Heart Shaped box -WISE project 2017 -#tenacioustuesday

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At a very young age I had discovered the marvelous freedom that was on the other side of my fear. 

I remember very vividly being a young girl and terrified to ride my bike without the training wheels. I remember quite clearly the anxiety that I held in my belly, immobilizing me in fear. Nothing terrible had happened to me in my young life thus far so I am not quite sure where my panic came from. With a great deal of coaxing from my parents and my older brother I learned what was on the other side of my fear. With a little balance and a determined spirit, I finally agreed to forgo the comfort of my training wheels and pedal into a world largely unknown to me at my delicate age. It was a land of choice, liberty and wild abandon where the voices of my parents yelling after me couldn’t be heard over the pounding of my heart. Wrapped up in the excitement of my new independence I forgot how to use the brakes so continued to pedal with all my might with my family running after me. At a very young age I had discovered the marvelous freedom that was on the other side of my fear.

That should have been it, a lesson learned; but as part of the human experience we are creatures of comfort. We seem to spend our lives inside little boxes we have built for ourselves, boxes that keep us warm and safe in our self-made bubbles, free from diversity, change, adventure…and well to be honest not truly free at all.

She barely hesitates for a moment before diving into uncharted territory

I think a lot of my granddaughter Rielly and how at her tender age she is completely fearless. She barely hesitates for a moment before diving into uncharted territory. She has the bruises and scrapes to match her plucky personality; badges of her audacious nature.  Even still, onward and upward she confidently continues; unafraid of the journey, focused only what is on the other side.

The world may change her, with so many people perpetually apprehensive about what could go wrong instead of what could go right, many of us; me included, learn to fear living.

We had our own thoughts, ideas and passions and though most of our core values were aligned we shared a bed but not a brain

After I lost my husband to suicide in June the world became a scary place. I always considered myself to be a strong independent woman and never subscribed to idea that I was half of a couple, half of a whole. Yes we were Kirk and Michelle, and being married was a huge part of my identity but totally separate from our love for each other was the fact that we were two whole individuals; we were not a half of anything. We had our own thoughts, ideas and passions and though most of our core values were aligned we shared a bed but not a brain.

However, after that fateful day I felt lost and afraid. A part of me was missing and I felt small and scared. When my tendencies moved towards curling up in my comfy comfort zone, it was Kirk that always reminded me of my courage and fearlessness. It was almost as if I forgot who I was without my constant cheerleader. I felt like I was a half, broken in two and that all the good parts of me had died with him.

It is difficult to raise fearless and courageous young women when fear has you by the throat

It is a pretty frightening feeling to wake up not knowing who you are anymore and where you fit in the world but somewhere deep inside of me I still felt that I had a purpose and when heartache cast a shadow on that I only had to look at my teenage girls and be reminded that part of their cheer squad was gone as well and I needed to step up my mom game and lead by example. It is difficult to raise fearless and courageous young women when fear has you by the throat.

When I started the W.I.S.E. project, my purpose was to live mindfully and in the present, seeking happiness and creating joyful experiences and cultivating gratitude in the here and now. A lot of that entailed making good decisions for me and investing in my own well-being, knowing that not only was I setting an example for all of my children, but choosing happiness can have a ripple effect in your life.

In the last three months I have had to set intentions everyday. Some days I may decide that my intention is too stay in my jammies and cry but often my intention takes me out of my house, out of my head and into the big bad world of new people and new experiences.

I have been lucky to have had some powerful experiences and to connect with people that I am positive are earth angels, put on my path at the right time to help encourage me and point me in the right direction. The choices that I have made to put my feet on that path were based in hope instead of fear but I admit that sometimes I allow myself to be dragged backwards by fear and I wrap myself in it because it is what I know and when everything in the world feels strange, what you know, even if it is not good for you, can disguise itself as comfortable.

In a moment of confusion and hope I prayed to God when my grandfather was dying of cancer a few short months after my dad passed away

Last week I went to Church with a friend that is visiting and they had a sign up sheet for a home study group on the movie The Shack. I was drawn to it immediately and I signed up but when I got the email with the details of the group I thought of a million reasons why I should not attend. The Shack is one of the last movies that my husband and I watched together and I recall like it was yesterday him being in tears at the end of the movie and saying how beautiful it was. I had read the book and had talked to him a lot about it. I had a damaged relationship with god that went back to being a sixteen year old girl who lost her Dad to a massive heart attack a week before his fortieth birthday. A lady showed up to the house to talk to us about god and in the midst of my grief I said to her “Are you kidding me? I am sixteen years old, I just lost my Dad, there is no god; and if there is he is not who I thought he was”

I struggled a lot with that over the years and I met a lot of shitty people who did shitty things in the name of religion that only served to drive a larger wedge into that broken relationship. In a moment of confusion and hope I prayed to God when my grandfather was dying of cancer a few short months after my dad passed away. My grandfather’s life was not spared but I did get the answer I was looking for and very slowly, like at the pace of a snail mired in molasses traveling up hill, I started to repair my personal relationship with who I believe god to be. My ideology surrounding god, nature and science has always been and will remain very personal to me. I have learned that people are all too willing to believe what they are told and what they read from their perspective without considering that 20 million people could read the same book or see the same movie and interpret it much differently; and that is OK. That is life, we create our own reality.

I believe there is a little bit of God in all of us, I think that God really is one of us, someone I could have shared a seat with on the bus or served a meal to at the homeless shelter

God in Shack is the closest representation to the God that I know and believe in my heart. I hold it in my heart that when my husband watched that movie that he felt the same way. His life experiences had jaded him immensely and most times  he believed that god wasn’t for people like him. I think watching that movie he saw something beautiful and attainable, something that he hadn’t been spoon fed at church and something that though he may have daydreamed about, barely mentioned out loud. He and I talked a lot about God though, I wasn’t afraid to share my interpretations with him and he liked my version of God. I believe there is a little bit of God in all of us, I think that God really is one of us, someone I could have shared a seat with on the bus or served a meal to at the homeless shelter. God may have been someone who smiled at me in the grocery store when they knew that tears were about to spill down my cheeks as I was experiencing the most unimaginable heartache I ever had to endure.

As the day of the group meeting inched closer I had all but decided that I wasn’t going. I know that the book wasn’t popular among a lot of Christian groups because it was not what they were taught and we often fear what we don’t know, preferring to stay in our boxes where it is comfortable. The idea of spending an evening with un-like minded strangers was troubling.

He was more alive than I had seen him in years

Initially I had felt drawn to the group because of the connection to the movie and my experience with Kirk. I had a discussion with a friend of his shortly after his death and found out a lot of interesting things about him that I didn’t know. He studied religion at university and almost became a Pastor. He told me that Kirk had come to him very vividly in a dream after his death and when he said to him “wait, what, you are supposed to be dead.” Kirk replied that he was more alive than he had ever been. His friend likened their conversation to the movie The Shack and said he believed that from his encounter with Kirk that god and heaven in the movie (book) was the closest representation he could think of. I told him about watching that movie with Kirk and how touched he was and about how Kirk had come to me in a dream very vividly saying I am real, you can touch me. He was more alive than I had seen him in years.

I know that Kirk was not without joy in his life. The girls and I and Kirk had some amazing times together and shared a love that not everyone gets to achieve in this lifetime, but I also know that depression and anxiety was a relentless beast that sucked the life out of him. Despite profound sadness I try every single day to find a bit of solace that Kirk is now surrounded in peace and love.

I mentally concerned myself with all of the things that could go wrong

My trepidation in attending the group was based on the fear that once again I would be forced to sit through a discussion about how my god, the god in my heart is not real and all the reasons why. I wasn’t going to attend if I couldn’t be my authentic self and that would include discussing what drew me to the group in the first place. Instead of focusing on all of the things that could go right, I mentally concerned myself with all of the things that could go wrong.

I arrived a bit early and I was sitting in my truck talking to a friend when the first ladies arrived. I had decided to come as myself in every aspect and was wearing my slash shirt. I committed right then and there to being true to myself in every way; that was really the only way approach the evening.

Things took a turn immediately. I endorse Brene’ Brown’s version of wholehearted living and that means choosing courage over comfort as much as possible. I took a big step by being there but that was just the beginning. If I quietly slumped into a corner in my thoughts I might as well have stayed home in my jammies. I wasn’t there by accident. Something drew me there and to find out what it was I needed to be head up and heart open. Within two minutes of my arrival I told the guests that had arrived why I was there. I told them about losing my husband and about my connection to the Shack. I told them that I was nervous to be there but felt like I was called upon to be there. I was immediately surrounded in love and non-judgement. Women embraced me one by one with tears in their eyes, offering me comfort. Another woman told me how she had lost her husband suddenly, nine years ago to a heart attack. She and I discussed the ongoing shock of it and how grief is an arduous journey. She is a nurse and said she felt she should have been more prepared but it was unthinkable finding her husband dead. The lovely host had been busy with food and snacks but upon realizing what she had missed immediately filled with tears and exchanged hugs. It was all very warm and suddenly I was not among strangers. There were three retired nurses and best friends that came together and one of them took me aside to tell me that she had lost her husband to suicide a year and a half ago. I sensed that she still had a hard time saying the word but as we sat down I kept her talking and she gave me some helpful resources to connect with other survivors. She spoke with me about quickly finding out who your true friends are and how sometimes the people you assume will step up don’t and the people that do can be equally surprising. I related to that well and it was actually supposed to be my blog post for this week. I spoke to the group about the people that I hadn’t known previous to Kirk’s death that emerged in my path as my guides and cheerleaders.

We all sat throughout the movie in various stages of angst, heartache, knowing, and enlightenment, reaching several times for tissues and relating our own stories and love, life and loss to the story that unfolded on the screen

There was a younger lady that had arrived a couple of minutes late and she was the only one in the group that had not read the book or seen the movie. We all sat throughout the movie in various stages of angst, heartache, knowing, and enlightenment, reaching several times for tissues and relating our own stories and love, life and loss to the story that unfolded on the screen. Only one woman did not seem to appreciate the movie, she thought it was very weird in context to what she believed. I still felt very confident in sharing my experiences, my thoughts and my interpretation without judging or under valuing anyone else.

I am glad that I pushed through fear and stepped outside of my comfort zone to attend the group. At next weeks group we start lessons and group discussions and I am incredibly excited to be touched by the love and the wisdom of those ladies. I believe that every one of us has something to teach and something to learn. None of us was drawn there by accident. I am very much a believer in the work of god, nature and the universe and last night is a perfect example of how when we let go of our fear and bias we can see how well they all work together in our lives.

DISCLAIMER: This is not meant to be a religious post, I believe that everyone has a right to subscribe to their own beliefs however I truly believe in the power of goodness, kindness, equality and love and I hope that no matter what the basis of your belief system is, I hope it includes those things as well.

What did you do this week to step out of your comfort zone?

 

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xoxo-michelle1

 

 

 

 

Everybody Hurts-Wise Project 2017- #tenacioustuesday

I had a fire in my belly when I recorded the little rant below and I felt compelled to share it with you. I had one of those moments where you want to wave your finger with attitude and snear “oh no you didn’t!”  

It started out innocently enough, someone stepped into my office and asked me how I was doing and I believe they were genuinely concerned but they were not expecting me to answer that question honestly because apparently feelings are a thing of the past. 

I suppose they were expecting me to plaster a smile on and say I was doing good but I was caught in the midst of a bad moment on a very challenging day. Tears were already beginning to leak out of the corners of my eyes so when I was asked how I was doing I answered truthfully as tears filled my eyes and slowly rolled down my cheeks. 

In what I can only assume was misguided concern, I was told “Don’t cry, don’t cry! You need to be strong!”

I replied that I was strong and that there was nothing wrong with crying.

My visitor persisted to tell me that I couldn’t cry, that I needed to be strong.

I am strong I replied.

I was also offended.

 

 

I didn’t sprain my ankle. Three months ago today I lost my husband, the love of my life and the father of my children to suicide. Caught in the cruel and relentless grip of depression and anxiety his illness became larger than him. Sometimes I cry because the thought of the pain he endured fighting his illness overwhelms me, sometimes I cry because I miss him so damn much it hurts, sometimes I cry for our children and all of  the special days that they will have to celebrate without their dad and sometimes I cry because my day is lonely and empty and the future seems scary. Sometimes I just cry.

Crying does not make me the opposite of strong. Crying makes me a living, breathing, emotional being with real thoughts and feelings. There is no less strength in my tears than in my smile. 

I am strong enough to allow the pain because pain is a part of life. Life is beautiful but it can also be brutal, and it is during the most brutal times in our lives that the most powerful lessons are learned, the biggest changes are imminent and the greatest potential for growth is laid at our feet.

Vulnerability is the best measure of courage, that is the soul of all the work; the willingness to show up and let ourselves be fully seen and known.  ~Brené Brown

I don’t like pain, and I don’t like spending a great deal of my life with smeared eye make-up , but I know that pain has a reason and purpose and as I move through this pain there will be many uncertainties and plenty of tears. The pain will change me, that is my only certainty right now.

How I respond to that change, whether I go through the pain or grow through the pain is entirely up to me.

There is no short cut through the pain I am feeling, the only way around is through and I will not hold my tears or hide my pain for anyone else’s comfort.

As a society we have become so accustomed to hiding our feelings that we have come to believe that “emotionless” is a strength of character. “Head up, stay strong, fake a smile” has become the words to live by and meanwhile we have a whole generation of emotionally sick people, afraid to share their feelings for fear that they may be looked upon as weak; when the strongest and most courageous people in the world are those that are willing to show up and be seen, especially during the greatest struggles of their lives.

I think what the word needs is a big collective cry and then we can rise up and be the people we are meant to be, emotions and all. xoxo-michelle1

 

 

 

 

 

World Suicide Prevention Day 2017

I still have a hard time saying the word suicide

I still have a hard time saying the word suicide. In fact there are a lot of times where I flat out avoid it.  I want desperately to continue advocating to end the stigmas surrounding mental health but sometimes when I am asked how my husband died it seems easier to say “he lost a long battle with mental illness”.
Even that leaves so many unanswered questions and I have so much I want to tell people about him. I want them to know that my husband Kirk was a wonderful father, and a loving husband and that his smile lit up my entire world. I want them to know that he was kind and had great character and that I adore him and always will. I want to say that he was incredibly funny and really strong and smart. I want people to know that he loved his dogs and his tiny old cat. He loved all animals really. They should know that he was a great friend to many and was valued as a son, a brother, a son in law, an uncle, a cousin and a co-worker. When I say my husband died of suicide I feel like there is so much left unsaid and the person on the listening end gets to form their own opinion on this man, my hero, the love of my life and father of my children based not only on their own bias but on the stigma attached to the word suicide.

Suicide is a battle lost with an illness that got larger than the person it had a grip on
I say the word and I pause, waiting for the other person to form thoughts and speak, most are lovely quite honestly but sometimes not and they say words that get into my skull and scream at me because dialogue matters. Therefore when someone says “commit” suicide I have to politely correct them. You commit murder, fraud, adultery…suicide is not something you commit. Suicide is a battle lost with an illness that got larger than the person it had a grip on, stealing their joy and their essence and filling them with endless darkness and fear. It is an isolating disconnect that happens to beautiful and wonderful people like Kirk and it is every bit as tragic as someone who dies in a car accident , and like a car accident it is not a sin and it is not selfish. It is a sickness, not a weakness.

“Well an accident is an accident”, they may reply “and suicide is not an accident”. Correct, but suicide is also not a way out of life. My husband didn’t plan to leave his family, and all of his plans for a future with us, whether he chose to leave or a higher power saw that he was too tired to fight anymore, what he desired to leave behind was the endless pain and suffering.

People who die of suicide want to leave behind black days full of self hate and feeling helpless and detached. Dismal nights fighting an eventual abyss where they long to feel something…anything and one day when the feelings they long for finally come they don’t march neatly in a row, they come all at once like an explosion. All the love they want to feel is there but so is the pain, the hurt, the isolation, the fear, the uncertainty, and the desperate loneliness and anxiety.

Sometimes the ghosts of depression would retreat a bit but they lingered close by

My husband spoke frequently about feeling like a scared boy trapped in a mans body, terrified and feeling fraudulent, never feeling like he was enough. He did everything he could to prove that he was enough but he rarely felt it. There was often a wall between him and his loved ones that he spent all day trying to beat down and the ghosts closed it each night in one foul swoop.  During these times he felt like he was a burden so he tried to drink away the ghosts and numb their hateful voices but it also numbed the love, the feelings of hope and the promise of joy.  It left him unsatisfied and weary. Sometimes the ghosts of depression would retreat a bit but they lingered close by and he began to live in fear of their return and to be honest, so did I.

I love him, even when he thought he was unlovable, in fact those are the times I loved him the mosf. Even during struggles we made our way back to the safety of each others arms; time and time again, constantly reigniting the flames of love. He recharged my soul and his loved filled all of the corners of my heart. He made me laugh and he challenged me. The love he had for our daughters was amazing. He was patient and generous and wanted them to have the best of everything.  He was so much more than the illness the resided in him. 

SUICIDE. When I say the word I feel like it rarely leaves an opening for me to go on to tell any of these things about him. SUICIDE is a conversation non-starter.

Close to one million people die by suicide annually

Close to one million people die by suicide annually. That is one person every forty seconds. Suicide thrives on desolation and secrecy. We don’t talk about it because it is scary, or because we fear being shamed or being called crazy or weak. As surviving loved ones we worry about the person we love the most being unfairly judged for an illness that consumed them from the inside out. We need to say the word, we need to talk about it, we need let go of our fear based bias so that we can effectively communicate with one another, and encourage those that are struggling with suicidal thoughts to reach out. A conversation about suicide is no place for ego. The stigmas surrounding mental health can have tragic consequences and every single day it affects someone you know. 

You are not alone, you are never alone. 

#SickNotWeak #WSPD17

The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.

~Marcus Aurelius

 

 

In the Middle of a Memory- Wise Project 2017

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I have been feeling on edge this past week, on the verge of crazy really. I am not deranged or boiling bunnies but I have been treading on some pretty unsteady ground with feet that sometimes forget how to walk. It feels like nobody could possibly understand the magnitude of all the emotions that I am feeling and how could they when I cannot seem to get a solid grip on them myself.

When you are bargaining with your husband’s spirit in the Tim Hortons drive-thru and assuring him that if he can find a way to come back in someone’s body that just passed, like in Drop Dead Diva, that you will not even care if he is big and hairy because you will love him anyway; it might be the time to hit the pause and reset button.
I went from a place of acceptance and hope, anticipating a future where my children and I could thrive, to drifting alarmingly quickly between heartache to daydreams and holding myself in a place of bleak despair.

One evening last week I was going through messages on my phone from Kirk and watching videos that he had sent to me when he was away. I enjoy seeing his smile and hearing his voice and my heart feels like it doubles in size when I read his heartfelt messages. What started out as an opportunity to feel close to him and the love we shared quickly escalated as I continued to take myself back and back and read messages from a time where Kirk was really struggling within himself and trying to explain his hurt and indifference to me. I became immobilized in the pain, allowing it to blanket me in fear, hurt and helplessness. For two days I could barely catch a breath, I shook constantly and my stomach was in complete shambles taking anything I dared to put into my body and ferociously expelling it. I was overwhelmed and I knew that I didn’t want to feel that way. I knew that there was no ‘what if’ that would change our story, but it was like being caught in a wildly aggressive current that I couldn’t free myself from. After two exhausting days of frantic tears and shallow breathing I did a grief meditation that allowed me to find that quiet place that exists in my mind, that place of non-judgement where I could sit in the witness chair as an observer. No yesterday or tomorrow exists there, only the present.

“Think of your mind like a snow globe that is shaken every time there’s a negative emotion. Meditation stills it, so you can see more clearly.” ~@londonmindful

I was finally able to doze off and I had a succession of dreams, almost like short movie clips of conversations I had had with Kirk. At the time, it seemed confusing and I barely thought of it in the morning until I found myself amid the same chaotic clips the following night. I woke up with a knowing. It was in everything Kirk said to me in those clips and in every conversation we had ever had. It was his pain. He did not want me to carry it. Though the blanket of sadness remains the black despair has loosened its grip on me enough to gain some perspective and breath again. I feel like I have taken ten steps backward in my healing journey but apparently grief doesn’t take the economy route.

“Be the silent watcher of your thoughts and behavior. You are beneath the thinker. You are the stillness beneath the mental noise. You are the love and joy beneath the pain.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

I spent a great deal of my life in the future or the past and invested a great deal of time on “what ifs”. I know that the present moment is all we have, yet time and time again I drag myself backwards or propel myself forward and get completely lost in anguish and fear.

I know that “keeping busy” is a good distraction but that I need to take the time to face my fears and my feelings head on and not suppress them so that they show up as unresolved complications later such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse or health related issues.

I am very aware that food, alcohol, TV, work and other distractions are temporary relievers and that activity, sleep, meditation and making healthy choices, along with allowing myself to feel what I am feeling as it arises is the best type of self-care.

I write because it helps me express what I am feeling, I know that there are several times that I was struggling throughout my life that reading and connecting with others in the midst of their pain reminded me that I was never alone. I can either live and love and learn, or I can suffocate in my sadness.

I went for a drive yesterday with no clear destination in mind and ended up at Value Village. Kirk and I went to Value Village a lot, he would buy several pairs of work pants that inevitably sat in a heap on our closet floor. I walked in and all the Halloween stuff was out. The girls are quite upset about the emergence of the season because Kirk is a Halloween baby and adored everything Halloween. We always put in the extra effort because of him. My friend and I were chatting and thought that maybe those hard days were the days that we should celebrate, if we start off by celebrating them right away then every year when those hard days, like his birthday and Father’s Day roll around we could maybe move out from underneath the grip of the dark clouds and celebrate him. Trust me when I say that he loved being celebrated…and celebrating!

Just the other night I had told the girls that I was thinking of picking up my vow renewal dress and spraying it with fake blood and doing a cool zombie face to greet trick or treaters. Haley was suitably horrified. Last year when Kirk was away on his birthday and not in good spirits, I re-created the shower scene from Psycho, fake blood and all and sent it to him. He loved it, but I had turned off my phone to finish my shower and he was calling frantically to make sure it was indeed staged. For me, I think celebrating that day, as hard as it will be, will be a good tribute to him. I am not sure if I need to ruin a perfectly good white dress to do it but it is one idea. I honestly haven’t been able to even think of picking the dress up and I know there are several good things I could do with it when I am ready.

I was leaving Value Village and there was a late twenties man smoking on the sidewalk, I would guess he was of Latin descent. He said excuse me and I turned around, he said “You are beautiful.” I said thank you and he replied, “Seriously, you are truly beautiful.” I stopped in my tracks for just a moment to acknowledge him suitably. I told him that I appreciated the compliment and as I continued to walk to my truck I recalled how that very morning during my meditation at Lifestyle Meditation, I was deep into stillness and calm and I had a vision of the universe revolving. I knew that it was my reminder that everything is connected. As crazy as I know it sounds, and I have already acknowledged being somewhat crazy; I feel that that the Latin man was just a messenger, knowingly or not; and that was Kirk reminding me that I was truly beautiful. It wasn’t about what I was wearing or that my hair was incredibly shiny yesterday or that my eyes were vividly green from being scrubbed by tears, it was how he felt about all of me.

I got in my truck with a smile in my broken heart and pulled out into the street. On the radio Cole Swindell crooned “In the Middle of a Memory” and that familiar warm feeling came over me. He would take my glass of wine and set it down and pull me into his arms and dance with me and tell me that I was beautiful. Sometimes it felt like we were the only people in the entire world that existed in those moments that we were lost in each other. Thank god for the red light as hot tears filled my eyes and temporarily blinded me, they spilled out of me, threatening to collect into a river and wash me away. They didn’t wash away my sadness or loneliness, Kirk left me in the middle of a memory and I am still desperately trying to come to terms with all of it. It did bring me a bit of clarity and gratitude though. I am gracious that I was able to share that kind of love with him, that no matter our faults, our challenges, our mistakes, and our intense ups and downs; our deep love for each other and our fight to always make it back to the safety of each other’s arms was unrivalled.

Our love is still in the universe, it will continue to guide us on our healing journeys. As I continue to seek opportunities for growth in this great big world, spreading kindness and love, and rising as resolute as an old oak tree, with deep roots, reaching further and further into the steady earth, discovering who I am meant to be in this wonderfully mad world; he will guide me and our children.

I will continue to embrace every seemingly crazy sign from the universe as I make my own way. (if you see me with some big hairy guy just smile for me 😉)

I will cry when I need to, whether I am happy or sad and even when my eye make-up is perfect. I will let the sunlight and the moonlight fill those darkened spaces in me and I will continue to breath deep and drink in the power and the destiny of the universe, I will not suffocate.

Inside of me I will carry a story of a woman that had the courage to love someone with her whole heart, even on the days when she could not be promised anything in return, a story of a woman that dared to love herself just as much, and to flood herself with all the kindness she deserved so she could turn around and share it with the world.

“The truth is, you never truly lose someone, because love is not a losing game. If your heart cared for someone, if it fought for someone, if it believed in someone; if it felt in a way that set someone apart, if it felt in a way that was honest, and all-consuming, and stunningly real — there is no going back. See, the best kind of love changes you. It teaches you and grows you. The best kind of love cannot be lost, it cannot be forgotten. It will always exist within you.” ~Bianca Sparacino

 

xoxo-michelle1

Clumsy- Wise Project 2017 #tenacioustuesday

I feel clumsy, like I am stumbling and tripping through my days, like a small child on a playground who just learned how to walk.

I was listening to the radio on my way to work this morning and the Our Lady Peace song Clumsy came through the speakers and I had an aha moment of sorts. Grief does weird things to you and when someone asked me if I could describe it in one word I think that it would be impossible but clumsy is definitely a word that comes to mind. I feel clumsy, like I am stumbling and tripping through my days, like a small child on a playground who just learned how to walk. I think grief, like any type of challenge we face in life should be faced with the same energy a small child will give it, a child can fall down 10 times and they will get back up 11.

Every single day I stumble and fall, I do silly things like send text messages to the wrong people, and my memory is practically non existent, my kids were making fun of me for not remembering that my favorite basketball player Lebron James plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers, I have to laugh along with them because my short term memory bank is virtually inaccessible right now and if I didn’t laugh I would have one more thing to cry about. I wake up with the sun every single morning and almost immediately I realize that there is something desperately wrong, and that one memory, the memory of losing my husband so tragically floods my prefrontal cortex and crowds out all of the other memories. My instinct is always initially to hide from the world, to stay in bed and not deal with any of it. Every single day this memory is accompanied by tears, nausea and indigestion that makes getting ready for work a unique task. Like a toddler that has thrown up his milk I wipe myself off and go about my day and fumble through the very best I can and at the end of the day my tank is on empty. I don’t think there is anything in the world quite as exhausting as grief, except for fighting the devastating and primarily solitary battle of depression and mental illness that my husband and many others labor with on a daily basis. There are two types of tired, one is in dire need of sleep and the other is in dire need of peace; they are similar but also very different.

I believe I was in an active state of fight of flight, waiting for the next bad thing to happen, always on high alert.

I realized almost two years ago that I spent a great deal of my life holding my breath when I was confronted with challenges during my life. I never really faced them, I just held my breath and pushed them down in my belly and soldiered on. During Christmas of 2015 I was hit in the face with pretty much every single thing in my life that I had neglected to deal with. I spent most of the holidays in tears and completely confused. I had everything I wanted in my life to make me happy, yet here I was curled up in the fetal position crying about things that should no longer have the power to hurt me. After giving it some careful thought I realized that I spent most of my life in either the past or the future and very little time in the present, enjoying what the moment had to offer. I believe I was in an active state of fight of flight, waiting for the next bad thing to happen, always on high alert. I wasn’t enjoying my life, and my reactions to everyday stress were making me sick. That is when I decided to start the W.I.S.E. Project and learn about the science of happiness and the benefits of mindfulness as tools to create a deeper experience of joy in my life, living in the present moment.

I am not sure where I would be in my life had I not decided to do this work and commit to being stronger for myself and my family. In a series of meaningful coincidences I have been lead on a healing journey that has awarded to me to the people, places and experiences that are able to support and guide me during this grueling journey.

Navigating through heartache and anguish is demanding and cruel but the important thing is that I am learning to pilot through the pain without holding my breath. That seemingly simple thing has made all of the difference in this arduous passage. Several times of the day as tears spill down my cheeks and reminiscences threaten to knock the wind out of me, I take a couple of quiet minutes to just breath.

In the last several months it has offered me not just an escape but a refuge, a safe space to work on my healing in a healthy and soul fulfilling way.

Several months back SynchroDestiny led me to a magical place with a community full of healers and givers called Lifestyle Meditation. Operating on the premise that silence is luxurious, it offered me a way to further develop my meditation technique and quiet my busy mind. In the last several months it has offered me not just an escape but a refuge, a safe space to work on my healing in a healthy and soul fulfilling way.

This past weekend I took a three day Learn to Teach Meditation course at Lifestyle meditation. I was excited to dive even deeper into the science and philosophy of meditation, to encourage my continued wellness and to at some point in my journey be able to extend the gift of meditation to others that could benefit from its remedial capabilities.

During the course I learned way more than practical knowledge and philosophy. I learned about the power of community and connection and I learned that we are never alone in our suffering. I learned that we do not spend enough time looking inward and giving the love we so desperately want to share with the world to ourselves.

When you are able to find and visit the silence that exists in your own mind and are no longer distracted by the external world meditation deepens.

Meditation is a specific method for quieting and resting the mind and realizing a state of pure consciousness that is entirely different from our natural waking state. It is the basis of understanding all the levels of our personal being and finally experiencing the center of consciousness within. Though meditation is a very old practice and it is deeply rooted in several cultures it is not religious, it is in fact a science which means that the process of meditation follows a precise order, has definitive values, and generates outcomes that can be substantiated.

In meditation, the mind is pure and relaxed and focused internally. When you meditate you are awake and aware, but your mind is not focused on external events or the world around you. Mediation involves an inner state that is single focused so that the mind can learn to be silent. When you are able to find and visit the silence that exists in your own mind and are no longer distracted by the external world meditation deepens.

From the time we are young children we are taught to observe people, things and places in the outside world with great enthusiasm. We are never taught to seek or discover things within ourselves. In relationships we strive to get to know others while remaining virtual strangers to ourselves. We are easily escorted into relations and circumstances that don’t necessarily resonate with who we truly are, which can often to a life of dissatisfaction.

Our fundamental nature is that of peace, happiness and bliss, and the goal of meditation is to reconnect with ourselves in that essential state but the mind remains our greatest barrier to this state of pure consciousness.

The mind is beautiful and mysterious yet largely unknown and little knowledge of the mind is promoted formally in the education system. Our entire body is in our mind yet our entire mind is not in the body and that can be very confusing. Meditation is designed to influence the entirety of the mind. The mind quite literally has a mind of its own, so for some trying to sit and meditate they may experience racing thoughts, daydreams or a grocery list of stresses, never truly able to attain the benefits of deep meditation. Our fundamental nature is that of peace, happiness and bliss, and the goal of meditation is to reconnect with ourselves in that essential state but the mind remains our greatest barrier to this state of pure consciousness. While we are taught how to move through the world and the expectations of behavior we are rarely guided on how to be still with ourselves and observe what is inside of us.

Meditation is a useful means to comfort and quiet the mind. It allows you to see sings the way that they are, void of worldly and personal judgements. Just like you would prepare and train your body to be strong and resilient, meditation trains your mind so that you are not constantly preoccupied and overwhelmed by an endless train of thoughts that you cannot control. The only obligation in meditation is your desire to explore yourself fully and learn to be peaceful, no matter what challenges you are facing in life.

Meditation has had a genuine affect on my overall well being and my ability to sit with pain and be an observer in my life without being overcome and destroyed by the agony of grief. As I mentioned, this is a very old practice, I barely know a fraction of its rich history and benefits but I am captivated by it and will continue to learn and grow and share with others.

 

I wonder what steps you are taking in your wellness today and what commitments you have made to your personal happiness and growth.

 

Namaste.

“The Spirit within me salutes the Spirit in you”

Lifestyle-Meditation-Teacher-Logo

Blown Wide Open

 

“Tomorrow we die, today we love.

We are living in some precarious times, I can barely turn on the news as the anguish and ambiguity of it all serves only to compound my grief and fear. I am trying desperately to navigate my way around what feels like a whole new world, a world without the love of my life and somehow that feels like enough right now. My world, along with the rest of the world seems to be blown wide open.

Back in May I attended a Workshop at Wellness on Whyte and one of the facilitators; Dr. Geha used a quote that had a profound affect on me, and though I have mentioned it here before it certainly strikes a much more familiar chord with me now. She said “Tomorrow we die, today we love.” She later told me that to her it sums up our human purpose in one broad stroke.

We are here to love.

I read that quote earlier today and I was thinking about that workshop and what a powerful experience it was for me. I had been struggling with my teenage daughter for quite awhile, as she unknowingly struggled with the affects of untreated ADHD and I had been fighting with the demons of my husbands depression for several years all the while trying to accept that I was enough and that I was worthy of all the love and care that I was giving to everyone else, that I deserved saving too. In January of 2016 I finally decided that my health and wellness was important; if I was going to continue to be strong for my family when they needed me. You never know what lies ahead of you, the best we can do is learn from the things that are behind us. When we have moved through and processed the pain, we need to let go and keep the lesson.

I have been trying to very hard not to spend a lot of time on “what if” but it is an impossible place not to visit periodically when you lose someone so tragically to suicide. I know that something drew me to that quote this morning, and I contemplated long and hard. People do not understand illnesses of the brain, and people that suffer them do a great deal of their suffering in silence. Lost in pain, sometimes those left behind sift through the wreckage eager to lay blame or find a reason.

I did know that my husband suffered, I did however not know that he was suffering that day and I certainly do not know how much he was keeping from me in the months leading up to that day, to avoid drawing me into his pain. These are things that I will never know. I do know this with certainty, I am not to blame. I loved him with all of my heart and when he was in pain and acting out of fear I loved him even more. I spent a great deal of time slaying demons and chasing away ghosts, just like you do when your children are small and terrified of things that lurk in the darkness.

The problem with Mental Illness though is that the ghosts that lay down with you at night also wake up with you in the morning, they are with you throughout the day and they shout at you internally. They are inside of you and it gets really tiring trying to remember that they are not really a part of you. Silencing them is a constant task. My husband tried excessive work, booze and even drugs to chase them away when their voices were loudest. Unfortunately the medicine he chose to shut them out eventually helped them to grow stronger.

Lost in disbelief, the survivors look for reasons and some, in moments of weakness and distress look for people to blame

My husband was not a large man physically, but he was a huge man in every other sense. He was a huge presence, he had a gigantic personality and he loved big. Sadly, these illnesses that we judge are so often misunderstood and are very complex, deteriorating the minds and the lives of our loved ones almost invisibly. Lost in disbelief the survivors look for reasons and some, in moments of weakness and distress look for people to blame. Kirk and I talked about the illness a lot but during the worst of times his initial defense was to try to shut me out. He didn’t necessarily want to suffer alone but it broke his heart to have me suffer along with him. That weighed very heavily on him. I thought I understood the illness quite well, but I could only understand from my level of perception, the illness didn’t inhabit my body and mind and scream at me from the inside out.

Love is really all that I am qualified to give

This week I have been offered some amazing and unexpected kindnesses, and every time someone reaches out to me and embraces me in love and understanding it gives me a moment of lightness. The other thing that I have been offered which has been a blessing wrapped in a helpless ache is many glimpses into the minds of people that suffer deep depression. It has been a blessing because people are willing to open up and share their experiences and help separate myth from reality and tell their stories about how the illness feels from the inside out. They do this out of a want to end the stigma and to ease my heart and stop that endless train that powers through my head asking me if I could have done more.  I say helpless ache because there is little I can offer to ease their pain, I can offer gratitude that they want to help me by sharing their authentic stories of deep pain and suffering, and love because I do love them and love is really all I am qualified to give.

Kirk didn’t rebuff his life or all of the great things in it; he didn’t choose to leave behind his children, his wife or his family and friends. Depression stole his joy and in desperate times it withered all of those great things he had and made them smaller than the sickness. He died from an illness. Some people have expressed anger and tried to assign blame to people, places or things. That has not been a part of my journey so far, I have felt anger but not anger towards him. When my Dad died of a heart attack, I wasn’t mad at my father. I was mad at the illness that took him so young.

He really implored me to not be so judgmental, I was guilty of seeing people and situations through a small crack in the blinds and he inspired me to open the blinds, throw back the curtains and look for the big picture, offering love before judgement

Kirk was an amazing husband, father, son, brother and friend. He was a strong and conscientious worker and he was unbelievably smart and caring. He had wonderful things in his present and great things on the horizon. He would often tell me that I taught him and showed him so many things about love and friendship and respect but he did the same things for me. He lifted me up when I was down and took my hand and led me into adventures and taught me how to be spontaneous and to have a good time. He really implored me to not be so judgmental, I was guilty of seeing people and situations through a small crack in the blinds and he inspired me to open the blinds, throw back the curtains and look for the big picture, offering love before judgement.

He was loved and he loved, but his health was compromised. The disease became larger than him. He didn’t die because he was selfish or weak or hardhearted. He was sick and he died of an illness.

Nobody can tell a person how to grieve or how they should feel or give them a step by step manual and tell them what stage of grief they should be at. Grief is a personal journey. There are several things that I am relying on to guide me through this time of deep sadness.

  1. Hope

Hope is a huge. Hope is optimistic. Hope is the light at the end of a long dark tunnel. Hope is a trust in the process and the belief that better days are on the horizon. A glimpse of hope during difficult times is the promise that there is a light that resides on the other side of darkness.

2.

 Acceptance

The willingness to lean into uncertainty and accept what is. To reasonably accept that you do not know what is coming next. To recognize that it is OK not to be OK all of the time and to put your faith in the Journey. To accept challenges as they come and rise to meet them and be open to the changes and the development of character that comes with facing uncertainty and fear.

3.

Connection

As humans we are hard wired for connection but I have found that in the last several months the political climate in the world has divided us into smaller groups and created an us vs. them mentality. I have always been very led by energy so I try to limit my exposure to large groups of people and prefer a small friendly tribe. Sometimes a large part of my interactions are online but I try very hard to remind myself of the importance of human connection and of gathering the right people in my sphere of influence.

4.

Purpose

Why are we here on this earth and why does it matter? I have believed for quite some time now that our fundamental purpose is to love. Love is not a luxury, love is a necessity, not just personally, humanity requires love. I saw a video recently where a little boy talks about why humans are on the earth longer than dogs and the little boy explained that humans are put on the earth to learn to live a good life and love and be kind to people. He went on to say that dogs already know all of that so they do not need to stay as long. That really touched me, especially since most days I would like to replace a great deal of the humans in the world with dogs. That being said, it is unrealistic to think that we can or should love everyone but I think we need to start by loving ourselves, loving our lives and loving the earth. When everything we do is rooted in love I think our potential for growth is unparalleled.

Marrianne Williamson said something that really spoke to me. “One of the most tragic ironies of human existence is that we conspire in the belief, most often unexamined, that violence is more powerful than love. We spend hundreds of billions of dollars on ways to kill each other, but a tiny fraction of that amount on ways to help each other….as though it isn’t masses of desperate, hopeless people who are the main recruits to the collective pathologies that threaten us. This one awakening, harnessed and turned into political force, would completely change the direction of human history.”

I choose love as my purpose right now; I believe that it will successfully guide my children and I into the future. I could be jaded in the face of profound sorrow but I would not take back a second of the love Kirk and I shared to ease one second of my sadness. In the words of the late Henry David Thoreau:

“There is no remedy for love, but to love more”

 

Can’t fight the moonlight-Wise Project 2017 #tenacioustuesday

I can’t help but notice the difference in the way that people are reaching out to me and connecting with the blog and the Facebook page since I lost my husband. When I had a simple little happiness/mindfulness project I obviously got some positive feedback but it has been nothing in comparison to the response I have received most recently. Even though I talked about depression and the affect that it had on my marriage for quite a while, my posts were wrapped in hopefulness and confidence. Though I hope that my most recent posts are cloaked in a bit of hope as well I am fully aware that they are enveloped in heartache and that can be pretty heavy. I have started to worry that people much prefer the Michelle that is broken wide open, aching, heartbroken and lost, to the optimistic and encouraging Michelle.

People are lost, afraid, ravaged by shame

It has certainly given me something to think about until I started to recognize the common theme from the people that were reaching out to me and it is undeniably suffering. People are lost, afraid, ravaged by shame, shattered by hurt and impaired by fear. They are anxious and they feel alone. We all crave the warmth of genuine human connection but our afflictions sometimes hold us back. When we are overcome with anguish we don’t want to share our misery with happy shiny people and because people shy away from talking about their own pain, we often assume we are alone. Alone can be a pretty dark place when you are suffering.

We often don’t realize that our stories connect people. When we are willing to be vulnerable and lay our broken hearts on the table to be picked over we are offering a life-raft to authentic human connection. If sharing our agony and our struggles but also our optimism in the face of our greatest fears can let one person know that they are not alone I for one think it is worth it.

Unfortunately, sharing our tragedies and our hardships also leaves us wide open to judgement and speculation. Not everyone is able to reach inside and touch their own blackness , so they deny their own truth while projecting unto others instead. On our own journey’s it is an important  to recognize that and do our best to keep it out of our energy.

Sometimes we are guilty of understanding only from our level of perception and there is nothing wrong with that if we are willing to just hold space with someone who is suffering, to bare witness to their pain without trying to take it away, minimize it or find reasons why they are at fault for it.

Pain

We don’t know what to do with it. I remember being a kid and falling off my bike and scraping my knees and my mom chasing away my tears and trying her best to whisk away my pain as soon as possible. Our whole lives we want to do the exact same thing as our Moms did by getting rid of our own pain, and sometimes the pain of others, as soon as possible. The problem is we never learn to sit with pain or find the lesson in it and when it becomes uncomfortable we to often pass our pain on to others to avoid looking inward and resolving our own fears and heartbreak.

It is sad really. It is not our responsibility to fix others but it is also not acceptable to hurt others in order to dismiss our own suffering.

He carried pain, wounds and regrets that he was unable to reconcile

My husband was an amazing and loving soul that suffered depression and anxiety and he was attacked by his own mind. He was the life of the party but often felt alone and isolated. He was the best father and husband but too often felt like he wasn’t worthy. He was his worst critic, never feeling good enough. He was always the loudest person in the room yet admitted to me that he often felt alone in a room full of people and that even the thought of it made him cringe. He worked insanely hard and often felt cheated. He never thought that people took things as seriously as he did and when things didn’t work out he took it upon his heart.  He sometimes craved a different scenery or a change of pace but when he slowed down the voices that were loudest were the ones that told him that he wasn’t good enough. He carried pain, wounds and regrets that he was unable to reconcile. He used alcohol to crowd out the voices and numb his pain but unfortunately you can’t selectively numb. When you numb pain, you also numb joy  and then you are left in the tattered wreckage of your own mind. My husband was high functioning, so people told him that he was OK or that he would be OK. Nobody could feel his pain and unlike other diseases they couldn’t see it either. He even got really good at hiding it from me. He was loved by so many people and liked and respected for so many things that it is hard to fathom how he could ever lose sight of that, but depression is not selective, it plunges the most amazing humans into it’s destructive darkness. So often when people try to share their suffering, they are told that everything is going to be OK and as desperately as they want to believe it, it is not always possible for them to do so. There is still a great deal of stigma attached to illnesses of the brain and therefore people are afraid to reach out for fear of seeming weak instead of sick or worse yet crazy. Kirk collected a group of friends around him that similarly suffered and he was able to open up and share with them and champion and cheer-lead for them. Like all pain, people with depression need to be recognized and taken seriously and not judged for something that they cannot control. Sadly, this is not always the case.

More funding and research into disorders of the brain, early childhood trauma,  the effects of sexual abuse and violence, PTSD and depression, anxiety and mood disorders is urgently needed. Less stigma, better and more thorough methods of diagnosis and treatment and more qualified doctors to ease wait times and prevent, short dismissive visits. As the rate of people trying to seek treatment steadily increases the Mental Health system and those trained in primary care are often ill equip or understaffed. Logistically it is a nightmare inside of a nightmare.

No two experiences of grief, trauma, loss or suffering will be the same. Unfortunately their is no band-aid solution

I love my husband  immensely and losing him to this type of battle has been horribly devastating for me and my family and all of his friends. There are so many unanswered questions and and so much life left undone. He fought hard, he fought many battles. He will always be our hero. Just like someone loses their battle with Cancer, Kirk’s illness took him from us. It is cruel like any other disease but possibly more so because of the unknowns. We had an entire life planned and now I am forced to be grateful for the memories we made and accept that things are different now. I wish I could have taken away  his suffering as much as I wish someone could swoop in and take mine; but the human experience requires that we put in our own work, harbor a strong belief that we are not alone or weak and hold onto hope that things can get better. Sadly, love alone cannot mend a broken heart or fix a broken brain.

No two experiences of grief, trauma, loss or suffering will be the same. Unfortunately there is no band-aid solution or easy button. People suffer with illnesses and their families suffer as well, people suffer in relationships and people suffer who are not in relationships, people suffer from stigmas, from judgement and misunderstanding. My husband taught me to look at the big picture. When we are willing to see the bigger picture that is out of our view, to love more and judge less we become a lighthouse for others instead of a storm.

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. ~ Dalai Lama

Healing takes time and it can be horrible. I have met and talked with so many people in  various stages of suffering and or healing. It is not a race. It requires one small step every single day and the knowledge that one step forward and two steps back is not failure, it is the cha cha.

Your stories are powerful vessels, and when you speak them, you own the rights to them and you can write your own daring ending. You have the power through sharing your stories, whether it be to a friend, a neighbor or a stranger to forge legitimate connections and  let others know they they are not alone in this world. Human connection shrinks the mass of space between us.

Life can be callous and cruel. If the best we can do is be kind to ourselves and extend love to others instead of judgement then I would like to believe that is a good start 

Often I hear “You are so strong, I don’t know how you do it?”

To be honest I spent most of the weekend is various stages of disbelief, deep pain and emptiness, but when I have a moment of clarity I try to grab a hold of it. Depression is something that my husband and I worked through together for several years, it was important for me to work on myself and be as strong as possible so that when there were times that he needed me to hold it all together I could put in my best effort.  I know that days like these are inevitable and that I will have many more but I also know that occasionally I will need to take steps towards acceptance as well, as I move towards the healing process. Yesterday I signed up for Deepak Chopra’s Self Discovery Workshop that has given me access to a group of loving, brave and encouraging people from all over the world, I went for a hike and I  spent the afternoon talking to an old friend that is also in the midst of a heartbreaking struggle. In speaking with her and upon gentle but persistent coaching from my sister in law I realized that there are some things that I am holding in my energy that are preventing me from taking steps towards healing.

Last night was a full moon and the energy surrounding a full moon is phenomenal. It is the best time to set intentions and to release the things that do not serve you; things that are blocking you on your journey. I know that for me this will be the most difficult journey I have ever faced and I know that I have some baggage that I need to get rid of so I sure as heck am not going drag around anyone else’s. I am going to throw away any negativity that has been directed at me since my husband’s death and try to accomplish one goal each week this month, no matter how small and celebrate it. I am going to encourage our children to do the same. I smudged my entire house and garage to promote healing and peace and I feel like I am working towards something.

You are never alone. We are all in this together.

 

                                                                  Namaste 

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