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 achieve silence of the 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 achieve silence of the 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”

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.

 

Seasons in the Sun-W.I.S.E. Project 2017 #tenacioustuesday

I have a thousand things that I want to do today but my mind is incapable of sifting through them and putting them in any sort of order. I got up today and showered, I put clothes on, I fed the dogs, I diffused some essential oils, put in a load of laundry, washed dishes, swept the family room, read one page of a book several times and listened to Brené Brown’s Rising Strong as a spiritual practice on audible, I also opened my computer. It is noon on Sunday. It may not seem like much and it is certainly not all that I had planned to do when I was driving home from work on Friday. For some reason in those moments when I was driving down the road I had a sense that I could spend the weekend doing all sorts of productive things that when I woke up on Saturday felt impossible. On Saturday, I felt immobilized in my grief. Being in the world without Kirk feels incredibly scary and even knowing that we can and will move on and that we will be ok, right now I am existing in fear and I feel powerless to leap over it. I feel like every day if I inch my toes forward just a tiny bit, I am making steps towards making steps. The steps feel scary, though they should feel like a step in the right direction they also feel like a step away from Kirk. I know that my daughters are feeling the same way, they catch themselves in a moment of lightness and they immediately feel sad because we sense Kirk all around us and we feel like the minute he thinks we are OK we won’t feel him anymore.

I have been struggling with a tweaked back all week. It is nothing major, it is from a tumble down my basement stairs and it re-occurs periodically during times of stress. My chiropractor is great and would fix me up in seconds but I have been reluctant to get rid of it, almost as if it is a comfort to feel pain physically, instead of just mentally. It lets me know that my pain is real and when my mind is struggling to overcome the mental pain I know that my body has stepped up to take on some of that burden. It then occurred to me how difficult it must be for people who suffer from depression and disorders of the brain and how that pain over time can manifest physically and make everything hard.

“Depression is such a cruel punishment. There are no fever, no rashes, no blood tests to send people scurrying in concern, just the slow erosion of self, as insidious as cancer and like cancer, it is essentially a solitary experience, a room in hell with only your name on the door.”

~ Martha Manning, Undercurrents

 

Kirk and I were together for 19 years, we struggled through those hard years when you don’t really know yourself so it is hard to truly know each other. I spent a great deal of my life learning to love myself so that I was able to love Kirk without crowding him out with my insecurities and worries. I had to process the importance of vulnerability in relationships and embrace the reality that to love another person fully you couldn’t protect your heart, you had to be all in, and love and life doesn’t come with any guarantees. The beauty of putting the hard work into loving and accepting yourself and embracing vulnerability over pride in your relationships is that you can love someone exactly as they are. You eliminate that overwhelming need to change your partner, because you realize that you are only responsible for changing yourself. When you love someone for who they truly are you get to see and be loved by the best version of them. When you love someone as they are they feel invested in, and a person that feels appreciated will always do more than expected. I always loved Kirk and I know that he always loved me, but it was really in the last several years that we learned to love each other well. We were still far from perfect; I don’t think a relationship exists that is perfect, relationships are just imperfect people that refuse to give up on each other even when things are tough.  We had many tough times but we also had many good times and through it all Kirk was more than just my husband; he was my lover and best friend.

Several days after Kirk left the world I was in our bedroom and a binder fell off the shelf and landed on my toe. I recall that some strange things had been happening and after yelling an obscenity I looked up, threw my hands in the air and yelled “what are you doing to me?” I knelt and picked up the binder and about six papers folded over, had fallen out of the binder and onto the floor. I started to shove them back in the binder but for some reason I opened them. A couple of months before Kirk and I were laying in bed and we each did this survey that asked us key questions about what we thought each others’ strengths and weaknesses were as well as our own and some questions about our relationship. There was a question that asked, “what would you change about your relationship?” Kirk had answered “nothing”. There was a question that asked what you liked best about your relationship and Kirk answered, “We don’t hate on each other anymore, we just love.” If that binder hadn’t fallen on my toe I am not sure when and if I would have ever come across those papers. It was such a powerful memory for me and the thought that it may have never been recovered, either physically or in my mind, was sad. I remember how grateful we were feeling that night because once again we felt like we had outwitted the demons of depression that tried to pull us a part. I can remember feeling so close to Kirk as I was curled up to him that night that I felt like I could crawl inside him. That may sound absurd but I am not sure how else to describe it. Depression robbed us of a lot of time and joy, so we loved really hard during what I called “the in be tweens”.  Knowing that depression for Kirk really never went away, if anything it just became more manageable or he got better at hiding it, of that I cannot be sure. I cannot say with certainty how he was feeling, but I can say that according to what he wrote and how he made me feel, he was in a good place at that time. Kirk also had high functioning anxiety and he counteracted feelings of shame and inadequacy by working as hard as a person could possibly work. He was a machine and although physically he was often spent, he did derive a great deal of satisfaction from the hard work he put in to every task he took on. It is impossible to say what goes on in another persons head but I recall him telling me one time what it felt like to have depression and anxiety, he said it felt like someone ripped your heart out of your chest, filled it with hornets and put it back in, it was one moment feeling absolutely nothing and the next feeling everything all at once, it was feeling alone and overwhelmingly lonely in a room full of people, it was 1000 thoughts running through your brain at 100 miles per hour, it was feeling like you are not good enough for the people you love no matter how hard you try and being exhausted but not able to sleep. Too me it sounded tremendously crushing and I honestly wonder, even now; how he was able to be so much to so many people and work so hard with that overpowering burden. He did though, because he was so much more than depression and anxiety and the demons that haunted him in dark times. He was a father, a son, a friend, a confidente, a co-worker and my partner. He was laughter and love and joy and fearlessness.

My favorite song growing up was Seasons in the sun, Kirk never liked it but he would play it for me periodically because he knew it reminded me of simpler times. He had a his own lyrical version of course that included the unforgettable line “fingers in our bums” and of course I would pretend it infuriated me when he sang it that way. Seasons in the sun always represented to me the easy carefree days of childhood but it popped in my head today and it is actually a song about dying which I guess I always knew but today the lyrics hit me harder than ever. Kirk and I often talked about how hard times really made us appreciate the good times. Would we really appreciate the sunny days the way we do if it wasn’t grey now and then. Lately the days seem to be dimmer and they just fade to black and start over again. Maybe grief is like a season, and sort of like a brutally cold winter where we bring out our mittens and wool socks; only in grief we unpack the memories of our good times and we wrap ourselves in them until the spring comes.

Goodbye Michelle my little one
You gave me love and helped me find the sun
And every time that I was down
You would always come around
And get my feet back on the ground
Goodbye Michelle it’s hard to die
When all the birds are singing in the sky
Now that the spring is in the air
With the flowers everywhere
I wish that we could both be there

~Terry Jacks, Seasons in the Sun

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

 

“take these broken wings

and learn to fly again

and learn to live so free

and when the voices sing

the book of love will open up

and let us in” ~Mister Mister

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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