a priority that we put above work.

In the last couple of months Kirk had a job change that although he didn’t want it led him back to a company that had always treated him well and a job that he excelled at. He was doing well at work, excited for upcoming projects and very enthused about the crew that he was working with. He invited me to meet his crew and stay a couple of days which was really nice for both of us. In all his days in the Oilsands we never had that opportunity. He was home five days after my visit. He was going to be working in Edmonton the week prior to our vacation and he was excited about that and a week in the quiet hills of British Columbia. One of his last texts to me was “we are going to have a beautiful week together.”

I read something recently that said the relationships that we are assigned in life whether they are meant to last forever or not are assigned to provide us with maximum soul growth. My heart and my soul grew in immeasurable ways as a result of my love for Kirk and the love he gave to me. I learned as much about love and life from the good times as I did from the bad. The quote that was going to be displayed at our ceremony site overlooking the Shuswap River was from Wuthering Heights “Whatever are souls are made of, his and mine are the same” That book has been a long-time favorite of mine and I have a copy beside my bed that Kirk bought for me a month ago at a little book shop downtown. The book is driven by the torture and heartache of unrequited love. Last night when I picked it up I thought of my love for Kirk and his for me and how we never missed an opportunity to express our love for each other. I go to bed inundated with questions and wake up much the same way but my grief will never be wrought with regret. I will never wonder was I enough, did I do enough, did he know I loved him and supported him? I know in my heart that he knew, every second; except for perhaps that fateful one.

My heartache is not something I need to get over or move past. There is no magic expiry date to the pain that the girls and I are in. Instinctually our minds want to play out scenarios of what if on replay, even knowing that it serves only to intensify our pain and will not bring him back. Our journey is through grief, not to get to the other side of it; as that does not exist. Our hearts will never be ok with him not being with us but if everyday we move forward one small step instead of looking back in anger or trying to build a life on a foundation of what ifs; we will one day learn to accept where we are. We are different now and life will be different now. Our spirits are enduring and we will still smile and laugh and embrace experiences and opportunities, even through the sadness. As we heal we will love differently and see the world differently as we are forever changed and so is the world for us. Our sadness is ok, our pain is ok. We will be OK.

There are times in my life that I have lost myself in sadness and pain and had to work towards loving and accepting myself. I put in that hard work and when people say I am strong it is because I am strong and the moments where I lose it doesn’t take away from that strength, it means that I not only had the courage to love myself, I loved another person fully and I am feeling every bit of that loss.

Yesterday was a hard day and Morgan and I went for a hike to clear our heads. When we got to the lookoff point we remarked what a bitch it was going to be to get back because it was all uphill. We started out strong but I had to stop a couple times to catch my breath and I was either fighting off mosquitoes in the thick of the woods or the sun in the clearings. Our surroundings were beautiful; fragrant green trees, wild daisies and strawberry bushes, sunlight steaming through the trees while birds sang. I said to my daughter that hiking was like life, you keep pushing and climbing, taking moments to swat away the pests and others to take deep breaths and appreciate the beauty around you.

I thought about a hike that Kirk and I and the kids did in Slocan Valley a couple of years ago.  I was having a hard time with the elevation and I told Kirk to go ahead but he stayed with me encouraging me. That is how he was in life, he climbed and pushed and struggled through, barely able to swat away the pests or appreciate all the beauty that life had to offer but he never missed and opportunity to encourage someone that was struggling.

That is my guy, the person that I will remember. The countless memories and times we shared will help me to one day fly again!

Lover’s Waltz -W.I.S.E. Project 2017

The message was wrought with hurt and anger but above all else it was a surrender. I thought that I was giving him what he wanted and needed; a resolution and one less thing to worry about so he could focus on the most important thing, getting well.

Last year when my husband found himself in the intense grip of depression I found myself in a sink or swim situation. I cannot recollect a time that it was more important to love and care for myself. I read a quote recently about the importance of writing from a scar and not an open wound. I agree that when your heart is suffering your reminiscence might be very different than recollecting the hardship at a later time. For me the pain has become another life lesson, and a reason to re-evaluate everything I ever thought about love.

Everyone has their own definition of love, as well they should; but I fear that love, the very idea of it has taken on such a transformation that it is hard to express in words. It is almost easier to tell you all the things that do not constitute love, than to actually define love. In spite of that I think that most people would agree that love is a feeling and that the very idea of love can be hard for a lot of people. Singles put themselves out there; constantly trying to find love while couples are continuously striving to keep love alive.

Is Unconditional love possible in a romantic relationship?

A term that I have heard a lot, as well as used a lot over the years is unconditional love. Unconditional love is a love without conditions which I think, in reality, is very hard to achieve. Speaking as a woman, falling in love, “true” love as it is often defined, is because we have found someone who fulfills our physical and emotional needs, and we imagine that this person will provide us with a stable home and a good life. As time goes on if that person does not satisfy our physical or emotional needs or offer us a secure home and a suitable life then problems arise. We are no longer happy because our conditions are not being met. That sweet feeling of love begins to turn sour. Some lovers part ways fairly quickly while others choose to stay and fight for love. Staying is right for some people and leaving is right for others but loving someone unconditionally does not dictate either of those things. Here is where I question if unconditional love in a romantic relationship is possible.

I have been with my husband for over 18 years. The most useful things I have learned about love have been have been most recent and I believe; if I am being honest with myself and the world, that I have only loved him unconditionally for a very short time, if at all.

To not only believe in the existence of unconditional love (as it relates to romantic love) but to also love someone unconditionally requires a great deal of vulnerability, courage and effort. True love is not about receiving love, it is about giving love, without the expectation of anything in return. Are we capable of caring about the happiness of another without any thought whatsoever of what we might get in return?

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The beautiful madness of falling in love…

Falling in love is beautiful madness. When you think of it, in the terms “falling” and the total abandon that overcomes you, it is quite surreal. We talk about being raised up by love but falling in love is quite different. That moment you realize you are falling  it seems completely out of your control, you are sitting there feeling so completely consumed by your love for another that you feel like you have fallen into them. Moments without them feel like days and you feel like you could die without them. Falling in love is quite a dramatic undertaking. During this phase of ‘falling in love” we are often so caught up by love that we fail to see our partners authentically. We cannot see them in any sort of negative light, and we simply overlook their faults. Without genuinely looking at things without blinders on it is not feasible to love unconditionally because we need to be aware of the good and the bad before we can make the declaration that nothing is more important than loving this person.

Loving someone doesn’t not mean you will always like them. In life and relationships, we make mistakes, but there are times that I have put my heart in a jar on the bedside table, sealed up tight and if I wasn’t getting what I expected from my relationship or if I was angry or annoyed my heart stayed in the jar, impenetrable. I was still there even though I had closed him off from a part of me, so I thought that meant I loved him unconditionally.

To love unconditionally is to choose to give love under all conditions.

Is loving under all conditions feasible? Is it healthy? What if your spouse is physically or mentally abusive? What if you set boundaries in the relationship and your spouse does not respect those boundaries? Are you then no better than a doormat? Are you willing to be the dust under their feet?

If love itself is a feeling and the feeling of love is commonly in response to something we are getting from another person; is it therefore conditional? Unconditional love is something we do, despite the conditions so does that make it an action? I do believe the feeling of love can be unconditional. Sometimes, no matter what a partner does, feelings towards them do not change or go away. Relationships, however, are working partnerships and as such, they require conditions, boundaries, and aims to be successful. I think it is possible to continue to love (the feeling) under any conditions but to continue to actively give our love under any circumstances is what I am not sure of.

We are not islands; eventually things will come between us.

About seven months ago my husband was in the throes of crippling depression. He was working away at the time and I didn’t recognize the signs immediately. We have endured some tough times throughout the years but in my opinion this was the worst, or at the very least the impact was the worst for me. Initially I took it personally and I think that is a common misstep. I have learned that you cannot love away depression, no matter how hard you try. There is not a manual on how to deal with your spouse’s depression so of course I made mistakes. However, once I got a sense of what was happening, I did a lot of research and every day I had to make a choice and endeavor to do the most loving thing for him in the moment. Some days he needed to talk to me and he needed me to be engaged and others he needed me to permit him some space and some silence. He wasn’t in charge of much in his life at that point as his demons had their arms wrapped tightly around him. I had to let him be in charge of something so I had to step back as best I could, and allow him to determine when we talked and what we talked about; it was more difficult then I care to admit. There was a comfortable, loving and flirty element to our relationship that disappeared and I struggled really hard with that. I faltered often, it is hard not to take depression personally, none of my emotional needs were being met and as I wrestled with the uncertainty of it all I tried not to lose myself. I was anxious to find some measure of structure in the chaos that had become my life. There were days that it felt like there was an ocean between us and that it would be impossible to swim to that place where we could meet in the middle. There were others that you couldn’t put a paper in the space between us. It reminds me of the old Dolly and Kenny song; Islands in the Steam, “nothing in between, how can we go wrong?” they croon. Well we are not islands and eventually things come between us.

Though it was all very confusing, the entire time my husband insisted that he felt like something was pulling him away, he felt like he was the captain of a sinking ship spirally into a black void and I know he wanted to get me to safety before the ship sank forever into the dark abyss. I spent many a night staring at the ceiling and telling myself that no matter what that the kuds and I were going to be okay. In my head, I made plans for a future that didn’t include the person I loved so much it hurt. I made a very big effort to be well, knowing that he could barely lift himself up to make it through the day and that worrying about me was too much. The most loving thing I could do for him in that moment was to take care of myself.

It is really hard to reach out to people when you are in the midst of something you can barely put into words but one day I texted a friend and I told her what was going on. She called me and prayed for me while I sobbed hunched over the steering wheel of my truck. It was such a powerful feeling to be embraced in love and understanding that was void of any sort of judgement; either of me or of him. It felt how I would imagine “true” unconditional love, the kind that god gives us, to feel like.

I never stopped giving my love to him but I felt at some point weeks later that the most loving thing that I could do is to let go, not to stop loving him but to loosen my grip and make plans to move on separately. He had told me so many times that he couldn’t see the light and that he so desperately wanted me to be okay because he felt like he was ruining my spirit and the very thought was killing him. I began to recognize that his frantic worry about me and my relentless longing for a connection that he couldn’t offer me was only serving to cause him more anguish. He was trying to lesson his own pain by lessening mine, all the while going to bed with his nightmares and waking up with his nightmares and trying urgently to sail his ship out of the storm. He couldn’t give me any reassurances because for him there was no end in sight to the way he was feeling. He was basically holding on tight to the little grip of reality he had.

Sometimes; sadly, loving another person means walking away.

I took my wedding rings off on the evening of November 22nd before I went to bed. I hadn’t taken them off much in15 years and it had definitely been awhile. They had become as much a part of my hand as my fingers were. I had to cut up tights, loop the nylon through each ring one at a time, lather up my hand and slowly wind the nylon around my finger until they finally came over my knuckle. After they came off I didn’t really feel much, a little physical pain on my finger but emotionally I just felt weary.

I know that depression is hard for people to understand, even well intentioned people will tell you to “look on the bright side” and to “snap out of it” I only wish that it were possible.

My husband has suffered some sort of depression for years but the depression that hit in July of 2015 was different than anything we had every experienced together, it stole so much of our lives from us. My husband suffered trauma in his childhood that has followed him into adulthood. He has tried therapy but he has not found the right person for him. He asked me to help him find an older lady, someone motherly to speak too. I did that and though it wasn’t the perfect fit for him I sincerely think there is someone he is looking for. However, until he is ready to truly sit with the pain, to walk through it, not around it, and to face his lifelong fears and terrors head on instead of just keeping them at bay as long as possible, depression will loom; just around the corner. Unfortunately, these are not my choices to make and even though I think it is possible, I do know that it will not be easy. I have come to accept that he is not ready.

Things got better for a while, in fact things were so good that we remarked frequently how grateful we were to have made it through that terrible time and we hung on tight to each other, loving fiercely in the aftermath. Depression however is a formidable force in breaking down trust and tearing couples apart. Fast forward to that night in 2016 after 2 months of life altering moods and indecision and my husband’s insistence that he was not good enough for me and that I needed to move on. Finding the strength through tears after I had decided over and over, day after day that I would be strong enough for both of us, that I would hold on no matter what, and that I would be the light in the darkness. That glimmer of hope got further and further away, just out of my reach, the reassurances, the reciprocation, and the plans for a future together; they all faded away. I tried to be what he needed, when he needed it, even realizing that he was struggling so hard within himself that as much as I was reeling I couldn’t expect him to be there for me. He stopped wearing his wedding ring; it was part of his conclusion that we had to move on separately as he did not want to envelope me in his gloom. My decision to stop wearing my wedding rings was largely based on doing what I thought was best for all of us, especially him, but my letting go was swathed in a great deal of hurt, anger and emotion. Sometimes; sadly, loving another person means walking away.

I was entering the stage of grief that fluctuates between sorrow and resentment.

A part of me felt that he had given up on all of us; that he had mentally walked out on us. In my heart of hearts, I knew that nothing could be further from the truth but months of grief, heartache, and shattered hope had left me raw and angry. Most of all I was very sad. I felt like I had showed up for him, every single day, that I was probably the one person in his life that never let him down, that loved him unconditionally through every imaginable scenario and here I was left in a mess of tears. I was entering the stage of grief that fluctuates between sorrow and resentment.

I sent the love of my life a message and a picture of my red swollen ring finger and the rings that he had given me as a symbol of our forever love, sitting alone on my bedside table. The message was wrought with hurt and anger but above all else it was a surrender. I thought that I was giving him what he wanted and needed; a resolution and one less thing to worry about so he could focus on the most important thing, getting well. I turned my phone off and conceded to the restorative power of deep sleep.

I didn’t turn my phone on until about 10 am at work the next day. The return message I got from my husband was brave and honest and full of heartache; cloaked in a tiny bit of hope. Looking back on it, I feel like my willingness to finally loosen my grip was a turning point not just in our relationship but in my husband’s lifelong struggle with his demons. It catapulted us into a place of honestly and sincerity and allowed us to be open and candid about our feelings. Some of the things I learned during that time were shocking and hurtful and others brought me to my knees. When the person you adore has spent a great deal of their life in unimaginable pain it can be difficult to grasp the realities of that.

I would put my heart in the glass jar on my bedside table and put the lid on tight

I realize now that the demons for my husband are never very far away. From the beginning of our relationship when they came to visit I would sense a withdrawal from him and I would immediately withdraw as well. I would put my heart in the glass jar on my bedside table and put the lid on tight. For a good part of our relationship there were times that he needed me the most that I would be emotionally unavailable. Though I thought I loved unconditionally by always being there physically; I was cutting my husband off from the most important part of me. I believe that all relationships should have boundaries but I made mine red lines in the sand and I feel like there was many times that my husband had to struggle without me because my unconditional love had so many limitations. I didn’t have the courage to love freely; my love was always full of expectation.

Love is a feeling, but loving someone is a voyage that requires vulnerability and a courage that not everyone is capable of. I asked my husband s week ago what he thought unconditional love was and he said it was simple, “love without conditions, true love!” I asked him if he thought it was hard and he said, “It shouldn’t be.” A couple days later her waivered significantly on whether unconditional love was even possible.

Maybe I overcomplicate things but I have finally realized that if your number one goal is to protect your heart from hurt; as it was for me, then unconditional love will be impossible for you. Love is a feeling but unconditional love is also an action, it is something you do, not just something you feel. Sometimes it is the hardest thing you can do; to continue to give love without the anticipation of anything in return. We all struggle, we rise, we fall and we learn.

Depression is something we will likely always struggle with. I now know the value of setting loving boundaries in my relationship, but when hard times hit I think in some cases it is possible to keep on giving love. Sometimes that action, void of judgement is the most loving thing that you can do at the time. I know that when I make a mistake that hurts people, I judge myself harshly. There is a difference between we have done something bad, and we are bad. In the same token if our partner disappoints us, they often feel just as bad as we feel, guilt is healthy and inevitable but “you are bad” is shame and shame is not healthy for us or our relationships.

I took my heart out of the stupid glass jar for good. That glass jar can be shattered anyway but my heart is pretty enduring.

It’s the summation of small steps that make possible the substantial changes in an emotionally impaired relationship! We didn’t land back in the place where we were before the tough times hit, but we found ourselves in a new place and hopeful place ,a place we have grown into, and can continue to cultivate a healthy and loving marriage.

Mistakes happen; we need to forgive ourselves the things we didn’t know before we knew them. Loving someone is “trial and error”, often with a lot of error! In my opinion, there can be no true love without vulnerability; I think it has always been my largest struggle. You have to be willing to show up even when you have no control of the outcome. Opening up your heart to someone, can be the most vulnerable and courageous thing you can do but protecting your heart from hurt also shelters it from love.

I did shed some tears writing this, sometimes when you peel back the many layers of scar tissue over a wound it will bleed.

My goal is to love better, to have a love that is kind and giving, that has boundaries but is also forgiving.

One of the most valuable lessons I have learned since starting the W.I.S.E Project is the importance of self-love. I don’t think “true” unconditional love is possible in any relationship outside of a parent-child relationship if you do not first learn to love and take care of yourself.

Loving myself and learning to take care of my own health and wellness has made me a better partner and a better parent. When I chose to let go of my marriage, it was because I knew that I could be ok, no matter what. I have never bought into the “two becomes one mentality” of marriage. I am healthiest as an individual, responsible for my own happiness and harboring my own beliefs. I think loving yourself is the very best protection you can have for your heart. Your heart can endure grief and loss and pain and all of the beautiful and challenging things that come with love, if you love and take care of yourself first, the more aware and understanding we are to our own needs, the more giving and loving we can be towards others. When we are willing to risk our heart, we are also opening it up to love.

My goal is to love better, to have a love that is kind and giving, that has boundaries but is also forgiving. I am not sold on the dictionary definition of unconditional love, at least not in the way that it pertains to romantic love. I think the action of unconditional love (with healthy relationship boundaries) requires a great deal of compassion, and wisdom. I think our capacity to love and to give love to another can grow immensely as we grow as people. I also think that loving someone unconditionally, occasionally requires walking away.

That being said the only thing I am really certain of is that I am not completely certain of anything!

What do you think unconditional love is?

Do you think it is possible?

Do you think it is healthy?15541249_10211047297515845_5487702828603847435_n

 “I think unconditional love for another is: You see them for who they are, as much as possible; you accept them for who they are and where they are on their journey. You know they are human with strengths, weaknesses and wounds, just like you. You are willing to go with them or understand and love them when their wounds get exposed for healing purposes and you pray for them. I think it takes a lot of grace! And if they walk away and go in a different direction, you might have to work through grief, anger and hatred because you had expectations and wanted them, but you land in the place of letting go and still loving them and wanting God’s best for them.”

~Rebecca Mcmaster

Seven Bridges Road-W.I.S.E Project 2016

“The sun shows up every morning, no matter how bad you’ve been the night before. It shines without judgment. It never withholds. It warms the sinners, the saints, the druggies, the cheerleaders- the saved and the heathens alike. You can hide from the sun, but it wont take you personally. It´ll never, ever punish you for hiding. You can stay in the dark for years or decades, and when you finally step outside, it´ll be there.”
Glennon Doyle Melton, Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed

 

The splendid sunshine is abundant today in the Edmonton sky; and though it is slightly crisp the radiant heat of the sun and the feel of it on your face gives the illusion that it is much warmer. It is like a warrior booster for my day and I appreciate it immensely!

It has been a difficult week and I would be a fool to not mention that the last several months have been troublesome. When your spouse suffers the devastating effects of manic depression and struggles to get through each day you will struggle right along with them. You will pull yourself up, you will dig your way through the wreckage and you will fight harder than you have ever fought for anything in your life. You will feel raw and cheated and sad and angry and all sorts of emotions that you never even knew you had or experienced before. When the person you love is dancing with their ghosts it is very likely that they will not feel your arms around them, they won’t feel your love and tireless support and that can be heart wrenching. If your sadness turns to anger that is your heart putting on armor, bracing for battle. They say there are six degrees of separation and five stages of grief. I have felt all of them and a combination of them all within a five minute period. I have held on to the threads of hope until my hands were bloody.

My husband described it in the most descriptively terrifying way “You feel like someone has pulled your heart out of your chest, filled it with hornets, set it on fire and pulled the rug out from under your feet but you have no choice but to keep swinging”

I guess in reality there is a choice, you can stop swinging, stop fighting and stop holding on. You can give up on yourself or on the person you love and walk away from everything that was ever important to you. Maybe in time one of you will feel better, possibly both with some very hard work but in my case I know with certainty that I am going to put in the hard work either way and at the time when the bumpy road smooths out I want us to be travelling on it together.

Whether you are the person that feels like their mind is being held together with a weak adhesive and you fear that it could break apart any moment, you feel dead inside and unable to make a decision, you are so broken and you feel like you will never be worth fixing or you are the person who feels everything, you try so hard to be that adhesive that keeps your love together just enough to keep from breaking beyond repair and you pray to god everyday and you hope beyond any hope that you ever had, that your love can fix this, it is all consuming and sometimes your days will be in color and some days they will be enveloped in blackness. Either way it can be scary but I think for me, one huge difference is that I see a light at the end of the tunnel at all times. I know it exists and I know that I need to stay in that light at all times. How terrifying it must be to live a great deal of your life in darkness, unable to see or feel any sort of light, to not know with certainty that things will get better one day, instead of continuing to spiral into a wretched abyss of murky dead space.

The decision to start this little project called the W.I.S.E. project stemmed from a couple of things. Last Christmas I saw a baby picture of my son that I had given up for adoption when I was sixteen. Being reunited with him has been a miracle, he has been such a blessing in my life but seeing that picture sent me into a tailspin. I was once again a scared and uncertain 16 year old girl, in love with a little baby that I knew in my heart deserved a life that I couldn’t give him. I felt devastated all over again and I knew that if I didn’t deal with that, if I didn’t feel every bit of that heartbreak that it would revisit me time and time again for my entire life. So I laid in my bed and I cried for days, I wrote down my feelings, I talked to my husband and I talked to God. I sought and found forgiveness and redemption and I embraced all the love that I finally believed I deserved. I knew how lucky I was and how much I had to be grateful for but for some reason I still felt miserable. It was the end of 2015 and my mind was still very stuck on period of gloom in July when my husband had suffered the worst depression that I had ever seen. I had known for years that he had an issue, I knew that he suffered childhood trauma and that his demons followed him into adulthood and often took up residence in his tired mind. It seemed that his demons had grown with him, they were bigger and stronger now and more aggressive. The harder he tried to make the right decisions for himself and his family the more they pushed back. The person I laid down with every hot July night was not the person I married and had spent almost half of my life with, he was a stranger, a terrified little boy crying on the inside and outside he looked like a ghost. His beautiful soul was tortured and his fierce and loving heart was in the cruel hands of ruthless apparitions that neither of us understood. Even though he tried to get help he was somehow dismissed as if he was just a number, a space to fill on the appointment book and a check to collect at the end of the hour. Somehow, some way we seemed to overcome that horrible time, or least things seemed to go back to resemble some version of normalcy. I never stopped waiting for things to go wrong again and in doing that I wasn’t living. At best I was existing, going through the motions. I wasn’t happy and finally the time came that I realized that I had all the pieces of the puzzle to construct a happy life but something was not fitting together properly. Unlike people who suffer the debilitating affects of depression, happiness for me was a choice and I became committed to seeking it, learning the science of it and choosing it at all costs every single day. It doesn’t mean that I spend every day farting rainbows (only some days) but it really does give me a lot of perspective. Had I not embarked on this project I would be a crying mess on the floor and that is not an option for me. I cry and feel everything, make no mistake about that. There have been weekends recently that I didn’t even leave the house or get out of my pajamas but I have to say that there has been a power in knowing that know matter what that I can lift myself up and be OK. I practice gratitude daily and I try incredibly hard to stay in the moment.

Depression robs you of your ability to communicate effectively and as a wife who is sad and my heart is raw, I often take well meaning things the wrong way. It can be frustrating for both of us. My need to decide everything in a moment adds a pressure to my husbands already stressed mind that is not helpful in the least. I have to consciously try to slow down, to live in the present and to be grateful for the good things I have in my life and to seek joy in everything I do.

I know that I have to matter in the equation too and often I have questions that my husband simply cannot answer. This adds another element of discord that we struggle through. I try really hard to be my authentic self and stay true to me and my needs. That is why I ask the tough questions because they are important to me and in order for me to stay connected, healthy and well I occasionally need a little bit of reassurance. I take time to breath, meditate, laugh, rest and cry! Those are the things that I need. No matter what you face and how hard you decide to fight it is essential that you take care of yourself.

I am majorly kicking my ass today because my old co-workers in Ontario are hosting a reunion this weekend and I am not going. Working with them was such a fantastic time in my life and though I had an opportunity to go I didn’t book it because I wasn’t feeling up to being around people. Many of these women helped me through all sorts of things during my young adult years and I should have taken solace in the fact that today would have been no exception. We all struggle and though our problems may vary, the scars that they leave on our hearts are similar and when we share our stories we are able to own them, instead of allowing them to own us. Sharing with the people that we care about strengthens our connections and we let those that we love know that they are not alone in their struggles. This has been a lesson learned for me indeed.

The last several months have been a succession of waiting to exhale. Today I am going to enjoy the sunshine and try my best to stay in the light.

Whatever you are going through, please find some comfort in knowing that you are not alone. If you allow your pain to be a teacher you will get stronger than you ever imagined. When your heart is broken that means that you have had the courage to love, to feel. That is so much better than being numb. You are one of the good ones so just breathe deeply and follow the path with the light at end. It may seem far away and it may seem unattainable but as long as you keep it in your sights you will be OK. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow but you will be better and stronger in the end.

Every battle I face I tell myself that I just need to build another bridge and get over it. I am currently on what the Eagle’s refer to as the seven bridges road. If I have to I will knock down the bridge, kick off my shoes and wade through the muck; heart, soul and hamstrings to get through and do what needs to be done. I will cross that bridge when I come to it. (pun intended)

 

You may be unsteady but W.I.S.E. friends never forget that you are unbreakable.

xo

Michelle

 

 

Learning to fly-W.I.S.E. Project 2016

A soul in tension that’s learning to fly
Condition grounded but determined to try

~ Pink Floyd, Learning to Fly

My husband always tells me I have a beautiful soul. He said if he could describe me in one word he would use sunny because I always try to bring the light and see the bright side. I do try to be careful about that when the darkness comes, when the demons of depression have their arms around him, because I know that sometimes looking on the brighter side of things is just not a choice for him the way it is for me. Also, nobody likes a Pollyanna. Pain matters, sadness is for a reason.  If we constantly brush off our pain and don’t allow ourselves to feel sadness we will dismiss the lessons that those feelings bring.

I asked him this morning if he thought that the intensity of our love for each other has to do with living through the dark days of depression and learning to solidly grasp unto the good times. He thinks our tendency to love each other so profoundly has more to do with us living a great deal of our lives separately due to work.  I think there are elements of both in the way we relate and he is certainly right that we spend too much time apart; this conversation took place over text from separate provinces.  It really is a challenge and a choice, at the best of times to live our lives “together” while living separate.

Over the years, a lot of our friends have seen us in a certain way, they see this deep and passionate love that they envy, they see a couple that laughs together at ridiculous things, dances cheek to cheek to classic ballads, makes each other handmade cards, and goes on romantic getaways at a moments notice. They don’t see the other side of that. There is loneliness and a sadness that is not portrayed in our social media feeds. If what you see is a couple that is unbreakable; that loves each other but disagrees on almost everything social, political, economic, parenting, morality…I could go on. A couple that carries the scars of our histories together and separately, and even though most wounds have healed the pain sometimes bubbles to the surface, a lingering pain that reminds us that we are alive, and that we feel.  A couple with longing and regret and struggle than just maybe you are seeing us. That is how we see us, as beautiful survivors.

I often wonder if other couples feel the same way. I have talked about the space and the distance that depression puts in between us.  It’s excruciating and strange and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I have woken up and had my husband looks right through me like I am a stranger and nothing hurts more. It never gets easier, but there are other times that even living and working provinces apart you couldn’t put a handkerchief in the space between us. We are fully engaged in each others lives, we fill each others spaces with light and hearts with love. We are lovers, friends, cheerleaders, champions.

My husband sent me a picture the other night and I wanted to touch his face so badly. When things are ‘normal” and I use that term loosely, there is a comfort and warmth between us that feels impenetrable. Do the rest of you feel that belonging?  Certain  you are where you are meant to be and you are safe and happy there?

Life is so goddamn weird, it really is.

In 2016 we talk a great deal about being authentic, being true to ourselves, being real. We talk a good talk as we post flawless selfies of ourselves sipping Starbucks lattes, on our beach vacations with the perfect Margarita, our bedhead and make-up free selfies that we primed and prepped the greater part of half an hour for. This realism, this credibility that we speak of has become a bit of a joke quite frankly and it incites comparison. I think there is a lot of unnecessary comparison among friends, family and co-workers. The way we portray our lives or better still perceive the lives of others can separate and segregate us.

I want to be genuine and to do that that I have to be honest.  I do my very best to stay in the light. I choose happiness at every opportunity and sometimes it is really friggin hard. Some days I would rather stay in my pajamas and eat chocolate bars and cry because adulting sucks. Some days I don’t feel that confident and I want to hide from the world’s judgmental eyes. We should start an honest movement that when challenged you have to post a selfie of what you are doing that very moment. “Dear World, this is me, I am sad today and too emotionally drained to make supper, I have managed to feed the dogs and cat, the kids are having Kraft Dinner and  I just polished off a 250 gram bag of sour cream and onion chips and a glass of cheap Merlot. I am now sad and bloated and I have a pimple.” hashtag #truth

We follow the unspoken rules of the world to be polite and go along with the crowd as to not rock the boat.  We proceed, like good little soldiers, one foot after the other, and left over right, heal, and toe. Smile, look pretty and never let them see you sweat. What a load of authentically revolting bullshit. When did we become so afraid to shine, to fly, to reach for the stars? Probably the same time we became afraid of being different, afraid of failing?   This is the reason why the world is  sadly lacking in original content. We are remaking movies and songs because everyone is afraid to step out of the box and present new ideas but people are buying memoirs as fast as fiction because we are craving something real and we desperately want to know that there are people out there that are just as fucked up as we are! It reminds me of the Dr. Seuss book “Good people don’t” It’s about farting. We all fart. We all love, we all struggle, and according to REM everybody hurts…sometimes.

Let the world know you fall, show them you have learned to get back up again, show the world that it can knock you down ten times and you will get up 11. Sometimes you will fight a losing battle, but if you keep fighting you will never fail. You are enough, you are more than a perfect selfie on a white sand beach, you are a warrior and sometimes warriors have pimples and messy hair. Some days are hard and some days the sun is on your face and the wind at your back. These are the days of your life, full of hope, full of wonder, full of struggle. Be grateful for your life, it is not a retouched photograph, it is real and honest. It is beautiful even when it is callous. The days full of sunshine make incredible memories; the darker days are full of lessons. Breathe it in, every bit of it, live your life, moment to moment. Today is a gift, tomorrow is gone, the future is uncertain. You have today, this very minute. Embrace it, and don’t be afraid to step out of line, fight your way out of the box,  and  be you!

xo Michelle

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.”

~ Peter Pan

DISCLAIMER “A couple that carries the scars of our histories together and separately, and even though most wounds have healed the pain sometimes bubbles to the surface, a lingering pain that reminds us that we are alive, and that we feel.”

When I speak of wounds and scars I am speaking metaphorically, there has never been any physical aggression, wounds, scars or the like in my marriage.