Dear survivor

Dear Survivor,

I’m so glad you made it. I’m happy that you found the strength and fortitude to work your way out of the depths. You’re so courageous. Courage, after all, is not the absence of fear, it’s being afraid and doing it anyway. And you’re doing it.

I see that you’ve been suffering for so long. I can see it in the way I catch you staring off into space sometimes with a thoughtful look when you’re with a crowd of laughing people. I can see it in the moments of vulnerability that you only show to me, like when you’re almost asleep, and in your sheepish, child-like voice, ask me to stay, or to sing to you.

I know the pain you’ve been trapped in. And I also know how long you’ve buried that pain and all the years you’ve been pushing it down, and pushing it down, further and further, until it formed a solid, little rock at the very bottom of your heart. I know about the nights when you sit alone on your couch, thinking about the things that have happened to you and the things you’ve done. I see the shame in your eyes when something is said in a conversation, innocuous to most, but it pierces you like an ice cube on an exposed nerve.

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I know the sleeplessness that haunts you when all you want to do is sleep – because when you’re sleeping, you can’t think, you can’t feel, you can’t regret, and you can’t disappoint. I know.

I recognize the self-destructive behavior that you’re carrying out in an attempt to punish yourself. And I know you know intellectually, you didn’t do anything wrong, but somewhere along the way, you lost yourself. You don’t know when exactly it started, but over time, you started to believe the lies your mind had been whispering to you. You internalized the lie about not being worthy…of love, of grace, of good things, of success, of the friends and family you have in your life, of the opportunities you’ve been given.

I know all about the nights you spend drinking by yourself, or starving yourself, or getting high, or harming your body, of setting yourself up for heartbreak or humiliation, of sabotaging yourself in one way or another, because you want your physical body to feel the pain that is debilitating you from the inside.

I’ve seen you looking through old pictures of better times with a sad nostalgia, thinking about who you were then, and wondering if the demons have always been there, but just dormant. You wonder if there was anything you could have done back then to prevent what’s happening now. I know that feeling of wanting to crawl out of your skin and just become someone else, because anything would be better than being you right now.

I too have fantasized about what the world would be like if I wasn’t in it. The moment when you’re driving fast around a bend, and the split second you think, what would happen if I just let go of the wheel and drove off the road into the depths below. The times when you’ve been walking down the street and thought, what if I stepped out in front of that bus, or the nights when you go to bed, and hope that you won’t wake up. I too have let my mind wander and play out the scenario of removing myself from the world – would my loved ones be happier? Would the world be a better place? Or what if I was never in this world in the first place? Would that be better?

But, dear survivor, as lonely and alone as you have felt, I’ve felt it too. And so,have many others. And really, don’t you think that maybe every human, to some degree, can relate? I know the that the things that happened to you were dark and insidious, but here you are. You’re still here. That means something.

And now I see you fighting, I see you picking up the baton in your own relay race with for this next leg. I can see the bravery and courage that has taken everything in you to muster to get to this point. You are already a survivor – but you want to thrive, and that makes me so happy. Because you will, and you deserve to, and the people who love you want you to. That’s the other thing – people do love you. I know that’s hard to believe right now, but it’s true. Some of them protect their own feelings by being angry with you, or brushing you off, or cutting you out, but the love is still there. Trust me.

Try to look out for the ones who express their love for you without condition though. That’s the energy you need right now. You know that no one can fix you except you, but I can tell you from experience, it sure does make a difference if you surround yourself with people who can love and support you transparently, without strings, without amplifying your shame, and without making you feel like you’re less than. Because you’re not.

Survivor, whatever it is that you have survived, as awful and painful and messed up as it is, it is a part of you, a part of your story. The challenge now, is to make sense of it all, and ultimately, gain strength from it. I know that sounds impossible, but you can do it, I believe in you. You’ve got this.

From one survivor to another, I’ve got you.

I’ve got you, and I’m not letting go.

Love,

Ange

I may be a Phoenix, but the fire comes first

I suppose only those who are experts in the field, truly understand trauma. And even then, one can only understand so much without having experienced it. And, of course, it can be many, many things along a vast and seemingly never-ending spectrum.

I am neither an expert in the field, nor a counselor with experience dealing with trauma survivors. I am one. A survivor, that is.

A couple of weeks ago, I watched the 4-hour long documentary “Leaving Neverland” which focuses on the stories of Wade Robson and James Safechuck and their eerily similar experiences with Michael Jackson. I’m not going to write about Michael Jackson, because I don’t really care about him, and more to the point, it’s not the important takeaway from the film.

I hate to drag out such an over-used buzzword, but I was triggered. As I was watching it, I had conscious thoughts that maybe I should turn it off, maybe this isn’t such a good idea, maybe this is going to end badly for me. But I couldn’t tear myself away. I was mesmerized, intensely submerged. I don’t think I got up from my couch, for four straight hours.

And sure enough, I went to bed that night, and had a terrible time falling asleep. When I finally did, after many restless hours, I had disturbing dreams.

Since I watched it, I’ve been sort of sitting with it, trying to process all the stuff it brought up for me, and sorting out what all this means. I’ve considered watching it again. And perhaps again, and again, and again. But, I haven’t. Yet.

I’ve read a few articles, and listened to a podcast about it. And then I remembered that when it originally aired on HBO, there was a live special hosted by Oprah immediately following the airing. I don’t have cable, so I found it on YouTube.

Well. If you’ve been watching and listening to Oprah for the last 30+ years, you know that she’s made it a priority to use her platform and her talk show to try to expose childhood sexual abuse for what it really is. She has hosted over 200 shows on the topic. She has tried tirelessly to communicate why it’s so difficult to talk about, how the wildly irresponsible misconceptions about it are perpetuated, and the long-term damage it does to those of us who survive it. Lying in my bed that night, with my iPad, in the dark, it was as if Oprah was speaking directly to me. It was a surreal experience, like, she gets me and I get her, and unfortunately, I know exactly what Wade and James have gone through and are still trying to navigate. That’s not to say that our experiences are the same, but the way they spoke of their experiences rang disturbingly true to me. Oprah deliberately filled the audience with sexual abuse survivors. It was very compelling.

Here’s the reason people don’t disclose their experiences of sexual abuse/trauma typically until adulthood, if at all: because children don’t have the vocabulary, the contextual instincts, or the actual brain development necessary to be able to comprehend that what is happening to them is bad or wrong.

It’s only as we grow and develop and become adults that we can look back at those experiences and see them for what they were. Well, hopefully. It’s only as an adult that we can see it from a different perspective and realize that this thing happened, but upon that realization, the shame that you’ve been carrying your whole life up to that point, is only magnified a billion times, because you realize that this horrible thing was happening to you, and not only did you not tell anyone, you feel like a willing participant, like you did it to yourself, that it’s your fault. You begin to flagellate yourself for your complicity in such an insidious thing. Because of the stigma attached to sexual violations across the board, magnified by the fact that you’re talking about it years, sometimes decades later, people are assholes, and question you, doubt you, say that you’re just trying to get attention, or in some cases, money, or that you’re a sad and pathetic victim. As a society, think about how we treat victims of sexual assault in general. Christine Blasey-Ford did an excellent job of explaining how it is that one can remember the details of a trauma that occurred over 30 years ago. There are legitimate reasons people keep these things a secret.

So, with that all in mind, imagine just how damaging childhood sexual trauma must be, that with all those awful, hateful, ignorant, misinformed, and reductive indicters erupting with vitriol, people still tell their stores. In spite of the scrutiny, the potential social death, the hate and harassment they are afraid of, they still speak up. And by doing so, they hopefully get the help they need to start the very long and painful journey of working through that damage to move on with their lives, and improve their mental health. It’s a big fucking deal.

Think about it. Almost EVERY time, the abuse is perpetrated by someone the child knows, and most of the time, trusts and probably even loves. And the complex, and carefully crafted seduction (because that’s exactly what it is) is executed in a way that the child, and perhaps even the other adults around, don’t know it’s happening. It’s subversive by design. That’s what grooming is.

When you’re a six-year-old girl and you have an adult in your life, lavishing attention on you, constantly telling you how beautiful you are, how special you are, how much they love you, and how much they just want to be with you, and hug you and play with you and have a special relationship with you, how could a child possibly interpret that as anything other than great?

The seduction continues, gradually building to a point when sexual acts are perpetrated and you, as a six-year-old are being told that it’s your “special secret” and you’re not to tell anyone or else you’d both get in big trouble. And in a lot of cases, quite frankly, as uncomfortable as I know this makes us feel, it feels good. Our little bodies have a natural, physical reaction to what’s happening. Like Oprah said in her special (and I’m paraphrasing here), it doesn’t matter the circumstances, or who’s doing it, if your penis is being stroked, it feels good.

How can we possibly expect children to process what is happening to them while it’s happening? They simply can’t. So, we get older, we grow up and look back on those experiences and understand them for what they really are, and the shame becomes all-consuming, because you feel complicit. After all, you didn’t tell anyone it was happening, that someone was hurting you, so really, it’s your fault.

Of course, I cannot remember how I interpreted the world at the age of six and I will never know, because that’s not how time works. Think of the young children in your life, think about the questions they ask, the things they understand, and their capacity to comprehend complex human interactions. I have a 7-year-old nephew, and if I think about him experiencing anything like I did, I feel sick. And infuriated.

The long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse/trauma are far-ranging and are broadly speaking, unique and similar at the same time. My therapist says that there is one thing that presents consistently, and that is that everyone who experiences sexual trauma as a child has some sort of manifestation of the damage which surfaces in adulthood. For many, it presents itself in substance abuse, addictions (drugs, gambling, sex, anything), eating disorders, and all manner of self-destructive behaviour. And of course, there are usually trust issues, and unhealthy boundaries in relationships, to name just a few.

When I first started telling my family and friends about what happened to me when I was six, someone’s response to me was that a lot of things about me and my life made a lot more sense now. I didn’t know how to take that in the moment. And I didn’t press them to explain. But, I’ve been thinking about that conversation a lot, and I realized that when they made that point to me, I felt offended. Offended because I have truly believed that for the last 34 years, I’ve kept this secret, I’ve held onto this experience, vowing to not let it affect me, because this was just a thing that happened to me, and I’m over it, and it doesn’t matter, and that I would take this information with me to my grave and there’s no way anyone could know or ever will. So, I felt offended because despite my best efforts, this trauma I experienced when I was six had imprinted on me so deeply, that there were obvious links to aspects of me and my life that someone who knows me so well could immediately connect the dots.

I’m still trying to connect the dots.

I thought that I was presenting myself as a person who you would never suspect had been abused, a totally mentally healthy person without “issues” and that no one could ever feel bad for me because I was strong and I had dealt with it, and it didn’t mean anything. Well, obviously I was wrong about that. Really, really, wrong.

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At the end of the Oprah special, she asked James Safechuck the final question of the show, giving him the last word. She asked him about where he is in the process (of healing and coping), and the thing that struck me the most about his response was when he said that he will be dealing with this for the rest of his life, that it’s something he’s going to have to work on constantly so he can be better for his kids and his family. The. Rest. Of. His. Life.

I’ve been on quite a journey these last few months. Well, really, for my whole life, but the sharing of my secret shame has turned my life inside out. It’s hard work, battling demons and the resulting (or perhaps just coincidental?) depression that has consumed and impeded me. But not only is it worth it, it’s essential if I want to live a better life, a life in which I value my own existence, and feel worthy of the love around me.

The biggest thing I think I’ve discovered so far on this journey is that healing and forgiveness are not a destination to be reached, but rather a path to take.

And I’m on the path.

A year in review

You guys, 2018 sucked donkey balls. For me, I mean. It could have been the best year of your life, and if so, I am sincerely happy for you. But for me, it was dark, challenging (and not in the good way), long, lonely, stressful, daunting, frustrating and largely a year I was just trying to get to the end of without making a premature exit.

Lately, I have felt compelled to reflect, as many of us are wont to do when a new year begins. And in so doing, because I am ever the optimist, I didn’t want to only recall all the shitty, hard stuff, I wanted to remember and celebrate the good things, the highlights of an otherwise terrible year, the few rays of light that managed to emerge through the cracks in my windows this past year. And I wanted to write it down, put it out in the universe so that I could look back at this time, years from now, and marvel at the amazing things that happened during a very trying time in my life, and be proud of how far I’ve come.

The first thing that comes to mind is that I launched GenerationNEXT, an employee resource group at work. This little baby was a pure labour of love, something I poured myself into, and meticulously (a trait I’m not particularly known for) put the puzzle together of the people, support, marketing and as corny as it sounds, heart, to launch my little ERG-baby to the masses (and by masses, I mean my company). It is quite an extraordinary thing to work so hard on something you so fiercely believe in and watch as it unfolds before you in all the ways you imagined and more. I don’t mean to be overly effusive here, but the bottom line is that this was a big deal, and I did it! And ironically, the actual launch event (and all the work needed to make that happen) was happening just as I was starting this journey with depression, and learning about my thyroid, and starting medications. So, looking back, that it even happened, let alone was the success it was, to me, is quite miraculous.

I travelled to New York City with my Cantores sisters (and a few of my besties in tow), and I sang on the stage of Carnegie Hall.

I did that! That is a thing that I did! Can you believe it?!?!

It’s a once in a lifetime experience that I will always cherish. I had a great time, got to work with Sir John Rutter himself, and had the opportunity to make musical magic with my sisters. That’s pretty damn amazing.

I moved. Sometimes a move is just a move. And sometimes, a move is a life-altering event. In my case, it was the latter. Moving for me, was fraught with paralyzing fear, and the shedding of an old, dysfunctional, bleak and damaged life for a new one. I had to fight like hell to ultimately sign the lease on my apartment, and I’m practically bankrupt from what it has taken for me to set myself up for success in my new chapter, but it was totally worth it. I now have a home that I actually take pride in, a space that is all my own, one which reflects who I am, and one which feels like a hug every time I walk through the door.

I didn’t get here alone. I had exceptional support from all my friends, but my move would not have been possible were it not for my dear friend Josh. I like to lovingly refer to him as a tornado. He knows this, he knows it’s a term of endearment. He tornadoes around me, almost in a blur, just DOING. While I was struggling with preparing for the move, making decisions, paralyzed by the enormity of the task, it was Josh who swooped in and took the reins, purging my old place (almost too well – there are things he got rid of that I’m still discovering). He helped me pack, and forced (I mean, strongly encouraged) me to make decisions. He motivated me and kept reminding me that this is what I had been wanting and working toward for a very long time.

He knew I needed help, I couldn’t do it on my own. Moving is hard under the best of circumstances, and he knew that my circumstances were extenuating. He’s the Portuguese mama I never knew I needed. And he single-handedly moved me. I’m serious. I mean I was there, I did stuff, but let’s be honest, I’m pretty useless when it comes to these things. He and I moved me into my new place using just his car and a little dolly I had bought at Canadian Tire. I think we did it in three, maybe four trips on one of the hottest, most humid July Saturdays I can remember.

So, moving for me was a BIG deal. And even though it was hard, challenging, exhausting, physically and emotionally, I view it as a huge highlight of the year. And I couldn’t have done it without Josh.

When I think about the entirety of 2018, I think the thing that provided the most light through the cracks was my birthday celebration. I love my birthday. I have always loved my birthday. But, as you can imagine, this year was different and I was sort of worried that the whole thing would be a disaster and forever scar me. So, I was wary.

I had been talking about my big 4-0 for a while with my friends and was very specific about what I envisioned, but honestly was expecting to settle for whatever was best for everyone else. I wanted a fancy dinner, preferably in a private room of a restaurant I’d never been to. I wanted just my closest friends there, people who were well aware of everything that was going on with me. I didn’t want to have to pretend, or put on a happy face or feel pressured to behave in a certain way. I wanted to dress up (and therefore I wanted everyone else to, obviously). I mean, no prom dresses or tuxes, but I wanted everyone to get all gussied up. And balloons! I wanted a lot of balloons. And to be honest, I wouldn’t have been mad if a prom dress had made an appearance.

Again, it was Josh who made it happen. He delivered the birthday party of my dreams. Not only were all the criteria checked off the list, there was so much love in all the details. My favourite colours, carefully selected cocktails and appetizers, a custom designed menu, just for us. Our own sommelier. He even created a playlist of music that he knew I would like to be played for our background soundtrack. I mean COME ON!!

He thought of every single detail. There was so much love in that room, I felt so close to everyone there. Having never been a bride, I can’t say for certain, but it sure as shit felt like my wedding! It was my day. And I felt like a million bucks. Put quite simply, it was perfect.

So, in looking back at a really crappy year for me, the thing that stands out the most as the highlight, the BEST thing that happened in my life in 2018, was my 40th birthday, organized by my thoughtful, talented, devoted and extraordinarily loving friend Josh. I don’t think I have ever felt more loved in my life.

2019 is going to be good. It has to be. It can only go up from here. I came across a meme the other day which made me laugh really hard (probably inappropriately), but it sort of sums up the last year of my life quite perfectly, I think:

Apparently my rock bottom has a basement.

I discovered that basement this year, but the good news is, there’s nowhere else to go, but up.

Happy new year. May it be filled with more good than bad, more love than heartache, and more joy than sorrow.

The list

I’m a believer that two opposing ideas can both be true. To wit: I believe a person can be impulsive and responsible; spontaneous and pragmatic; strong and vulnerable; communicative and secretive. You see what I mean. I think there are all kinds of shades of grey when it comes to defining a person (as if they could actually ever be defined). Nothing is black and white, in my opinion. And maybe it’s the great mystery or goal in life to discern all those shades within ourselves and each other. It’s our job to reconcile these ostensibly opposing traits or facts about us that exist in tandem, despite our instinct to categorize them as being in different “columns.” And maybe they are truly in different columns, but my point is that two things can be true at once. There is rarely a definitive, absolute answer or explanation for anything.

Take for instance when we think about our identity – who we present ourselves to be, and in turn, who we are perceived to be (which, really, are enmeshed). I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately.

The following are some things, some facts about me that are very integral to my identity, to who I am, who I believe I am, and more importantly, who others perceive me to be.

I am short. Petite. Small. Little. Not tall (or even average height). This has always been true. I was a tiny baby. I was a tiny toddler and little girl (with a disproportionately large head). I was always in the front row of the class picture. I’m pretty sure I’m the same height I reached in grade six. That’s 11 years old. I haven’t grown since I was 11.

That I am short is simply a fact about me. But somehow, over the course of my life, it has morphed into a kind of character trait. My family and some of friends call me “Little One.” I mean, I am little: I’m little in stature, I have tiny feet and hands, I have a small head (I guess I just grew into that large melon from my childhood), so I look ridiculous in hats and sunglasses. But, I’m also what some would define as “full-figured.” I prefer the word voluptuous. Those with an inferior vocabulary might describe me as fat.

Whatever. I don’t care. I can’t control how others interpret my body, nor do I care to. After all, words are only as powerful as the meaning we give them.

But, my point is that the sheer physicality of my body has infiltrated my very being, and my height, my smallness comes up in conversations, inside jokes, teasing, nicknames and general perception of who I am. And I’m not mad at it one bit. The fact that I am both small and big simultaneously is the paradox I’m talking about here.

I am smart. I don’t say that in a boastful way. Most people I know are smart. It’s a fact. But this is a fact about me that is rather defining. I speak and write (I hope!) articulately and eloquently. I am secretly really flattered when people comment on the words I use in everyday conversation, how I express myself, or ask me for help with grammar or re-wording something they’re writing.

Again, this is another fact about me that has, along the way, been absorbed in my personality, my identity. And, admittedly, I’ve clung onto this notion in times of insecurity.

I have musical talent. I used to be pretty serious about playing instruments and singing and once upon a time, imagined a career in the arts, perhaps playing in an orchestra, or the pit band of musicals, or even being on Broadway or being an Opera singer. Listen, with age, I have come to realize that that was probably not in the stars (or within reach) for me, but at my heart, I am a singer. I’ve written a lot about how important music and my choir is to me so it’s no secret how dear I hold the music that is in my life.

But, in addition to the organized singing I am a part of, I feel I really do have a talent. Let’s not get it twisted – I’m no Whitney, Celine or Mariah, but I really do LOVE to sing and, to be honest…I think I’m pretty good at it.

Sometimes I’m singing to myself just in my apartment, and I finish and think to myself, “DAMN, I sound GOOD.” Haha.

Again, I’m not being a cocky asshole here (I’m sure there are many of you reading this who are better singers than me), but my point is that this particular talent sets me apart, and in so doing, is very much a part of my identity. I’m Ange, the singer. When I’m in a room full of people I’m usually the only one who possesses this talent, and honestly, if people were to ask me to sing something, I gladly would. They don’t tend to though. I presume it’s because when someone says, “Oh yeah, I SING,” one’s first inclination is to think, really? I bet you’re one of those people who thinks they can sing, and has clearly been enabled by the people around them their whole lives who have repeatedly lied to them and told them how talented they are, when really, you’re terrible and make people’s ears bleed, and if you sing something right now, you’re just going to embarrass yourself and make everyone uncomfortable. I get it. But, really, I have the goods, I promise.

I am a good friend. This one is something I’ve been told a lot, and to be honest, when I’m feeling confident and sure of myself, I agree. I put a lot of effort and thought into being a good friend. But, it’s also just the way I am, if that makes sense. I value my friends so much. And lately, especially, I’ve come to realize that my friends must value me too, because they have been so extraordinarily there for me in ways I never expected (and most of the time don’t feel I deserve – but I’m working on that).

So, this being-a-good-friend thing has become a defining feature of my personality. As in, if someone were to ask me to describe myself in 3 words (or phrases), this would be one of them.

I am depressed. Capitol “D” depression, with a diagnosis, medication and therapy to back it up. Unlike all these other facts about me that I’ve listed here, I actually don’t want this one to define me. But maybe it’s too late for that.

The truth is, it is a part of me. It’s a part of my story now. In the same way as every triumph, every failure, every bad decision, every love lived and lost, every moment I wish I could re-live and every moment I wish I could re-do, is a part of my story. As I tried to articulate in my previous blog about my body, I am – we all are – the sum of our parts. We are complex individuals with stories and challenges and wins, and all kinds of experiences that get chucked into a proverbial pot and stirred up, and the end product is Ange (or insert your name here) soup. Perhaps this metaphor is getting away from me, but I’m sure you’re pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down, right?

The bottom line is that depression is a thing I’m currently experiencing, coping with, working through, resenting, hating, feeling defeated by, kind of maybe getting a handle on, determined to emerge a better person from and going to battle with every day. But, it is also part of my story and is something about which I refuse to be ashamed. I’ve carried enough shame for several lifetimes. It’s time to let all that go.

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So, if at the end of my life, someone writes a list of all the things that make up who I am, I really do genuinely hope that depression will be there – but that it’s treated just the same as all the other, myriad, interesting, wonderful (and maybe some terrible?) things that make up who I am, none more or less important than another.

And I hope it’s a really long list.

 

Thanks, Mom

Let your friends and family help you, let them love you, let them support you. That’s what my therapist tells me. I know he’s right. Of course I do. It’s hard, though. I can’t help but feel guilty that my friends and family worry about me, that they have spent their precious energy thinking about my well-being, that they have let their worry and concern for me distract them from their lives, their families…in any way.

It all comes back to this concept of worthiness. I don’t think I’m worthy of anyone’s worry or concern, or thoughts or compassion. I’m working on that. I have to say, it’s a challenging thing to try to undo a lifetime of mental and emotional reprimand. My own reprimand, that is. But, I’m working on it.

These last couple of weeks, I’ve been reduced to the little girl I was when I was six. I’ve needed my family in a way that I have never felt in my adult life. I needed my parents and siblings to know what I’ve been going through, and I wanted my mom to be here with me, literally, physically.

And so she was. My mom stayed with me for a week. She slept in my bed, next to me, her presence comforting me the way it did when I was a little girl and would wake up with a nightmare. Instead of letting me crawl into my parents’ bed between them, my mom would come and sleep with me in mine. I can still recall the warmth of her body next to mine, the sound of her heart beat, the security of knowing that Mom was with me, protecting me from whatever demons I conceived were haunting me. It was the best feeling in the world.

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That feeling came back to me in waves these last couple of weeks. Quite simply, I needed my mommy. And she came. She dropped everything and came to Toronto to be with me. She entered into a situation with which she was unfamiliar, untrained, and probably very uncomfortable, with a full and open heart, ready to just…be here in whatever way I needed her to be. And she did just that.

Having my mom here meant waking at an hour I’m not used to seeing lately. It meant having breakfast, with actual protein and nutrients. It meant making a to-do list and executing on those items every day. It also meant spending concentrated time with my mom, who, of course I love and feel close to, and with whom I’ve had many, many, many great conversations over my life. But never about the things I need to talk about now.

My parents, much like the parents of my friends and people my age, come from a generation where things simply weren’t talked about. Things were famously swept under the rug. Depression, anxiety, and stress weren’t acknowledged, not given credence, ignored, “sucked up,” as it were. I get that. As my therapist says, you can only work with the tools you have, and my parents, and most people of their generation simply don’t have the tools to deal with depression that we do now.

But, I’m extraordinarily proud of my parents for being as open as they have been. I know it’s difficult for them to understand what depression even is, let alone, why and how it’s been debilitating for me. The one thing that has come through loud and clear though, despite their potential lack of understanding, is that they love me and they’re worried about me, and they want me to get better. And that’s all I want, really. They don’t need to understand the medical and psychological definitions of depression to know that I’m not myself and that I need help.

I’m grappling every day with the thought that the people I love are worried about me. It makes me feel guilty, or responsible in some way. I worry if my family is getting the support they need to process what is happening with me. And I can’t help but feel that I owe my friends. They have been so wonderful to me, jumping in during crisis, talking to each other, giving each other support and sharing, frankly, scary information about me and my self-destruction. I don’t know how to make sure that they all get the support they need. But, I’m trying to remind myself that if the situation was reversed, I would do the same thing. I’m trying to learn to accept the love that people are trying to give me.

This is a journey. Two steps forward, one step back. Sometimes it’s more than one step back…but I’m slowly moving forward. I’m vulnerable, but I think that’s okay. In vulnerability, comes strength. I’ve been told by a few people in the last couple of weeks that I am a strong woman. That warms my heart. I’m not sure I totally believe it, but the fact that others do, gives me confidence. My therapist told me today that he’s proud of me – for telling my secrets, for confiding in my family, and for getting out of bed every day determined to muster the motivation to fight. It’s hard. But, I want to get better. And I will, I know it. This is the fight of my life. But, I’m ready.

I can change

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Doubt casts a long shadow

It whispers dirty lies in my ear

I won’t let fear break my heart tonight

But I’m scared that I won’t get it right

I can trace the patterns from where I am

And where I want to be

The storm is still warring

And my armor is thin

The battles are long

And I don’t think I’ll win

But I can change

I can still change

The tale of the purse-snatcher who made my friend a legend and my birthday unforgettable

Friends, let me tell you a story. It’s a true story, not a made-up fable to scare you into paranoia, or an allegory about the dangers of big city living. It’s a true story, no exaggeration, no hyperbole. I know, because I was there.

Picture it – it’s a warm, end-of-summer Friday, the 14th to be exact. My birthday. After a wonderful day of shopping and hanging with friends (and NOT working), I meet up with my dear friend, one of my favourite people in the world, for a fancy birthday dinner at the Keg. My friend – let’s call her “Cheryl” – and I arrive at the restaurant within minutes of one another. We decide to dine in the bar area, because it’s a bit cozier, and a more interesting vibe. Cheryl and I are all about the vibes. We’re seated at a round table for four, so we sit beside each other (not in that creepy way some couples do when they sit on the same side of the booth – I HATE that!), but the table is big, and it’s kind of loud and we want to be able to hear each other when we talk.

And TALK we do! We have a beautiful meal; delicious food, great martinis, a nice bottle of wine. We chat and laugh and have a truly engrossing and lovely time. After our meal is done, still chatting away, contemplating ordering another cocktail, Cheryl suddenly gets this look of disgust on her face and says to me “ughhhh, can you smell that?” I can’t smell anything discernably disgusting, but do notice a very slight, kind of odd looking man seating himself at the table next to us. Cheryl is distracted by the stench, I (thankfully – sorry Cheryl!), am not, as I’m just far enough away from him to avoid the sensory assault.

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Cheryl and I continue talking, occasionally interrupted by Cheryl’s comments about the stench of the sketchy man in our periphery. Because of the way we’re sitting, I can the man at his seat. His back is to us. He is fidgety, he moves his table and chair back a few inches, towards our table. Even though it’s really warm out, he has a jacket with him, which he very awkwardly drapes over the back of his chair. He knocks the salt shaker off the table and bends down to pick it up. I’m a little distracted, but alarm bells are not ringing in my head.

After a few minutes, the man gets up to leave, draping his jacket over his arm. Cheryl and I immediately breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that we’ll be able to continue our evening without the distraction. As we’re kind of watching him leave the restaurant, Cheryl (instinctively, perhaps?) reaches down to her purse which had been sitting under the table, at her feet.

The purse wasn’t there.

Cheryl looks at me, eyes wide, and says “where’s my purse? What did I do with my purse? Did that guy just take my purse???”

In what felt like a flash, she was up out of her seat asking me if she should run after him. A girl sitting near us (with her dud of a boyfriend who barely shrugged when all this was going down, by the way), overhearing our alarmed conversation chimes in and says that she thinks he did take Cheryl’s purse, because she’s pretty sure he’s the same guy who stole a purse from her restaurant a few days before. Intrigue!

Cheryl quickly runs out of the restaurant, chasing the thief down York Street, yelling obscenities at him, looking like a streak of black and glitter in her micro-mini and healed booties. She catches up to him (with ease, I might add, she is after all, an Orangetheory enthusiast). She grabs his jacket off his arm, telling him that she knows he stole her purse, and lo and behold, the purse just drops to the ground, like a prize out of one of those claw machines. The would-be thief, turns on his heals apologizing, running away, while Cheryl checks inside her purse to make sure nothing is missing. She quickly grabs her phone and takes a picture of the guy running away. Sadly, it’s blurry, but at least she gets a picture.

In the meantime, the girl who warned us about the stinky thief has run outside to make sure Cheryl is OK or assist her in any way. I, if you’re wondering, am still sitting at the table, paralyzed with indecision about what I should do – should I call the police? Should I get the manager? Should I run after Cheryl too? Clearly, I’m not the best person to have around in such a crisis.

Cheryl hurries back into the restaurant, having walked through a whole crowd of completely oblivious bystanders outside the restaurant on the sidewalk who barely looked up from their phones to notice the screaming blonde woman on a foot chase, but, whatever.

Victorious in her purse-retrieval and burgle-thwarting, Cheryl and the anonymous good citizen come strutting back into the restaurant with huge smiles. My heart stops fluttering – I’m so happy she’s OK!

Cheryl and I thank the girl profusely for warning us about the thief (her boyfriend sits in his seat, not looking at us or participating in the conversation. What a loser). We tell our server the saga and he immediately runs to get his manager. The manager comes over and sits down with us for a bit. We (mostly Cheryl) tell the tale again, partly still in shock and disbelief, partly with excited adrenaline, and partly with pride at her badassary.

After telling the story in detail, me providing a very good physical description of the perp and the manager encouraging Cheryl to file a police report, we pause and look at each other, reading each other’s minds. Cheryl says to the manager “so…I think we’re gonna need another cocktail.”

Our server delivers our Negronis and with what I would call an air of delight, tells us that he’s been telling all his co-workers about “the girl who chased down the guy who stole her purse” and that she is now a LEGEND at the Keg on York Street.

Moral of the story: don’t leave your purse on the back of your chair or on the floor, at your feet when you’re dining out. You never know what sneaky, desperate people will do. People can’t be trusted, and unless you’re super fit like my girl Cheryl, and you can guarantee that the bandit in question is not a threat, it’s generally not advisable to chase people down in the street, regardless of how much you want your stuff back.

But also, another moral of the story: my friend Cheryl IS a legend. She’s lucky she’s OK and the guy was harmless but, she’s also a total badass BOSS lady and you’d be well-advised not to mess with her. I will forever remember the image of her running down the street in her micro-mini, yelling at the guy who took her purse.

Thanks, Cheryl, for giving me the most memorable birthday dinner ever. If that’s a sign of the kind of year I’m going to have, I think I’m in for the ride of a lifetime!