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Squeezing Lemons: Mental Health Week Musings, 2016

Out of all the luxuries I possess, the most valuable one I have to my name is one money can't buy: friends that get me.

I'm very privileged to have people in my life whose core values and beliefs are in line with my own.  Many of these individuals are women whom I've known for several years.  No matter the lengths of our respective relationships, I'm continually amazed with every new conversation how connected we really are.  Whether it's over brunch and mimosas or on the phone while I'm leaning backwards on the armrest of my sofa, there's never an absence of "I feel you" moments.  We're in different stages of relationships, careers, physical place and the like, but our socially-conscious, liberal millennial beliefs seem to only strengthen as we age.  I find so much comfort in that as I move toward avenues in my life that elevate me and provide visibility.  In the storm of new daily revelation about the world around me and myself, the excitement of discovery, and the re-traumatization that comes from digging deep, sharing a core alignment with women I can trust is a welcome constant.  No matter where I go, I know that my homegirls have my back.

With these friends, I can talk openly about perceptions, and ultimately about mental health on a wide spectrum.  We can laugh about the starving artist stereotype contrasted against the very viable option to work as a creative professional and make a decent living.  I can also sip cocktails in a safe space, saucy suits all around us, and recount the personal mental health struggled I've faced in my past with wide, focused eyes on me and utmost respect for the gravity of admission.  I've had both of these conversations in the last ten days.  The second, which happened at a low table in a candle-lit cocktail bar, was the first time I'd left my house in what feels like weeks.  I laughed with the other over the starving artist stereotype but I've done nothing but perpetuate it myself lately, only without being hungry.  Just lazy, or that's what it looks and feels like.  Instead of a starving artist I've been an overeating, wannabe-profitable freelance creative feeling overwhelmingly trapped by my own ideas.  I've been writing letters and poetry, taking mid-day naps, and in recent days I've been making an effort to mitigate my astronomical caffeine consumption of last week.  It's just before 10 pm on a Thursday night and I do have meetings tomorrow, so I'm pouring from a large pot of green tea because I need to get through this.  This post, if not my entire website update.  I've sat down with my new Squarespace template for several nights this week but I won't release it, even though it looks fantastic.  There's still a huge part of me thats holding back, who feels, in all honestly, a pull between the limitless potential of creative liberty and the resistance to the fear.  You didn't click "read" to hear me talk in code.  This is where I've been, and why this is taking so long.

 My dad and I sharing a birthday [cake] many moons ago.

My dad and I sharing a birthday [cake] many moons ago.

About a week and a half ago I was sitting in a coffee shop with a pen and my travel journal.  I was here, in my hometown.  The cafe is just about six blocks from my home and it was a Tuesday night.  Pretty uneventful.  I had gotten halfway through my first watch of Beyonce's Lemonade and my wifi had cut out as soon as my roommates got home from work.  Frustrated (as I would be) I headed out to steal wifi and proceed with the rest of my mind-blowing process.  Lemonade released a lot of feelings for me.  They came from a lot of places in my heart, in my mind, but from the irrefutable power in songs like 'Freedom' and sheer vulnerability in songs like 'Sandcastles', my pain and frustration were summoned as figures who sat on the couch with me on that early evening, and they talked to me as I wrote each thing they said down.  I know that's weird, but stay with me.  This particular Tuesday was April 26th, which is my father's birthday.  It's a week after mine and each year that day brings up different feelings for me.  My father and I were close.  His time in my life was cut short in 2007 when he lost a very brave fight to lung cancer, albeit one that started and ended in stage IV.  I was 15 years old when he passed away and this winter will mark my life without him at a full decade.  It was a severely traumatic loss for me which, without a doubt, shaped the rest of my life like nothing else.  His death held me back but also propelled me forward in ways and onto avenues I never expected I would go.  With the help of psychic mediums and the innate ability of my own intuition, my relationship with my father has continued after his death.  What followed this day has been the culmination of what's thrown me for a mental loop, but it would be so incomplete to describe April 26th without mentioning the significance of the date.

I wrote some hugely cathartic poetry that night.  I kept my headphones in, streaming Tidal with Lemonade on repeat while I burned through nearly 20 pages nonstop.  I had no sense of time.  Madly, I liberated my woes via pen and paper as I found enlightenment.  I can only describe it as that without undercutting any facet of the experience.  I saw the light.  I don't think it was a coincidence that one of the most majestic sunsets graced the sky that evening and I could see it straight out the window from where I sat.  I was covered in pure light, and felt nothing but light within me.  I had the answers.  It made sense.  I found peace.  I believe that my dad was having a party up in heaven and he was letting me hear the music.  I was happy he was dancing, singing, and playing acoustic guitar like he used to.  My heart was dancing, too.

As an unexpected byproduct of my enlightenment experience, I conceived the idea for a business venture on my walk home that night.  I was carrying a box of pizza and the name of my future company dawned on me in that moment.  It just showed up.  I wasn't looking to find anything that night - most certainly not the beginnings of a heartfelt, self-sustaining business idea - and when I left my house earlier that afternoon it was for the sole selfish reason of demystifying the hype around Lemonade.  Pop culture made me do it.  My wifi made me do it.  Beyonce made me do it.  No shame.  It was hard for me to process what was really coming out of it, but I snapchatted myself throughout the night as an attempt to try.  I came home, ate my pizza, and made coffee.  I was up until 4 in the morning drawing out ideas.  Madness.  When I started to slow down my Lemonade consumption, I supplemented with Drake, and Views wasn't even out yet.  This was the beginning of my systematic injection of Canadian power music for the aspiring young professional/anyone trying on their own ego for the first time/making friends with their identity, through headphones.  I can't take Drake's essence and shoot his swagger up with a syringe. (And with all due respect, Mr. Graham, I wouldn't want to.  It's unsanitary.)  Instead it's through music.  If You're Reading This It's Too Late became my collective power anthem.  The next morning, after 4 hours of sleep, I called my mother.  I essentially told her I figured it out.  I left out the stuff about my dad and being enlightened in a coffee shop, because my parents were divorced, my parents are catholic, and she'd think I was crazy.  But my mom accepts crazy from a manic I-have-this-big-idea standpoint because she gets that.  We haven't seen eye-to-eye for my most of my life, but on this level, my mom gets me.  And on April 27th, after 2 very exciting hours of pouring my soul out through the phone, she got me.  I got her approval and undying support, things I've admittedly searched and wished and hoped for from her my whole life and thought I'd go to my grave without.  She got me.  I finally knew my mama has my back.

I've made some moves in the last month or so that have looked pretty questionable out of context.  I fired my therapist.  It wasn't anywhere as dramatic as it sounds; realize that the therapist's objective is to work themselves out of a job.  And she did.  I did.  I realized that my therapy journey had to end where it did, at least for now, because any further would hurt me more than it would help.  I needed to release my [perceived] accountability to other people for my own progress and success.  I needed to feel true happiness without having to analyze it.  What it comes down to is trusting myself, which I haven't been able to do for much of my life.  When agency and self-reliance were first ruled out for me environmentally, they later got ruled out by myself.  My inability to trust myself has prevented me from trusting other people.  I've created my own barriers to unimpeded happiness and intimacy out of fear.  This whole year, transition, journey, however you want to blanket-term my year of early retirement of based around the fact that I don't want to be miserable anymore.  I want to be truly happy.  And so by choosing love, I'm fighting fear, and I had to break free from my own constraints to do that.

What goes up must come down.  Without exaggeration, I've spent the last nine days questioning my entire life.  Arguably I've been doing that since November.  But I began to wonder what the fuck I was doing.  What had I turned myself into.  How - by delving deeper into my past to understand my origins and how they contribute to the truest representation of myself as I know me to be - did I move so far away from my core principles?  How did getting more in touch with me put me out of touch with the people around me?  How, in the thick of such a proactive commitment to finding out what I'm really made of, did I get to the conclusion that nothing matters anymore?  Because that's where it led.  I collapsed, suddenly alone without the supports I decided I didn't need anymore.  The things that made me happy weren't filling the massive black hole inside me.  They were designed to pass time and give me a sense of purpose.  It wasn't long before an entire day could only suffice had a day, then an hour, then ten minutes.  I drove myself crazy.  I drowned myself in the spaces in between, the lack of structure in my life - yet I knew that this would be so much worse if there were structure in my life.  A job, a serious boyfriend, a volunteer schedule I actually stuck to.  I walked out on all of that at the end of last year, and beginning of this journey, because I knew I couldn't do it anymore.  I was passing time with shit that I hated.  That's why I decided to gravitate towards things that I loved.

It was something I needed to do, and the consequences make sense.  I only recently began to recall my past anxiety from when I was still working and how it would mount at the end of multiple days off.  I remember having said to many people close to me that I'd go nuts if I ever stayed home and didn't work.  Maybe I thought I'd already gone nuts, so I couldn't get anymore nuts.  And I really didn't.  I found what I was looking for.  The truth.  The answers.  And the peace and love and limitless light that I found on April 26th aside, the truth has not been pretty.  I've had very heavy realizations about my past, my family, myself, friendships and relationships I've lost and memories I previously wasn't able to place that have stopped me in my tracks.  I've broken down in public.  I've felt paralyzed in my own bed for days.  I've lashed out and I've succumbed to impulsive, erratic behaviour when I know so much better and I'm actively striving for SO much better.  Mental illness is fluid.  You don't snap your fingers when you decide you're ready to start recovering and suddenly all the pain is in the past.  It's a process that takes years.  As Leona Lewis sang 8 years ago (!), it's gonna hurt when it heals, too.  I asked for this.  Without blaming or shaming myself, nor playing any kind of victim, this is exactly what I was looking for.  I'm not getting up and going to a job everyday, and that privilege is an insane one to have in this economy.  Yet I will still have the audacity to admit to you, whoever you are, that this is hard.  I am struggling.  I have persevered in the past and will continue to do so, but this is still the hardest work I've ever done.  Yes, I am lucky to be able to commit to this journey using all of the methods I have at my disposal, without interruption.  But at the end of this, there is pain.  There is tremendous pain and I am traumatized, I am confused, and I am hurt.  I am healing.  I am choosing to be vulnerable and transparent in the only way I've known to be both safe and accepting of the whole truth, which ironically for me has been the internet.  It is still easier to do this than trust completely.  But this is my process.  I will get there.  In time.

 I was lying in bed after a particularly difficult Sunday and I left my house to capture this blaze across the sky.  Sometimes it's just what you've gotta do.  I'm glad I did.

I was lying in bed after a particularly difficult Sunday and I left my house to capture this blaze across the sky.  Sometimes it's just what you've gotta do.  I'm glad I did.

What's important is this.  As hard as the last nearly two weeks have been on me, I can't quit this.  I will never fucking quit this.  Uncertainty is painful but it has to be carried.  You can't fix it, change it, or move it along at the pace you choose.  As much as I feel like I'm going nowhere, I know the fruits of my labor are ready and I have a very exciting two weeks ahead.  There are no accidents.  My flight reservations are booked and final, and I leave on a plane in less than two weeks to the biggest climactic adventure of my life.  I'll admit right here that I haven't been excited.  That's a product of what I've been going through, and it makes sense, yet that's still hard for me to confess even with the facts because I know how selfish it all sounds.  The days are still long.  But I will get to next Monday because this upcoming trip is going to push and pull me in all the ways that I need to be right now.  I don't know who's going to be flying back into YYC in July with my passport in her possession.  I don't want to know right now.  But whoever she is, and by extension whoever is going to be writing blog posts for me on my behalf at that time, she'll be who I'm supposed to be.  And I'm ready for that.

I appreciate everyone's patience and support who I've confided in at any point so far in this process.  Creatively, too, I'm incredibly grateful for everyone that I've been able to lean on for guidance and the other creatives that have inspired me.  This endeavour is so personal and I can't be more blessed to have a circle that wants to see me happy and succeed by way of what's in my heart.  There's a lot of stuff making headlines right now, but until this Sunday it's Mental Health Week.  It's a really important time that I try to utilize every year, if not to raise awareness on mental health issues in ways I can, I use it to check my own health and be mindful of my recovery journey and what lies ahead for me.  Soon to follow this post will be my newly-updated website - seriously now - and it will include my bio page.  That is the page I have been neglecting to complete.  I'm coming out with the reality of my mental illness and that's incredibly hard for me, but because my experiences have shaped so much of my work and the trajectory of where I plan to go with my career, I don't want to set myself up in the dark.  The objective of mental health awareness is to take apart the stigma that surrounds mental illness.  It is debilitating just like physical illness.  But the critical piece to that is that people living with mental illness are still able to achieve, conquer, and do great things.  We can empower the 1 in 5 living in our communities among us without negating the reality of their challenges.  It's critical that we understand the prevalence and the effect of mental illness, but remove its place as a barrier to understanding, to love, and to achievement.  We are ALL worthy and capable of love in its every form.  Love for and from others, and love for ourselves.  The objective of recovery, I believe, is less about maintaining wellness to function by society's standards and more about coming to peace with how mental illness has shaped us as people.  Wellness is the whole picture.  The goal is to be well, to be good, but the journey to getting there will include slips and falls.  We deserve to navigate our own recoveries with love and understanding for ourselves and to remove the societally-imposed barriers of what recovery is supposed to look and feel like.  Our loved ones also deserve the right information in order to give us what we need.  That in itself is so individual and its so diverse, just as our illnesses, diagnoses, and ailments are varied and the way those labels and analyses manifest in each of us.  We need the space and support to figure out our own needs, and strengthen, sometimes even rebuild the bonds we have with those in our lives.  That's the work - it goes back to being better people, and facilitating networks for positive exchange.  Ultimately, the journey out of hell is the journey back to us.

It will look different for each of us.  I understand that the majority of people can't take a year-long staycation and find themselves in the type of fantastical vision quest that I got to set on.  It comes at a personal cost - namely the weight of your whole life's pain with no relief through work, school, or an alternate focus.  The weight of literally every single thing you do being personal.  The burden of holding yourself prisoner the way you've always done in your mind, manifested into real life.  The hope comes from the fact that everything ends.  By the end of this year, I'll have to go back to work.  The hope comes from knowing it's a choice.  Life itself, the things you do, the people you associate with.  The hope comes from the opportunity to choose differently every day no matter what kind of mistakes you will humanly make.  The hope comes from all the new ways we learn how to love each other as a society, no matter our illnesses.  I don't know where I'm going with this.  I need to stop because I have a bio page I need to finish.  But yeah.  Thank you to everyone I love.  And I really am grateful for every day I have, even though some days are harder than others.