Nine years ago, I started a blog so that  I could write away my problems.

I did write away my problems.

I’m proud of myself that for the past nine years, even when it was minimal, even if I only dropped in one time in a month, I have written through joys, difficulties, happiness, and so on. It’s been a complicated nine years in a lot of ways and I’ve gone through so much. I’m happy I took the time to come back here.

Happy anniversary to myself. Here’s to more documentation of the struggles of my life.

If you’ve been reading, thanks for reading!

#BellLetsTalk

Life is hard. Life with mental illness is harder. Talking about mental illness, engaging those who are struggling without judgment, is going to make a hard life just a little bit easier a burden to carry on one’s shoulders.

I just wanted to give thanks to Bell Mobility for opening up the conversation and having those from all over the world contributing to mental wellness, helping to open up conversations.

I’m not going to tell you a story of how mentally unwell I am. I have had bouts of deep-rooted confidence issues – because I’m a survivor of abuse, because I was bullied so intensely growing up and was isolated from my peers. It takes me ages to get over things like breakups, falling-outs and the feeling of making a mistake. I’m hard on myself. I look in the mirror and don’t think I’m pretty. I binge eat or don’t eat. Life is hard. Do I have mental illness? Not that I’ve been diagnosed with. But I can, in just a small way, relate to the inward struggles of those who do. Sometimes, life is just a bit harder than it normally is. That’s life, but it doesn’t mean struggles of any kind should be trivialized or minimized. Yes, it’s life. But sometimes it helps to talk about it.

Let’s carry the momentum of #BellLetsTalk day year-round – lets’s focus on mental wellness and de-stigmatizing mental illness every day. Don’t let people you care about, or anyone really, walk through their challenges alone.

My 2017 To-Do List.

We all have grand ambitions at the commencement of each new year. I do too (deal) and I try to keep my to-dos-before-the-end-of-the-year as manageable and realistic as possible. I try not to make them specific items that cost money (like “buy a car” for example). I try not to make them things that cost me time with those I care about. And I try and relate them back to my overall goals of who I want to be, what kind of educator, woman, partner and aspiring runner I hope to see myself as by this time next year. Here’s my list:

  1. Run two half-marathons
  2. Drive the California coast
  3. Be the best substitute teacher I can be, considering I’ve never done it before and I’m terrified
  4. Fit my jeans from three years ago
  5. Do one month of sobriety
  6. Get a drastic haircut
  7. Move back to where I currently consider home
  8. See at least 5 concerts
  9. Travel to see at least one of those aforementioned 5 concerts
  10. Maintain a legit adult budget
  11. Sort out all the copious amounts of my belongings that I’ve left at my parents’ house and get rid of/donate at least 50% of it to charity
  12. Go skiing at least once

My Christmas and/or End-of-2016 Message.

This as not a good year. We lost so much. We lost hope, progress, artistry, homes, lives, families, and so much else. I think of Fort McMurray burning to the ground, cars vacating through a monsoon of ash, a veritable cliff of fire. I think of praying for the first female president and not realizing how badly I wanted to live that historic moment before I saw it dramatically slip away. I think of David Bowie, one of the most creative ingenues of our time, gone. And Leonard Cohen. And Prince. And every other brilliantly  creative, smart, wonderful soul, famous and not famous, who are no longer with us as we count down to 2016 in these precious final days.

I think of how personally, my year was filled, at least in the beginning, with catastrophic emotional distress. I remember the day I left Edmonton after Christmas break last year and getting home realizing I had no idea there were so many tears. Another monsoon, this one of tears that fell from un-fulfilled wishes, loneliness that was so heavy it forced me onto the ground and I couldn’t rise up, not for hours. I was jealous and bitter at my beautiful partner for having so much of what I didn’t – success, family, friends, a certain kind of career comfort level, accolades… and there I was, living in a place I hated, alone, with an apartment consisting of my belongings strewn on the floor, with not even a couch. The darkness of that place. The chill. The lack of life, mine or anyone else’s. And there I was, stranded. Feeling like a failure as a partner, a teacher, a woman. That lasted for months. It began then, it ended in June, and I was off.

As summer bloomed and progressed, I still had little, but I made the most of my time with friends, family, and love. My sister got married, my partner’s brother got married, friends got engaged, I drove 22 1/2 hours from Seattle to Spokane, through Idaho, up through the Kootenays, through the Crowsnest Pass, and back through southern Alberta, all in a day. I ran my second half-marathon with mixed results. I returned to the place I loved for three glorious weeks and visited the coast, friends, sunshine. Then I returned to work in September and depended upon the immense kindness of extended family who were so good to me in my weeks of transitioning to a move to Red Deer, Alberta (another move). My world was different again. Better, this time. MUCH better. And suddenly, I too saw success, accolades, a certain kind of career comfort level, family, friends… but I was still away, still stranded, still at times letting that monsoon all go, still wanting to be where I belong.

And then, it happened.

What was 2016 about? What is Christmas about? To me, both of them are about a perfect and true amalgamation of the past and present. We are visited by three ghosts every holiday season – all of us are. We revisit ghosts of the past year, our past memories – for better or for worse – and are reminded of what is good, what was bad, and what joys or sorrows have returned again. We are visited by Christmas Present – a reminder of those who have less than we do, especially around the holidays, a reminder of who is important in our lives, and a chance to tell everyone we care about just how much they mean to us. And we’re confronted with Christmas Future –  a glimpse ahead of what could potentially happen in the new year, and what change we want, and what changes we’re fatigued by. We always feel like we have this golden opportunity for reinvention. It’s January 1 and suddenly we join gyms, download budget apps, apply for new career opportunities, throw out all the packs of cigarettes in the house. Dump the vodka down the sink. Do these things last? Sometimes. But it’s the hope. It’s the hope that it will.

To anyone who reads this, my Christmas message is this:

Revisit the past without dwelling on it. Be fair to those who in retrospect are either villainous or overly heroic in your own present-day eyes. Enjoy memories with clear-eyed hindsight and sympathy.

Revel in the present because next year, the present too, shall be a memory. The more you enjoy the present, the better that memory will be. The more you enjoy the present, the more you will appreciate the abundance of family, food, drinks, friends and joy that surround you this holiday season, no matter how big or small that abundance may be.

And, consider the future lightly – without pressure, expectation or demand. Give the future space to breathe while still maintaining an aura of mystery.

Happy Holidays. Happy New Year.

“Home”.

Life is full of lessons.

We see them plastered on bathroom walls, we hear them from our teachers, mentors, parents, friends. We see them in the form of pretty, artfully decorated quotes on social media. We are always absorbing concrete lessons, tiny pieces of information, like flecks of edible gold on the dessert that is our lives.

It is oft-said that the most important of these lessons, are in addition, the hardest to learn. And that lessons have to be understood, felt, in order to be learned. I could sit and talk at someone for hours about their horrible boyfriend, the job they complain about constantly, the friend who is always taking advantage of their money or time. But until they live those consequences – innately and deeply feel and absorb them to the core of their mind, body or soul… that lesson will still be tough to understand and appreciate. Any other lessons, advice, quotes, are all just smoke and mirrors, lies, illusions, unless they are felt, followed.

For the last two years, I have been struggling to figure out what possible lesson being stressed, bored, closed-in, away from loved ones, and drowning in sorrow and bitterness have taught me. “What doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger” seems too trite and obvious. And anyway, often that is not true. Sometimes what doesn’t kill you makes you feel like you’re holding onto the edge but that edge is slipping away beneath your fingers until there is nothing left to hold. If there is a ‘God’, I don’t know what His plan is for me, to have to be so miserable in this, my life, the precious few years of my twenties and early thirties where I should still have vibrancy and hope, and I shouldn’t be jaded and bitter and curled up in the fetal position every sleepless night, waiting for some magical ‘way out’ of my situation. Being happy where you’re at without reaching for happiness out in the distance and being grateful for the ‘good’ things in life might be another lesson that one could pull from this dreary cesspool of sadness. But, at the end of the day, none of this seems to be enough.

But the other day, I had a conversation.

My beautiful boyfriend has called Vancouver ‘home’ for ten years before moving home in 2015 to pursue teaching and save money. That December, he was ripped away from the comforting confines of friends, a twenty-something lifestyle of fun and weeknight drinking, a neighbourhood and apartment he loved, a girlfriend who was starting a short-term contract job in January, all for the sake of finding stability. And at times, he’s so grateful for that stability because of the success he feels, the income, the permanence, something he’s never had in the Neverland that is Vancouver. And yet, he’s still left without those amazing friends, the neighbourhood, the apartment that smells like home, the familiarity of your favourite hangouts, that walk to the bus stop every morning, friends just dropping by out of nowhere on their own way home from their coffee shop job.

Vancouver was home for me too, but only for a short time. And while I miss the city – its beauty, the Stanley Park seawall, my own favourite restaurants and views and bars and daily walks and my own sunny, cozy, ocean view apartment, I remember how it was for me at times when I had that 3-month contract job; I hated the commute every morning because it was an hour on that crowded train and I would often be seasick or tired; I felt useless and frustrated at my job there because I never had any work. I literally felt sometimes, that I was paid to do nothing. And while some believe that’s ‘living the dream’, it is lonely to feel so undervalued in your day-to-day life. I’d rather have been paid nothing at all, and spent each precious hour of each precious day doing what I wanted to do and going where I wanted to go. My friends left during that time and approaching summer, most of them had moved to try and find their own definition of stability. Back to Alberta, to Ontario, to the Kootenays… unfortunately, everywhere is more ‘stable’ than Vancouver. I worked my own precious ‘stable’ job, using the income I had to travel back and forth between Edmonton and Vancouver on weekends, to visit the person I loved with all my heart. I had collected every WestJet on-flight magazine. My heart would flare up with passion and excitement at the prospect of each and every one of these weekends. Heading back to Vancouver wasn’t ever difficult; but it was nevertheless, painful. Leaving the person you love is never, ever, not painful.

These days, I keep feeling as though I left ‘home’ when I left Vancouver. And even sometimes, while I was enjoying the vigor and excitement of Vancouver, I did still feel like Edmonton was ‘home’ and I had left it for this lack of security, this monstrosity of wealth and poverty, this sickness of wondering when I would find stability again like the stability I had with my career, my life, my friends, back in Alberta.

And then I lived in Edson. And now I live in Red Deer. Places where my family is far away, where I live alone in mostly-empty apartments, places where I exist without living, just for the sake of making the living that I don’t have a use for at home. I don’t go out. I don’t leave the house. I don’t do anything, because I have no one to do it with. I’ve gotten so in the habit of being at home all the time, I’ve changed as a person. I used to go home to sleep. Now I barely enjoy leaving the house, even to go grab the milk I forgot on the way home. And I miss the people I love, the people who bring me vibrance and vigor and happiness, the people that I can talk to for hours and not run out of things to talk about, the person I want to kiss goodnight every night for the rest of my life.

The important lesson to learn from all this is also trite, but one of the most valuable lessons I have ever, or could ever, learn: home is not a place; it’s a person. Home is sitting on the couch with the person you love, one of you watching TV, one of you surfing the internet, both of you in neat and perfect silent comfort; home is those late-night talks following watching The Bachelor with your best friend. Home is board games with your siblings. Home is going out to your favourite karaoke bars with the people you loved hanging out with in high school, doing crosswords at the Second Cup that was down the street from where you lived when you were 19, home is Oilers games and drinks with friends and knowing where you’re going when you get in the car.

Home is the best thing there is. No matter what it looks like, who it entails, what the cost is to obtain it, who you spend time with. HOME is not just a silly concept that you sew into a needlepoint and hang on the wall; it is everything.

And so, when you don’t have a home, physical or metaphorical, you have nothing.

cynicism.

I have been cynical about many things for a long time. And sometimes my cynicism has been proven incorrect. And sometimes not.

I stopped believing in “love” and then I met the person who proved me wrong; that love does exist, but it’s finding the person to love you and who loves you in return, is a journey of soul-searching, openness and acceptance.

I stopped believing in “bffs” because my two best friends stabbed me deeply, multiple times, and not just in the back. But then after some reflecting I realized I do have “bffs” – three of them. And they’ve been my friends since the beginning of my adult life, the beginning of my life as a city girl, who saw me through the challenging times and who I can trust and tell anything to. And they may not have been the “bffs” I thought were in my life, but they are even better and I shouldn’t take old friendships for granted just because of the ebbs and flows and locations they transition through.

I was cynical about the world; about people; about the government, and war, and when truths about the planet and disenfranchised people would be uncovered. And then Barack Obama was elected. And now I feel cynical all over again that someone who is even worse than George W. Bush has been elected, and now sits in the drivers’ seat of the most powerful vehicle on the planet. And now my cynicism runs deep and full and sad. It has made me suspicious and angry and frustrated and perplexed. What gives me hope are outlets for our pain; artists, comedians, sympathetic ears online and in person, and the fact that there are marches of thousands who refuse to accept or believe that Trump is theirs. And yet, still, I am cynical.

I’m cynical because I’m stuck out here in a life I hate because financially, I can’t have the life I want. And nobody deserves that life more than me. I want to wake up next to the person I love every single day. It’s all I want but seems impossible to ask for, or hope for, at this point. I watch my happiness, my exciting life, my vibrancy, my youth, slipping away because I threw it all away for a career that I wanted, which is one of the most competitive career fields, one where people like me are constantly griping like I am, about the lack of work, the lack of ‘good’ options. It’s exhausting.

So I say a silent prayer (though I’m not religious) for someone, or something, to take the cynical pieces of me and transform them into floating feathers that will soar into the sky when carried by the wind. It’s all I have right now and I need something soft and uplifting to keep me moving forward.

 

Places that Shaped Me.

Everyone has “special places” in their lives that they think of during difficult times. I’ve felt displaced so often in the last year and a half, that finding those places again has felt like clinging to a cliff face desperately trying to keep a hold on some solid ground but constantly feeling like I’m falling. I haven’t felt ‘at home’ in a ‘place’ since I left Vancouver in the summer of 2015. It’s been a long road home since then; so long I don’t really know what “home”, or the concept of “home” really looks or feels like anymore. I’m just kind of floating through space and time wondering when that feeling of comfort will take me back in again from the rainy doorstep on which I stand.

But lately I’ve had the fortunate opportunity of visiting old places again. I’ve been back in areas of Edmonton where I used to live, the gym I used to hold a membership for, the apartments I once lived in, and everywhere I look in those places, I see ghosts of former homes that were once mine, lifetimes and lifetimes ago.

Some of those places include:

The Don Wheaton Y.M.C.A. In 2010-2011, I lost almost 80lb and actually, I have kept most of that weight off. The Don Wheaton YMCA was my first gym; it was the first time I had ever stepped onto a treadmill or a bike, the first time I had ever done a fitness class, the first time I ever realized that much of my potential, my efforts, my self-esteem could be so vastly planted and grown. And it was, in this building. Sometimes, despite that it’s a $15 drop-in fee, I’ll still choose to work out there.

The University of Alberta. I continuously tell my students that my years at University of Alberta were the absolute best five years of my life. University is so much more than just a great education; it’s diversity, truths, learning who you are, what you believe, how you think, how you cope, how to pick your poison, and how to (and how not to) fall in love and make friends. The  U of A is so much more than just a school. It for me, was home. Haven. Safety. Fun. Adventure. Loss. Love. Stress. Rewards. Every building of that campus holds a significant memory for me; Wednesday and Tuesday RATT nights, where we tried to bribe the bartender to be on the regulars board (RATT was also where I had my horrid first-ever kiss); HUB mall where I would see my first love and chit-chat before class and I’d be blushing and trying not to make an idiot of myself the entire time; the Central Academic Building where I used to skip my introductory Anthropology class just so I could have lunch with three of my best friends from my floor; the Education building, where I also used to meet my friends twice a week for epic lunch dates with those epic, epic sandwiches; Biological Sciences, that ugly old hot mess of a building, the source of many of campus’ urban legends and stories and lore — before I ever even went to campus, I knew about Bio-Sci. And the one or two times I had to venture in there, I found much of the stories to be true, at least in a minor capacity. The University of Alberta was, is, and always will be a home for me. I wouldn’t be me, without the green and gold part of me.

Blackbyrd Myoozik. The first time I ever set foot in a record store, it was this one, back in 2005. I had $50 in the bank and spent $35 of that on “Cold Roses” on vinyl and I never regretted it. This object with its embossed gatefold cover, those shiny black grooves and sunset-coloured label. It was my first vinyl and obviously not my last. Whenever I’m on Whyte Avenue, I just enjoy spending time in this place. It is what I consider to be my first record store, one of the best record stores ever, and a staple of my Edmonton life and what ended up being my identity by the time my twenties were over.

My first real apartment. Back when my two friends and I first rented an apartment that wasn’t a residence, we all shared this reasonably sized, clean two-bedroom unit right behind Whyte Avenue with a balcony. It was $750/month, split three ways. In that apartment I discovered what it meant to ‘adult’ – to cook, to clean, to share, to compromise, to get annoyed with people you live with but love them anyway, to put up with shit, or not, and finally when I left I was ready to go because sometimes roommates and friends are different things and if you’d like to preserve the former, the latter has to be finished. I’m still friends (VERY close friends, actually) with the two friends I shared my first real apartment with.

O’Byrnes Irish Pub. Dancing, getting drunk, making out with sketchy randoms on New Year’s Eve, requesting lame songs from the 1970s and 80s, meeting a guy I went on a date with who never called me again, finding out about a friend of a friend’s illegitimate child while we all squealed about the amazing piece of gossip we’d just come upon, the bar where my sister and her husband had their first date, the bar where a former friend betrayed the shit out of me by going on a semi-kind of date with the guy who smashed the shit out of my heart, the bar where they have the most amazing fries and curry dip, the bar where I had my first Guiness, so many St. Patrick’s Days, Halloweens, birthdays, sing-alongs, random makeouts, wild nights that didn’t end until 3 a.m… O’Byrnes is the bar that for me, holds the most memories. In many ways, it was my Central Perk, by McLaren’s.