Birthday Awesomeness

Guess what – today’s my birthday and I’m giddy about it!

Growing up as a Christmas Eve baby in a family of self-centred people wasn’t easy – often my birthday was completely forgotten, and always it was treated like an inconvenience – so I have had to work HARD to get to the point where my birthday is something to be celebrated rather than dreaded. Over the years I have drowned in depression, flirted with suicidal thoughts, and questioned my worth in this world, but not this year!

I would never have imagined that this year I would be sitting here on this beautiful day, the sun shining and my heart bursting with love for myself and the world, feeling absolutely giddy that it’s my birthday.

So today, on my 41st birthday, grinning like an idiot in this Starbucks sipping my free birthday latte, I want to take a self-indulgent moment to acknowledge all the awesomeness that is me and my life. (I’ll understand if you choose not to read on – I know how annoying super-happy people can be. :))

Awesomeness #1: I have awesome friends! I have done a fair bit of culling and cultivation of friends in the last few years, and I am so blessed now to have people in my life who are loving and supportive and smart and fun and funny. I think for many years I didn’t feel I was deserving of all these great people and their time, but I have come to recognize that I’m a freakin’ awesome person myself and a great friend and they’re as lucky to have me as I am to have them!

Awesomeness #2: It’s fifteen degrees in December. Yes global warming is terrible and I do care tremendously about the environment, but selfishly I am so happy to be basking in the beautiful sunny warmth of today. I don’t have to worry about bundling up or driving in a snowstorm, I can just live my day however I’d like which is an unusual luxury on my birthday. Thanks, universe!

Awesomeness #3: I run! Despite my struggles this year with my back injury and lack of motivation due to work stress, I haven’t given up. Running is my sanity, my freedom, my challenger, my salvation. This morning I went for a run in capris and a light jacket and thought about how today’s run felt like a renewal of vows, of sorts – no matter what obstacles will try to pull us apart, running and I are partners for life. I read about someone who runs his age in miles on every birthday. I doubt I’ll ever be that person (I can’t even run my age in kilometres!), but I think it would be cool to make sure that on every birthday I give myself the gift of running. I’m sure glad I did it today.

Awesomeness #4: Music! In the last couple of years, I have reignited my love affair with music, and become an out-and-proud fangirl of Twenty One Pilots and My Chemical Romance. More than that, though, in my teen years I used to compose songs and dream of becoming a songwriter. After recently sharing that with my son who is a tremendous musician in his own right, he has set me up with a DAW (Digital Audio Workspace) connected to my digital keyboard so that I can start composing again. He says he can’t wait to hear what kind of music I make, and I can’t wait either!

Awesomeness #5: My family sucks, and that’s ok! I’ve finally been able to let go of that impossible dream of turning these blood relatives into a great loving supportive family, because I’ve learned how to give myself that life of peace and love that I was chasing for all those years. My parents and siblings, they’re just part of my story, my history, but they don’t shape my present or future. I don’t have to hate them or need them or feel guilty about not trying harder with them, and I don’t have to love them or like them either. We survived a lot of bad years together, and now we can go in our different directions and that’s totally ok! It’s so lovely to feel free of that weight and claim my life as my own.

And finally…

The greatest awesomeness of all: I make this world a better place. In work, in friendship, in love, I make this world a better place. I’m smart, funny, caring, compassionate, honest, adventurous, life-loving. If I wasn’t here, the world would get along just fine, but I make it just a little better. I don’t do it in big flashy ways – I don’t have millions to donate, I don’t create brilliant inventions, and I don’t compel massive audiences to change their lives – but people in my life have told me they admire me, they respect me, they’re inspired by me and they’re so grateful to have me in their life. My presence brings joy to those around me, and really I can’t think of a better reason than that to celebrate that 41 years ago today, I was born.

So here we are, December 24 2015: Happy birthday to me!

img257

Me as a little girl

IMG_20151224_111750

Me at age 41

Advertisements

Suicide Warriors: Twenty One Pilots

I believe in this world many of us are suffering in silence, feeling alone among the masses with nobody to truly expose our pain to. I’ve written about this before, and every once in a while – especially on Bell Let’s Talk Day – the conversation about mental health and depression swells up into the mainstream for a while before it swiftly subsides back into the darkness.

Last year I discovered the band Twenty One Pilots thanks to their catchy song House of Gold hitting a local radio station. It intrigued me enough that I checked out the rest of the album and slowly, song by song, I became hooked. I even spent an entire 1.5 hour training run last spring listening to the same six songs on repeat. There was clearly something about Twenty One Pilots that was striking a chord within me.

After watching hours of interviews today, I’ve finally put it together: singer/songwriter Tyler Joseph is one of us. He wears his vulnerability on his sleeve rapping and singing about contemplating suicide, about feeling alone in the world, and about fighting just to get through the night. What sets him apart from every other ‘life sucks’ singer out there, though, is that he comes down into the pit with us and hands over a branch of hope to cling to. For example:

Am I the only one I know,
Waging my wars behind my face and above my throat?
Shadows will scream that I’m alone,
But I know we’ve made it this far, kid.

And I will say that we should take a day to break away,
From all the pain our brain has made,
The game is not played alone.
And I will say that we should take a moment and hold it,
And keep it frozen and know that,
Life has a hopeful undertone.

 (Migraine)

He is in the battle with us, holding our hands so we can try to get through those dark times, together. He shares in this terrific interview his struggle to find self-worth, the importance of journaling, and what might be the real meaning of success for him, while in his music he tries to teach us ways to gather up strength to push forward:

You think twice about your life, it probably happens at night,
Right? Fight it, take the pain, ignite it,
Tie a noose around your mind loose enough to breathe fine and tie it,
To a tree, tell it, “You belong to me,
This ain’t a noose, this is a leash,
And I have news for you, you must obey me.

(Holding On To You)

I know that I can fight or I can let the lion win,
I begin to assemble what weapons I can find,
‘Cause sometimes to stay alive you got to kill your mind.

(Migraine)

And guess what, he’s saving lives. If you look up Twenty One Pilots videos on YouTube and check out the Comments section, you will find comments like “TOP (Twenty One Pilots) saved my life” over and over again. Watch their PinkPop Festival performance and you won’t see fans waving signs that say “I ❤ U Tyler”, TOP lovelythey are waving signs that say “Thank you.” A recent tweet on fan account @thankfulforTOP reads: “they stopped me from killing myself. honestly. i could not be more grateful, i love them more than words can say.”

Watching Tyler talk about each song on the hit album “Vessel”, his struggle is written all over his face. He doesn’t hide it but he also doesn’t wear it like some great marketable badge of rock ‘n’ roll. He puts it out into the world with a quiet, humble honesty. He’s a suicide warrior, fighting for his life and fighting for ours.

In that same interview, he talks about how he pushed to have an extra song added to the end of the album to deliver one last message to listeners:

“I will fear the night again. I hope I’m not my only friend.
Stay alive, stay alive for me.”

(Truce)

I hope this band keeps making music for years to come. They are a much needed voice in the world.

And now, to put a smile on your face after a bit of a heavy post, here’s a short clip of the two of them on the lighter side. (Who couldn’t love these guys?!)

 

The Unspeakable Unfairness of Life

In the last month, I have been reminded time and again of the unspeakable unfairness of life as the grief of others has skirted me, overwhelmingly reminding me of the universe’s limitless capacity to inflict pain on those within it.

It began with JH, initials representing two people. First, a sad man who died alone in his apartment following a lifetime of battling addictions and depression, destroying countless relationships along the way. Second, his grieving son, mourning the loss of a relationship he never had, yet identifying so strongly with his genetic heritage that he began resigning himself to following in his father’s footsteps, slipping increasingly into his own addiction and isolation. Two generations directly impacted by our society’s inability (or unwillingness) to step up and take responsibility for supporting those who need a stronger, more proactive approach than just a paycheque and a handshake. Two generations directly impacted by our inability (or unwillingess) to protect children from growing up in homes where they are hurt instead of loved.

Next, JB. A beautiful and shy two year old boy who loved to sit in the pink fuzzy chair at my workplace’s childcare centre, who mischievously enjoyed pressing the tap on the water cooler until water spilled over the catch tray and onto the carpet, who grinned his widest grin as we spun him around in a tall office chair. His mother had recently finally decided to leave her abusive husband and was just starting to feel that her life had sunnier days ahead when suddenly JB became sick and died in hospital three days later. Just three days for her only son to go from a sniffly nose to a coffin.

Finally, OW. A healthy five year old girl who fell sick just before Christmas, went to sleep on Christmas Day and never woke up. Today, her visitation, with a special request to wear our most colourful, sparkliest clothing. As I approached her mother in her glittery purple dress and frilly headband, we fell into each other’s arms, sobbing. I told her she was beautiful, her most sparkliest self. She sobbed in reply, “I did my best for her.”

Helen Keller once said “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” It’s true. I am constantly amazed by the overcoming of pain and the strength of those around me, but right now I don’t understand why there has to be so much pain in the world. We are a species that can fly to the moon, that has devised ways to kill millions of people in the blink of an eye, and invented technology that puts the furthest corners of the world within reach of each other. Why aren’t we able to prevent the deaths of our healthy children? Why aren’t we able to protect innocent souls from abuse? Why can’t we commit to helping those struggling with mental health issues? I just don’t understand.

Undertow

It’s amazing how you can be splashing around and swimming quite happily, feeling the lightness of life and optimism of infinite possibility, when suddenly with no warning you find yourself caught in an undertow fighting for your life. Again.

It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve swum in those waters before, you forget that below the sparkly surface there is a powerful force lurking and just one mis step will pull you under.

I lost my breath. I lost sight of which way was up. I clawed my way toward what I thought was sunlight, but still found myself trapped and disoriented, drowning.

When I finally broke through the surface momentarily, I reached out grasping for something to hold on to, or someone, but everything was too slippery and I was quickly pulled back under.

How could I have taken the good days for granted? A few sunny days and I had started to feel that my life could be all sunny days, splashing and giggling. Life just isn’t that predictable, or that kind.

I have to remember that in my water there is always an undertow, and the days that I don’t get pulled under are days to be deeply cherished because without doubt those days are numbered. I guess I’ll just take some time first to catch my breath before I venture back into the water.

“You seem a little off”

If I hear those words “you seem a little off” one more time, I would suggest that everyone run and hide because I am going to blow up and it’s not going to be pretty.

If you’re one of the people who says that, I understand that you’re trying to be nice but please, please take a moment to think before you speak because you truly have no idea what doors you’re opening and what emotional scabs you’re picking at.

If I happen to be having a good day (or hour) and you tell me I seem a little off, I instantly feel deflated. Here I was thinking I was finally doing a little better; I had a little relief from the heaviness, a little light in my day. With that one statement, you invalidate those positive feelings and send me back onto the slippery slope into darkness.

How about considering the possibility that you’re ‘a little off’ with your assessment of other people’s moods? And are we really now going to have a debate about who’s right about how I’m feeling? (Apparently the answer is yes, because believe it or not, most people will actually insist that I’m off even after I’ve told them I’m fine.)

So let’s make a new rule. Just like you shouldn’t walk up to a woman who’s carrying a little extra weight and ask her if she’s pregnant, don’t walk up to a woman and tell her she seems a little off. Deal? If you don’t abide by this rule, I reserve the right to kick you in the shin.

Or, perhaps you’re right and I really am feeling off that day. Congratulations, you astute mood-spotter, you’re right. I’m sitting here with a pit in my stomach, fighting back tears, masking it with laughs and smiles. And then you come by my desk and loudly say ‘you seem a little off’ as you’re on your way out to lunch, or passing by to get a coffee, or as an aside while you’re chatting with colleagues. What do you want me to say? This is neither the time nor place to open that can of worms. I don’t have a simple answer for you about sleep deprivation or a sore throat.

Yes, I’m a little off. I’m exhausted from basic functioning, from mind-numbing chit-chat, and from suffocating insincerity. And now, thanks to you, I have to try to muster up the energy to jump through the hoops you want me to jump through in order to convince you that I’m fine.

So, what do I think you should do when you think someone is a little off? If you genuinely are worried about them and want to know if they’re ok, please reach out when you have both the time and the privacy to talk, and be prepared to open your heart and actually listen to how they’re feeling. Because maybe you’re reaching out at a moment when things are on the verge of falling apart, and if you’re not ready for the fallout then it’s best to just smile warmly and move along with your day lest you end up doing more harm than good. And it may just save you from getting kicked in the shin.

To je smůla

Pronounced: toh yeh smooola

That’s Czech for “that’s bad luck” or “that’s too bad”.

I was raised by outwardly pleasant but inwardly negative, childish parents who mostly ignored me and my feelings unless somehow it would benefit them to pay attention to me. I heard the phrase To je smůla a lot growing up. I often still hear my inner little girl thinking it to herself as she watches me stumble and fumble my way through situations other people seem to glide through effortlessly; other people who were raised by genuinely loving and supportive parents.

I know, I’m a grown up and I’m responsible for my actions now. I can’t keep blaming my parents, holding them responsible for my choices today. Shitty childhood? To je smůla. Suck it up, sister.

But here’s the thing. Yes, I am responsible for my choices and actions today, but everything in psychology, psychiatry, and psychotherapy tells us undeniably that our actions today are influenced and guided by our unique perceptions of the world which were created in childhood, shaped by – guess who – our parents. We come into this world with no notions about anything. Our understanding of the world and our own place in it is molded by our parents. It’s a simple fact. And we carry that through the rest of our lives.

As an adult, it’s my responsibility to fix what they broke. I take complete responsibility for that and am doing my very best to tackle it piece by piece because, quite simply, I want to be happy. I don’t want to wake up every day feeling hopeless, finding relief from the sadness only by imagining the different ways I could bring my life to an end because the mountain of problems my parents have gifted to me through their own dysfunctions feels entirely inconquerable.

And this ridiculous society we’re living in tells me to go buy ‘stuff’, get a better job, car, outfit, haircut. Better meds. No meds. More exercise. More wine. But whatever you do, DON’T tell people you’re depressed. Because nobody really wants to hear it, and let’s face it: our society doesn’t care. Proper therapy costs a fortune and is out of reach for most of us. Free therapy is stop-your-crying therapy that doesn’t get to the root issues so doesn’t actually effect any sustainable change. And employers just want you to keep your mouth shut and keep performing – exceeding expectations, increasing production, surpassing sales targets. At the end of the day, our society doesn’t really care about people, and it sure doesn’t care if you’re happy or if you’re ‘ok’. Just don’t cause trouble and keep paying your taxes.

So what happens to me, and people like me? I am described repeatedly by people as happy, positive, strong, confident, funny, smart. I’m considered middle class, successful, personable, a good friend. To tell my story, I need to create an anonymous blog because I’m just not brave enough to ‘come out’ to the world. I just don’t actually believe people care, and I don’t believe they can help. And to think I’m just one of about 11 million Canadians who aren’t getting the help we need for our mental health issues. To je smůla.

Statistics about mental health in Canada: http://www.camh.ca/en/hospital/about_camh/newsroom/for_reporters/Pages/addictionmentalhealthstatistics.aspx