“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. Over time it also took away his joy and dulled his memories.
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 just a jerk 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 we 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 an 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 us to one day fly again!