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

Rise up-W.I.S.E. Project 2017 #tenacioustuesday

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Phoenix Rising

Phoebe House Dewling was born in Newfoundland in 1889 and her first daughter Melvina was born when she was 21 years old. I don’t know much about Phoebe’s young life. I don’t know whether she had dark or light hair, whether she was thin or curvy or if she liked reading or preferred to knit and sip tea. I don’t know if we had met today if we would have anything in common, whether we would embrace and share stories or sit unsettled in silence. I do know that in 1917 a widowed Phoebe, having lost her husband Richard; arrived by boat to Halifax with her young daughter Melvina. Phoebe raised Melvina on her own until she remarried George Tancock in May of 1926. George and Phoebe had two more children back to back; a son Theodore followed by a daughter Phoebe like her Mom. Two years of marriage and two children later George died at sea leaving to grieve his 37-year-old wife, 18-year-old step daughter Melvina, two-year-old Theodore; and he was sadly predeceased by his wife’s namesake Phoebe who died shortly after her birth.

So much loss and sorrow.

Phoebe was my late husband Kirk’s great great grandmother. A couple of years ago I became fascinated with her story and the sadness that embraced her young life. I scoured through passenger lists, following the young widows journey from Newfoundland to Halifax, searched census information and imagined her struggles as a young mother and as a newlywed and mother once again when she married her second husband George. I felt anguish when I found George’s death notice, leaving her widowed with a young child once again, having already lost a husband and then a daughter.

I recall sitting in the rec-room with my husband, totally beguiled to tears by the threadbare story of his great great grandmother that I had mostly woven together with Ancesry.ca documents and filled in with my own sadness and angst. I imagined that George had promised Phoebe that they would grow old together, just as my husband, her great great grandson had promised me. George lost a battle to the Sea when he was 42 years old and my husband Kirk lost his own battle with depression and mental illness at 43 years old.

I hadn’t thought about Phoebe for a long time but she popped in my head today and I felt some of her sadness and struggle that I had always imagined on a whole new level.

Yesterday I attended a Transformational Healing workshop and was in the company of the most phenomenal women, each with amazing stories and struggles. Some of the stories moved me and at times, even in the face of my own agony I wanted to steal the pain of another to lighten their burden.

A voice inside me told me to deal with my own pain first, to allow myself to feel whole again so I could extend my wisdom of rising from great pain to help others.

In that room full of women, in various stages of physical life and struggle I was reminded that we are Warriors. From the beginning of time women have faced enormous tragedies and carried on in the face of pain.  Women have always been leaders in their communities, feeding the poor and nursing the wounded and sick, and holding space for their families’ pain all the while dealing with their own. They offer love and forgiveness and hope and they share those lessons with their friends, family and neighbors. Women show up, even when it’s hard and even when they think that it may not make a difference they keep on every day. I know this, I have always known this, I watched my own mother; widowed at 32 years old with three teenagers, she kept being a mom, our wisdom and our leader; even as she moved through her own great pain.

Writing has been a solace and a struggle for me this past month, I have talked about grief, about mental illness, about suicide and being deprived the luxury of hope but the message that I want to share today is that of  embracing hope.

Yesterday I was curled up in the fetal position, bound by deep sadness and emotional pain but today I am feeling the gift of hope. I know that my husband cannot be with me physically but I know that he is leading and guiding me and I need to stop fighting against that. I was feeling like any step I make is a step away from him, but it is actually just a positive step forward. Our relationship is not over, it has just changed forms and if I allow him to he will guide me towards all of the things that are meant for me.

Kirk encouraged me in so many ways; I have always said that he believed that I was so much smarter and capable than I could ever dream of being. He truly saw things in me that I allowed fear to get in the way of. The things that he wanted for me were things I also wanted for myself but could never quite grasp that I was worthy or capable of them. Fear was my crutch and fear was my cage, as it was for him in much different ways.

I read a quote recently that said FEAR can mean two things, Forget everything and run or face everything and rise. The choice is clear.

I have mentioned in a prior post a conversation that my daughter and I were having with Mandy Trapp, the owner of Lifestyle meditation where we were talking about coping mechanisms and she said “hmmm, I don’t like that, how about thriving mechanisms?”

That really resonated with me and it is never very far from my thoughts. Even those days when I don’t want to leave the comfort of my bed and I am clinging to my Kirk pillow crying and feeling nothing but despair, there is a little voice that whispers “when you are ready…”

For years we have bought and paid for that message that we just need to cope. Coping is just getting by, managing, and handling, muddling through! Why are we being taught to cope and not shown that we can thrive. What a strange concept!

Losing my soulmate to his battle with the demons of depression has been crippling. I have a lot of feelings to feel and a lot of dismal days ahead but he is showing me that I need to start taking my trash out. The garbage is piling up inside of me and I can’t keep pushing it down and piling more on top. One day soon I need to start taking that trash out one bag at a time, put it at the curb and watch the garbage truck pick it up and cart it away.

Being a part of a transformational healing circle was one of the most powerful experiences I have ever had. What I got to see is women that desperately want to be well but have spent their entire life holding things in and pushing them down and now they are overwhelmingly sick and struggling, I see women that have felt the weight of the world, of depression, of addiction, of shame and hopelessness; and though they fallen down and lost their spark they rose as the whole damn fire. Their struggles are not gone but they continue to face them head on with grace and resilience. I saw in every single woman in that group something admirable and I learned from every single one of them about who I am, who I want to be and who I can be.

I know my struggle is new and fresh and I know that this good hour that I am having may fade to black in the blink of an eye but I see who and where I want to be and there is a great deal of hope in that. I see the person I want to be for myself and the person that I want to help lead my kids through this tragedy and to a place where we can rise up.

There are many people suffering the devastating effects of illness and disease that have been denied the luxury of hope, not the least of those being depression and mental illness. For those of us with the comfort of hope in our lives we need to embrace it, nurture it, love it and watch it grow.

Let’s rise up!

“and still, like air, I rise.”

~ Dr. Maya Angelou

The Luxury of Hope

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When high profile celebrities like Chester Bennington of Linkin Park and Chris Cornell of Audioslave, Soundgarden and Temple of the dog fame commit suicide, people take notice and discussions are had and opinions are shared. The contemplation’s we hear over and over is how they had everything and it must have been drugs and how selfish they were to leave their families behind.

People are talking, that is a good thing. People talking out their ass, not so much, but unfortunately we live in the digital age when anyone with a keyboard can share their opinion, most of them have no basis in fact or knowledge of the subject, certainly not compassion, but as mob mentality works, a bunch of people agree and what could have been a healthy discussion surrounding mental health, brain disorders, depression and anxiety has turned into a literal shit show and nobody’s mind has been changed and several people are hurt and pissed off.

There is a large stigma surrounding the topic of suicide and mental health and attempts to have real and intelligent conversations and to create change has never been more challenging. The truth is expansive and sometimes it is OK to sit a subject out and just listen, maybe learn something. Talking is healthy, offering your baseless opinion is not helpful and quite frankly it does not make you a leader or a “voice to be heard” it makes you an asshole.

Chester Bennington was vocal about suffering through child sexual abuse by an older male, he spoke of suicidal thoughts and using drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. He was vocal about the horrors that he encountered in his own head and described the space between his ears as a “bad neighborhood” and how keeping busy by being a husband, a father, a bandmate and a friend was the only was to stay out of that bad place. I watched an interview where he talked candidly about his pain and anguish and the radio DJ that he was talking to was a bit uneasy with Chester’s honest and forthright portrayal of fighting the beasts of depression that plagued him. Chester seemed intent on staying on track as he was discussing his life, his music, his lyrics and the expectations that are placed on celebrities to have these perfect lives. Chris Cornell was fairly vocal about his own struggles as well, perhaps in a quieter way but if you ever sat down and read any of the lyrics that they wrote their pain and struggles are framed in their music forever. I was so choked up after Chris Cornell’s passing and my husband and I read the lyrics to Like a Stone and were overcome with emotion. The music that soothed us for years was the story of someone else’s inner turmoil. Kirk got it on a much different level than me and I finally understand that. I remember one time remarking to Kirk about him having a “depressive episode” and he said, “I don’t think it is a series of episodes, it is just one big one, it is never far away”

In a 1994 Interview with Rolling Stone Chris  was asked if he perceived run-of-the-mill depression as a comfort zone, he replied, “The problem is, no one really knows what run-of-the-mill depression is. You’ll think somebody has run-of-the-mill depression, and then the next thing you know, they’re hanging from a rope. It’s hard to tell the difference. But I do feel that depression can be useful. Sometimes it’s just chemical. It doesn’t seem to come from anywhere. And whenever I’ve been in any kind of depression, I’ve over the years tried to not only imagine what it feels like to not be there, but try to remind myself that I could just wake up the next day and it could be gone because that happens, and not to worry about it. And at the same time, when I’m feeling great, I remember the depression and think about the differences in what I’m feeling and why I would feel that way, and not be reactionary one way or the other. You just have to realize that these are patterns of life and you just go through them.”

Cornell’s suicide made us question whether you can really outrun the beast. Chris had completely changed his life and his lifestyle, he went to rehab, he gave up drugs and alcohol, he fell in love and got remarried, yet as he told Men’s Health Magazine, “For me, I always had one foot in this very dark, lonely, isolated world.”

Is there an escape from that or do you just run and run and run until you get too tired and the demons catch you? They are stronger, faster prey and they are always waiting. In my disbelief and sadness over the death of an idol Kirk kept telling me that “he just got tired babe. He was too tired.” I know now that he knew that feeling all too well. We had talked plenty about going to bed with and waking up with the same ghosts and the impact that has on your body and mind. He too got tired.

These are high profile celebrities so we hear about their suicides. Unfortunately their circumstances are not unique and money and fame is not a cure all. Suicide is happening every single day and it is taking the lives of the people we love.

The brain is so important to every single thing we do in our lives and if something is not firing right in our brain it can  make our lives absolute hell, yet unlike Cancer where we commend those who suffer for their bravery and we applaud their fight as radiation rips through their weakened bodies in an attempt to fight the evil that lives inside of them, and then if they lose the battle we call them heroes, instead; for those that suffer the devastating effects of mental health disorders and lose their battle we call them selfish. Instead of seeing a person that that is brave and fought as long and hard as they could while facing the terrifying destruction of their own self from the inside out; we call them a coward. We call them weak.

Often suicide is not a choice, it is the result. Sometimes suicide is not a careful plan it is a saving grace, a release from the pain. As horrible and tragic as it is we need to stop blaming the victims of these horrible diseases. We need to end the stigma and stop inserting our fears and our bias and calling it truth. The truth is expansive, and the hard truth is that no two people have the exact same reality. Our personal world is constructed by our brains. Our interpretation of the signals we receive create our day to day reality as we interact with people and our environment. No two realities will be exactly the same. Because our brains are different our perceptions will be different. Some mental illnesses have been linked to an abnormal balance of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters help nerve cells in the brain communicate with one another. I cannot stand in judgement of anyone and say for certain what goes on in their brain and I can certainly not begin to imagine what goes on in the brain of someone who suffers a debilitating illness that affects some of the most important organs, systems and functions in their body.

If you choose to sit back as a keyboard warrior, shouting your judgements and baseless accusations you are a SELFISH, WEAK COWARD.  I hope I did not stutter.

When I was in grade 6 I recall being a bit infatuated with Greek Mythology and there was a story about Pandora’s box. As the legend goes in ancient Greece there were two brothers named Epimetheus and Prometheus who upset the gods and upset Zeus who was said to be the most powerful of all gods. To punish the brothers Zeus constructed a woman of clay, having the goddess of Athene breathe life into her, Aphrodite made her beautiful and Hermes taught her to be both charming and deceitful. Zeus called her Pandora and sent her as a gift to Epimetheus.

Epimetheus had been warned about accepting gifts from the gods and though he knew better Pandora was so captivating and beautiful, he was taken by her and agreed to marry her. Zeus gave Pandora a beautiful box as a wedding gift with one stipulation, she was never to open it. Pandora was intrigued by the box but put the key on a high shelf and agreed not to open it. Several times Pandora faltered, her curiosity getting the best of her and she reached onto the high shelf for the key fitting it into the lock only to feel guilty and change her mind at the last second. One day Pandora gave in to her curiosity believing she would go mad if she didn’t open the box. She slid the key into the lock and opened the box slowly, anticipating fine silks, gowns, jewelry or coins. None of these were packed in the box. To her horror, Pandora found that Zeus had packed the box full of every terrible evil he could think of.  Out of the box poured all the evils of humanity; poverty, disease, plague, misery, sadness and death, all shaped like tiny moths stinging Pandora over and over and she slammed the lid shut. Pandora could hear a voice calling from the box, pleading to be let out. Epimetheus finally agreed that there could be no worse horror than had already been released, and he slowly opened the lid once more.

The only thing that remained in that beautiful box of horror was hope and it fluttered out of the box like a beautiful dragonfly, touching the wounds created by the evil creatures and healing them. Though Pandora had released pain and suffering to the world she had also released hope to follow them.

Every single day we encounter the horrors of disease, sickness, poverty, misery, sadness and death. Imagine for one second if you were denied the luxury of hope. That is what mental illness can do to your brain. It can take away your hope! Until you are in a place where you have no hope you cannot in good conscious stand in judgment of someone who has been denied something that you take for granted daily.

 

I have shared this excerpt from a speech by Theodore Roosevelt many times and I will continue to share it a million times if that is what it takes.

                                                          THE MAN IN THE ARENA
Excerpt from the speech “Citizenship In A Republic”
delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.