Frozen In Time

*From One Honest Parent to Another*

The other night my husband and I watched the series finale of one of my all-time favorite TV shows which completed its ninth and final season on Tuesday night.  He will probably kill me for writing this but by the end of the one hour episode we were both sobbing like babies! (This is as real as it gets).  We both felt the same raw emotions while watching the finale, we both felt the same likeness and parallels to our own family unit.

“The Middle” was a half hour weekly comedy which centered around a middle class family facing the day to day struggles of home life, work and raising three children.  Although it took place in “middle” America it could have just as easily taken place in my own backyard.  The three children were close in age to my own kids and faithful viewers like myself have watched them grow up before our eyes, tackling life’s ups and downs but always doing so with a quick-witted sense of humour.

If there is one word to describe the final episode of “The Middle” it would be ‘bittersweet’.  It perfectly wrapped up all of its loose ends of a family that so many of us can relate to, in both a funny and extremely touching way.  Week after week for nine seasons I looked forward to watching the unorthodox and heartwarming antics of the Heck family, but this week really struck a different chord with me.

Maybe it’s simply because it was the final episode (I’m sure they are deserving of a reboot in ten years just like so many other shows on TV this year), or maybe it was what the episode truly signified which was the end of an era.  It reminded me just how quickly time passes by when you become a parent.  We all know that we can never get back those precious moments or milestones we wish could stay frozen in time forever, but as the Patriarch of the ”Heck” family so candidly declares in this final episode to his TV wife who’s grieving the loss of time, “That’s the way it’s supposed to be.”

As much as I can hear the sincerity behind his sensible words, my emotional state of mind is just too damn fragile right now to believe them.  Having depression constantly keeps me focused on my past.  I am forever yearning for those precious moments I wish could be kept frozen in time, you know the ones, like when you held out your hand and immediately felt the grasp of your toddler’s tiny, warm sticky fingers returning the gesture, or even when you first took off their training wheels on their bicycle and they rode off into the sunset, but always looked back longing for your approval.  My mental wellness depends on these images as I continue to struggle daily to find answers.

During the final episode of “The Middle” I watched as the Matriarch of the family tried hopelessly to keep her emotions intact while coming to grips with the next chapter of their lives, but to no avail she eventually breaks down.  This of course is where I went from a natural teary-eyed state of mind to complete and inconsolable sobbing.  When suffering with chronic anxiety as I do, I’m persistently being jolted into the opposing direction of my depression, which is relentlessly taking me deep into that next chapter, long before I am ready to finish the current one, therefore leaving me in a constant state of distress.

They say that the older we get the faster life passes us by, making us question the mystery as to where did the time go?  I myself cannot really tell you the answer to this question however, over the last couple of years I have wondered it many, many times as I try to face just how much our family dynamics have changed and continue to do so.  We are all beginning to move toward unfamiliar territory and in doing so we are learning how to support one another through trial and error while managing our new roles and identities together.

Through therapy I am beginning to embrace two very important tasks in order to help me cope with our new roles and identities by creating healthy boundaries and communicating my needs with loved ones.  Many of these next chapters in life can often lead a once healthy, happy individual into a very depressive or anxious state of mind which is why it is imperative for me right now to use these strategies as we turn the page once again, and for anyone else reading this that may be feeling apprehensive or vulnerable as they too turn to the next page just know that you are not alone.

Being open and honest about what you need from your loved ones is most definitely key as I have learned very recently.  As I try to look ahead to the next chapters I will continue to keep those precious memories in the forefront of my mind knowing that I have created and raised three capable, confident and resourceful human beings enabling them to fly into the world and start writing their own new and exciting chapters.  I will also do so with the belief that no matter what, they will always remember where they came from because “that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”

When One Door Opens

When One Door Opens

(Please read to the end)

Alexander Graham Bell once said that ‘when one door closes, another opens’.  Being the self-proclaimed pessimist that I have become it’s really difficult for me to see the true gift or message behind this overly optimistic quote.  It actually goes on to say: ‘but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the ones which open for us.’ To me this quote signifies missed opportunities, failure and loss, whereas a more optimistic person may see the opportunity for growth, development and success.

When suffering with depression and anxiety I have said many times before that it feels like I’m playing a game of Tug of War with my brain.  When I am feeling anxious or having a panic attack I am anticipating future events which causes me to lose control, whereas my depression takes me deep into my past where nothing seems to make sense at all.  It’s as though my mind is split in two, one side is filled with constant worry about every aspect of my life and the other side is just too damn exhausted or worn down to care, both leaving me incessantly feeling like I will never find that open door.

Sometimes in life there are events or circumstances that are beyond our control especially when it comes to the weather, getting old, a natural disaster or even the way others may treat us.  Sometimes life is just simply not fair and sometimes it can be just downright cruel. Knowing that some things in our lives may be out of our control or near impossible to change can often lead to unwarranted feelings of disappointment, sadness or anger whether or not they were expected or if they came out of the blue, even the most positive ones.

Not all plans in life work out, at some point in our lives we will all experience a death of a loved one, a loss of relationships or failure of some kind, many of which can lead a person into the pathway of depression and anxiety.  Throughout my journey my role as a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister and a friend has significantly changed, my beliefs have significantly changed , my goals have significantly changed and my needs have most definitely changed. I see the world a lot differently than I once did, one which is now controlled through negative self-talk, hopelessness and worthlessness, so much so that when I do experience a wholesome, healthy change in my life, an adjustment or assimilation period is needed more than ever.

Change, although inevitable, has been something that has intensely impacted my state of mind (even when it comes to good changes) since I began suffering with depression and anxiety.  There have been countless changes in my life over the past four years, many of which I have not shared with you, but good or bad they can all trigger feelings of uneasiness and distress now.  Even if certain events or circumstances that may occur in our lives are not defined by someone else as devastating they can still be extremely taxing on others and should always be measured equally.

The start of this week actually began with one of the most wholesome, healthy changes I have been longing for, a change which will affect our entire family dynamic. A change that will rejuvenate, recharge and refresh our inner core.  For those of you who were unaware, my husband lost his job 15.5 months ago after working for the same company for close to twenty years, and since then he has been on an exhausting and endless search for a new one, which finally came to an end on Monday afternoon.  An end that now signifies a new beginning, a notable amount of change and an open door.

As I stated earlier change is a very burdensome undertaking for me no matter how great or important it may be, it is still scary and unknown.  When my husband first walked through the door 15 months ago with his shocking and unimaginable news our lives immediately began to unravel further, and many difficult changes followed.  Change is unavoidable when someone loses their job and the days turn into weeks and the weeks turn into months and sometimes even years. You will inescapably begin to lose part of your identity, your daily routine, your self-confidence & self-esteem and your overall sense of security, which is pretty much how things unfolded around here.

Now that this next chapter is about to begin for us, and a promising second act gets underway, I am at a crossroads which is pulling me in opposite directions, one of which is resisting many of the new changes which lie ahead.  But I will take this opportunity as I breathe the first real sigh of relief that I have been able to do in a very long time and walk hand in hand together through this open door embracing each other as we see what’s waiting for us on the other side.

This Mother’s Day I Choose ME

This Mother’s Day I Choose ME

*Some Sensitive Content*
For all of you moms out there reading this I’m pretty sure you will all agree with me when I say that being a mom truly is the hardest role you will ever undertake in your life. It doesn’t really matter the process to which got you there, instead all that matters is what you do with that role once you have accepted it. A role that won’t begin every day at 9 am or end at 5 pm, a role that includes late nights, weekends and even holidays, and a role that will hopefully take you well beyond your retirement years.

From the moment that you first got to cradle your new born baby in your arms you acquired the role of ‘Mom’, ‘Mommy’, ‘Mama’ or whatever you so choose to be called, but with this new found role comes endless responsibility. You have now taken the solemn oath that you promise to provide them with all the basic necessities in their life in order for them to become functioning and contributing adults in society one day. These needs include feeding your child proper and nutritional meals (and whoever says chicken nuggets and Kraft macaroni and cheese aren’t proper and nutritional foods can suck it!), a safe and nurturing environment where they can feel protected from harm’s way, a place where they can learn and build character and an opportunity to explore and experiment countless possibilities through your loving guidance and support. Of course this is not a complete list as to a mom (and dad’s) role in their child’s life, as it is honestly boundless and although once they reach the age of 18 you may think the role you play in their life is done, it isn’t, it just begins to shift in a new direction.

As I already noted above, being a mom can be so hard and as we all know the role itself doesn’t come with an instruction manual like a brand new car or a toaster oven do. We just have to wing it and hope that we do the best job we can with the resources provided to us. We will all make some mistakes along the way and that’s okay, it’s all part of the learning process. When I look back at my role as ‘mom’ prior to April 2014, I feel like I was meeting and even sometimes exceeding the expectations of my role (well maybe not in the cooking department), but then as you know that all changed in what seemed to be in the blink of an eye.

Since becoming ill, my role as a mom has transformed drastically. As difficult a task as parenting is when you feel great, it is downright impossible when you can’t even take care of your own basic needs let alone those of three innocent children. My kids weren’t babies when I became ill, nor were they toddlers anymore, in fact they were already in the onset of teenage-hood which as many of you know comes with its own set of agonizing challenges, and there have been plenty.

For the past four years I have sat along the sidelines for many of life’s precious moments filled with an overwhelming sense of guilt, an overwhelming sense of failure and an overwhelming sense that I am nothing more than a burden to my children (and husband’s) lives. I have been trying hopelessly to work through these tormenting thoughts and feelings with some much needed guidance, helping to redirect my focus and see life through the eyes of a child, that is, a child who still wants to call me mom.

It is fair to say that I love my kids more than life itself and I treasure more than anything the rare occasions we get to spend together, just the five of us, and by that I don’t mean sitting down to dinner for ten minutes while everyone is busy on their phones or someone is yelling about who stole whose clothes that day. I know as each year passes these rare occasions become less and less conventional, but right now I need them more than ever. It brings with it a sense of peace knowing that my role as their mom may not yet have been completely downsized or outsourced which is why for Mother’s Day this year I have chosen me.

To be perfectly honest though I was pretty scared at first as this whole ‘I Choose Me’ mantra that has been persistently drilled into my head over the past few months (and helped me come to some very crucial resolutions and set some much needed healthy boundaries) is an extremely difficult concept for me to grasp but my therapist insisted upon it this time (and who am I to argue with the experts). Then the more I processed it, the more I began to see a whole new perspective on Mother’s Day. You see, for the almost 20 years I’ve been playing the role of mom, Mother’s Day has never once been about me or about how I want to celebrate my day, or even with whom, most years I’ve never even chosen a meal I want to eat so this year I am doing just that and more. Some people may feel the need to judge me or think I’m selfish (they too can suck it!) while those who truly understand my struggles may applaud me, but either way, it will be my day spent treasuring one of those rare occasions together, just the five of us, far away from these imprisoning walls. We have an entire day AND night of adventures planned and memories to be made which I will share with you upon our return home. Happy Mother’s Day!

My High School Reunion

* please read if you have ever gone to high school, are in high school or plan to be in high school soon!*

For many teenagers and young adults alike, high school can be one of the toughest times in their lives. A time which is filled with so much self-doubt, hormonal changes, social anxieties, peer pressure mixed in with trying to find your rung on the social ladder, getting good grades and having to begin your path towards a very uncertain future.

When I think about my high school years I remember it mostly as a time in my life when I was at peace with myself and I was happy. I may be in the minority when I say that my high school years are probably ranked among some of the best years of my life. Being a high school student in the mid to late 1980’s was ‘like totally gnarly dude’ (I bet when you read that you even used the accent!). The fashion trends, the big hair and perms, the introduction of computers and some other awesome new technology, the movies, the TV shows and the music all contributed to the amazing memories I have of my high school years.

The transition for me into high school from elementary school seemed to go pretty smoothly. Although I was entering a much larger building and a very unfamiliar territory I wasn’t doing it alone. The excitement and privilege of having so much more autonomy and responsibility allowed me to revel in the overall experience that went along with it.

It is important to note here that the main emphasis of high school is to prepare us for a higher education, a satisfying career or hopefully both, but that high school is also a time for growing up and enjoying countless firsts. I believe that in order to mold ourselves into capable and contributing adults in today’s society, one must take the opportunity to explore and experience those firsts, many of which help us to mature while making plenty of mistakes along the way but still creating those amazing and lasting memories. During my five years of high school (for anyone who entered high school in Ontario after 2003 may not know that it used to be five years) I got my driver’s license, had a rockin’ Sweet 16 party, made some of the best friendships, fell in love, fell out of love, explored many of my passions and so much more (sorry, trying to keep it PG here).

As a mom of three children, 2 of which have since graduated from high school and my ‘baby’ who is already halfway there (well in 6 weeks she will be), I have recounted time and time again to them the lasting impact high school can have on their lives and the endless amount of doors it can open for them, especially in the almost 30 years since my graduation.

This past weekend while engaging in a conversation with some friends and parts of my family I had a sudden urge to dust off my old high school yearbooks from a box in the basement and give my kids a good laugh while I was at it. It felt like I was watching an episode from Oprah’s ‘Where Are They Now’ show marveling and reminiscing about so many now unrecognizable faces from the hallways we once walked together all those years ago. It didn’t quite hit me until later that evening and well into the next day when my negative self-talk so rudely interrupted my walk down memory lane toward contradictory thoughts of my time spent hanging out in those hallways. Could the direction I strolled down those hallways in somehow have led me to my journey I’m on today, did I somehow take a wrong turn down one of the many hallways even though I followed the expected pathway that high school ranks most value on at the time?

As I continue to consider this recourse today, I am also relishing in the anticipation of my upcoming high school reunion. It is my high school’s 50th anniversary this year and in three weeks from now there will be a two day celebration which will include all past and present faculty and students who have walked and continue to walk those same hallways over the last 50 years as I once did (and believe it or not there are still some faculty teaching there from some 30 years ago). If this reunion had taken place a few years ago I truly believe that I would have been first in line for it or maybe even have joined the administrative committee, but instead I am left feeling completely tormented and anguished over it.

It was over a year ago when I first heard about the reunion and I joined the Facebook group that had been created in hopes of reaching as many people as possible. In the months following I have observed the preparations and anecdotal storytelling for the upcoming reunion while hiding behind my laptop in silence, sometimes feeling a sense of warmth and sometimes a sense of sadness. When I first joined the Facebook group, the reunion seemed so far out of reach and so I just kept observing in silence, but now it is just weeks away and I can no longer just observe from a distance.

I have someone to go to the reunion with, probably the most notable person from my high school days, someone who has continued to be right by my side through all my peaks and valleys since graduation day, someone who understands me, someone who doesn’t place judgment on me and someone who only wants the best for me, so then after reading all this what could possibly be stopping me? The simplest and most straightforward answer would have to be the ruthlessness and unrelenting conduct of my Depression and Anxiety.

So if I don’t make it to my reunion this time around, maybe a goal I can set for myself is to aim for their 100th anniversary reunion in another 50 years which will put me at the ripe old age of 96/97 years old, now the only question left to answer is, who’s coming with me?

Liar, Liar Pants On Fire

*Some Sensitive Content*

Who wouldn’t enjoy a compliment from a loved one, an acquaintance or even a stranger once in a while?  A compliment is a courteous way of conveying one’s feelings to another person using words that express praise or admiration.  Regardless if you are the one giving the compliment to someone else or on the receiving end of it, studies show that there are actually many physical and emotional health benefits related to the act itself.  Whether you’re showing your appreciation to a colleague for a job well done or simply taking note of a friend’s trendy new hairdo, the compliment can heighten their performance level, increase their mood and even strengthen their overall self-image.

As human beings we desire feelings of acceptance and recognition from others and giving someone else a sincere and genuine compliment is probably one of the most effortless and straightforward ways of fulfilling this need.  Many times the act of complimenting someone may seem truly insignificant or trivial to the person giving it, but for the person who is receiving it, it can have an enormous impact on them.  It indicates to the receiver that they are important, valued and noteworthy which can in fact turn any tiresome or difficult day around.

Unfortunately when living with major depression and anxiety as I do, my thoughts have become increasingly distorted and twisted, even the most basic ones.  Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate and recognize the sentiment that comes from somebody who is modestly trying to pay me a compliment, but most of the time my negative self-talk will find a disagreeable way to deflect it.  I don’t consciously intend to dispute your kind gesture when you have taken the time to make a sincere or heartfelt assertion in hopes of putting a smile on my face, but my illness seems to have a mind of its own.

Throughout my journey I have often recounted to you what it truly feels like to suffer with depression and anxiety using countless metaphors and adjectives alike.  My illness runs much deeper than an overwhelming sense of sadness, instead it fills me with an agonizing sense of worthlessness, hopelessness, loneliness, guilt and emptiness all wrapped together in a very unappealing and suffocating little box which often takes away my will to live.  Metaphorically speaking I feel like I have become trapped in a very dark, broken down and overcrowded elevator where no matter how hard I try to reach new heights, it always seems to try and take me down instead.

Living in this unrelenting state of mind, I want nothing more than to be able to embrace the simple pleasures in life that most of us take for granted like the enchantment you feel when you wake up to a warm, sunny day ahead or even the exhilaration that comes from spending time with loved ones, but instead I have become paralyzed and numb to these undemanding emotions, making it quite unmanageable to see the beauty in anything, even something as easy-going as a compliment.

At times I may take a less argumentative approach when I am pondering your kind gesture while still debating in my mind that your compliment was undeniably untrue.  I may instead choose to not allow the other person to feel my internal struggle by giving them a much less confrontational, non-verbal (yet polite) smile while listening to the voices in my head crying out ‘liar, liar, pants on fire’ and then quickly trying to redirect the conversation.

Even though we have always been taught from a very young age that the only way to accept a compliment from someone is by doing so graciously and respectfully, with a big smile on your face, or maybe even a hug, which is both inarguably and despairingly exhausting for me right now.  So instead while I continue to try and find my way through this journey, please know that I most definitely hear your incredibly kind and heartfelt compliments, all of which I have so graciously and respectfully stored away for safekeeping to be retrieved at a later date.

Honestly Speaking

*Sensitive Content*

From a very young age parents, caregivers and educators alike all try and instill in us that honesty is the best policy, but is it always?  Let’s face it, sometimes being honest with oneself or others can really hurt; A LOT. Over the last four years I have seen what honesty can do to a person who is suffering with a Mental Illness; the good, the bad and the ugly.  Being honest simply means that you are freeing yourself of deceit and that you are truthful, sincere and have integrity, but when faced with a Mental Illness it can also leave you with a great deal of judgement, hurt and anguish.

Although I had been quite open and honest about my illness from the very beginning I certainly wasn’t shouting my innermost thoughts and feelings from any rooftops to my acquaintances or strangers alike on the streets below, that was until about a year and a half ago.  For many months prior to that day I had been keeping a journal and writing for myself when I decided that maybe it was time to share my honest and true self with as many people as I could.  And although there are several parts of my journey thus far that are still too raw and painful to share (just from the past two months alone I could probably write an entire book), it is safe to say that what I have chosen to share with you up until now has been nothing short of genuine and honest.

When I made the decision to begin sharing my journey with the utmost honesty and integrity that I knew how, I didn’t know where it would take me, and I certainly didn’t know how it would wholeheartedly affect me.  I have learned first and foremost that I am not alone on my journey and that by speaking my truth I have allowed so many other people the strength to start speaking their own truth as well.  I have also discovered that through no fault of my own did I cause the onset of my illness to occur and that by learning to be honest with myself and others I have been able to recognize how important it is to set healthy and achievable boundaries with loved ones and strangers alike.  Another valuable lesson that I have uncovered recently by talking openly and honestly about my journey is that it is okay to not feel okay and that this by no means makes me weak in any way, even if I battle with this notion each and every day.

Yes being honest about my most intimate thoughts and feelings has been met with so much positive energy which has also allowed me to understand the importance of why I need to choose me each and every time as selfish as it may seem to some. But if I am going to be completely honest right now then it is probably just as important to note that my honesty has also left me in a very vulnerable and dark place.

Over the last four years it is probably fair to say that there have been many changes in my life and that it has honestly never been my intention for anyone to take them personally, especially if you could truly understand how something as simple as sending a text message, talking on the telephone or committing to any sort of engagement can turn my whole day upside down.  And I also know that my honesty can often be both frightening and overwhelming to many, especially on the days where my thoughts and feelings read something like a suicide note.  This expression of honesty has left many of my relationships strained and some entirely dissolved, but at the same time it has also strengthened many others, making them the ones that I should be most focused on.  And as much as I may be hurting some with my honesty (which causes me tremendous guilt), I would only be lying to myself if I can’t share my true self, if I can’t feel less afraid and if I can’t feel less alone.

So is there a right or wrong answer to the age-old question “is honesty the best policy”?  Even though I am living on both sides of this debate I really don’t have the answer and it’s quite possible that I never will.  All I truly know right now is that my honesty has allowed me to help educate, clarify and begin a quest to destigmatize Mental Illness by sharing my own personal journey with others, but as for that other side of the honesty debate, the one that causes some to caste judgement, hurt or look the other way, well I’m pretty sure my heart may already have the answer.

A Dog’s Purpose

It’s no surprise to anyone who knows me well knows that I am an animal lover, especially when it comes to dogs.  For most of my childhood and adult life I have been a dog owner, and at one point in my late teens/early twenties that included three at one time.

I still remember as a young child begging my parents to buy me a dog, sighting all the compelling arguments for why we should get one (which of course included all the promises that kids make about walking and feeding them).  My brother and I eventually wore them down and soon we were picking out our new puppy.  She was such a sweet little dog who quickly became part of our family, but more importantly I became her favorite (along with my dad of course since as predicted he did end up walking and feeding her the most!)  When my parents separated in my late teens, I really didn’t care much at first where I lived so long as my dog was with me. Through several moves, and lots of ups and downs over the next few years, there she was right by my side, right up until the end of her life all the while making certain that I was right there by her side too.

The end came suddenly and unexpectedly the week before my wedding at which time her and I had already been settled in and living with my soon to be husband for close to a year (yes, in sin).  Mourning her loss was very difficult as any animal lover can attest to, but it was especially difficult trying to do so while celebrating my upcoming wedding and honeymoon.  After we settled back into reality upon our return home from our honeymoon, I felt such a void in my life and missed having her around so much.  Although I could never replace her, or any animal for that matter, I crave the kindness and love that comes from a dog, something that only a dog lover truly understands.

I soon began the search for a new puppy, but together my husband and I decided it was probably best to wait until we were no longer living in a Condo.  That time finally came for us to move into our brand new home, the moment I had waited for to get a new puppy had arrived, however, I was now eight months pregnant and on bed rest with our first baby.  As excited and grateful as I was to become a mom, it only made my yearning for a puppy that much stronger because I truly believe that every child should have a dog!!!

After we welcomed our beautiful baby boy into the world and I began recuperating from a C-Section, we were then met with some life threatening health scares with both my mom and my husband’s dad, both of which thankfully remedied themselves.  By now our son was already four months old and I had waited long enough so together the three of us picked out our new furry, four legged family member.  My husband really wanted a dog that was a little bigger than what we were both used to growing up, but I agreed.  The two babies quickly bonded, stealing each other’s food and toys and taking long naps together.  Two months after we brought our adorable new puppy home, we got the “surprise” of our life…I was expecting another baby.  Our new puppy was a breed that needed a lot of stimulation, way more than that of a smaller breed and so we made the heart-wrenching decision to give him back to his breeder.

At this point in time you are all probably thinking to yourself, I guess they decided to put off getting another puppy during this busy time in our lives, but who’s kidding who?  Dogs just serve too much of a purpose in life not to have one.  So while being very pregnant and running after a very, very mobile 11 months old (and anyone who knew him then will confirm this), I brought home another fluffy little ball of fur to once again join our growing family.

Our family eventually grew to three children and our puppy who was no longer a puppy had somehow turned into Cujo.  Who knew a dog that was all of ten pounds could be so vicious?  But he was, yet he still found his place in our family and my children still wanted to love him so badly, as difficult a feat as it was.  His behaviour began to turn my husband completely off the thought of ever wanting another dog again, but his grisly behaviour only made me want another dog even more.  By now, our once adorable, fluffy little ball of fur had become old and sick, making him become even more irritable.  I just wanted another puppy so much by now, one that my kids could play with or simply cuddle with, one that they deserved to love and one that deserved to be loved in return.

Seven years have almost passed since we did welcome that said puppy into our family (she turned seven last week).  It was Father’s Day and just a few days away from my 40th birthday when we brought her home and she was the greatest gift I could have ever asked for, even more than I knew at the time.  Although she can be a little bit feisty (or bitchy, whatever you want to call it), she has proven to us what a dog’s purpose truly is (and she is the apple of my husband’s eye!).

She has taught us about loyalty, companionship and unconditional love.  On top of everything that she has taught us, she has also helped me through some very dark days (and nights) throughout the last four years.  She instinctively knows when I am upset and has the ability to comfort me whether it’s snuggling right up next to me in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep or licking away my tears (yes I can hear the jeering from here from all the non-dog loving readers!).  And whether she knows it or not, petting her behind the ears or giving her a belly rub when I am extremely anxious or very depressed has such a calming effect on me (a win-win for both of us!) especially when human contact can often leave me feeling very confined and claustrophobic in these situations.

They say that a dog is a man’s (and woman’s) best friend and I truly believe that.  Our fur baby is faithful, smart, nonjudgmental, dependable, protective and an integral part of our family unit.  Her amusing and often silly antics only make me love her more.  She accepts me for me and never holds a grudge.  She is always happy to see me, even if I have only left the house for five minutes, when I return home it’s as though I’ve have been gone for days.  Her heart is filled with so much love and she genuinely understands the importance of the simple pleasures in life which so many of us take for granted; like having a good nap, a stroll in the park during a warm summer day, a leisurely ride in the car with family or a delicious home-cooked meal.

You see a dog undoubtedly has so many purposes in life, but first and foremost they show us how important it is to be mindful of ourselves and others, and that the real purpose in life is truly to just be happy.

If I Woke Up Tomorrow…

If I woke up tomorrow with no fear what would I do first?  Fear is a very unpleasant emotion which causes a person to believe that someone or something may cause them harm, pain or danger and could also be a threat to them.  A person can develop a fear through conditioning or a learned behaviour (like a fear of dogs) especially if they themselves have experienced a traumatic event in their lives or have a loved one who may have, and in turn instills that same fear upon them.

My biggest fears I had growing up were never learned or conditioned behaviours, in fact they were and still are quite the opposite.  I have always had an extreme fear of thunder and lightning, heights and my greatest fear of all is undoubtedly flying. None of these fears stemmed from a traumatic event in my life and none of them were passed down to me from my loved ones, but the best news of all is, I have yet to imprint any of these fears onto my own children.

So how did I go from having some very common and quite normal fears to where I am today?  They say that most of our fears surface during our childhood and adolescence and continue to grow into adulthood, most of which are quite manageable in our day to day lives.  My fears that I have been battling since childhood have never really impaired my day to day life because let’s face it, they aren’t fears that control a person daily. Over time I have learned to weather a storm, stay away from tall buildings (and water slides) and lucky for me, travelling by plane is hardly ever in my vocabulary!

But again I am left pondering how I got here.  How going from having a few simple childhood fears has escalated into chronic and severe ones that affects every aspect of my life, most of which is not even triggered by an event or happening.  It’s just there, leaving me in a constant state of fight or flight response. This feeling causes me to have a very difficult time falling asleep and staying asleep. It also causes me to have a great deal of irritability and sudden outbursts of anger.  I am also continuously finding myself unsettled, lacking concentration, easily startled (and that’s an understatement) and ready to react to my threatened state of mind. I live daily with subconscious pains, a heart that is beating so fast it feels like it may jump out of my chest and unrelenting flashbacks.  It is a very lonely and scary place to be.

My fears keep me feeling incapacitated, guilt-ridden and impulsive.  The impact of feeling a chronic fear affects how I feel physically; it leaves me confused, forgetful and unavailable mentally.  It may come without any warning and leave me with impaired judgement. It stops at nothing to try and beat me down. It leaves me very vulnerable.  It leaves me feeling embarrassed and it leaves me very tired.

I’m pretty sure a lot of my fears bare no logic to an outsider looking in, but they are very logical and extremely overwhelming to me. I am able to recognize that many of my fears cause me intense anxiety and panic, and that they are often not realistic causing me to avoid many people, places and things.  I feel pressure to relent to my fears and often feel so powerless as well, but I also know that sometimes fear can be used to keep me safe and protect me from danger. I understand what triggers many of my fears and I am learning to talk back to the negative thoughts and engage the fears with fight instead of flight response.

Facing my fears head on takes a lot of practice and patience for me and my loved ones.  It’s been a long battle especially when my list keeps getting longer rather than shorter, but I have definitely been doing a great deal of reflecting while writing this blog in response to the very first sentence I wrote; If I woke up tomorrow with no fear, what would I do first? The answer is simple, I would place both feet on the floor and get out of bed! What would you do?

‘Put Your Sticks Out’

One of the proudest titles I have owned in my soon to be 20 years as a mom is that of “Hockey Mom” or more specifically to me, “Goalie Mom”.  For more than half of my 20 years as a mom, hockey became a huge part of who I am. I still remember putting my little boy on the ice his first year in house league all dressed in his hockey gear, barely able to skate and boom…he accidentally collided with another player and broke his wrist.  Fast forward 2 years and that same little boy who had been waiting both eagerly and patiently for his turn to play goalie during a tournament gets his chance to shine, and shine he did. He did such an incredible job that from that day forward his dream of becoming a goalie was fulfilled. The following season he joined a new team with some friends, at a more competitive level and quickly they became our family for many years to follow.

He improved and worked hard to become the successful goalie he is today through perseverance, dedication, training, coaching and his love of the game. He is no longer playing at a competitive level but he is still on the ice, living his passion each and every week with his new hockey family and although I am no longer part of the daily hockey grind I am still a very humbled and proud “Goalie Mom”.

Throughout the years hockey defined our family dynamics, always operating our lives around where the next game or tournament was going to be.  Even though there is no more schlepping from one end of the city to the other, no more packing up the family for a weekend away tournament, no more car stinking like a pair of dirty old socks, no more cheering when the team scores the game winning goal, the sacrifices we made and the dedication we weathered was all for our boys and all for our hockey family.

This week our nation, along with many other parts of the world is mourning the loss of another hockey family.  A loss that is beyond incomprehensible.  A loss of 15 boys and men, many of whom were just beginning their lives. For the hockey family who have been left behind trying to come to terms with their new norm, today they are desperately wishing they could be schlepping their son, brother, boyfriend and grandson from one end of the city to the other, packing up their family for another weekend away tournament, stinking up their car like a pair of dirty old socks and cheering their team on when they score the game winning goal.  Instead today they are only able to hold onto these images as memories while clinging to that team jersey they wore to represent their hockey family loud and proud.

Over the next many days, weeks and years to follow, this hockey family and surrounding community will need each other more than ever.  They will need to lean on each other and embrace each other in whatever capacity they are capable of for they cannot do it alone. For many people it is often very difficult to ask for help, but I know first-hand how crucial it is in order to begin the healing process, I know now it is imperative.

My son was still playing competitive hockey when I was in the throes of my illness and as difficult as it was to attend hockey games, team parties and weekends away at tournaments (sometimes only during a weekend pass from a hospital stay), I got through it because I had the love and support of my hockey family behind me.  Being part of a hockey family means you triumph together and you fall down together. For many of us on the team who were together for so many years we had the honour of watching our little boys turn into fine young men, sharing in each other’s joys and sorrows, helping each other out at every turn. I always knew they would be there for me and my family if and when we needed them, and boy did we need them at times, even if it was simply to drive our son to a practice or feed him a well-balanced meal before a game we could always count on them and I am so grateful to call them family.

Asking for help does not come easy for me, but staying quiet can have very serious repercussions for anyone who is struggling.  As the Humboldt Broncos family begin to heal I hope that they will be able to utilize the many resources been made available to them in order to help them move forward somehow, I also hope that they will take some comfort in knowing that millions of Canadians and beyond are there for them, cheering them on in the stands, staying focused while we put that puck in the top corner… because that’s what you do for our family.

My One Brave Night

Last night I was fearless.  Last night I was courageous.  Last night I was brave.  Last night I was able to be all of these things because of the love and support of my family and friends by my side.  Last night I fulfilled my goal of stepping up and inspiring hope for millions of Canadians who are affected by a mental illness each year.  Last night with the help of friends and family I reached my target and I am so thankful for that.  Last night together we had #onebravenight.

I needed to keep the evening as intimate as possible in order for me to not get too overwhelmed. It began with some of our dearest friends joining us at our home for dinner.  They arrived with games and alcohol in hand and I knew then that the evening was certain to be a success.  After dinner was over and plenty of alcohol already was drunk (not by me as alcohol is more of a depressant for me than a stimulant) we decided to break open the new trivia game that we recently purchased just for the occasion.  We played in two teams, kids vs. adults.  It was trivia from the 2000’s so I figured the kids would bamboozle us but I was mistaken because at the end of the day we all basically sucked!  Maybe it was from the alcohol being consumed or the distraction from watching the Blue Jays game at the same time which inhibited our concentration, but either way it was still fun.

After we finished playing the game (or more that we all just gave up) it was time for dessert which had been baked by my kids and my husband the night before.  They prepared all our favorite Passover treats (yes they do exist) one last time for the year before the holiday wrapped up.  As dessert was being served we were blessed with some more dear friends to join into the mix.  After the kids finished their dessert they left the adults to continue watching the Blue Jays game (and continue drinking) and they went off to play another board game, one that was probably not so age appropriate for all that participated!  Our friends eventually left and we cleaned up, got into our pj’s, got comfortable on the couch (Maggie included) and spent a half an hour deciding on what movie we should watch.  It was close to 1 am by this point, but we were committed to trying to stay up as long as we could.  After the movie finished everyone retired to their own beds.

There is definitely a very gratifying feeling when you know that your efforts are been rewarded or benefiting others.  Donating to charity or participating in its endeavors can be very empowering which is why they say it is better to give than to receive.  It allows someone the power to strengthen their own personal values and belief system by helping make someone else’s life better.  For me, this event definitely sanctioned a teachable moment for my children as well by having them share this experience with me and giving them the opportunity to see that they have the ability to make positive change in the world, no matter how big or small their undertaking is.

My evening was not about winning any type of race, or making sure that I stayed up all night, but instead it was about finding both my mental and moral strength and challenging myself to be a voice to a cause that is very near to my heart.  Most days for me being brave is often just having the ability to get out of bed, or face another day of uncertainty.  It is also knowing that there is no guarantee that I will find any sort of relief as every day feels like I am fighting for my life.  That is indisputably the most exhausting act of bravery.

Having depression and anxiety is not a weakness by any means but unfortunately it is still looked upon this way by many misunderstood and misguided people who cannot see mental illness as a real illness.  Knowing the battle I endure daily by the stigma of mental illness is probably my greatest act of bravery as I have opened up my world to you all by sharing my struggles and at the same time lending my voice to those who are still trying to find theirs.  This courageous act of bravery definitely has made me very vulnerable and susceptible to judgment, eye rolling and backs turned but it has also inspired a great deal of hope in others.  I also know that having my family with me through my journey is also one of the bravest things that they can do too and I love them all so much for being by my side #onebravenight at a time.

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