Eat Worms

So since my depression and anxiety have decided to start causing a ruckus in my head as of late, which is pretty par for the course this time of year, I’m finding I have quite a bit to write about (my series of posts about my indoctrination into so-called Christianity and the dude who brought it into my life is proving very emotionally difficult to write about, so I’m procrastinating on a scale of epic proportions as far as that goes).

So I realized today yet another insidious way that depression and anxiety creep into my head with their lies. I’m “in school” at the moment to become a riding teacher/generally awesome horseback rider, and as such I’m spending a lot of time watching my teacher teach other people, not to mention riding myself and doing general horsey things every day. This means being around a lot of little girls and their parents, and we’ve all kind of drawn together into a really fun, silly, passionate horsey community, which is so, so awesome. 

But lately, I’ve noticed that these lies that are pouring into my head revolve largely around the thoughts that nobody likes me and everybody thinks I’m weird. (One of the keys I’ve found to weeding out bullshit is when the words “always,” “never, ” “nobody,” “everybody,” and the like are used. Because reality is never that black and white.) And so lately, I’ve been spending a stupid amount of energy trying to appear “normal.” It is, not surprisingly, exhausting.

It’s this fear that if I don’t maintain this perfectly normal, easy, palatable exterior, if I somehow let the supposed ugliness inside me slip out, even for a second, people will be baffled, shocked and horrified by what they’ve seen. They’ll draw back from me, initially puzzled, but then maintain a distance because, wow, she’s truly. . .what? Irrevocably, fucked up. Ugly. Hideous. So, so weird. And so on.

One of the things I love most about my fiance, and one of his greatest lessons for me, is how he truly doesn’t care what anyone thinks about him. He is just himself, no matter who he’s around, no matter what the situation. Me being a people-pleaser who always tried to be “nice,” (barf) and who is always acutely aware of the energy around me that emanates from other people, I’ve always subconsciously tried to keep everything smooth and balanced around me (also exhausting), even to the detriment of myself. So watching my fiance in action, tracking his game, I’ve learned so much. It took me forever to give myself the permission to stop caring what other people think of me, and to just be. And how can I even express the feeling of freedom its given me? I really can’t. There are no words.

So why, now, is all this progress I’ve made ebbing away from me? Why am I suddenly, again, so worried about what other people think of me? I guess because something inside me, fundamentally, feels like its changed. Before the depression and anxiety came a-calling, I felt good inside. There was a softness, a self-love that was growing. A clarity of who I am and what I’m about, stemming right from the seat of my soul, and my gaze was steady, because it was authentic, pure. It all spoke for itself, and I felt no need to justify any of it with words. But that’s different now. I feel cloudy, unsure, ugly, stupid. And I think its one of those what-came-first-the-lizard-or-the-egg things, because is it that I actually am different and therefore less happy with myself, or is it that I’m anxious and nervous and therefore have become less confident in myself, therefore I have changed? I don’t know yet.

So today my “higher brain,” my “adult self” if you will, took over, and I just breathed deep and reminded myself of all the work I’ve done, of who I am, unclouded by depression or anxiety or any lies this illness whispers in the darkness, that this will pass, and I just remembered who I am. To just be. To keep it simple, and to remember that there will always (yes, always, in this case) be haters who will judge and snark and be generally shitty. And it has nothing to do with me.

The Segregation of the Epileptic and Feeble-Minded

Winter is upon me again, and as such I feel inclined to write a post about my fight with my depression.

I noticed it about a month ago; a slight, almost imperceptible dip in my mood, my confidence, my self-assurance (which I don’t have much of to begin with). But here’s where it gets tricky. Was it the shortening days, the lack of light? Or was it the bullshit going on at work at the time? Then, a couple weeks later, when I got into a really stupid car accident (no one was hurt; it was just stupid), and I felt like I had been punched through my solar plexus, my mood and confidence slipped even further. I’ve mostly recovered from that, being a sensitive person, but what I’ve noticed is that it’s taking me longer to shake things off. I’m worrying more, doubting more, feeling confused and cloudy. Feeling like people think I’m weird, that everyone must be able to tell that there’s something off about me. These feelings have literally sprung up as if from nowhere in the last month or so.

So. I’ve started taking these “sunshine vitamins,” which have all this good stuff in them: chamomile, St. John’s Wort, Vitamin D (of course), and zinc. I’ve started using my sun lamp for hours at a time, just training it on my face while I read or sit at my computer, whereas in the past I just sat under it for twenty minutes for a day, being bored. And the self discipline of going out and doing things that I know I’ll love and have fun doing, even though every fibre of my being is screaming that the world is going to end, we’re all going to die a horrible fiery death, and that I should just stay home because nobody likes me and everybody thinks I’m weird and bad and oh-so horrible. Of course.

And, of course, the gentleness. The compassion with and for myself. For being less than perfect. For sometimes just needing to curl up because I’m so, so tired. But not as much as I want to. Because what my depression tells me I need is often the worst thing for me. As much as I can curl up with a book and read for hours and hours and hours, I still need to go out and do things. Interact. Women are creatures of community, and though my personal community is often furry and four-legged, this stands to be so, so true in my life.

Something occurred to me today as well. Sure, the discipline, the compassion, the vitamins, the sun lamp, they’re all important. But so is having fun. Going out and doing things that are just that. Simple. Lighthearted. Silly.

And so I’ll end this with this crazy thing I saw a few days ago. Because even though our culture has a long way to go in its understanding of depression and mental illness. . .at least we don’t live in a time when this is where we would have ended up – buried in a silent wood in what is basically an unmarked grave. Shamefully hidden. Rejected. Forgotten.

http://www.scoutingny.com/a-mental-asylum-cemetery-hidden-in-the-woods/

We’ve Got to Believe That God is Sane, Davey Boy: Part Two

He had come into Dregs a couple times when I first noticed him. I always worked from five in the evening to one in the morning, which was definitely the most interesting shift. Poetry, music, artists oozing out the walls. Spice in the air. He looked to be around my age. Tall and wiry (my favourite), with brown hair that looked half-dreaded, green eyes. Tattoo on his left shoulder of his Irish clan. A smile that lit up the room. My room, anyways. I noticed him once, he talked to me the second time. Asked me if I was the girl who was writing a story. I found this funny, because I do write stories, but I wasn’t the girl he was asking about. I told him as much, but it started a conversation anyway.

To say we had an instant connection would be untrue, though it’s what I felt most dramatically that we had back then. The thing was, I was pinging off the walls with creative energy in general at the time, and I think that if you had put me in front of a parking metre and told me to talk to it, I would have come away feeling inspired. We did share some thoughts and it was sort of interesting, but I think deep down I was projecting what I wanted to see onto him, rather than what was actually there. If I had had been more objective and kept my eyes open, maybe I would have seen the warning signs. But a silly part of my brain was going, “Oooo! Cute boy! With a tattoo! And a nice body! He must be interesting and creative and sweet and intelligent and a good boyfriend and healthy and amazing and perfect in every single way that I’ve always dreamed! Maybe he’s The One!” Yeah. Like I said.

Which isn’t to say that this boy, whose name was James by the way, lacked any and all interesting qualities or creativity. Something I’ve noticed in the intervening time, having spent a ridiculous amount of time around fanatically religious people, is that some of them do have interesting qualities, funny sides, silly sides, caring and awesome sides – but they’re bafflingly unaware of it. And I guess it isn’t baffling at all, when you understand. They see their lives as something that needs to be squeezed into a mould shaped exactly like Jesus (which is what, exactly?), and anything that doesn’t conform to their idea of what that is, like excess dough on the outside of a cookie cutter, gets sloughed away and reformed, hopefully into a Jesus-shaped cookie next time. And we’re not talking about manna cookies here. Or even chocolate chip. More like plain shortbread cookies with too much flour and unsalted butter.

So we talked, and at the time I thought there were major sparks. I made my interest clear to him, which has always kind of been my modus operandi when it comes to boys I’ve liked. Let them know before you’re too attached, so if they don’t return your interest, it’s far easier to shrug it off and move on. Maybe that seems like a healthy, brave way to be. . .I don’t know. What I do know is that I have a tendency to fall hard for guys, and I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit pining over a couple of them in the past, wondering and wishing and hoping, analyzing “the signs” and microscopically picking apart every single thing they did and said and didn’t do and say, and by the time I actually got up the nerve to ask them out, months had gone by, and they had moved on from any initial attraction which may have been there, because why would they wait around for someone who showed zero interest in them, and probably laughed like a nervous hyena every time they were around her? So I was obvious, and he seemed to return the interest, if mildly. I suggested we hang out, and I broke things off with another guy I was casually seeing at the time. I just “somehow knew” that I wanted to be with this new guy, James. We hung out a couple times, and I think it was within a week or two of meeting each other that we were officially a couple. He told me very early on that he was a Christian, and it definitely raised some warning flags for me. You don’t often hear of Pagans and Christians dating, mainly because most Christians think we’re Satan worshippers – consciously or unconsciously. So why would someone want to date a person who chooses to be so completely wrong about their faith, who won’t listen to the facts? But I knew that there are some Christians out there who are more open minded – one of my coven mates was married at the time to a cool, open minded Christian guy – who wasn’t trying to convert her. So I figured I needed to be upfront with him, as he was with me. I told him straight up, “I’m a witch, and if that makes you at all uncomfortable or you feel the need to try and convert me, well, please don’t even bother. I’m comfortable with who I am.” I was way too nice back then. But he assured me it wasn’t an issue, so I thought, Cool, he’s one of the normal ones, and I (so very wrongly) thought that was that.

Before him, I had only had one serious relationship, and it had lasted nine months. In some ways it had been incredibly unhealthy, and it some ways, amazing and perfect. I lost my virginity right after my nineteenth birthday, August of 2000, to a guy named Arael, and this first boyfriend of mine, Trevor, and I got together in July of 2001, when I was almost twenty. In between him and Arael, I hadn’t had sex, so I was an almost-virgin. And the beauty of my first relationship was that Trevor didn’t make me feel any pressure at all to have sex before I was ready. So when it happened for the first time between us, in November of 2001, it was natural and organic, and very open and trusting.

Since Trevor and I broke up, I had had a couple casual one night stands and flings, but nothing loving or beautiful the way it had been, and I had yet to learn that not every committed relationship involves beautiful, sensual, mind-boggling lovemaking based on trust and deep, deep love. That lesson was coming sure and fast, though.

So in the beginning with James, I was in no rush to have sex, and I honestly believed that he would be as patient and caring as Trevor had been. He was my boyfriend, after all. Didn’t that automatically mean he cared deeply for me, and would completely respect the pace at which I felt I needed to move?

Turns out, no so much.

James was the complete opposite of my first boyfriend. He was in a rush. He was impatient. If I said no, he whined. Then begged. Then tried to manipulate me. And if none of that worked, he sulked. When we finally did it, it was awkward and felt very forced. But hey, I reasoned, sometimes it takes a while to get it right. But he was awkward and didn’t seem to understand what sex really was supposed to be like. And the more I learned about him, the more I saw why.

Unlike me, he had been raised hardcore religiously. His mother and father (divorced, which we’ll get to later) were born and raised Mennonite, which is a branch of Christianity that’s really prevalent in Manitoba. So this was the reality he had been raised in – small town Manitoba, very sheltered, very religious, very black and white. Sex was something you did once you were married, never before. And that was that. No other side to that argument. In The Neverending Story (the book), when Atreyu has to pass through the No-Key Gate, he first looks through a crack between door and door frame and sees what he’s looking for on the other side. But when he walks around the door (which stands by itself in the plains), all he sees is more empty land on the other side. That’s what I’m reminded of when I think about how most Christians view certain things in life, like sex before marriage. There is no other side to the argument. It’s simply the way it is.

James, however, had decided shortly before I met him to lose his virginity despite not being married. He had had a short-lived fling with a co-worker, and they had done the deed a few times. He also told me he watched a lot of porn. I didn’t bat an eye at any of this; I was relieved that he wasn’t still a virgin, and that he was capable of independent thought, despite being religious. What I didn’t know at the time was that his group of friends – also very Christian – didn’t know about his descent into sinful delight, and they sure as hell didn’t know about me.

So we continued on in the bliss of a new relationship, spending tons of time together and missing each other when we were apart. He came into Dregs almost every night when I was working, and I was ridiculously twitterpated, divinely distracted, and generally head over heels for him. We had these long, intense discussions, and I was so utterly convinced that he was perfect for me. We read to each other and stayed up all night talking by candlelight, and he wrote me poetry, bringing it to me at work, calling me his lioness. (I should have seen that as a warning sign, since I’m clearly a tigress, if you want to go there.)

Then things started to get a bit weird. He started – very sporadically at first – pecking at my beliefs, trying to challenge me on them, trying to compare them, to find common ground between mine and his – as if he were trying to show me that secretly, deep down, I really wanted to be a Christian. I ignored all of this with grace and smiles, which is nauseating to remember now. I should have told him to back the fuck off or hit the road, but I didn’t. I wanted to show him that I could be a witch and he could be a Christian, and all could be good. I wanted to show him that witches could be compassionate and wise too, so maybe he could see the merit in other belief systems. That was me. Always trying to teach a lesson, always trying to fix the broken boys, whether they knew they needed fixing or not. If they didn’t know, so much the better. Just one more project for long suffering me, the wounded healer, finally about to earn the right to be loved. Barf.

Things continued to go steadily downhill in so many ways. When I met him, he was working at the YMCA, and he loved it. He was really into helping people, particularly people who were needy in any way. But then one day, near the beginning of our relationship, he called me and told me he’d been fired. I was shocked and asked why. He said it was some misunderstanding with the count-out from his till or something; he was pretty vague, and I was indignant. I suggested he go talk to the manager and sort it out, but he sort of brushed it off and started looking for a new job. Okay, I thought. That’s his choice.

Then shortly after that, he called me and told me he’d been kicked out of the band he was the lead singer for.

He had mentioned that he was in a band called Antioch with three of his Christian friends, and I thought it was cool that he was a singer. When he told me they were a Christian death metal band, I thought he was joking. But at any rate, he had told his friends that he had a girlfriend who was – horror of horrors – not a Christian, nor had any intention of becoming one, and we were sleeping together, and so they kicked him out because his lifestyle wasn’t “glorifying to God.” Again, I was indignant, but he brushed it off, because, he said, I really didn’t understand. No kidding.

We’ve Got to Believe That God is Sane, Davey Boy: Part One

Humankind has, unfortunately, come very, very far from the days when we had the instincts, survival and otherwise, of our Relations (other animals). But I believe that, in times of real crisis – physical, emotional, spiritual, mental – we still, despite the great schism that has occurred between us and other animals as we have let our hunger for “progress” overtake our humanity, know exactly what we need to do, in that moment, to survive.

I discovered this fact in the early morning hours of May 21, 2007. Victoria Day. (Meaning of the name Victoria: Winner, conqueror.) A day to celebrate the life of a woman who rose to power at the age of eighteen after the three men who were supposed to rule before her, all died. Despite the UK being an established constitutional monarchy at the time, meaning that the ruling sovereign held very little direct political power, she still strove, during her almost sixty four year reign, to influence governmental policy – and greatly succeeded in many areas. She reigned longer than any other British monarch, and any other female monarch in history. A strong woman? No doubt. Coincidence? I really don’t think so.One month before the summer solstice, this was my spiritual and emotional emancipation. Physical and mental too, now that I think about it.

For the story to make sense, we go back to December of 2004. I’ve been putting off writing this for awhile now, because it’s a fucking hard emotional mountain to climb. Facing things you’ve been through that were just plain stupid, painful and scary. But something I noticed after I wrote the Blinded By the Light series on this blog is that, after I was finished it, my feelings towards the whole experience changed. I felt at peace somehow, like looking back on it wasn’t so painful or uncomfortable anymore. Well, art is alchemy after all. But writing about these things in my blog has proven more cathartic than journaling ever has. So even though I’ve been playing hide and seek for weeks with this subject, I know that it needs to be written out. The questions need to be asked. And maybe some of them answered.

* * *

In December of 2004, I was 23 and had been working for a couple months at an awesome coffee house in Winnipeg called Dregs Café and Gallery. The owner, Lani, was only a couple years older than me, and a very cool, interesting girl. All the food there was really healthy, with cool, unique recipes. A lot of vegetarian and vegan options, lattes and all that, beer served at night. We were open till 1:00 A.M. every night, and there was always a poetry slam, an open mic night, or a local band or musician performing there in the evening. It was on the corner of Osborne Street and Wardlaw Avenue in the Village, just a step down from my first apartment. I was living in a big character house one street away that was divided into three apartments, the top one (ours) being made up of two floors and five bedrooms. Four other girls lived there as well, including a set of hipster sisters who looked like twins, a girl who painted with her menstrual blood and is still one of my close friends and huge inspirations, and a neurotic bitchy ballerina who could be heard crying hysterically in her bedroom on a regular basis, but always acted perfectly happy whenever you passed her in the hallway. Rent was really cheap, $375 a month I think it was. My bedroom was spring sky blue. Since I was the night manager at Dregs and there all the time, it was a sweet setup.

I was at a point in my life where I wasn’t really sure where I was going or what I was doing, and I didn’t really mind. I had been in Winnipeg for almost four years since the epic disaster and adventure that was my hippie phase in BC. I had fallen in love for the first (real) time, experienced some amazing sex, had my heart broken to the point of obliteration, and had (mostly) healed from it. So life was flowing along in a good way. I had some good, cool, inspiring friends. I had a fun job in a creative place, and a cool place to live. Things with my mother were, as usual, not good, and I had recently moved out of her house yet again, which was a pattern I repeated several times until 2007. Move back in because I would get overwhelmed with things. Stay for a few months. Things would deteriorate. I would move out. Things with my dad were superficial at best. We would have lunch every now and then. Have some deep conversations, then something would happen and we’d get into a fight and not talk for a few months. Rinse, repeat. But things not being good with my parents were fairly normal as far as it went, so everything was basically okay with me.

I had been a practicing Wiccan for eight years at the time. I had two other girls and a guy I practiced with sometimes, a sort of casual coven, and I did a lot of ritual on my own. Every sabbat and esbat, and whenever else I felt it necessary, or whenever I felt moved to. I was fifteen when I knew that I was Wiccan. I think other Pagans will know what I mean when I say that I just somehow knew that it was the path for me. I had wandered into a bookstore in the tiny mall near our house in suburbia, not really sure what I was hungry for. But I found myself in the so-called New Age section (total misnomer, by the way), and I found myself drawn to a book on Wicca. I honestly don’t even remember which book it was, but I think it may have been The Witch in Every Woman by Laurie Cabot, or Moon Magick by D.J. Conway. At any rate, I opened it up and started reading, and everything in it was somehow incredibly familiar, like I wasn’t learning it for the first time, but like I was being reminded of something I had known for a long, long time, but had been lying dormant inside of me. In that tiny aisle in that tiny bookstore in that tiny mall, I just suddenly felt this rush of energy run down my spine, and the thought came into my mind, “I’m a witch. I’ve always been a witch. I get it now.” And somehow, I can’t explain how, I just knew, in my very bones, that it was true, that it was right, and that I had just taken the first step on a path that had been waiting for me to pick it up again – in this lifetime.

Over the next few years I bought and read as many books as I could on Wicca and Paganism, and all the knowledge I devoured continued to feel familiar, to just come totally naturally to me – indeed, like I had done it all before, many times. I got two tattoos, the Wiccan symbol of the Goddess on my chest, over my heart chakra, and the symbol of the God on my lower back, as close to my root chakra as I could practically and aesthetically manage. In a completely odd way, I met my first Wiccan friend at my first real job. We had both worked there awhile without ever crossing paths, but we had both been promoted to supervisor on the same day, and as we were being given our orientation, our boss made some passing comment about how he was having an odd day, and was it a full moon? Just a comment, the kind of thing that people just say, without really understanding it. But this girl that I was being trained with and I, in perfect unison, both answered, “No,” then looked at each other kind of oddly. We both knew the phase of the moon, I saw she was wearing a pentacle necklace, she saw my chest tattoo, and thus our friendship was born. She’s still one of my favourite people in the world. Through her, I met the other two members of her coven, and we all joined up and started practicing Wicca together.

I think that, in our culture, whenever one practices a spirituality different from the mainstream religion of the west, the question will always arise, “What about The Church? What about Jesus and Heaven and Hell and all that?” People want to know. I used to say that my parents raised me to think for myself, but in pondering this recently, I realized that wasn’t the case. They raised me to think like them. Which meant that a higher premium was placed on thinking than on believing in our household. In later years, my dad applauded my decision to be Wiccan, but solely for the intellectual reasons of not succumbing to mainstream thought. He didn’t actually have any idea what it meant to believe in something, to feel something down to the very core of your Being. So the point is, I wasn’t raised religiously. I had never been to church, and my thoughts on Christianity, whenever I did consider it, were that it was basically ridiculous. Not a living, breathing spirituality, but merely a dead religion, people going to some building on Sundays to recite dutifully what they were told to recite, then going back home and living in exactly the same way they would had they never gone at all, unmoved by anything real, empty. I knew I wasn’t missing anything. I had no need for their dead god.

So I can say that, yes, overall, I was happy in December of 2004, working in this funky café, hanging out with my friends, getting crushes, going dancing, writing poetry, being a Witch, being a girl, wandering but not lost, feeling free. Life was good.

But then something happened. Something that, in the beginning, as it always does, seemed like a good thing, an awesome thing, a mind-boggling, earth-shattering, heart-trippingly, giddy, fabulous thing. And sometimes it is. But not this time.

I met a boy.

How Do You Deal With Panic Attacks?

haha

I know that some of my fabulous friends deal with this issue too, and I’d love to tag them in this so they read it and give me some ideas on how to cope, but that wouldn’t be cool, because I don’ know how private they consider their issue to be. So hopefully they’ll read this anyway.

Tonight, about an hour ago, I started feeling panicky. For me, this manifests as feeling shaky but not actually shaking, clenching my jaw unconsciously, feeling like I’m about to burst out crying for no reason but not actually crying, and the feeling of a seriously fluttery swarm of butterflies deep, deep in my gut. I get this sudden rush of energy, like I could run a marathon – or, more so, like I’ve just drank ten cups of coffee – it’s a shaky, nervous energy, not a healthy energized feeling. It really sucks. Deep breathing barely helps. Drinking water slowly helps a little bit for some reason. I smell lavender oil, which helps a tiny bit.

I have no idea how long it’s going to last, or what else I can do.

So – personal coping methods? Ideas? Tricks?

The Hellish Post-Christmas, Pre-Spring Time

So I thought I would do a post on depression, because it’s a good time to check in. Christmas is long over, and as far as I’m concerned, winter can take a running jump. January and February are by far the months that I struggle the most through. I try to remain philosophical, reminding myself of the spiritual benefits that come from winter, the time of the Crone. But it’s hard, because my brain starts doing funny things at this time of year.

As autumn moves towards winter, I find myself preparing for the oncoming battle. Every year brings new realizations, new methods of coping, new strategies and tricks. Every winter I get smarter. Every winter I am a better fighter. This year, I would say, is the best one yet, in that I haven’t yet gone through a time when I can’t get out of bed, shower, eat – all the little things that most people take for granted. And I don’t think I will this winter. I’m doing really well, in a head-down, just-plow-through-this-bullshit-until-spring kind of way.

But what invariably happens with all this plowing-through, is that at one point during the winter, usually this point, near the end of January, I raise my head, look around, and the thought occurs to me: When’s the last time I actually felt anything? And I can’t remember.

This realization has derailed me completely in winters past.

However, now I know that this is a symptom of the depression, not some intrinsic, tragic flaw that I have that means I’m doomed, cursed, hopeless, etc. No. It’s just one more stupid thing to ignore, to get through, to remind myself that it’s not permanent.

It’s not that I don’t feel anything at all; it’s more like everything is dulled somehow, like a voice muffled by layers and layers of fog, emotion under layers and layers of ice. And any happiness or excitement that does make it through is short-lived, because when the depression is bad, the chronic worry and fear about all sorts of ridiculous things is so much stronger. There have been times when all feeling has ceased completely, but happily that’s not the case now.

There are just so many shitty thoughts and lies that my mind brews up when the depression is hitting full force. Like, anything that I could possibly worry about, no matter how far-fetched, will be worried about with a vengeance. If my fiancé and I are out doing something fun, I worry that something horrible is going to happen to him. If we’re in a fight, I’m worried he’s going to leave me. I worry that my puppy is going to be eaten by a cougar if I let him outside alone. I worry that my cats will one day randomly have a fatal seizure and just die on me. I worry about my mom dying before I see her again. I pretty much worry about everyone I care about dropping dead on me. If I’m having a really good day, or something awesome happens, I imagine that I’m going to get into a car accident and die. The day my fiancé proposed to me we were at Marmot Basin snowboarding, and after the initial giddiness, while we were boarding down the hill, I started imagining all these horrible scenarios. It’s like a news announcer lives in my head who pronounces doom and gloom no matter what the circumstances. “The young couple reportedly had just gotten engaged when they both, inexplicably, cracked their heads open on a protruding rock on the mountain as they were snowboarding. And, of course, they’re both dead now.” Because isn’t it always that way in movies? Someone has something amazing happen to them, they let go for one second, and they’re toast. I worry about getting cancer. I worry about strangers I see because I think they look lonely. I worry about serial killers and the zombie apocalypse (but this is only after watching a zombie movie and freaking myself out with my vivid imagination).

It’s pretty ridiculous.

So that’s where I’m at. Trying to remain compassionate and gentle with myself despite my mounting frustration and boredom. I’ve started applying for a part-time job, but the very thought of it gives me serious anxiety. Ugh.

That’s all for now.

Put America to Sleep With a Cup of Warm Milk and a Cliché

Maat

Maat, Egyptian goddess of justice

Maat pronounced maht) was an ancient Egyptian Goddess of law, order, truth, and justice. With her feather of truth she weighed the souls of all who came to her subterranean Hall of Judgment. She would place her plume on her scales opposite the heart of the deceased. If the scales balanced, the deceased could feast with deities and spirits of the dead; if the heart was heavy, the deceased was turned over the Ahemait (Underworld goddess who is pant hippopotamus, part lion, part crocodile) to be devoured.

-Amy Sophia Marashinsky

~

I mentioned my deep-seated cynicism in my last post, and it’s been something that I’ve been pondering ever since. It really is more complex than initially meets the eye.

I look around at the world and the despicable things that humans do to one another, to other animals, and to our planet, the Earth Mother. I see the war, the terrorism, the rage, and the abuses of different kinds out there. I see the war, the terrorism, the rage, and the abuses of different kinds here, in my country as well. I see it in my province. I see it in my town. I see it in the people in my life. (I see it in myself.) And it depresses me. It makes me want to throw my hands up and say, fuck it all. Why care? Why invest any energy into humankind? Why have any hope for the future? We’re destroying the planet and everything else in our vicinity with no concern for the consequences of our mass consumerism. Consumers, yes, we most definitely are. But what are we giving back?

I think about Agent Smith in The Matrix sometimes, and his speech about humanity bearing a certain resemblance to a virus in the way we spread, multiply, and destroy. Though a part of me points out how ridiculously cynical that is, a part of me kind of goes, “Well, he has a point.”

I mean, does anyone ever stop and wonder, “How did we get here? How did we become this?” Look around, and the world is teeming with animals, plants, trees – all these other forms of life. And they all share one thing in common. They all live in harmony with one another. By that I don’t mean that lions and lambs get together and have open mic nights; I mean that everything exists in a balance. What is taken is never more than what is needed. Everything sort of fits together, like a puzzle.

Except us.

And so I wonder, how did it come to be this way? Was there ever a point in human history when people did live in harmony with our surroundings?

I don’t know much about other countries, but I know that in North America, or Turtle Island as the First Nations people call it, there was definitely a time when humans lived in harmony with other animals, and all of nature. If something as “insignificant” as one leaf was taken from a plant, permission was asked first. And once it was taken, thanks were given, and an offering was left as a means of giving back. If an animal was killed, every part of it was used – and appreciated. Honour was given to the spirit of that creature for its sacrifice. Other animals, trees, everything, were seen as All Our Relations, so to disrespect anything else that was part of the Earth Mother was unfathomable. Everything was honoured for its own unique gifts.

Call me crazy and overly idealistic (or, god forbid, a hippie), but I seriously believe that humankind’s troubles stem, by and large, from our disconnect with nature. With All Our Relations. Because if we were to see that we are a part of this earth, all the animals, all the plants, all the trees – if we were to actually know, in our bones, that we are connected to it all, I think we would have a much harder time destroying it. Could you destroy your mother? Your son? Your brother? Your grandmother? Of course not. Sure, some people could, and have, and it’s horrific. But barring any mental illness that prevents them from feeling things like remorse or having a conscience, how could someone do that to a loved one, or even an innocent stranger? What could possibly have happened to them, deep in their psyche, that would make them do such a thing? Go further back. And further. Past the painful childhood. Past the sexual abuse. Because some people go through that, and they heal. They learn from their wounding and become compassionate, healed, whole people. Not always because of a supportive family. Not always because they find Jesus. Yet others go on to become perpetrators of the same abuses they themselves suffered. So why? And why did the people who abused them do it in the first place? Because they were hurt, too? Who was the original victim?

I don’t know.

So it’s really not that I don’t see any good at all in humanity. On the contrary, I see a great amount of light and the capacity for healing in people. I see serious awesomeness when a guy dresses as Darth Vader and plays his violin downtown in Vancouver. I see it when a flash mob of over three hundred people takes over on a cloudy, dreary day in Russia. I see it when a man jumps through the ice on the river to save a drowning, freezing dog in Winnipeg. There are countless examples of peoples’ compassion and huge-heartedness, all over the world, every day.

But there is also this darkness.

A Christian would say that it’s Satan, prancing around and poking us with his stick-thingy, cackling evilly as he makes us do all sorts of horrible things while he gives God the finger, and God (for reasons unknown to us puny humans) just looks on. I think that’s way too simple.

Being something of a nerd, I love pretty much anything by J.R.R. Tolkien. And while Lord of the Rings was written as a story, I’ve always found it an interesting parallel to our world. If you’re not a nerd or not into fantasy, just bear with me. Tolkien has said that in the world he created, the Elves are parallel to angels, and the Orcs to demons (they were once Elves who went to the dark side). And although the story revolves around a Hobbit saving the world, it’s also about a man of an ancient lineage coming out of his self-imposed exile and stepping into his destiny, which is that of a king. He turned from his role many years before the story begins because his distant ancestor was weak and selfish in the face of the greatest danger the world had ever seen, and instead of destroying it he fell victim to its power. So now, ages later, this man is afraid that this weakness still runs in his bloodlines and will ultimately make him a weak and poor ruler. But in the end, he steps into his role as king and defeats the evil that his ancestor couldn’t.

I think Tolkien was saying much more than initially might be seen here. There is weakness in humanity. But there is also strength, and bravery, and goodness of heart.

I have no idea what political affiliation I have; I’ve done quizzes that have called me a Socialist, definitely left-wing, whatever. I believe what I believe. . .

The title of this post is from a song by Ani Difranco, one of my favourite singer / songwriters. The reason I chose it is that I believe that the goodness, the real strength and competence in humanity to be amazing, to be leaders, to generate change for the better, often lies dormant, because we’re been led to believe that we’re not capable of it. That we’re not allowed. As Homer Simpson so eloquently stated, “The reason we have elected officials is so we don’t have to think all the time!” (I swear it all comes back to The Simpsons.)

I wouldn’t say I’m an anarchist; I do value certain things about having a government in place. (But I totally have to use this opportunity to quote this awesome sticker I saw once: There’s no government like no government.) That being said, I think it also causes its fair share of problems. Obviously. Even if you don’t read the newspaper, you know this. The corruption. The empty promises. The bad decisions. It’s all oh-so-complicated and. . .political.

I was pondering this the other day, and it occurred to me that the country is too big. So many people get lost, slip through the cracks. Yes, we have federal government, but we also have provincial and municipal, who supposedly take care of all the little-people issues. But do they? When I applied for disability because I couldn’t work due to my depression, it took almost a year for me to get my first cheque. Luckily for me, I had someone I could lean on to help me out. But what if I hadn’t? What would I have done? This is one example. There are countless situations in which justice is not served because of so many varying factors. The legal system gets served all the time. But does justice?

What would it take for people to start thinking for themselves, I wonder? I think humanity is here for a reason, because I don’t believe in coincidence (well, not on the grand scale). I think we have such capacity for goodness. We have the brain power that other animals don’t (minus the dolphins. And the cats). We have the opposable thumbs (if the cats did, we would be their slaves). We could create so many things that are both amazing and good for the planet, if not merely safe for the planet. So why don’t we? In this time, you can’t possibly say it’s because people are uninformed. That excuse ran out in the ’90’s, Is it that people just don’t care? Then how can they begin to care?

All Our Relations.

Wake up.

The Questions of Procreation and Continual Self Creation

When I was seventeen and I thought about my future, I always would breezily reply to the question of children that yes, I definitely wanted them one day. I considered myself a very nurturing person, and I was at the time. The trouble was, I didn’t know how to channel my nurturing instincts in healthy ways, so instead I drew in a string of lost boys looking for their Wendy, and I was only too happy to play the part. Until, of course, true to their natures, they cast me aside with nary a backwards glance when I proved to be less magical, less perfect, than they initially imagined. “And thus it will go on, so long as children are gay and innocent and heartless.” And I, being a self proclaimed Wendy, a total Manic Pixie Dream Girl, couldn’t admit how much it hurt, or how draining it was. Until I couldn’t handle it anymore, and was forced to actually think about my own health and balance. And believe me, I refused to for as long as I could hold out. Because one of the gifts of womanhood is mothering, and mothers are selfless, yet are powerful and filled with joy and love at the same time. Uh huh. So me being me, I ran with this idea until I ran myself into the ground. I really had no idea what being a mother actually meant in the first place.

So after this highly dramatic and nauseating stage of my life, when I was around twenty two, I decided on just a grandiose scale that I did not, in fact, ever want kids. And that was that.

I’m thirty two now, and this subject has been on my mind a lot lately. My boyfriend (as of recently fiance) wants “kids.” Not necessarily multiple tiny humans, but the idea of kids. Most likely one.

And my sister has twin boys who are two and a half, and they have definitely made me question my decision a lot. Namely because I adore them to the moon and beyond.

Now, I am not a “baby person.” When I’m at the grocery store and some kid is screaming because they want whatever crappy toy is all bright and shiny and conveniently located so as to illicit the very reaction they’re so loudly displaying, I get annoyed and go to a different aisle. When I see a kid with a snotty nose and sticky crap all over him or herself, all I feel is a mildly insane urge to giggle, because it’s not my problem. And when I see a woman walking around with a self satisfied sense of entitlement because she’s a mother and I’m not, or if she’s clearly expecting me to gush over how supposedly cute her baby, well. . .I think she need to get over herself. (I’m totally not saying that all women do this, but I’ve seen some who do). Being a woman isn’t defined by our choice to have children or not. It’s so much more than that, and my choice is just as valid as hers.

And yet, somehow, when my nephew Lumen is lying face down on the living room floor screaming at the top of his very admirable lungs because there are no more muffins for his snack, or his brother Cypress is squatting in the snow wailing because he’s cold and tired of walking because he’s getting over the flu (even though he was just wailing two minutes ago because he was tired of sitting in his stroller and wanted to walk, dammit), and my feet feel like they are slowly turning into blocks of ice, somehow my heart still manages to become, and remain, a very squishy pile of auntie-goo. Or it’s storytime / bedtime at the end of my fiance’s and my first day visiting for Christmas, and we haven’t had a chance to even look at each other all day because of Christmas and toddler insanity, and I’m about to quietly leave the nursery to go spend a few minutes talking with him before he passes out, when Lumen looks up from the book that my sister is reading to him  and his brother and says, “Auntie, stay,” I am literally powerless to do anything else. Or on the last morning of our visit when I tiptoe into the nursery to peek in on Lu and Cy before we leave, assuming they’re still asleep, and I discover that Cy is lying in his crib, just waking up and repeating my name over and over. And when he sees me all bundled up ready to leave, he demands, “Jacket off!” because he wants me to stay. . .well, I can’t even describe what this does to my heart. Like the Grinch, it grows three sizes.

So all this love and squishiness has really got me thinking. If I feel this way about my nephews. . .how would I feel about a baby of my own? And if I really, truly don’t want kids, then why is it that if you were to ask me how I would celebrate Christmas, Easter, Hallowe’en, teach my kid about spirituality and religion, what kind of schooling options I would want for them, what kind of care I would want during my pregnancy and afterward, what kind of diapers I would use, and if I would make my fiance wear one of those fake boob thingies so he could experience breastfeeding as closely as possible. . .would I have a very well thought out and researched answer for you?

Shit.

So, maybe I want a kid after all. The thought of it excites and terrifies me. Is this normal?

The terrified part is normal. I know. But maybe not for the reasons that I’m experiencing it.

I’m terrified for all the normal reasons, like wanting a safe world for my kid, but also because I just kind of always had it in the back of my head that my kid would view me the way I viewed my parents. Not good. We always had horrible relationships, and the only reason my mother and I get along now (relatively) is because I’ve chosen to just let go of waiting around for an apology, because I know I’m never going to get one. I’ve chosen to forgive her; not because what all she did is cool with me, but because walking around angry and bitter all the time was hurting me. And still, she doesn’t understand. And my dad’s passed away, so that’s somewhat irrelevant, at least for now.

So what if my kid became a teenager and just stopped respecting me, stopped giving a shit about anything I said, much in the same way I did with my parents? I guess it’s always a possibility. But there are things you can do to build a strong relationship based on trust and respect, can’t you? I think so. I never trusted my parents. They weren’t trustworthy. They didn’t really ever listen to me or understand me. They never sought to understand depression. Despite my total lack of regard for their so-called wisdom and authority, I still managed to stay in school, not have sex till I was 19, and never touch hard drugs – something that I feel very strongly about never doing. And yet somehow, my father – a trained, educated counselor – accused me once in my early twenties of being a drug addict. Because I was moody, unhappy, jumping from job to job, and “always broke.” I love how that was the conclusion he came to. I can think of ten different reasons for a twenty one year old to be experiencing all those things.

But I digress. I just would never want to be that kind of parent. So ridiculously out of touch and ignorant to what the fuck is going on with my kid. But I don’t think I would have to be. You don’t have to get old in your mind. You can stay awake, stay aware, ask questions, be humble. My parents read a million “child psychology” books before my sister and I were born, and figured they had all the answers.

Another thing this questioning as of late as thrown into perspective for me is my ridiculously cynical world-view. I realized that I basically have no hope for the human race.

I just look around and see all the bad shit going on in the world – the lack of care and respect for the earth, the animals, each other. The murders, the torture, the rape, the insanity. How people like David Suzuki have been patiently repeating themselves for decades, to no avail. And I ask myself, when will it all stop? When will people wake up? What is it going to take? How far gone does the earth have to be, how many species have to go extinct, how much war and pain does there have to be for the people “in power” to stop and say, “There has to be a better way than this.”

And so I don’t want to bring a child of mine into a world like this.

But I guess, maybe by raising children who are Good People is the way to change things? But I don’t believe in bringing a child into the world with my own agenda attached to him or her. I think parents need to let their kids be who they are – not try to mold them into whatever they want them to be. All I’ve wanted since I was two years old is to work with horses. I have a picture of myself in my aunt and uncle’s barn when I was a toddler, an oversize riding helmet on, sweeping the floor. It’s awesome. But my parents decided that “there’s no future in horses!” so they put my in piano lessons, swimming lessons, gymnastics, tap, ballet, jazz, and pretty much anything else you can think of. Like there’s a ton of money to be made in any of those professions? Not likely. So for my whole life I’ve had this burning inside me, this rock-solid determination that one day my horse dreams will come true! I don’t care if I’m fifty years old, it’s going to happen. Some people have told me it’s already too late, which seriously sucked. But I chose to ignore them and keep going. Because it’s all I’ve ever wanted. Nothing is going to stop me. (Not even a baby?)

But I digress again. Another fear is of losing myself. Because having a child is the most selfless thing you can do. As my sister says, “You’re never Number One again.” Because of my depression and sensitivity, I am high maintenance for myself. I have to spend a lot of energy every day making sure I am okay, in balance. I have to check in, have tea parties, sometimes lie down and spoon myself until I feel safe again.

And I write. Writing is what I do – even when I’m totally not doing it as much as I should be. Even when I’m playing hooky from writing, writing is what I do, who I am. And a big part of my process as a writer is sitting quietly and listening to what the stories have to tell me. If I don’t listen, if I try and force my own ideas onto the developing tapestry of the story, it doesn’t flow like it should, because it’s not true. Much like forcing a kid into ballet when they would rather be doing dressage. It doesn’t flow with the music of their soul. And if I lose my focus, my quiet time, my ability to listen. . .will I still be me?

I think some women are okay with losing themselves for their children. Or maybe they see having children and raising them as themselves. Much like I feel about riding and writing, it’s their calling, their homecoming. But I’m just not willing to give up the pieces of myself that I have worked fucking hard to have. My depression has made a lot of my life up until now suck. I have missed out on so many opportunities. I am in my early thirties and am just now starting to ride and fulfill my equestrian goals. I should be so much further than I am. But I’m not.

So. How do I balance it all, juggle it all? Is it even possible? To be a good mother and a good rider, a good writer? A happy person? A healthy person? A woman?

Liar and the Crucible

“Better to write for yourself and have no public, than write for the public and have no self.”

-Cyril Connolly

Ix ChelIx Chel

The first time I picked up Julia Cameron’s famous book The Artist’s Way, one of the things that stuck with me most was that she was a recovered (recovering?) alcoholic, and that in the past she used alcohol as a means of unlocking her creativity. I think every creative person knows what The Censor is: that little voice inside that whispers insidiously to us that whatever we happen to be working on is absolutely no good, can never compare with (insert artist/writer/dancer/poet/painter/etc that we admire here)’s work, and we should give up immediately and never try again. And we all have our own means of dealing with this inner critic. Julia Cameron’s way, as she describes, was to drink until the voice was drowned out, then write furiously until she was too drunk to continue.

Reading this, I started wondering what my own ways of coping are, and if they’re any more or less healthy than hers. I don’t have any substance abuse problems unless you count cheese, so physically, yeah, I was and am healthier. But what about mentally? Emotionally? Was I playing a game of cat-and-mouse with my own Censor, or was I instinctively employing healthy ways of firmly and consistently evading the clutches of this inner nemesis?

Turns out, not so much.

My way of dealing with this internal liar is to basically play a daily game of hide and seek with my writing. Right now, I could tell you in detail at least four ideas for stories that have been floating around in my head, some for years. I think they’re good ideas. I get excited when I think about them. And every day I wake up thinking, Today I will do some writing, and I know it’ll be fun and stimulating and fulfilling. I can’t wait! And it’s true. I wake up every day with this intention. To quote Ani Difranco, “Art is why I get up in the morning, but my definition ends there.” But up until yesterday, when I barely managed to painfully drip out a few awkward words onto the page, the last time I wrote anything story-related was. . .well, I can’t remember.

So what changed yesterday? Well, what I do is let this ridiculous amount of internal pressure build until I’m choking on all the unexpressed words throbbing through me, and I can’t not write anymore.

I personally believe that the stories, paintings, songs, dances that come to us, come to us for a reason. Maybe we have a personal experience that somehow parallels what the characters within the art are going through, and they need our own brand of emotion or memory to tell their tale. One thing has always been clear to me: the artist is not the creator. We are the conduits, the channels, connected to a truly infinite source of creative potential. We broadcast something that is far bigger than our own experiences, and to think that we are the Source is total arrogance. You’ll dry up quick if you believe this.

So even though this is a beautiful thing, a mind boggling amazing thing, it sometimes feels to me like a lot of pressure. But there’s that Censor again, lying its ass off. What if you can’t write these stories properly? What if the Source overestimated you? You’re not cut out for this, you’ll disappoint everyone. . .

Which of course is bullshit. Because if you believe that there is a Source to all life (and it doesn’t get much more creative than that), a Creator, a Great Spirit, a god or goddess or many, then you have to kind of figure that She/He/They know the right creature for the job. This is sort of what I believe.

So yeah, I know a whole bunch of cool stuff intellectually. I know that writing should be done for fun, and the question of “Will this ever become a bestseller?” should not factor in. I know that thinking about writing a “novel” is overwhelming, so we should just focus on writing a story, and let it be finished when it’s finished. I know that we should write for ourselves and be true to where the story is leading, not with one eye on the public. I know that we should write for our ideal audience. But still there’s this block. I’ve tried Julia Cameron’s tools – the Morning Pages, the Artist’s Date, and I must admit they do help. But still…there’s this bloody block.

And I’m wondering. . .what do other people do to get around their Censor?

Every Tool is a Weapon If You Hold It Right

So.

Can’t really tell you exactly what’s happened, but in the past few days, somehow my awesome coping abilities with winter/lack of daylight/S.A.D./crap have taken a serious stumble, and I find myself with all the telltale signs of my great and worthy opponent, the Hook to my Peter Pan, the depression, creeping in again like a noxious mist, impossible to hold back. I was doing so well. Sigh.

But if depression has taught me one thing, it’s that when it comes, it comes, and you can’t back up, you can’t stop it, you can’t go around it. You just have to go through it.

So I thought it might be interesting to just write about what I’m doing right now to feel less like complete shit, without censoring it or really even thinking about it. My other posts about my illness have all been pretty thought out. This one is kind of a live action play-by-play.

So, here we go.

1. First, I stuck this gigantic button in my truck where I can’t not see it:

FUCK YES

I don’t know if you can tell, but this thing is the size of my head. (I got it from Jenny Lawson’s awesome and hilarious store on zazzle.com. Best $6.95 I ever spent.)

Second, the healthy, calm, sane part of my brain will tell the depressed, neurotic, self loathing part of my brain to

FUCK YES

To which the depressed, neurotic, self loathing part of my brain will reply with several dozen reasons why this may or may not be true, but we should definitely ignore it because we are irredeemably fucked up, a piece of shit, not worth loving or bothering with in any way, shape or form.

To which the healthy, sane, calm part of my brain will reply,

FUCK YES

…and so on. Repetition is key, people. It doesn’t matter what excuses the depressed, neurotic, self loathing part of your brain comes up with, because

FUCK YESPeriod.

2. I am trying as hard as fuck to force myself to do the things I love, even when it feels like too much bloody effort to even bother with. Even when that same unhealthy part of my brain comes up with a ton of reasons why I shouldn’t – and they all sound ever-so logical. It’s too cold outside. The roads are bad. The snow is too deep. You don’t have the money. Your cats resent you for getting a puppy, so you should stay home and nap with them. You love staying inside and reading, don’t you? Just curl up under your electric blanket and do nothing for awhile. It’ll be relaxing. Just stare at the wall. I promise I won’t think any unhealthy thoughts that make you feel like shit…

I don’t know if it’s because I have ancestors from southern Italy and am therefore genetically predisposed to subtropical climates, but I fucking hate the cold. In the winter, if my socks aren’t puffy enough and my boots aren’t warm enough and I go outside for any length of time, my toes turn white. Not joking. Like, no blood flow. Dead creepy toes. I have to run them under hot water and massage them until the blood returns. So my point is, doing anything remotely outdoorsy in the winter is my own personal brand of torture. Which makes it seriously ironically suck that I love riding horses so much. And that I have a four month old Rottweiler puppy who is constantly full of beans unless we go for some serious forest-romps together a few times a day. And that I need a daily dose of Vitamin D, not to mention exercise, to stay sane and balanced. So I (somehow) fit my longjohns under my riding breeches, layer up with all my winter riding gear, and just tell myself to go do it. Don’t think about it or you won’t go. Just do it. You know you’ll have fun and be smiling and light in two hours. You won’t even notice the cold because you’ll be focusing on your turns, your leads, your posting. Just go. Just go. Just fucking go

3. I’m trying to treat the depressive thoughts like a toddler who’s screaming just to see if it will get them what they want: patience, long-suffering, and a general tuning-out but still mildly acting like I give a shit while totally seeing through the ruse. Because much like the inner critic who tells us that every creative endeavor we embark upon totally sucks and will never amount to anything, the smarter we get, the smarter the depression gets. For every tool/weapon we learn to wield to combat its bullshit, it comes up with a counter-weapon that is that much more sophisticated. It’s truly a war, not just a battle

4. I’m taking Vitamin D suppliments

5. I’m using my sun lamp

6. I’m refusing to alter from the course I set myself on in the fall: that I am going to continue doing good, healthy things this winter, no matter how shitty I feel. It’s really a discipline. Eat your greens because they’re good for you, even if they don’t taste amazing. Good thing I like broccoli

7. FUCK YES

That’s all I’ve got for now.

Hope this is helpful to someone.

Until next time

~Rose

Surviving Into Thriving

SekhmetSekhmet

“Once, long ago, the lion-headed sun goddess of Egypt became so disgusted with humanity that she commenced a wholesale slaughter of the race. Her fury terrified even the gods, who deputized Ra to calm down the goddess. She refused to be restrained. ‘When I slay men,’ she snarled, ‘my heart rejoices.’

Ra, attempting to save the remnant of humanity from the blood-thirsty goddess, mixed 7,000 vats of beer with pomegranate juice. He set the jugs in the path of the murdering lioness, hoping she would mistake them for the human blood she craved. Indeed she did, and she soon drank herself into a stupor. When she awoke, she had no rage left.

The intoxicating red drink was henceforth prepared and consumed on feast days of Hathor, so some say that Sekhmet was the negative side of that pleasure-ruling goddess. Others say that she was the opposite of the cat goddess Bast, the cat embodying the sun’s nurturing rays; the lion, her destructive drought-bringing potential.”

-Patricia Monaghan, The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines

Hathor

Hathor

“One of the world’s greatest goddesses, Hathor was worshiped for more than a millennium longer than the life, to date, of Christianity. For more than 3,000 years her joyful religion held sway over Egypt.

‘Habitation of the hawk and birdcage of the soul,’ Hathor was essentially the body in which the soul resides. As such, she was patron of bodily pleasures: the pleasures of sound, in music and song; the joys of the eye, in art, cosmetics, the weaving of garlands; the delight of motion in dance and in love; and all the pleasures of touch. In her temples, priestesses danced and played their tinkling tambourines, probably enjoying other sensual pleasures with the worshipers as well. (Not without cause did the Greeks compare her to Aphrodite.)

Her festivals were carnivals of intoxication, especially those held at Dendera on New Year’s Day, when Hathor’s image was brought forth from her temple to catch the rays of the newborn sun, whereupon revels broke out and throbbed through the streets. (In this capacity she was called Tanetu.) She was a most beloved goddess to her people, and they held fast to her pleasureful rites long into historical times.”

-Patricia Monaghan, The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines

~

“You are a survivor with all the loneliness of survivorship.”

-Unknown

Lately I’ve been thinking about how when we go through something (or many things) that are traumatic and/or challenging, we can adopt this “You-bet-your-ass-I-survived-motherfucker” attitude that we start to wear around like a favourite pair of jeans. With spikes. It becomes a status, a badge of honour. It becomes comfortable for us to be in warrior stance all the time. And sure, as anyone who practices martial arts will tell you that it’s good for muscle development etc, but the problem with it is that you’re walking around all the time in crisis mode. And this causes the chemical cortisol to be released way more than is healthy, which suppresses the immune system, jacks up your metabolism, and decreases bone formation. In other words, you are walking around in a state of adrenaline-fueled fight-or-flight mode all the time. We are not meant to be in this state 24/7. This state exists for when we are in danger and need to protect our lives. Once the danger is passed, we relax and keep on grazing. (I should mention here that when I was a little kid I used to walk around pretending I was a horse, and sometimes I still feel like one.)

There is a romanticism to being a warrior. It’s perpetuated in books, movies, and video games. There have been studies that prove levels of depression in society actually decrease during times of war. This seems counter-intuitive, but when you think about it, it makes sense. During war, people are united in a cause of protection and defense. They are fighting for something greater than themselves. I’ve also heard people say that becoming a parent changed how they lived their life (beyond the obvious ways, that is.) And I think that, although war and parenthood couldn’t be more different, there is one thing they share: Suddenly, your life isn’t just about you anymore.

I had a therapist once say to me, in the most loving and exasperated way possible, “You need to stop running your life on crisis energy! And stop running the milk train while you’re at it!” And she was dead right. You can get addicted to crises and drama, to running around attending to everyone else’s needs, the same way you can get addicted to adrenaline rushes. They aren’t all that different.

It might seen obvious that we naturally don’t want to live our lives in survival mode, that we want to be happy. But there is an easiness to living from one moment to the next, the way one would live if we were at war. You don’t have to give any higher thought to anything; you just have to put one foot in front of the other. And when you suffer from serious self hatred and low self esteem the way I used to, and you subconsciously self sabotaged every good thing that happened, this can almost be a preferable way to live your life. Because you don’t believe you deserve anything better.

But what does lie beyond survival? What if, like me, you have an opposing side to yourself that says, “Hey, I do deserve happiness and love, and I am not going to stop until I have achieved the things I want in life”? And what if, after a few years, you suddenly find yourself. . .happy?

I was pondering this the other day as I was walking our dog Spencer and three month old puppy Mak. Mak, short for Makoon, is a purebred Rottweiler, and he is a dream come true for me. I’ve wanted my own Rottie since 2007, when I first met one named Charlie. He was one of the coolest, most well-rounded, balanced, awesome dogs I’ve ever met, and it blew that whole Rottweiler-stereotype to pieces in my mind. Like all dogs, it’s nurture over nature. Way over.

Anyway, I was watching him bumbling through the snow, all paws and ears and skin and big mouth wide open and grinning. And he made me think of my cats, and then I thought about my boyfriend of four years, who has truly seen me at my absolute lowest and worst, and he still loves me like crazy, and vice versa. And I’m healthy and I’m young and I am handling my depression better than I ever have before. I am beginning to pursue the equestrian goals I’ve carried in my heart since I was two years old. And I look back down the road I’ve come – suicidal and hopeless for more years than I can count, broke and scared with no food in my fridge, feeling isolated and alone, fighting an impossible battle with no compassion or understanding from my culture, my society. It’s truly crazy when I look at the difference in my life now. I’m actually okay. I’m happy. Despite all the odds, despite how my family treated me and how they’ve never been there for me, I am loved and supported and happy.

And while I am dazed and happy and it all feels kind of surreal, I have to admit that it’s really quite uncomfortable for me. I feel like I’m out on a dance floor and I don’t know how to move my body with all this space around me, the beat surrounding me and pulsing through me. I feel completely out of my element.

In my 20’s, my identity revolved around being angry. Angry at my parents, angry at misogynistic men, angry at my society that is seriously lacking on spiritual balance and compassion. Angry at the corporate mentality that pervades. Angry at the lack of humanity in the world. Angry at all the judgmental, ignorant, arrogant people out there who abuse the earth, the animals, and each other. And I relished it, because my anger was a healthy anger. It woke me up. I wasn’t walking through life asleep the way so many people are, unaware of all the things in the world that we need to be aware of. I was running with a herd of wild mustangs. I was a tigress burning through the forest at night. I was facing the bullshit in the world with eyes wide open. I refused to waver in my raw acceptance of the ugliness of the world. I refused to close my eyes and turn away. I cut open the wound again and again, bleeding it all out. Maya, the Indian goddess of illusions, helped and continues to help me with this.

Now, at 32, I’m no less aware of all the shit and lies that pervade in our sick culture. But like I mentioned in my Blinded By the Light post, I’ve never given up trying to carve out my own piece of healthy, balanced reality in a culture that is so unhealthy overall. Now, at 32, I’ve begun to do that. But I am less angry. Or rather, I’ve learned to pull out my anger when I need that fire, and then put it away when it no longer serves me. It’s not consuming me anymore, unless I want it to. My claws are retractable now. I’ve sat at Sekhmet’s knees for hours, days, weeks, moons, trying to absorb her wisdom. Trying to remember that anger in itself is not a “negative” emotion. It’s just an emotion, like happiness. It’s what we do with it that determines its effects on ourselves and the greater circles of life.

So how do we open fully to joy, without any plugs or filters? How do we not stem the flow, but enter fully into its current, accepting it as it comes, believing we deserve it? How do I get comfortable in this new stage of my life?

Membership to VA (Victims Anonymous)

Sedna

Once there was a young woman named Sedna. She lived in the Arctic with her mother and father. She loved her mother and father very much and was very content. Her father was a skilled hunter, so he provided very well for his family. Sedna had plenty of food and warm furs to wear. She liked the comfort of her parent’s home and refused to marry. Many Inuit men desired Sedna for a wife and asked her parents for permission to marry her. But Sedna refused them all. Even when her parents insisted it was time for her to marry she refused to follow tradition and obey them.

This continued for quite some time, until one particular Inuk came to visit Sedna. This man promised Sedna that he would provide her with plenty of food to eat and furs for clothes and blankets. Sedna agreed to marry him. After they were man and wife, he took her away to his island. When they were alone on the island, he revealed to her that he was not a man at all, but a bird dressed up as a man! Sedna was furious, but she was trapped and had to make the best of it. He, of course, was not a good hunter and could not provide her with meat and furs. All the birdman could catch was fish. Sedna got very tired of eating fish every day.

They lived together on the island for a time, until Sedna’s father decided to come and visit. Upon seeing that his daughter was so unhappy and that her husband had lied to her, he killed the birdman. Sedna and her father got into his kayak and set off for home. The birdman’s friends discovered what they had done and wanted to avenge the birdman’s death. They flew above the kayak and flapped their wings very hard. The flapping of their wings resulted in a huge storm. The waves crashed over the small kayak making it almost impossible to keep the boat upright.

Sedna’s father was so frightened that the storm would fill his kayak with water and that he would drown in the icy waters that he threw Sedna overboard. He thought that this would get the birds to stop flapping their wings, but it did not. Sedna did not want to be left in the water, so she held tightly to the edge of her father’s boat and would not let go. Fearing that she would tip him over, the father cut her fingers off, one joint at a time. From each of her finger joints different sea creatures were born. They became fish, seals, walruses, and whales.

Sedna sank to the bottom of the ocean and there became a powerful spirit. Her home is now on the ocean floor. If you have seen her, you know she has the head and torso of a woman and the tail of a fish.

Sedna now controls all of the animals of the sea. The Inuit who rely on these animals want to maintain a good relationship with Sedna, so that she will continue to allow her animals to make themselves available to the hunters. Inuit have certain taboos that they must follow to keep Sedna happy. One of these says that when a seal is killed it must be given a drink of fresh water, not salt water.

If the hunters do not catch anything for a long time, the Shaman will transform himself into a fish. In this new form, he or she will swim down to the bottom of the ocean to appease Sedna the Sea Goddess. The Shaman will comb the tangles out of Sedna’s hair and put it into braids. This makes her happy and soothes her anger. Perhaps it is because Sedna lost her fingers that she likes to have her hair combed and braided by someone else. When she is happy, she allows her animals to make themselves available to the hunters. Animals do not mind giving themselves up to provide food, clothes, and shelter for the Inuit.

-Lenore Lindeman

(The story of Sedna the sea goddess was first introduced to me as a lesson in gaining the wisdom of victimhood.)

So it’s been a freakin’ long time since I posted anything here; to be honest, that eight parter about my time as a neo hippie was emotionally exhausting, and I just needed a break from the heavy stuff. But I realized in aftermath of that emotional storm that this blog has become like an old friend who I can share anything with: I missed it. So I’m back.

What I wanted to talk about today is something that I’ve pondered over for a long time, and my thoughts on it have evolved and changed over time. I was walking my puppy and my boyfriend’s dog this morning, puffing through all the snow we got over the weekend, loving the warm day, thinking about an interview with Tori Amos (my favourite singer/songwriter) that I watched yesterday. And lightning struck my tired/in-the-thick-of-puppy-training brain.

She said in this interview about one of her songs, “Crucify is based on not being a victim anymore. You stand there wondering why somebody can’t acknowledge you. Can’t say, ‘Hey, job well done. I support you.'”

Being something of a Tori Amos nerd, I’ve watched her interviews multiple times, but not because I’m a creepy obsessed fan. Rather, because she’s an incredibly wise woman who I almost always learn something from. And this time was no exception.

As usual, hearing this made me think of my biological family – my mother, my sister and my father. I’m really not ready to climb that mountain at the moment, so I’ll just say here that they’ve never been accepting of who I really am, and have never been supportive of me in dealing with my illness (depression.) I have wondered, countless times, why my “family” has never been able to accept me, support me, be there for me. Sure, depression is scary for a lot people who don’t understand it. I get that. Sure, I’m a really sensitive person who walks around most days thinking about the poems and stories that are floating around in my head and becoming a better horseback rider rather than the state of my bank account (or whatever it is that most people think about). But I’m their daughter, their sister. Aren’t you supposed to put your own shortcomings aside and just be there? You hear about parents who were previously homophobic stepping up and supporting their gay or bisexual kids. So why not this? Why not me? Am I really so unlovable? Am I really not worth it?

And it’s hurt. It’s hurt for a long time. It’s made me angry. It’s made me cry. It’s made me distance myself from them and keep them at arm’s length for a long time, and I still keep them there. Because if you can’t love me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best.

I’ve been told many times, by my sister and her super-duper enlightened friends mostly, that I’m a “poor me.” Someone who pities themselves. A regular at the Victims Anonymous meetings. And because I used to believe that my sister knew everything and was always right, I internalized that message completely, wrapping it around myself like a blanket, deciding wholeheartedly that it was a truly disgusting trait that was worth hating myself over, and I needed to change ASAP. Just stop it already, Megan. God. Seriously. Why are you so pathetic? Look at all the good things in your life! Why can’t you just step up, get over yourself, grow a pair, stop being such a whiny little. . .no, I shouldn’t be mean to myself. And I’m not being mean, not really. I’m just disciplining myself, the way you would a child. . .

It’s a good thing most parents don’t treat their actual children the way I used to treat myself

So the conundrum that I had for a long time about my so-called self pity was this: Was I actually pitying myself, or was I simply seeking an acknowledgement for all this pain inside myself? Because for as long as I can remember, I have just hurt. Hurt deep, deep inside in a way that has made me push people away, that has made me afraid, so afraid, of being hurt more. Wasn’t I just seeking a name for it all? A reason? An explanation, an answer? I didn’t think I was feeling sorry for myself, or wanting anyone else to feel sorry for me, either. Once I started exploring the feeling, gently probing the wound inside, I realized that what I wanted, what I needed, was for my biological family to say to me, “We wronged you. We made fun of you when you were hurting, we tried to toughen you up when you needed understanding. We tried to change you into something you weren’t meant to be. We didn’t accept you AS YOU ARE, with all your glorious talents and shortcomings. We have never loved you unconditionally. We tried to make you into someone who is just like us, instead of accepting and loving you for being just like YOU. We never celebrated your uniqueness. We feared it. We pushed you away when you needed us the most. We never encouraged you to follow your passions. We tried to repress them. We called you a liar and a self-pitying mess, when all along you had a real illness. We are so, so sorry.”

Basically, I wanted to know that I mattered. Just as I was. Not if I changed in this way and that way, but just as ME.

But I realized, slowly and painfully, that this apology will most likely never come, from any of them. Even if they know deep down that they were in the wrong – it will never come. It’s beyond their capabilities, beyond their EQ (that’s emotional quotient, not intelligence quotient.) Maybe someday it will, but I doubt it. And the thing that I’ve slowly been realizing in the past couple years is that, ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Sure, it would be nice, but cancelling your membership to Victims Anonymous doesn’t come when everyone who has ever wronged you suddenly comes to you on their knees, apologizing and crying and feeling really bad. It comes when you decide to move on with your life in a good direction anyway. Despite all of it. Choosing for those things – memories – to not control my life anymore. That no matter what happened, no matter how big or how bad or painful or terrible or traumatizing – I will not be owned. I will not be conquered by any of it. I will not be bested.

I would love to say this this realization has come from all my super awesome internal strength, but a great deal of it has come from my boyfriend’s presence in my life. We’ve been together for four years as of this past Hallowe’en, and though it was rocky for awhile there, we’ve both grown a huge amount. We were basically really selfish and immature when we started dating, but the relationship that’s grown is something that’s become incredibly healing for me. I know he loves me exactly as I am – and he has seen me at my worst and at my best. We live together and consider each other family, and with the sense of belonging that I’ve gained from this, I’ve slowly been letting go of the hurt of never being accepted by the family that raised me. It’s easier to let go of something you never had when there’s something good and real to replace it.

So, was I a self pitying mess? I don’t think so. Needing acknowledgement that your thoughts and feelings are valid by the people who (are supposed to) love you is normal and healthy. And so is letting go of that need for acknowledgement when you know it will never come.

I think it’s about self love, self acceptance, self celebration.

Honesty

Journal

I had this realization recently. . .

I have always been a journal-keeper and a writer. I have a huge box that’s literally full of old journals I’ve kept over the years. Writing has always been kind of like my lodestone. I feel off balance and incomplete if I’m not doing it on a regular basis. It’s kind of meditative, a checking-in process.

But I’ve noticed that, when I go back and read through my old journals, there’s always a lack of descriptiveness and honesty about them. I have always found it hard to sit down and write about what’s going on, how I feel about it, and what I think about it. Instead I write little poems and clever (maybe) little things, always being vague and “poetic.” It’s always frustrated me that I do this, but I’ve never seemed to be able to change it.  I’ve tried to – I’ve tried to write diary-type entries: “Today I did such-and-such,” but I can never seem to stay interested in it long enough to continue. So when therapists have urged me to “journal,” as all therapists seem to love to do, and when I tell them that I already do, I always secretly wonder, in the back of my mind, if I’m doing it wrong. Isn’t journalling supposed to be cathartic, a venting, spilling process of getting painful/sad/frustrating/confusing/etc things out of your head and onto the page, thus giving yourself some clarity, some perspective? For me, I would always feel somehow more frustrated when I was done journalling than before I started.

But then something funny happened. I started this website, and I find that by writing these entries, I actually am journalling the way I’ve always wanted to, and sensed I needed to.

And I realized why I could never journal/vent/spill before. It’s because I knew I was only writing for myself. To sit down and write about something that had happened bored me, because I already knew the whole story. Why rewrite the whole thing? How tiresome. And why write about my feelings and thoughts? I already knew what those were. That was boring.

But I find that, by writing online where I know that my words can be seen by anyone and everyone (though I doubt they are), suddenly it makes sense to explain what’s happened, and my thoughts and feelings about it all. It could help someone else. Someone might relate to it. Someone might have some advice for me. And so on.

I find it interesting and ironic that by writing on my website where anyone in the world could see it, I’m finally writing for myself.

And I still keep a journal.

Blinded By the Light – Part Eight

“It was the beach, you understand? The beach? It was too beautiful, too much input, too much sensation. I tried to keep it under control, but it just keeps spilling out and spilling out and spilling out.
You see, she’s on an island, and that island is – is perfect. I mean real perfection, you know? I’m not just talking about, ‘Oh, that’s nice.’ It’s the real fucking deal, okay? Perfect. It’s just like a – a lagoon, you know. A tidal lagoon that’s sealed in by cliffs, totally fucking secret, totally fucking. . .forbidden. And nobody can ever, ever, ever, ever go there. Ever. But a few people went, once upon a time – men and women with ideals, you understand? I’m not just talking about the usual traveling fucking wanks. Do you believe in that place?”

“No. But I guess you’re going to tell me that I should, right?”

“It doesn’t even fucking matter what I think anymore. It’s up to you. Ideals, eh? We were just fucking parasites! See, I was the one that was trying to find the cure. Procurer of the cure. And I said to them, ‘You’ve got to leave. You’ve got to leave this place.’ But they wouldn’t listen.”

-The Beach

*     *     *

So there I was, suddenly, in the upper-middle class suburbs of Calgary, living with my friend Caitlin, her brothers Joe and Rory, and her mom, Janice. It was September. There was running water for showers and teeth brushing and hand washing, lights that turned on for reading, electricity for listening to music and emailing people, a fridge full of food, and no hippies. People were normal. They went to work. They listened. They could carry on conversations. Their clothes actually fit them and they weren’t tie-dyed. They were honest. They weren’t on drugs or lost or trying to manipulate one thing or another out of you.

Looking back, I can honestly say that I don’t know where I’d be today if it weren’t for the endless generosity, warmth, caring, compassion and understanding of Caitlin and her family.

I stayed there for a month, and in that time, Caitlin and I talked for hours on end ‘til the wee hours of the morn almost every night (Gemini and Virgo), at first mostly about Arael and what an idiot he was, but then as time went on we talked about him less, and more about everything else under the sun. She would leave me little notes telling me how beautiful I was; once she made a list of “Ten Things I Love About You,” and left it for me when she went to work. Another time she compiled a list of nice things people we mutually knew said about me and wrote them all down. She was endlessly supportive of me, and constantly telling me how beautiful, smart, worthy and generally awesome I was. And in her love, I bloomed like I hadn’t in longer than I could remember. She was a true friend. There’s this song by Dar Williams I started listening to around this time called The Ocean, and parts of it still make me think of Caitlin and smile. It spoke to me of chasing after Arael to his town on the shores of the ocean, how I tried and tried to make him smile, how I thought he and I were soul mates who would get married someday, but the anger and hurt he carried went deeper than I could ever touch, and were, really, provoked by me, because for a short time I filled the role of the woman in his life – and nothing I did could change that. It was his issue that I never learned the origins of.

I remember when I was living in Marcia’s house of madness, she had this certain book on one of her shelves that for some reason called out to me to pick it up. I did, and read the intro and a bit of it until I knew the premise of it. It was called Away, and it was about a woman named Mary who is walking along the shore one day, and sees a beautiful man lying unconscious in the waves. She rushes out to save him, but once she returns to shore, she is. . .away. She, Mary, is gone, which is a more common occurrence than you might think if you know anything about the Faerie folk. In her place is someone else. I don’t know why, but this story haunted me. I even dreamed about it, and looking back, I wonder if Mary and I were so different.

But over time, the song’s meaning changed for me. It became about Caitlin, moving away from the ocean, the ocean being a metaphor for the watery, unstable, wishy-washy beliefs and reality I had been living with and in for the past year and a half. how I was always bringing my brain to the ocean, trying to find some grounding/earth (Virgo again) but never achieving any, never being able to admit that maybe what I was seeking wasn’t to be found amid the waves or in the sand. I had yet to learn I am an earth-bound mountain spirit, not an ocean dweller. Eventually, gradually, as my heart healed, this song became a cry out to Caitlin, from my heart to hers, wanting her to see the deep beauty, kindness and generosity I saw in her, but she could never see in herself. She was never enough for herself, no matter what she did. I don’t know if she ever knew how much she changed my life.

When I went to your town on the wide open shore

I must confess I was drawn, I was drawn to the ocean

I thought it spoke to me

It said, “Look at us, we’re not churches, not schools, not skating ponds, swimming pools,

But we have lost people, haven’t we, though?”

Oh, that’s what the ocean can know of a body

And that’s when I came back to town

This town is a song about you

You don’t know how lucky you are

You don’t know how much I adore you

You are a welcoming back from the ocean

 

I went back to the ocean today

With my books and my papers, I went to the rocks by the ocean

But the weather changed quickly

The ocean said, “What are you trying to find?

I don’t care, I’m not kind, I have bludgeoned your sailors

I’ve spat out their keepsakes.”

Oh, it’s ashes to ashes, but always the ocean

But the ocean can’t come to this town

This town is a song about you

You don’t know how lucky you are

You don’t know how much I adore you

You are a welcoming back from the ocean

 

And the ones that can know you so well

Are the ones that can swallow you whole

I have a good, and I have an evil

I thought the ocean, the ocean thought nothing

You are a welcoming back from the ocean

 

I didn’t go back today

I wanted to show you that I was more land than water

I went to pick flowers

I brought them to you, “Look at me! Look at them!

With their salt up the stem”

But you frowned when I smiled

And I tried to arrange them

You said, “Let me tell you the song of this town”

You said, “Everything closes at five

After that, well you’ve just got the bars”

You don’t know how precious you are

Walking around with your little shoes dangling

I am the one who lives with the ocean

It’s where we came from, you know

And sometimes I just want to go back

 

After a day, we drink til we’re drowning

Walk to the ocean, wade in our work boots

Wade in our work boots, try to finish the job

You don’t know how precious you are

I am the one who lives with the ocean

You don’t know how I am the one.

And at the end, the song became a question. Would I go back? Back to the ocean, or stay in the mountains? Would I cling to what I knew now had been the wrong thing for me, or would I step out into the new, the next chapter?

I spent a lot of my time emailing people and talking about the past year and a half, and the future. This one girl I had met who called herself Nej (her name, Jen, spelled backwards) or Neige, and I sent volumes of emails back and forth. She called me Gem, because my legal name is Megan, or Meg, and also in reference to the Lauryn Hill lyrics, “Don’t be a hard rock when you really are a gem, baby girl.” We had met and connected because we both wrote poetry and relished words on our tongues like the finest wine. She was this funky, petite, fiery and watery Chinese girl with a major wanderlust and this writer’s passionate flame burning that drew in me in like a moth. The last time we emailed, she said she was catching a ride to the southern U.S. for the winter. I have no idea what happened to her after that. I still think about her sometimes, but I never learned her last name, so finding her would be next to impossible, I think.

I remember the immense feelings of peace and relief I felt staying there. I would sit for hours in a chair by the bay window in our bedroom and look outside, a mug of chamomile tea in hand. First watching the leaves falling, then the first snowfall. My heart began to stir inside my chest for the first time in over a year. I began to feel again, and it was beautiful. I spent tons of time thinking – just thinking, writing in my journal and just relishing the feelings of safety and warmth that I hadn’t had in forever. Asking important questions of myself: Is it possible to live a life free of the negative influences of greed, indifference and ignorance that are so prevalent in our society – while still living in society? Can I walk that fine line between the grid what lies beyond it, for all my life? Can I not be consumed? Can I retain my individuality, my purity of soul, my ethics and beliefs? Is true freedom possible while choosing consciously to live in a culture that is so mentally enslaved? Can I do it if I get a job, rent an apartment, pay my phone bill? Can I be, as Buddha (or was it Jesus?) said, in the world but not of the world? What is real freedom, anyway?

I met Caitlin’s friends, who wore bright scarves and had a clarity in their eyes that I had sorely missed, went to funky cafes and galleries, and explored the city. With rest comes clarity of thought. Calgary is beautiful in the fall, and it was such a magical, cozy, happy, deeply beautiful month. Even now, it’s the only city I would ever consider living in, and I always have a blast whenever I go there.

Still, despite all this goodness, it hurt that I left B.C., the place where I thought I would find utopia. I still wanted things to work out there, though I somehow knew that going back to Salt Spring wasn’t going to happen. That time was over.

So as the month was drawing to a close, Caitlin and I started discussing what I was going to do. She had offered for me to live at her family’s place, get a job, that whole thing, and a part of me really wanted to. She was going back to B.C. for a month to travel around a bit, then stay with some family in Vancouver. Her family was still struggling through her parents being separated and trying to work things out, and she just wanted to be away, I think.

I was torn; being a shy, awkward person, I really didn’t feel very comfortable with the idea of living in her house if she wasn’t there, despite how awesome her family was, and how comfortable they had made me feel, despite said shyness and awkwardness. But going back to BC obviously made me really wary. Looking back, I think I really wanted to stay in Calgary, but I caved and went back to BC with Caitlin, mostly because of my shyness. And it was a mistake. Big surprise.

We went back to Duncan, which was the town Arael was from, on Vancouver Island. I think that was mostly Caitlin’s idea, though I wasn’t really sure why she wanted to go back. Maybe for closure, maybe she still liked him, I don’t know. She and I had made other friends there as well, so that was the surface-reason why we went, I guess.

I ended up dating a guy there named Mika, who was totally bad for me, and the pseudo-relationship died pretty fast. He was still a virgin and I told him I’d recently had sex for the first time. He really wanted to have sex, and at that time I honestly had zero interest in it. I think I was still processing the experience of my first time, and I made it clear to him that I didn’t want to, at least not yet. But he wouldn’t leave the subject alone, and it got really annoying really fast. Seriously, some guys. If a girl says Stop and you give her some lame excuse like, “But I can’t control myself around you!” you’re just being sleazy and disrespectful. Just so’s you know.

Anyway, Mika had anger issues. His father had anger issues, and his father’s father had had anger issues too. His grandfather had abused his father, and his father had never hit Mika or his siblings, but he was always on the verge of it, as Mika described it. And I could see that in Mika too, and it scared me. His father was a long-distance trucker, so he was gone for the whole time I lived at Mika’s place. One day, Mika told me that if his dad came home unexpectedly and found me there, he would throw me and all my stuff out the front door. Kinda glad I never met him, i must say. So when things ended, after my weird co-dependent all-consuming sadness stopped being an issue, I was actually relieved and over it pretty fast.

Caitlin only stayed in Duncan for a week or so, then she headed off to Vancouver to stay with her aunt and uncle. She became her cousins’ nanny for awhile, and stayed there for a few months. Her parents ended up getting back together, which I know made her and Joe and Rory really happy.

In the meantime, I had ended up crashing at my friend Jai’s place with his brother Kailo and their dad, a really nice guy. Jai had a crush on me, but I didn’t feel that for him, so it was a bit awkward. He took it really well though, and we stayed friends. Again, I was feeling lost and confused. I talked a lot with Jai and Kailo’s dad, and he suggested that I try to go on welfare if I didn’t want to work, and get my own place. That was my tentative plan, but something in me was not cool with going on welfare for no good reason. I was young, healthy, and capable – not a sponge, thank you very much. I really wanted to stay in Duncan because there was this farm there called Sungoma; I’m not sure if it still exists, but it was so cool. Whoever owned it had built a bunch of random small outbuildings scattered around the property. Some of them were on stilts, some were treehouses, and you could rent them out by the month and live in them. There was a communal kitchen and showers. I wanted to live in a treehouse – again. But there were no vacancies, and they didn’t often come up, not surprisingly. My dream was to live in a treehouse and work at Coffee on the Moon, the local funky coffee shop, but they weren’t hiring. So my options were limited.

I don’t remember the exact moment I decided to leave BC and the dream, but I remember calling my dad from a payphone on a cold, rainy late November day and telling him I wanted to come back to Winnipeg, and asking if he would buy me a plane ticket home, one way. I think I was just tired. The dream lay scattered in bloody shards around my feet, and I was too far gone to even be heartbroken or sad about it.

So I took the ferry to Vancouver and stayed with Caitlin for the night before my flight left, feeling completely in a daze, not believing that I was willingly returning to the city I had sworn a year and a half earlier that I would never move back to again. But I think something deeper in me, wiser, more self-preserving said, “You need to rest.” And I heeded it – so I guess I wasn’t as completely stupid as I thought.

That night with Caitlin was awkward, and at the time I was too distracted to analyze why, but later I figured out that she was changing too – she wasn’t satisfied with the flaky hippie life either – and at that point, she saw me as still fully immersed in it. But I was changing too, though it would take me awhile to sort out the dichotomy in my mind and my heart.

So I was at the Vancouver International Airport the following morning, and I remember looking down at my feet and thinking, This is the last time my feet will be on BC soil; the soil of what I thought of as my homeland. It was a heartbreaking, eyes-look-your-last moment, full of confusion, bewilderment and exhausted pain. I spent some time looking at the mountains of Whistler in the distance, drinking in the sight, quenching my soul for the long, mountainless, prairie-filled months ahead. My sketchy plan was to go back to Winnipeg, get a job, stay with my mother, make some money, then go overseas and live happily ever after – or something.

*     *     *

So what remains to be said? I think I’ve shed it all; I haven’t talked about absolutely everything that happened. Some of it is just too personal or special for me to share. And a couple things that are downright embarrassing. . .But I feel good about what I’ve shared. So how to end it?

There’s a book and a movie based on the life of Christopher McCandless called Into the Wild. It’s an incredibly sad story. To sum it up, Chris was an intelligent guy who, after he graduated college, secretly sold his car and donated all his money and savings for law school to Oxfam International, and disappeared. His family had no idea where he went. He changed his name to Alexander Supertramp and worked odd jobs around the States, saving up to live his dream: to disappear into the Alaskan wilderness and live off the land. Away from the things of man. He made it to Alaska, and did walk into the wilderness, alone. He had barely any supplies with him. He found an abandoned school bus and, using a few books he had on wilderness survival and edible plants, lived there in total isolation for three months, then decided he was ready to go back to civilization. But upon walking out, he discovered that the route he had taken to come into the woods was now impassable; the river had swollen and was running too fast for him to swim out. So he returned to the bus for another month or so, and in the end he died of starvation. He was found two weeks later by a hunter, curled up inside his sleeping bag, weighing only 67 pounds.

The school bus is still there, and Chris’ parents have turned it into a monument to him. They keep it stocked with supplies and food for other travelers who might want to walk into the wild, like their son did.

This story really haunted me when I first read it, and later when I watched the movie. Maybe because I’ve been closer than the average person to doing what Chris did. Because I have tasted that feeling, but I lived through it to move on with my life, to tell that part of my story.

I think people maybe find it romantic what he did, but I personally wasn’t overly impressed. I found him to be hypocritical in his beliefs; he was so adamant about leaving behind everything to do with society, yet he had no qualms about living in an abandoned school bus. And yet on the other hand, he refused many people along the way who wanted to give him money and supplies, even leaving behind winter boots and hunting gear in some cases, because he wanted to be entirely self sufficient. I personally find that incredibly stupid. You’re going into the Alaskan wilderness, man. Why not accept the help you’re offered, and work your way up to living completely off the land? Why not be smart about it? I guess I just have no patience for flaky people who don’t really know what they want or what they’re doing. I dealt with them every day for a year and a half in BC when I was a neo-hippie, and I’m not impressed by any of it. Someone who goes into the woods to live, and is truly clear-headed, capable, conscious, conscientious and mature about it? That would impress me.

Now for some random last-minute stuff.

Hitchhiking

I would never do it now, today. Not for any reason. And I don’t recommend it. On Salt Spring during the protest, one of my friends was hitching one night, and she got picked up by two loggers. They figured out she was one of the protestors, and they drove out into the middle of nowhere and raped her. She never went to the police because she didn’t want it to interfere with the protesting. Seriously. I would have let those guys burn. But back then, I believed that everything my sister did was perfection, foolproof. She told me to send out positive vibes into the universe, and you would always get good rides. And nothing bad ever happened, I have to admit – but I don’t think it was necessarily for the reasons I believed it was then.

She did give me some practical advice as well. Talk, she said. Talk a lot. Make yourself a human being, a person, in the driver’s eyes. They will have a harder time thinking about hurting you if they see you as a person, not just a body, an object. Ask them questions about themselves. And, when all else fails, and you’re in the car alone with a guy who seems creepy – ask him about his mother. I always carried a knife up my sleeve as well, even though it’s been proven statistically that if a “normal” person like me (who has no idea how to fight with a knife) carries one, that person is more likely to get hurt than the person they might be trying to fight off. And seriously, if I stabbed the driver, what would happen? We would end up in the ditch, which would also obviously suck. But my knife served more of a psychological purpose for me: it made me feel badass and tough, and that shows on a person.

There was one time when I truly believe that the driver who picked me up wanted to do something horrible to me.

I was on Vancouver Island; I don’t remember where I was going, but it was a long journey, which 99% of the time means getting several different rides, because most people are only going a short distance. So there I was, in the middle of nowhere, and a guy pulls over to pick me up.

I always would do an intuitive scan of every person who stopped for me; a few times I turned down rides. I would always make very direct eye contact as well, which serves two purposes. One: it tells them that you see them, and you’re not a timid person. Two: you get a feel for a person by looking in their eyes.

So this guy seemed okay, maybe a little stiff and awkward, so I got in the passenger seat, and off we went.

I started my usual banter, asking him where he lives, where he’s going, how his day is, all that small-talk crap. He answered everything I said in short, curt monosyllabic replies. He wasn’t being rude or antisocial; I got the distinct impression he was nervous as hell. He would look over at me every so often with a jerky motion, eyes wide behind his glasses. He didn’t blink much, and he was starting to creep me out. I got the sense that he was having an internal debate with himself about whether he wanted to do something to me or not. Of course I could have been totally reading it wrong; for all I know he was high on acid or just really, really socially awkward.

So after about fifteen exhausting minutes of me babbling on and on in my one sided conversation, I pulled out the big guns. I asked him if his mother lived on the island.

Again, a one syllable reply and a wide-eyed, jerky look.

At this point I was trying to figure out a way to ask him to let me out, since there was nothing around; we were in the middle of nowhere, so there was no tactful way of asking him to let me out. I couldn’t very well say, “Oh look, here’s my stop!” when there’s nothing but grass on either side endlessly in every direction. And I instinctively knew that to throw tact to the wind could be dangerous.

All of a sudden, he pulled the car onto the shoulder of the highway and said abruptly, “I’m going to let you out here.” That was it. There was no driveway, nothing. No reason for him to stop. But he wanted me out of his car for whatever reason, and I was more than happy to oblige him.

As he drove away, I thought to myself that he had chosen not to do whatever it was he had been wanting to do, and had removed the temptation by getting me out of his car. Before I stuck my thumb out again, I sent a silent thank you to the universe.

Mushrooms

I’ve done mushrooms three times. The first time was when I was in high school, with my sister in Whistler, and it was perfect. Magical.

The last time I did them was on Hallowe’en night in Victoria in 1999, when I was a sort-of street kid. I was on the beach in Beacon Hill Park, Mile O, with a group of people, only a few of whom I knew, and none of them very well. It was pitch black, minus our driftwood fire, and there are some parts of Victoria that are really creepy. Hallowe’en. Samhain. All Souls Night. When the veil between the living and the dead is thin. Communication is open. The energy is crackling and otherworldly.

So all of these components added up to create a really bad trip for me. I got so deep, so lost inside myself, I couldn’t even talk. Paranoid. It was horrible. I never did them again. But I learned a few important things from that experience.

Don’t do hallucinogenics unless you’re with someone you trust – someone you can talk to about anything, in case you start getting stuck in your head.

Don’t do hallucinogenics unless you’re somewhere where you feel safe – and somewhere where you are safe.

Be aware of when you do them. Mushroom trips vary depending on whether it’s daytime or nighttime.

Don’t try and do “normal daily activities” while on hallucinogenics. It will just stress you out and probably make you paranoid.

Would I ever do them again? Maybe. If the right circumstances presented themselves.

The Home Underground and My Drum

I love Peter Pan. I love the idea of never growing up. Of, yes, becoming an adult, in that one is responsible and not denying what is – but not losing the childlike part of oneself. To be childlike, not childish. My sister and I both have “Second star to the right and straight on ‘til morning” tattooed on our upper left arms. So I must say that I am drawn to people with a certain twinkle in their eye, the smell of wild woods on their skin and skeleton leaves in their hair. To big trees with vines, pirates and cutlasses, mermaid song and the Neverbird.

During my second summer in BC, I landed in Tofino for a couple weeks, and I loved it. It’s strange that I would love it, because it really is very hippyish in a way. But there’s something about it that drew me in. I felt very at home, very comfortable. Something about it felt right, and I still feel that way now, which is really weird.

I had driven there with a couple cool girls, and we became a little traveling family. That’s the thing with traveling; the people you go with become your people. You bond quickly. And we met some boys there on our first day; they told us they were building a home underground, a house in the woods. I thought to myself, Yeah, they’re just going to string a tarp between some trees and lay down their sleeping bags. Whatever. And I more or less forgot about it. A few days later, when they saw us in town and exuberantly told us that the Home Underground was finished and they wanted us to come stay with them, I wasn’t excited at first. So we all drove out there and hiked to the beach, then into the woods. And I must say I was blown away.

They had found an ancient dead tree with a massive trunk – ten people holding hands could barely reach around it kind of thing – and hollowed it out. They built a huge wooden bed frame and a table inside with driftwood from the beach. They made a mattress and piled sleeping bags on it. They gathered mushrooms and berries from the woods and made epic meals for us all. It was seriously amazing. I stayed there for about two weeks, living in a tree in an ancient rainforest with the ocean and the beach just steps from our “front door.” I am one of the luckiest people alive.

Since there were a bunch of us girls and guys, there was, of course, sexual tension and some minor drama. One guy got a crush on me, but I wasn’t interested. He had a small drum, not a djembe, and it was beautiful in its own way. He had decorated the skin with tribal patterns, and when I was leaving town, he gave it to me. I was overwhelmed with gratitude. He gave me his drum. I still have it, and I plan to reskin it. For a long time it sat at my mom’s place with one of her plants sitting on it, but I have it again now. I needed time away from it. I needed to break from the person I was back then. I needed to change.

My Journals

I have always written in journals, and I keep all my old ones in a Rubbermaid. And it’s full. It was sitting in my sister’s loft for a couple years, but recently I brought it home. Looking through them is always emotional. The thing I’ve noticed most about the ones I kept during my time in BC is that they’re not honest. It’s like I’m trying to convince myself of something. I would always show up at the page wanting to vent, to spill, to overflow, but as soon as my pen hit the page, that glazed we-are-one crap would take over, and it’s just all a bunch of fakeness. There is some beauty and honesty in there, but I think it snuck in in the moments when I wasn’t paying enough attention to smother it, like a tiny shard of crystal or a beam of sun.

Epilogue

In the movie The Beach, near the end when all the hippies run from their island home, shattered and heartbroken amid gunfire, the narrator / main character Richard has this to say of Sal, the founder of the hippie commune in Thailand:

“Game over. But she was never gonna leave. She believed in it all way too much to ever change. So that’s exactly where we left her.”

I have learned a thing or two about “happily ever after”; that in the movies, in that scene where someone rides off into the sunset and the credits roll, their struggles and questioning and pain aren’t over – it’s just that the audience’s time of watching it all unfold has ended. That character’s life goes on. You know that expression “Wherever you go, there you are”? Though I still have some serious beefs with Buddhism, that saying often pops into my head when I look back on my time in BC. Wherever you go, there you are. My problems, my anxiety, my depression, my low self-esteem and self-doubt followed me across the country and across the ocean, and I knew it would all follow me back to the prairies too. And I was finally done trying to outrun it.

It was winter. The stage was set. Running and being fake had failed me. There was nowhere else to turn but within. For the descent.

Inanna was ready to face Ereshkigal.

Inanna & Ereshkigal

Blinded By the Light – Part Seven

I’ve been thinking about how to start this next installment, and I thought a good place would be to pick up where I left off. . .but in thinking about my “relationship” with Arael after we had sex, there’s not much to tell. I honestly don’t even remember what happened next, but things just weren’t working. Ironic; me being the huge romantic I was (and still am, to be honest), I just kind of figured that things would be perfect; I had given him my virginity, I had deemed him worthy. So now came for happily ever after, right? Um, wrong.

I guess like most guys his age, he had no idea how to be emotionally available and supportive, no idea what he really wanted beyond “Sex feels good!” We only did it that one time, and it would be a year and a half before I did it again.

I think I wanted us to be the counterpart to Sapphire and Fuzz, who stayed together for quite a while and had a baby together, a little boy who’s now on my Facebook and is something like twelve or thirteen, which is bizarre in itself because I remember holding him when he was two weeks old. But I digress; I was so deeply in love (or infatuation), and I just wanted it to work, but it didn’t. And I don’t think it could have.

It was around this time, maybe a bit before all of this happened, that I remember this day, this shocking, sad day, when I was at the tiny café just off Fulford Harbour on Salt Spring, buying something innocuous and silly like a cinnamon bun, when Sapphire came blazing into the café in tears, came straight up to me and said, “Nathan’s dead!” I dropped my bag and burst into tears myself.

Nathan was a guy from the Victoria days who I had nicknamed Horizontal Man, because he was just this lazy, flaky dude who always had a blanket wrapped around him. The day the nickname came about we were all at the beach, and I said jokingly to someone, “Nathan lives his life horizontally,” because he was always lying down, always blanketed. And the name stuck.

He ended up dating and living with a friend of Rhiannon’s, and he and I were casual friends, I would say. Not super close, but we had our moments. I remember he had a drum, not a djembe but something similar, and he wrote this hilarious song about all the hippies that hung out together. He called it Welcome to Boomtown, no doubt a nod to the David and David song of the same name:

Ms. Cristina drives a 944

Satisfaction oozes from her pores

She keeps rings on her fingers

Marble on her floor

Cocaine on her dresser

Bars on her doors

She keeps her back against the wall

She keeps her back against the wall

So I say welcome, welcome to the Boomtown

 

Pick a habit, we got plenty to go around

Welcome, welcome to the Boomtown

All that money makes such a succulent sound

 

Welcome to the Boomtown

Handsome Kevin got a little off track

Took a year off college and he never went back

Now he smokes too much, he’s got a permanent hack

Deals dope out of Denny’s, keeps a table in the back

He always listens to the ground

Always listens to the ground

 

Well, the ambulance arrived too late

I guess she didn’t want to wait

Nathan’s version was a sarcastic commentary on society’s obsession with “growth.” Harder, faster, stronger, better! Get out of the way, trees – here comes progress! was a chant you often heard in those days.

He got seriously into hallucinogenics while we were all living in Vic, and I remember him saying once, “If I don’t drink of a cup of mushroom tea (that’s magic mushrooms) every morning, I feel funny.” Even at the time, in my mental haze and serious confusion, I knew that some people just aren’t mentally sound enough to take hallucinogenics, and he was definitely one of them. He was paranoid, insecure, and just generally lost, like so many of us in that time and place.

I still have this one memory of him from those days, because it cut me to the core. I think he really was on to something in what he wanted from life, but he just became so lost. I think he saw clearly all of our society’s foibles, all of its failings, but like many other people in the world who turn to drugs out of disillusionment, he didn’t know how to reconcile his awareness with living in day-to-day reality.

He was standing on Douglas Street, playing his drum and singing The Melodians song Rivers of Babylon while he cried, which was chillingly prophetic of things to come. . .

By the rivers of Babylon

Where he sat down

And there he wept

When he remembered Zion

 

Oh, from the wicked carry us away from captivity

Required from us a song

How can we singing out for song in a strange land?

 

So let the words of our mouths

And the meditations of our hearts

Be acceptable in thy sight

Override

 

Repeat chorus

 

How can we singing out for song in a strange land?

How can we singing out for song in a strange land?

 

Yes, he was a stranger in a strange land, searching for his song.

A while later he went camping with his girlfriend and a mutual friend. He was on mushrooms and the girls were on acid. He was, as usual, having a bad trip, and he decided to go for a walk to clear his head. This was around two in the morning. His girlfriend asked him to not go far, and to call back to her every now and then so she knew where he was. He agreed.

Once he left the campsite, he did call back to her every few minutes, but his voice was getting farther and farther away. At one point she heard him scream the word “Never!” That was the last time she heard him.

He didn’t come back, so in the morning the girls called the police, who sent out rescue teams, and at around noon they found his body.

He had drowned in the river. His hands were covered in scrapes from where he had tried to pull himself out using the long grass on the banks, but being on mushrooms had made him sluggish and unable to swim or move with any strength.

I got on the ferry when I heard and went to see his girlfriend. She was curled into herself, shocked and broken. Three of us sat around her, not saying anything, because there was nothing to say. I had picked a lilac blossom from a tree on my way to her house, and I left it on the floor in front of her when I had to go; she didn’t see it right away because she was crouched over on the floor, her long hair covering her face.

We found out that his parents hadn’t heard from him for three months before his death, and they had had no idea where he was. His body was flown back to them in Ontario.

~

So while all of this was going on, I was living at Marcia’s place of increasing madness. She was becoming paranoid, insisting that people were watching her house and putting stuff in her drinking water. She wouldn’t let any of us drink out of the tap, and would walk around her property, showing us these trails that were obviously made by deer and telling us that that’s where people were sitting and taking pictures of the house. She believed her phone was tapped as well. At around this point, the few people there who were sane started leaving, and I was wondering if I should too. Marcia made it easy for me one day by kicking me out for no reason, so that was that.

Ironically, Caitlin (the girl who Arael had lost his virginity to) and I had become good friends. She was back in Alberta, and we were talking on the phone and writing letters. We sort of bonded over our mutual frustration and disgust with Arael. She, being the smartie that she was, could see long before I did that I needed to get the hell out of that whole scene, and she had offered for me to come stay with her and her family in Calgary. I hadn’t said yes because I was still committed to the cause of saving the trees, but once Marcia kicked me out and the Peace Camp was in ashes, I had little other choice. It was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

Because I was broke, Caitlin sent me the money to get on a Greyhound and come see her. I got a big goodbye from all the crazy people still at Marcia’s, and she told me that “we would talk when I came back.” I remember looking at her thinking, “Seriously? I am so never coming back here, lady. Peace out.”

In the weeks that followed, Marcia kicked everyone else out one by one, even the people she claimed to love trust as friends; one guy in particular named Cliff and she had been really close, and I know she trusted him. But her paranoia was completely taking over, so he was gone too. The day after he was kicked out he came back to pick up his dog’s poop on the lawn, and she called the police on him. So that was that. I have no idea what happened to her.

I was on my way to a new city, a new chapter.

Blinded By the Light – Part Six

Things in the Peace Camp were starting to pick up; more people were coming to lend their support. Some of the locals on Salt Spring were also coming out almost daily, planning demonstrations, roadblocks, lockdowns and rallies in Vancouver and Victoria. It was an exciting time. I had this passion building up in my chest, galloping like a herd of horses, seeking an outlet. I was ready to put it all on the line for our cause. I was seething.

It was still early spring, and even though it doesn’t snow on the island, it was freaking cold. Day and night I was wearing at least three layers of clothes, t-shirt, long sleeved shirt, hoodie, jacket, underwear, long johns, jeans or army pants, waterproof rain pants. It was too cold to swim, so basically, we just never showered. Yes, it was gross.

I remember this one day I became so disgusted with myself that I couldn’t take it anymore. I needed to be clean. Since I had no money to go anywhere for a shower, and I didn’t know anyone who I could ask, I hiked up the road a little to where I knew there was a small pond. I don’t think it was natural, and I don’t know how clean it was, but the water was clear and I was desperate.

I stripped down, seriously hoping there were no loggers around, and jumped in. It was that kind of cold that constricts your lungs so you can barely breathe. It was kind of stupid of me to jump in at all, but more so doing it by myself. But like I said, I felt disgusting, and I couldn’t take it anymore. Putting on my dirty clothes again after my “bath” kind of sucked, but it was better than how I had felt before. I just remember thinking it was all worth it, for the trees.

All the protests we did on Salt Spring took place in this one particular spot,, the Burgoyne Bay Triangle, where the logging trucks would come onto the local-traffic road, full of stripped and dead trees – trees that had been standing for hundreds of years, pillars of the ecosystem. We would all be standing there with signs and what-have-you, and at the right moment would stand in the truck’s way, blocking them from moving. It was intense; some of the loggers got mad and jumped out of their trucks with fists swinging, which we got on tape. Some would just sit in the cab and lean on their horn for fifteen, twenty minutes. Once, during a lockdown, when a guy named Fuzz was chained to the bottom of the truck, the logger calmly walked around, brushing all the dirt and dust from the truck onto Fuzz’s face, into his mouth and nose and eyes.

It was technically illegal to impede the work and progress of the loggers, so anyone who chose to chain themselves to a truck was going to get arrested; it was a conscious choice, a sacrifice that was meant to raise awareness to the public about the seriousness of was going on.

The process was always the same. We would gather at the appointed time and place, stand in front of the truck, and distract the driver long enough for the sacrificial lamb to get chained to the truck. Then we would wait. The cops would be called, and they would have to figure out how to get the latest, most advanced, thick / strong / metallic lockdown device off of the willing victim who was chained up. It was kind of a game in that regard. Once the person was freed, they would be taken to the police station and kept for however long, never more than a night, and given a date to appear in court. Then the driver could get back to driving his load of dead trees to the small harbour, where they got transferred to another island. It got so that all the people who did lockdowns, around ten of them, were given the same day in court, which all of us protestors went to, on the mainland. I never did a lockdown, though I sorely wanted to, because of my stupid shoplifting drama, which I still hadn’t cleared up at the time.

My personal favourite out of all the protests we did was when Bea, a local 98 year old woman from the island, stood in front of a logging truck and refused to move until the cops physically (but gently) walked her out of there.

So our lockdowns, barricades, rallies, website, and all the talking we were doing were definitely raising awareness and funds for our cause, but the Peace Camp was slowly but surely falling apart. I could see it coming a long time before it finally self-destructed. There were several serious problems, not the least of which being that word had reached a lot of the street kids on Vancouver Island about the camp, and they came in droves, feigning interest in our cause but really just wanting a free place to crash and free food to eat. It pissed me off to no end, but no one seemed prepared to do anything about it. I guess that’s the trouble with deciding on everything with consensus, not to mention the fact that almost everyone there was too blinded by the light to ever actually stand up and saying something wasn’t just fine, all good, blah, blah, blah.

So I was frustrated because of the influx of users for the sake of our fight for the forests, but also because the Peace Camp was home to me; I didn’t have anywhere else to go if it fell apart, if it became unsafe. I was tired of always being on the move, living out of my backpack. I had put down roots there, rightly or wrongly. I knew it was unhealthy, because one shouldn’t call a place home unless it’s safe to do so, but I wasn’t in a position to be picky.

I remember there being no respect at a certain point. I left for a few days, maybe to go visit my sister, I can’t remember. I closed up my tent, leaving behind a lot of my stuff, books and things. Among them was a beautiful Cowichan sweater my sister had given me, and a joint as well, that I was saving to smoke at a good time. And when I came back my tent had been slept in, (not by Goldilocks) and the sweater and the joint were both gone. I was not a happy bear. It was really a disgusting feeling, knowing that some most likely dirty person had slept in my space, taken my sweater and joint, not caring in the slightest what they were doing. In that moment, any confusion I had about free love, sharing everything and not being attached to material possessions fled. This was bullshit. My home and my things had been violated.

That guy Raf, the rapist, also came to the camp, much to my displeasure. Once again, I went out of my way to make him as uncomfortable as possible. He still leered and was disgusting, even though one day he apologized to me for what had happened in Victoria. I kind of nodded and said thanks, but made it clear that all was not forgiven. Not just from what he did to me, but also to the French girl he took advantage of when she was drunk. And who knows what else.

It was also around this time that a hippie girl named Paula came to the island, purportedly to assist with the protesting, and parked her big white van inside the camp, as it was her home.

One day, out of the blue, Melissa and George from Smaug’s belly arrived in the camp, and were staying in Paula’s van with a ton of other people. (Hippies call that “cuddle puddles;” that’s your nauseating fact for the day.) I kept my distance from all the people who were associated with the van, because I was so frustrated at how they were turning things into a party, but I did hear about the time when George and Melissa were arguing in the middle of the logging road, and George, who was over 6 feet tall and well over 250 pounds, reached back and punched her in the jaw. She fell to the ground, and a few people came over to see what was going on. And about fifteen minutes later, the happy couple were cuddling, arms wrapped around each other.

I guess the Orc in George finally overcame all the goodness left in him. I never spoke to him again.

Around the same time as she arrived, a whole bunch of kids who were still in high school arrived from Duncan, a town on Vancouver Island. There seemed to be an endless amount of them, and they were Waldorf kids.

The Waldorf approach to education was invented by this guy named Rudolph Steiner. The first Waldorf School opening in 1919 and it is, in my opinion, somewhat cultish. There are some cool things about the philosophy, but I think my opinion of it is largely soured by how completely fucked up all those kids were. Just. . .lost. And angry. And dangerously confident in themselves, all things considered.

Not all of them were Waldorf kids; some were just friends of the Waldorf ones, but they all kind of shared the same philosophy.

There was one guy who was sixteen and claimed to have lived on the streets of Vancouver, British Columbia and been addicted to heroin, so much so that he was shooting up between his toes.

There was a girl who, the moment she met the above mentioned guy, claimed she had a vision of his death, which would occur when he was 23, caused by a drug overdose.

There were these two kids from Saskatchewan who had both fled abusive homes. One was fifteen, the other sixteen. They had been adopted by the Waldorf crowd after living on the streets for a while.

Then there were the guys who had djembes, wore their hair in dreads, and claimed that they loved reggae and held Rastafarian beliefs, even though the only reggae artist they could ever name was Bob Marley. One of them refused to wash his hair even though he had lice, because Bob Marley never washed his.

Anyway, at this point the camp became divided into the universe in Paula’s van, and everywhere else; at least that’s how it seemed to me. Everything had changed, and the camp felt more like an ongoing party than an actual place with a mission and a vision. No one felt united anymore. And I, in my quiet way, had committed myself, body, soul, heart and mind, to saving the trees; all of my energy was wrapped up in this battle, and because everything was slowly dying, I felt like I was, too.

There was a woman named Marcia who lived on the island, an older lady, who had been connected with the camp ever since its beginnings. She was quite wealthy, and a few times bought hundreds of dollars of groceries for the protestors. She had always made it clear that any of us were welcome at her place to shower and do laundry, and a few of the people who lived in the Peace Camp went there and never came back. She kind of unofficially had started letting people pitch their tents on her property, and a few who got sick of the politics and nonsense in the camp made the move.

I had considered doing it myself for quite a while, but was unwilling to abandon hope in the camp. But after my stuff got stolen from my tent, I was done, even though it broke my heart. I remembered when the camp was beautiful, peaceful, quiet and focused. Now it was dark, chaotic, and unsafe. So I tearfully left one dark night, as the sounds of shrieking laughter and dissonant drumming rang in my ears.

Marcia lived on a really cool property on the north end of the island, just down the road from Aylwin. The landscaping was really unique, and there was a huge pond in front of the house that was empty. Behind the house was this cool wooden three-sided shelter, strung with twinkly white lights, and there was a bed inside. There aren’t really any mosquitoes on that island (just giant creepy-ass spiders), so sleeping out there on a summer night would be magical. She told me I could claim it as my space if I wanted to, but I opted for my tent, nestled in the bushes under the trees instead.

There were some seriously awesome things about living there. For one thing, there was no drama – at least not at first. For another thing, I could shower on a regular basis! And do laundry! Luxury! And I could read. Marcia had volumes and volumes of books, and her house was beautiful.

There were a half dozen other people from the camp living there, and at first we all got along pretty well, despite some personality clashes.

For me, moving there made me feel restless and out-of-touch with the protesting. Everyone who had moved there was kind of recuperating from all the drama and negativity, so there wasn’t much talk or focus on the protesting. I figured that this was a temporary thing, and once we were all feeling more refreshed and like ourselves, we would refocus our energies on the reason we were all there.

It soon became apparent, however, that this wasn’t happening, and I began to sense that Marcia wanted it that way. I could see that she was subtly trying to shift everyone’s focus onto a plan of her own, which she called Home Zone. I don’t know if anyone ever really got a clear idea of what exactly it was supposed to be, but she gave the impression that if we started working on this project with her, we would be saving more than just the trees on a tiny island. So I was all for it, not being a very discerning or critical-thinking person at the time.

I was still making an effort to be a part of the local protesting, but it seemed that there was an unspoken judgement being made: you were either on the side of the protestors, or you were one of Marcia’s “kids.” I found this baffling, because all moving had meant for me was that I now slept somewhere else. I was still completely committed to the protesting, but I felt like I was being blackballed, all in a very covert way, so I couldn’t really address it. And anyway, who would I address in a community with (supposedly) no central authority?

So the weeks turned into months and nothing concrete was happening with Home Zone, and I was feeling more and more disconnected from the local protesting, I kind of started wondering what exactly I was doing there. And it brought about a whole new wave of confusion; I had committed myself so deeply to the protesting that I felt completely adrift without it. I guess in the all-encompassing passion and single-mindedness of youth, I had never stopped to think about my life after the protesting was done, as all things end at some point or another. I had refused to believe that anything would ever change from those beautiful, early days in the camp. I thought I had attained peace, contentment, bliss. But there I was, on the other side of it, asking myself, what now? Kind of a mindfuck.

Shortly into my stay at Marcia’s, one of the Waldorf kids came to live there. His name was Arael, and there was an instant chemistry between us. A sexual intensity, and what felt like a real, unspoken connection. (This was the guy who had lice and never washed his hair. And yes, he gave me lice too. Yes, yes, I know. I’m embarrassed.)

I don’t really remember how we started “dating,” but I found myself falling hard for him. Of course, with him being a “no attachment” Waldorf kid, plus the fact that we were hippies, and him being seventeen and me being nineteen, we never actually talked about “what we were.” I thought we were a couple, sort-of kind-of. I don’t know what he thought, but I know there were no thoughts of “serious committed relationship” in his mind.

One night in my tent, I told him I thought I was falling in love with him. There was tortuously long silence, and then he said, “You should trust your feelings,” or some other flaky hippie crap that was not what I wanted to hear in that moment. I remember feeling this overwhelming hugeness in my chest, this aching desire for him, all of him. I thought he was the most beautiful thing in the world. But I was scared to really speak up and tell him how I felt, afraid he wouldn’t feel the same.

Another song from Solace makes me remember that time. . .

I remember the nights I watched as you lay sleeping

Your body gripped by some faraway dream

But I was so scared and so in love then

And so lost in all of you that I had seen

But no one ever talked in the darkness

No voice ever added fuel to the fire

No light ever shone in the doorway

Deep in the hollow of earthly desires

But if in some dream there was brightness

If in some memory some sort of sign

And flesh be revived in the shadows

Blessed our bodies would lay so entwined.

After a few minutes of awkward silence he got up and crept from my tent, saying, “I’m going to go be with the dawn.”

I was starting to wonder if Sarah McLachlan was writing her songs about my life. . .

I remember when you left in the morning at daybreak

So silent you stole from my bed

To go back to the one who possesses your soul

And I back to the life that I dread. . .

I remember listening to that song and thinking, yes, the dawn does possess his soul. His was a soul of dawn, cloudy sailboats, and blessed rain.

Summer had come again, and all of us hippies crossed the ocean to the mainland, and began the long hitch hike into the Kootenays for a Rainbow Gathering. Arael and I hitched together, and it was horrible. It was ridiculously hot, and we weren’t getting rides, for whatever reason. That’s how hitching can be sometimes. Yes, there were two of us with our huge backpacks, and that can be a deterrent for drivers.

The thing with hitching is that most people will pick you up because they’re alone and they want someone to talk to. So smiling and being personable is kind of a necessity. But after six hours in the blistering heat with no shade, no water and no food, one can get a bit cranky. So once we were thoroughly disgusted with the whole situation, we devised a brilliant strategy.

He would stand about twenty feet in front of me with his thumb out. And to every car that passed him by without stopping, I would then give the finger. If I hadn’t been so pissed off, it would have been hilarious.

After about an hour of this, a car going the opposite direction screeched to a halt right across from us and honked their horn. We looked over, wondering who it was.

I recognized a guy who had passed us earlier in our giving-the-finger phase. He rolled his window down, grinned at us, gave us the finger, and peeled off.

We both started cracking up, which improved our moods considerably.

So we finally got to the Gathering, and all of our friends had arrived ages before us. This was the Gathering I mentioned in Part One – the Bad Moon Rising Gathering. The first thing we encountered upon our arrival was all of our friends from the Peace Camp, almost twenty of them, sitting in a circle around our friend Christian, who was crying like his heart was broken. In front of him was a dead puppy, soaking wet. Apparently he had gotten this puppy at the gathering, and it had somehow drowned. We were all speechless, sitting there with him, trying to be supportive but not knowing what to say.

Looking back, it seemed like an omen of things to come.

The second day of the Gathering dawned sunny and dark. I could just feel something bad in the air.

My heart was in a tumult over Arael. I felt like I was in love – my first love – but instead of the joyful bounding exuberance I was supposed to be experiencing, all I felt was conflict, doubt, fear, pain. He obviously didn’t love me, but then what were we? All that stuff.

Sapphire was at the Gathering with her sort-of boyfriend Fuzz. They were in an “open relationship,” which roughly translated meant that they could fool around and sleep with other people, then get really jealous, have a big fight, and end up more in love than they were before, but still not be willing to commit to being monogamous.

So Fuzz and Sapphire, Arael and I and a couple other people went for a walk, looking for a waterfall we heard was nearby.

Sapphire and Fuzz were arguing, and she got annoyed and headed back to the Gathering site, and everyone else went with her. Fuzz had been upset and had walked down a steep hill towards a crescent-shaped beach alone. I told them I was going to check to see if he was okay, and down I went, into the Waldorf silence.

We sat on the beach and talked, and that same strange feeling pervaded over everything.

At one point I waded into the water. I was up to my waist, and Fuzz came walking in after me. We hugged, and then he kissed me. He had told me once, a couple months before, that he had had a crush on me, but then had met Sapphire and had fallen in love.

We stayed down there for a couple hours, kissing and talking. Slowly it started to sink in what I had done. Had I cheated on Arael, even though we had never officially declared that we were “together”? Had I betrayed Sapphire, even though she and Fuzz were in an open relationship? I somehow sensed that disaster had struck, and it was going to change everything.

We slunk back to the Gathering, a mutual walk of shame.

Sapphire, not being a stupid person, knew what had happened before we said anything. She asked Fuzz outright if we had done anything, and he told her. She was super pissed off at me, but she forgave me the next day. But on that day, her fiery French temper scared the shit out of me.

Arael heard “the news” through the grapevine, and he was obviously hurt and felt betrayed. I said, “Well, we never did say we were dating exclusively,” and he basically said it didn’t matter, and he broke up with me.

My first real heartbreak. I cried and cried.

In the morning, I wasn’t really in the mood for any more Rainbowing, so I packed up my tent and caught a ride back to Salt Spring with one of the protestors. I was too shattered to speak for most of the ten hour drive. I had fallen in love and lost it through some incredibly stupid actions that weren’t me at all. I had seriously thought about giving him my virginity, and I knew he was a virgin too. I wanted us to share that together, but I had ruined everything.

I went back to Marcia’s, sat in this fancy chair facing the front window, and wept eloquently for about two weeks, listening endlessly to Tracy Chapman’s album New Beginning, which I do not recommend doing if you’re going through a painful breakup. Seriously. Torturing myself with thoughts of what he could be doing. Was he dating someone else? Had he lost his virginity to another girl? Was he thinking about me as much as I was thinking about him? Had he forgotten me already? All that fun stuff.

One day I walked alone down to the ocean, needing my heart to heal, seeking comfort. I somehow felt I would find it there. I cried some more and did some yelling, and didn’t really feel much better. Looking back, I understand now that it wasn’t that nature was uncaring; I just didn’t understand her language back then.

Once again, Sarah McLachlan must have been stalking me, and was totally using all this heartache as song-writing material. . .

So I ran like the wind to the water

Please don’t leave me again, I cried

And I threw bitter tears at the ocean

But all that came back was the tide. . .

So the couple weeks went by, and then he came back. This was at the end of August, right around my birthday. I was going to see my sister to clear my head and such, and Sapphire and Fuzz and Arael were coming along to pick organic potatoes to make some money for the summer. Probably a bad idea, and not exactly conducive to head-clearing, but I was a hippie, so I was supposed to love everyone, never say no, have no boundaries, and basically just be a doormat. And I wanted to get back together with Arael.

He and I arrived before Sapphire and Fuzz did, and we sat outside my sister’s cabin talking by candlelight. I could already tell that he wanted to get back together with me as well, and I was full of fluttery excitement. But I also sensed that he had something to tell me that was going to hurt, and I was right.

Apparently, once I had left that ill-fated Rainbow Gathering, a girl named Caitlin, who had been on Salt Spring for a while, had arrived. She was from Alberta, and was, she said, just traveling around for the summer. (I later found out she had left home because her parents were separated, and she was really bad at dealing with painful situations, but that comes later.) She and Arael had started hanging out, and a spark had developed. Shortly afterward, that woman who called herself a shaman pronounced them soul mates, and they left the gathering and traveled around together for a while. And in the course of their travels, they had lost their virginities to each other.

Knife in the heart.

But, here he was, all these torturous weeks later, telling me this, and that it meant nothing and that he wanted to be with me.  So of course I told him I wanted to be with him too (though I didn’t say I loved him again), and by the time Sapphire and Fuzz arrived, I was glowing and flushed, and they knew right away what was happening, and they were happy for us.

That was the night of my birthday; pretty sweet.

Three days later, Sapphire and Fuzz went back to Fuzz’s parents’ place on the big island, and my sister had gone to stay at the crazy rich guy’s place to house- and dog-sit, and Arael and I had the cabin to ourselves.

It’s funny; I had been thinking about sex for so long, wondering about it, wanting it, being curious about it, but always saying no to the people who offered it to me up until then, that I sort of sensed it coming before it actually did. I had always said no because it just hadn’t felt right. I had felt afraid, or like the person wasn’t right somehow. But that night in the cabin, with the sound of the glacier-fed creek running nearby, the bright stars overhead, the awakening trees of the forest all around, and the castles of Faerie lit up and merry, when he suggested it, all I felt was perfect peace. A sense of rightness. And yes, a little bit of fear too.

And I said, “I’m afraid.”

He asked, “Of what?”

The true answer would have been, “Of it hurting,” but instead I said, “Of losing my innocence,” because I wanted to see what he would say to that. And I think I was scared to give him the true answer – because I knew it would hurt no matter what.

His reply was, “You can’t lose your innocence. You won’t.”

I liked that answer; I thought it meant that he cared about me, so I said yes.

And it hurt. It sucked. He had no idea what he was doing, and looking back, he was purely selfish in his desire. I can laugh about it now, because retelling how it went is so horrible, it’s funny.

He lasted about two minutes, never once looking me in the eye, came, rolled off me, said, “Thank you,” and went to sleep.

Ummmmm. . .yeah.

Yay sex?

Black Chariot for the Redhead

I’ve been thinking lately about my favourite singer / songwriter, Tori Amos. I’ve been a huge fan of hers since I was fourteen, so that’s almost seventeen years of listening to her music. Yet my appreciation for her music and her stances on certain relevant issues (to me) has definitely evolved over the years. Particularly in the past couple of years, something has definitely shifted in the relationship I have with her music and her image.

When I first started listening to her it was pretty casually, as I was way more into rock and grunge at the time. But when I was around nineteen, something in me really started identifying more with her elusive, otherworldly lyrics that were so open to interpretation. And something about her style really spoke to me too. So yes, I started dressing like her, dying my hair red like hers, and (when I was home alone) pretending to be her in front of the bathroom mirror with my hairbrush / microphone, tossing my head, spreading my legs and channeling fire.

She’s always been known as the sort of unofficial queen of misfits and outcasts, so maybe that’s why I loved her so much. Her whole thing was, accept yourself. Open yourself, all of yourself. Your brain, your heart, your spirit, and your sexuality. Celebrate yourself, just as you are. Whatever your passion, your fire is, do it unapologetically, do it fiercely. But I don’t think I was ready to accept and love myself back then, so instead of learning from what she was saying, I wanted to actually be her. It was easier to love her than myself, I guess. So for a long, long time, that’s what I did. I thought she had it all, that her life was perfect, all of that.

So of course, over time, since I idolized her, there inevitably grew inside me a resentment for her, coupled with the unqualified admiration. It was high time I started valuing myself, but I couldn’t, so I just compared myself and compared myself and compared myself to her, and was always found lacking.

But in the past couple years, all that started changing. I can’t exactly say what it was, but I’ve actually started to value myself – slowly, a little bit. And I started to understand – she was never saying to worship her. She was saying, Use me an as example if you need it, to get to the place where you’re sitting right beside your own fire.

It’s kind of like I’m in a painting class, and the teacher never said, “Do exactly as I do.” The teacher was always saying, “Here are your tools. Now paint your own picture. I guarantee it will look different from mine, and that is a good thing. If it looked exactly the same, then it wasn’t really your picture that you painted.”

So what I’ve realized is that by me living my fire, it’s going to look different from everyone else’s fire, because I am unique. Maybe I won’t be perched on a piano bench wearing six inch heels, tossing my red mane of hair and wailing into a real microphone like a bean sith. Maybe my fire will look like me pursuing a career and a life working with horses and writing, snowboarding and playing my piano in the evenings. But the heart of the matter is the same: living my own fire, unequivocally and unapologetically.

And my hair is black, because I’m part Italian.

Moon & Fire

When Winter Comes, the Winter Wild

Yes, here I am, cheating again, but there are some things I need to vent about, I guess.

Right now my boyfriend is out of town for work, gone for ten days and here for four, and it seriously sucks. I don’t really have any friends in this town, which is something I chose, partly because we’re leaving so soon, and partly because the majority of the people here just want drink beer and dance to country music and drive their big stinky trucks through mud and stuff. And they all stare at my awesome pink hair or make snide comments about it.

There was a time in my life when I relished solitude, and in a way I still do. I guess it’s just this town that makes it suck, because it’s not like I don’t have anything to do. I’m packing, writing, reading, and will hopefully be going riding regularly in the next month. I think I’m just shying away from writing, but that’s for another post.

Fall is coming, and with it is an increasing nervousness and downright fear about the winter. Because winter is when my depression gets bad. Like, really bad. Like, it’s pretty much a given that I’ll be suicidal. That kind of bad. At least, that’s how it’s been for the past few years. Every winter I learn something more, and am constantly trying new things.

Recently I read this book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, by Jenny Lawson, and it’s honestly the funniest thing I’ve ever read – and I’ve read The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams and Lamb by Christopher Moore, so that’s saying a lot. Among other things, it’s about the author’s issues with depression and anxiety, and at one point she mentions a girl she knows who also has depression, but her anti-depressants weren’t working because her colon was “backed up,” so her body wasn’t processing the drugs. Interesting. So this, along with a whole bunch of other stuff, finally made me seek out a nutritionist, who I’ve officially started working with to improve my totally random and crappy diet. Because I believe, along with many other people, that our whole selves are interconnected – mind, body, emotions and soul. So diet obviously is going to affect my state of mind.

Ojibwe Medicine Wheel

Also, I’ve started taking ridiculous amounts of Vitamin D, because the days are getting shorter. I asked my doctor how much I should be taking daily, and he recommended 500mg, but Health Canada recommends 1000mg a day. I then went to my local health food store for a better opinion, and she told me something that really makes you think. Check this out: If you spend one hour in the sun, you get 36,000mg of Vitamin D. So basically, overdosing is pretty hard to do. I’ve been taking about 4,000mg a day so far, and I’ll see how I feel once it gets cold and darker out.

And something awesome is that this winter, I’m going to be super close to a sick snowboard hill, and I’m going to be taking regular horseback riding lessons. I’ve decided that I’m going to vow to myself that, no matter how shitty I feel, I am going to go riding once a week. Period. And snowboarding at least once a month. Period again. Because I know that self discipline can help.

Another thing I’ve decided is that I’m going to get a whole bunch of those “sun light bulbs” and put them in regular lamps around our house, instead of just sitting under my sun lamp for twenty minutes a day.

So those are my brilliant plans so far. I’m still nervous, still scared, still frustrated and angry that for the past few years, every six months I completely have lost myself and any and all progress I’ve made, but I am trying to stay positive and believe that it can be different and better. Every winter is a learning process, and every new winter, I’m more knowledgeable and have better defenses.

Things are changing for the better. Life is looking up.

Blinded By the Light – Part Five

I kind of felt that this part of the story needed its own part, hence why the last one was shorter than the previous ones. And it really was a new chapter in some ways, no pun intended. I’ve put on Sarah McLachlan’s album Solace as I’m writing this. In some ways, it takes me back to that time. . .

When we wore a heart of stone, we wandered to the sea

Hoping to find some comfort there, yearning to be free

And we were mesmerized by the lull of the night, and the smells that filled the air

And we laid us down on sandy ground, it was cold but we didn’t care.

And we were drawn to the rhythm

Drawn into the rhythm of the sea. . .

Yes, I needed to shed the heart of stone that I had needed to wear to survive living on the streets. What better, I thought, to soften up a heart than “Mother Ocean,” as I called her, the quintessential manifestation of female power? I was still searching for true freedom, and I was willing to walk through fire to find it.

I was being initiated by water and fire. . .

Mother, teach me to walk again

Milk and honey, so intoxicating

And into the fire

I’m reunited

Into the fire

I am the spark

Into the fire

I yearn for comfort

Open the doors that lead on into Eden

Don’t want no cheap disguise

I follow the signs marked back to the beginning

No more compromise

Free the water that carries me to the sea. . .

I will stare at the sun until its light doesn’t blind me

I will walk into the fire until its heat doesn’t burn me

And I will feed the fire.

From the old beater of a car to the ferry terminal, we got on the tiny ferry that would take us the short journey across the water to this island we were going to be living on, and defending.

I remember as the ferry was pulling into Fulford harbour at the end of our journey, I was looking all around me, taking in the rolling mountains, green and lush all the way to their tops, so unlike the rocky, stern mountains in Whistler. It was morning, and it was beautiful. Then Sapphire pointed to one of the mountains on our left and directed my gaze to the big, ugly scar of nakedness on its side. “That’s one of the clear cuts,” she told me grimly. It hurt my heart to see. I thought that I could feel the island bleeding, feel its pain and distress. I think that, in that moment, I became a protestor in my heart.

Once on land again, we began the drive to the protest camp, Sapphire directing the woman driving where to go. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the way, even though it’s been thirteen years and that camp is probably nothing but a housing development now. All the trees are gone, their stories and memories with them.

When I left that camp about six months later, heartbroken and disillusioned, I left a wooden moon hanging from the western red cedar that was sentinel above my tent. My best friend had given it to me for my birthday. It had been painted gold and had a clear crystal hanging from it. It had been my protector, my comfort, my figurehead. I sometimes wonder if anyone ever found it, lying on the ground or still hanging from the tree, decaying and weathered. Another protestor, a builder, a logger? I wonder if they picked it up and make up stories in their mind about the person who had left it there, and if they know that that place had been, for a short time, home to a small handful of passionate, caring people who wanted to save the trees.

So, up the road from the harbour, past the boats and the tiny greasy spoon café with organic flair, along the ocean, then into the woods and up the logging road until you came to the gate. Thick chains and canvas rope stretching across the road, the original barricade. No logging trucks were getting in. Seeing it, I think that’s when it hit me that this was real, a tiny battle in the war against clear cutting.

We parked the car and walked into the camp, Peace Camp as it was called from the beginning. It wasn’t anything more than a stretch of logging road and the forest on either side that had been claimed by a group of protestors. The chain gate kept the trucks out, and a kitchen had been built in the middle of the road, a large fire pit beyond. The kitchen was just a couple tables and shelves built, non-perishable hippie food stored here and there. Some dishes and knives. Tents were pitched on either side of the road; there were under ten people there at that point, and it was early March. Even though it doesn’t snow on Salt Spring, it was still cold to be living outside.

And on the other side of the fire pit, past the tiny waterfall where we got our drinking water (until it was tested and proven to be unsafe to drink), down the logging road a bit was. . .a clear cut. A big one. I made a point of walking through it even though it made me sick and aching. I wanted to know my enemy. Again, I felt that bleeding, raw pain. According to the Sanskrit, we have seven major chakras and twenty one minor ones in our bodies. There is one each in the palms of our hands and the soles of our feet. I remember the bottoms of my feet feeling like my life-blood was pouring out of them, into the suffering earth. Now, I don’t really believe that the Earth Mother needs us to save her; she can take care of herself, and us, even though we abuse her. I’m just describing what I felt.

Being the hermit I am, I wanted my tent to be as far away from everyone else as possible. Nothing personal, I just like my space. So I climbed the steep hill that sheltered the Peace Camp on one side, and pitched my tent at the top of it. I hung a candle lantern from one of the trees leading up to my tent. I wanted my “home” to be a haven, a healing place. I hadn’t read Lord of the Rings yet, but I’ve always wanted to visit Lothlórien, possibly forever, even before I knew where or what it was, and I think I had a piece of it there.

Because of how thick the woods were, even though there were no leaves budding yet, I didn’t realize that I had made my “home” quite close to a bend in the logging road, higher up than the camp. Once I did, and I began to understand the hostile climate on the island, loggers vs. protestors, I moved down closer to everyone else. Loggers have been known to attack protestors. It had happened at the Peace Camp, before I was there. A girl named Carolyn had been in her tent, pitched right on the road in the early days when the protestors first made the camp, and some drunken loggers had come to pay them a visit in the middle of the night. They picked up her tent with her in it, and threw it into the forest. She was okay, luckily.

The first little while of my being in the camp, things were pretty quiet. A lot of the “action” at the time was spent figuring out the legal issues of what we were doing, what we wanted to do, and observing what the loggers and the power behind it all, Manulife Insurance (yup), were doing. Tracking our enemies. Though really, the loggers are not the enemy. The loggers, for the most part, just want to feed their families at the end of the day.

So anyway, it was quiet enough for me to have a couple more awkward sexual / relationshippy encounters. Still a virgin, but something weird was happening. Just about once a week, a different boy was showing interest in me, and to say I was starting to get a little bit full of myself is a huge understatement. I was hot shit. Ha. I started referring to myself, in my head, as “the virgin slut.” Because I made out with a lot of boys, but wasn’t ready for sex yet. And I think that it became a sort of conquest thing amongst them: who was going to get Rainbow’s virginity? Yeah. Lovely.

There are a few people I met during this time who deserve mentioning because they were, or still are, beautiful. And some who deserve mentioning because they were important to the story, but were kind of dumbasses, or just really fucked up.

Jay and Naomeii

Jay was around 27 when I met him, so quite a bit older than me. He had a three year old daughter named Naomei (spelled that way because he was an anarchist), whom he had joint custody of, along with his ex-girlfriend, who lived on Vancouver Island. Jay had this wounded beauty about him; a big, soft heart with some definite scars. He was an ex-heroin addict and took methadone as part of his recovery process. He had these long, ratty dreads and was covered in tattoos and had a Prince Albert, and probably looked kind of menacing if you didn’t know what a softie he was. He once told me that it was Naomei who made him quit drugs, and kept him on the straight and narrow. His enormous love for his daughter was a beautiful thing to see, and I grew to adore her while we lived in the Peace Camp. I was really drawn to Jay, and we became really close; he would often sleep in my tent, though we never became sexually intimate. Looking back, I think I maybe wanted to, because I was really sexually curious at the time, and still a virgin. And I think he may have been drawn to me because I was, at the time, really channelling the whole mother-archetype, in a big way. I think he needed that, and I think I needed to experience a friendship (maybe more) with a sweet, soft guy.

I remember this one night, we had all been off at a protest somewhere, and we got back really late. Jay went to his tent to take his methadone, and when he got there he couldn’t find it. This was around the time that the camp was unravelling, and he thought someone had stolen it. He came walking back towards where the rest of us were standing on the logging road; he was almost in tears and was yelling and just generally upset. He was holding Naomei, and obviously she was scared that her daddy was yelling. As they got close to us, she flung her arms out to me, and I caught her as Jay handed her off to me. She was crying, and within about fifteen minutes, she had fallen asleep in my arms. I remember feeling really honoured. There’s something about earning the trust of a child.

Martha

I don’t remember how or when I met Martha, but it was in the early days of the Peace Camp. She was and still is this beautiful, gentle, wise, strong soul. A fire faerie that had learned to wield graciousness with her flames. She was the ember, I was the spark. She wore this amber necklace, and I felt like we were sisters. An instant and inexplicable connection and familiarity One of the older men who was part of the camp made a video documentary of what we were doing, and it opened with Martha singing this song called The Cool of the Day by Jean Ritchie. Some of the lyrics were changed for the video:

And he said unto me

Do you like my garden so fair?

You may live in this garden if you let my trees grow tall

And I’ll return in the cool of the day.

Now is the cool of the day

Now is the cool of the day

O this earth is a garden, the garden of my Lord

And he walks in his garden

In the cool of the day.

Martha had this ethereal beauty to her, this softness coupled with a deep strength, a wisdom beyond her years.

Weirdly enough, she and I bonded because we both fell for the same guy, this Mr. Wonderful type named Mike (go figure) who lived in the Peace Camp, and despite the fact that we were both smitten with him, we both could recognize that out smittenness was largely due to his overwhelming charm coupled with this stray-puppy lostness that made you want to ease his pain – a dangerous combination, yet an effective one for young girls who mistakenly believe that by mothering a guy, you’ll make him fall in love with you. Demeter is shaking her head. No, young ones. Not even close.

Anwen

Anwen is an old, old soul, beautiful, gentle and sharp, brilliantly creative, feminine in all aspects of the word, and pure – her emotions flow out of her like a gentle yet fast stream that has no impediments, no sand bars, no barriers . She loves with a simplicity and ease that must have come to her in many lifetimes of practice. She may appear to you upon your meeting as simple and fanciful as a passing wisp of cloud, but scratch the surface and you see there is a fierceness and a consciousness to her mothering, a keen awareness to her simplicity, a well-thought out lack of complication. A living paradox. She chooses to love.

When we met we were both hopelessly naïve, silly, and beautiful girls – me far more naïve and silly than her, I think.

I remember the first day we connected. A few of us were sitting around the fire in the Peace Camp. I think someone may have been drumming, but no one was talking. It was one of those moments when nothing needs to be said. I sat there, struggling, as usual, with anxiety, fear, doubt, depression, self-hating thoughts. I was so wrapped up in them, staring into the flames, and still trying to maintain my beatific mask, when all of a sudden I felt something touch my left hand. I looked down, and Anwen had crept around the fire, silent as a bobcat, to crouch beside me. With impish grace, she opened my hand and placed in my palm a tiny butterfly pendant. It was golden and red, and when I looked at it, tears sprang to my eyes. Butterfly. Transformation. Soul. Metamorphosis. Transition. Lightness. Celebration.

She had already glided back to the other side of the fire, and I got up and walked over to her. I knelt down and tried, fumblingly, to find the words to tell her what her “small” act had done for me. I don’t think I adequately got the message across.

I saw Anwen when I was on vacation a few weeks ago, and it’s so cool when you haven’t seen someone in more than ten years, and you meet up and you just connect like no time has gone by. I feel like we’re mirrors of each other; she lives what I maybe hide in my heart.

Arman

He was a talented hand drummer, and had a beautiful djembe. Sometimes when he was drumming he would start talking in different accents. . .

I need to say here that the thing with a lot of the people I met on my adventures and misadventures was that they were yearning for spiritual experience, emancipation, connection. And from where I was standing, it seemed to me that their tragic flaw across the board was a serious lack of discernment. Whatever experience presented itself to them, whatever person claiming to be a shaman, a priestess, a guru, whatever. . .they accepted without question. This is dangerous for obvious reasons, but also for less obvious reasons. In the spiritual world, like in the material world, not everything is friendly and benign. Some are out to take, to suck, to harm, to kill. Make no mistake. Not every dog wags its tail just because you have cookies in your pocket.

So this one night, for reasons unknown to anyone else sitting around that fire, Arman threw his beautiful drum into the flames, and once it was almost gone, he threw himself in too. He had to be physically dragged out, kicking and fighting. I don’t know what happened to him.

Aylwin

Aylwin was a woman who changed my life. A surrogate mother. A teacher. A healer. A wisewoman and my high priestess.

She was a local, living with her tweenage daughter (I forget her name) and her dog, Ruby, in a magical house on the northern tip of Salt Spring. She was around 40 or so when I met her, and a complete supporter of what we were doing in the Peace Camp. I was instantly drawn to her; I’ve noticed that, in my adult life, I’ve connected with a few women who have become mother-figures to me.

Aylwin did psychic readings with a crystal she had, and she was amazing. There was something about just being in her presence that was soothing and comforting, reassuring and inspiring. She was one of the first people who really affirmed my path as a Witch for me. During the reading she gave me, I told her that I felt that I had been a Witch in more than one past lifetime. She said, “Yup. I look at you and it’s totally – priestess.” Through talking with her, I learned that she was part of a rather large Pagan community. As she put it, “We all have toasty toes.” I’ll never forget that.

She was there through my first heartbreak, and when the Peace Camp was burning (metaphorically) and the communal house I moved into was certifiably insane, she was my rock, my reminder that some people in the world were sane and good.

I housesat and dogsat for her a couple times, and there was something magical about that place. It was a small, simple wooden house, but the back deck looked out onto a thick, wild piece of rainforest, untouched. It never snows on that island, so her bathtub and shower were outside on the deck. My first night there I had a candlelit bath, overlooking the rainforest with starlight adding its voices to the song. Pure enchantment.

We lost touch after I left Salt Spring, but I found her on Facebook in the summer of 2010, shortly after my dad passed away from cancer. I was in a really unhealthy relationship at that time, and once again, she was my rock – in dealing with losing my dad, in the traumatic way he had died, in my shitty toxic relationship, in everything. She was such a healing, strengthening force for so many people, not just me.

She had been diagnosed with ME / CFS (myalgic encephalomyelitis / chronic fatigue syndrome) in 1990, years after she actually started showing symptoms of it. Towards the end of her life, she was also diagnosed with “non-specific inflammatory arthritis” and “seizure-like activity.”

We were Facebooking almost every day that summer, and she asked me if I wanted to come stay with her in the Yukon and help her with her daily tasks, since she was struggling. I couldn’t do it at the time, and a few days later, on August 6th, there was a random post on her Facebook page saying she had passed away. To say I was shocked and heartbroken would be a colossal understatement.

She had grown tired of suffering, and of the government’s and doctors’ lack of compassion and understanding about ME / CFS, so she took her own life. I can’t say I blame her.

There was a memorial held for her a few days later on the Salt Spting; I was in Edmonton at the time and I couldn’t go, but at the time it was being held I sat down by the window, looking out at the sun and the trees, lit a candle, and played Sinead O’Connor’s version of My Lagan Love, a 15th century traditional Irish song. From the way she changed the lyrics, I believe Sinead was singing a love song to a woman, since I know she did consider herself a lesbian at one point. As Aylwin was also gay, the song was a tribute to her in my mind. And it also was a way for me to process the love, adoration and grief I was feeling for her, for the loss of her. The last verse spoke to me of her guiding me in my path as a Witch.

Where Lagan streams sings lullaby

There blows a lily fair

The twilight gleam is in her eye

The night is on her hair

And like a lovesick Leannan Sidhe

She hath my heart in thrall

No life have I, nor liberty

For love is lord of all

 

And often when the beetle’s horn

Hath lulled me to sleep

I steal into her shielding lorn

And through the doorway creep

There on the cricket’s singing stone

She makes the bogwood fire

And sings in sad sweet undertone

The song of heart’s desire  

I will never forget her, I will honour her always, and though she’s passed over the hills into Avalon, she walks beside me still.

Archetypes and Tears

So I am sort of cheating right now, because I’m not officially done writing about my “Blinded By the Light” stage of life yet, but I have been thinking about this particular subject for a few days now, and I need to write about it. And the whole “Blinded By the Light” thing is kind of shitty to write; it’s heavy. So, yes I am cheating. Whatever. It’s my blog.

As I may have mentioned, I recently visited my sister and met her (amazing, epic, awesome) twin boys, who are almost two. We were talking about how interesting it is that their personalities are so very different; Lumen, you can already tell, is an extrovert, and Cypress is a definite introvert. He hangs back and quietly contemplates while his brother just walks confidently into new situations. Lumen discovers by touching, feeling, smelling, experiencing. Cypress discovers by observing. When people first meet him they mistakenly think he’s shy, which he totally isn’t. He just chooses to study new people/situations for a little while before venturing into something new. What’s cool about it is that I see myself, totally, in Cypress.

At one point my sister said that she wants to make an extra effort with Cy to help him learn to express his emotions in a healthy way. “I see how he just holds everything in, and it’s not healthy,” she said.

Immediately, I guess because I, too, am an introvert, I wanted to say something like, “Just because he’s quiet doesn’t mean he’s not emotionally healthy!” because I guess I considered myself emotionally healthy and expressive; I didn’t think I held things in.

But the thing is, since I had that conversation with her, I’ve realized something. I totally hold all my emotions in. They’re seriously under lockdown with me, and that really isn’t a good thing.

It kind of dawned on me a few days ago. I was watching that movie My Sister’s Keeper. I read the book that it’s based on, by Jodi Picoult, a few years ago. The book honestly didn’t do much for me, but I figured I’d watch the movie anyway.

It’s about a young girl, a teenager, who is dying of leukemia. The movie, like the book, really isn’t my kind of thing; it was well done, but I wouldn’t say it really did much for me. The weird thing though, is that it made me cry. A lot.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it much in my blog yet, but my dad passed away from cancer in 2010, and it was a brutal battle that he fought. My mom also has had cancer, and she barely survived. And as much as I force myself not to think about it, it does creep into my head every now and then: will I ever get it, since both my parents did? Will my sister? Then I, very logically, tell myself that there’s no point dwelling on it, that all I can do is be healthy, blah, blah, blah. But obviously my super-logical thinking isn’t exactly ousting this fear, because at one point during the movie this wave of emotion just crashed over me, and I was really crying. My boyfriend called me for dinner, and as I was walking to the kitchen I saw my cat Rowan, and then I just broke down (she’s a very good listener.) All these thoughts came pouring in: what if my sister gets it? What if her boys got it? What if I got it? What if my mom gets it again? And I cried.

Yeah. So clearly, I haven’t exactly been in tune with my emotions for awhile. Shit.

I’ve always kind of envied singers and songwriters. I watch how they get up on stage and they just belt out their songs; you can tell that they’re channelling something, something deep and raw, that it’s all just unbridled emotion being expressed. It’s alchemy. Taking the painful experiences in life and turning them into art. It’s healing. And I want to be able to do that.

Sure, you might be thinking, but you write. Yes, I write. But to me, writing feels like. . .like trying to turn an iceberg into ice cubes, and the only tool you have is a toothpick. It seems to lack the catharsis that singing and music intrinsically have. Yeah, you can write stream-of-consciousness, but it’s just not the same.

So what do I do? I drive around, crank the music, and sing along at the top of my lungs until my throat is raw. Alone, because I can’t sing to save my life. Does it help? A little.

I am just a thinking person for the most part; I rarely cry, though I care deeply about my people, animals, and causes that I believe in, and I feel my feelings deeply – when I do allow myself to feel them. It’s a Virgo thing, I think (haha). Analyzing the analysis. I read this scary-accurate description of Virgo a while ago (by Linda Goodman) and I think about this one line often:

“They have hearts warmer than people suspect, and emotions that can thunder with feeling, even if they don’t care to rent a billboard to advertise it. The emotional nature of Virgo is controlled, but not nonexistent.”

So true. But is being controlled all the time a good thing? I think not.

So I play my piano (and by that I mean, I just make things up), and I think that helps. But I just always have this feeling that there are these great untapped wells of feeling built up inside of me, and they need expression. The dam needs to burst. . .

I’m the hostess of a dinner party. I set out chairs around this long table, and I’m texting everyone an invite: my anger, sadness, grief, frustration, joy, happiness, sexuality, rage, spirituality, fear, love, hate, my male side, jealousy, bitterness, all the ugliness, all the beauty (whatever that means), all the things I hide from myself that I don’t want to see or admit. . .I invite them all. Bring wine. Raspberry sorbet for dessert.

But once they arrive. . .how do I possibly entertain them all? How do I let them all have their say? How do I make sure everyone has a blast without letting it get out of control? No broken windows or the cops getting called, please. How do you move into everything you feel and not get consumed by it? How do I meet Sekhmet (I wish), Kali, Aphrodite, Sedna (ouch), Pele, Oshun, Baba Yaga, Coatlique, Inanna, Durga, the Erinyes, Shelia na Gig, and not be burned / drowned / gobbled up? Controlled wildness. Is it possible? I think I need a bigger house.

Or maybe just a better layout.

And better wine.

Blinded By the Light – Part Four

There remains little to tell about my time in that city. A few more stories that need expressing.

Whenever someone came in to a bit of money, however it came to be, it was kind of a big deal. So this one time, a girl decided to get a hotel room for a night, and basically invited everyone to come hang out. By the end of the night there were twelve of us and a dog in there, so it was rather cramped, to say the least. Since everyone kind of preached and lived the whole “one love” thing (not that anyone knew that what really meant), a whole bunch of people sleeping in one bed wasn’t anything that made us take pause. Which is how I came to be sleeping next to this guy who seemed nice and normal, but woke me up with his hand was on my boob, and I had never said more than two words to him before. Yuck.

I remember feeling, through the clouds of hippie nonsense in my head, shocked and disgusted, my mind racing with how-the-hell-do-I-get-out-of-this-without-waking-up-the-whole-room thoughts. Then the hippie nonsense came back with maybe-this-is-actually-okay-because-we’re-all-hippies-and-thus-all-family-so-it’s-all-good-right? I was very confused. I remember putting my arms around him, hoping that this would somehow make him do the same to me, thus taking his gross hand off my boob. It didn’t work. He didn’t even look at me. What’s really disgusting about the situation, besides the fact that he was uninvited, is that all he wanted was to grope a girl’s breast. He didn’t care who I was.

Yet another time I was crashing at this house where a bunch of the street kids had started renting rooms, the French girl who Best Friend Guy had been sleeping with and Sapphire included. I wasn’t renting a room because I didn’t have any money, but I was sleeping on the couch almost every night. The landlady wasn’t too impressed with this, but I think I was so tired of sleeping on the streets that I was almost past caring that I was being rude and overstaying my welcome. I think I was starting to actually make a decision in my mind, that maybe this life wasn’t right for me. No kidding.

One of the guys who was renting a room there was named Raf, and as soon as I met him he gave me a bad feeling. And it turned out to be with good cause. One night we were the only ones at the house, and he invited me to sleep in his bed. I was far too polite to say no, so I walked into his room in a daze, all the time my head screaming at me to get the fuck out of there. The whole night was basically spent with him grabbing my hand and putting it on his dick, then me moving my hand and telling him “No.” Then him putting his hand down my pants, and me telling him, “No.” Then him putting his hand on my breast, and me telling him, “No.” Then the whole nasty cycle would repeat itself, until finally I said, “I’m going to sleep downstairs.” And from that day on, I never spoke to him again, and made it a point to make him very, very uncomfortable whenever I was around.

Shortly after it happened, the French girl that Crush Guy had been seeing and I were talking, and she shared with me something even more disturbing.

She had come home one night from the bar really, really drunk with a guy friend of hers, and Raf had been home. She was close to passing out and Raf told her friend to leave, and he took her into her bedroom and closed the door. She woke up a little while later to find him raping her. Because she was so drunk and out of it, she didn’t do anything, and in the morning I don’t know if she remembered it clearly or what, but she never took any action against him or anything. She asked me not to tell anyone, and I didn’t, but eventually she shared it with more people, and soon everyone knew. Unfortunately, he comes back into the story a little later.

There was, at that time, a Hare Krishna temple in the city (it might still be there). The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) is a religion that was founded in 1966 in New York City. We called them the Hare Krishnas. Their beliefs are based on Indian scriptures like the Bhagavad-gita. I never learned much more than that, but I noticed that some of the people we hung out with were getting sucked into their cult. Every week they would have a free dinner where anyone was welcome, and the food was amazing: all organic, healthy stuff, really yummy. There was a rumour going around that they put herbs in the food that made people more susceptible to new ideas, but who knows if that was true. They would try to convert you if you came: make no mistake. They would play music and dance and chant and talk to you about their religion, blah, blah, blah. All that stuff. We all just went for the free food.

I remember there was this guy named Marcus there at the time, and he and I had a couple interesting conversations when we first met. He had a mohawk and collected unique-looking knives, and he was a really nice guy, if not a little lost – but then who wasn’t there?

About a week after I met him, I saw Marcus again. . .he had joined the Hare Krishnas. He had shaved his head, was wearing all orange, and was dancing down the street with the rest of them, chanting their chant:

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna

Krishna Krishna Hare Hare

Hare Rama Hare Rama

Rama Rama Hare Hare.

I was kind of surprised, to say the least, and when they stopped their dancing and chanting for a minute I walked up to him and asked pointedly, “How are you, Marcus?” to which he replied, “I am in a state of total bliss!”

Oh. Umm. . .k.

So that was the end of Marcus. It made me sad. I figured, at the time, that total oblivion was a pretty good way of dealing with the bleakness of being a street kid. No wonder they were so popular.

I saw George, that half-Orc guy from Smaug again in the city once; it was night time, and we ended up walking all over the place talking. I would say that was around the height of my disillusionment and confusion there, and what happened that night really exacerbated things in my mind.

We had been walking around, hanging out for a couple hours, and were back in the downtown core area. I remember it was raining, this sort of endless pissing drizzle that in itself was bleak and depressing. I was, as usual, in a state of confusion and general pain, and at one point he raised his arm so his sleeve fell back, and showed me this syringe in his hand. He said, “I just injected whatever was in here into my arm.” Basically someone had given him this needle and didn’t tell him what was in it, and he stuck it in his arm anyway. Isn’t that the ultimate high?

I think that was the last time I ever talked to him. I didn’t know what to say.

As I mentioned before, I had been going back and forth to my sister’s all winter long, and at one point, I don’t remember when it was, and I don’t remember premeditating it, but it just sort of happened that I went there, and didn’t leave. Maybe something in me finally said, no more. That’s what I’d like to think, but knowing how I was back then, it was probably a random and totally spontaneous decision based on nothing.

My sister’s best friend had gone back to New Zealand, so she was living alone in her cabin. For a little while I had stayed by myself in the first cabin she had lived in when I visited her in high school. She was in her cabin alone, and I was in mine, and to this day, when I think about that time, I get this ache in my heart. I can’t even describe the beauty of that time, so I’m not going to try.

But some other guy (who, I might add, didn’t even come close to loving that cabin like I did) had claimed it for the winter, so I went back to my sister’s and stayed there for the rest of the winter. I got a job in town in a café, and for a month and a bit I actually was doing some things that were healthy and productive. I always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to travel overseas, but I could never stay in one place long enough to work (which I see now was yet another manifestation of my low self-esteem, depression and anxiety – even back then when I didn’t know I had them.)

So I stayed there until winter was over (I never did go snowboarding because I had no money), and then in the spring my grandmother sent me some money, and I decided I wanted to get my own apartment and a job in the city (don’t ask me why I wanted to go back there.) I was kind of freaked out by the idea of so much permanence, but a part of me figured it was time; and I liked the idea of having an actual permanent residence, and making some money so I could do some real traveling. Too bad it never actually happened.

I had found an apartment and had been applying for jobs, when one day Sapphire appeared in town; she had gone, during the winter, to a smaller island off the coast called Salt Spring to stay with a friend of hers there, and while she was there she had caught wind that some evil corporation was coming in and clear cutting this beautiful island. A small group of protestors had gathered and made a camp in the middle of one of the logging roads that led to the largest clear cut. She was moving out there, and had come back to the city to bring a few of her friends out with her, who wanted to join the cause.

When I heard about this, something woke up in me, and I said I wanted to come. So I backed out of the apartment, packed up my stuff, and squeezed into this car that was heading to the ferry, over the ocean, and to this tiny island to fight the good fight.

Blinded By the Light – Part Three

So I was in the belly of Smaug at this point, heading down the Lonely Mountain and towards the ocean, with eight other people and a dog.

Besides the girl who owned the dragon, Melissa, and I, there were six guys. They all turned out to be weird and creepy in their own way, and they don’t really factor into the story much. I don’t remember particularly getting a crush on any of them, but one of them named Richard was cute. I thought he was out of my league, though. Melissa started dating one of them, a guy named George, who was tall and big and dark, he told me he was part Orc, and he was. Part good and part bad. He always wore a trenchcoat and carried a staff, and he would sing this song he wrote about the mountains, the rainforest and the ocean in a deep voice. I thought he was pretty cool, and he was, at first.

Now, a VW microbus is pretty small as far as vans go, so to cram it full of nine people, nine travel backpacks and a large dog is kind of pushing it. So as we were driving out of the mountains, Smaug was having a bit of a hard time. The guy driving didn’t seem to really know how to drive standard, so it was pretty painful all around. It was one of those drives where one by one, everyone drops into silence, and you’re all leaning forward, kind of willing the vehicle to get you where you need to go and not die.

We were still deep in the mountains when two of the guys, incidentally the creepiest and weirdest of the two, randomly decided they were done with the red dragon and got out. I don’t remember where they were going or why they left, but it was definitely a relief for Smaug.

One of the guys who left was the one who had been driving, and I don’t remember who took over, but we made it about six hours before Smaug took one last fiery breath and died. I don’t remember why, but luckily we had made it into Hope, a town which definitely had a car garage we could take him to. So we all spent the remainder of the night in the van, and in the morning Melissa had him towed to the garage to be fixed.

The mechanic told us that it would take at least a week to get Smaug fixed, so we all kind of settled into Hope for the time being. I don’t remember where we all slept or “lived” while we were there, but there was one experience I had that is definitely noteworthy.

When I was in my last two years of high school, my school had started to offer this class called Native Awareness because there were a lot of Aboriginal and Metis students. It was taught by a Native woman, and she would give teachings to the students on the culture, history and spirituality of the Native people that were local to my home province. I’m not Native, but I took it because it interested me, and I had some pretty powerful experiences through it. I still incorporate elements of what I learned into my spiritual practices today.

During my time in that class, I learned about the concept of animal totems and teachers. So ever since then, it had been in my mind that I wanted to know what mine was. Meeting Peter had strengthened this desire, because he shared with me the story of how he learned of one of his. I wasn’t around any elders after I left Winnipeg, so every day I kept praying and asking “the Universe” if it would show me what my totem was.

So on one of the first days we were stuck in Hope, I woke up early, and I was on the go from morning until sunset. And everywhere I went that day, everywhere I looked, I found crow feathers. By sunset I had at least thirty of them.

We were all hanging out in a park that was called, interestingly enough, Spirit Park,. All throughout it, among the tall pind trees, were wooden carvings of animals. The sun was about to set and I was sitting there looking at all these feathers, and I decided I needed some kind of irrefutable answer. I walked off by myself until I was standing under one of the tallest pines in the park.

I stood there holding this bundle of feathers, and I raised my arm above my head. I stood looking up at them, and the setting sun knifed through the trees with one last dazzling blaze. I said out loud, “Okay, if the Crow is my animal totem, give me a sign!”

At this point, about thirty crows flew into the tree above my head, cawing. I kind of paused and went, “Well, I’d say that answers my question.”

What makes that story extra-interesting is that Peter had almost the exact same experience when he was seeking his totem.

The only other thing of note that happened in Hope was that I started to learn that I am not the kind of person who can live in a VW bus with six other people and not start to go crazy for wont of personal space. I also started realizing that I don’t like sharing everything I own. But back then, that was the whole philosophy we all lived under; share everything, peace and love, all is one, blah, blah, blah. Vomit. But at the time, I was afraid to speak up and tell people to bugger off once in a while, get their own bread and peanut butter and jam, because, well, I didn’t want to seem unenlightened, or like I wasn’t “one of them.” Peer pressure. It happens among hippies, too. Not that they’d ever admit it.

So we stayed until Smaug was fixed, hung out with some other sketchy people, then were on our way again. Our goal was the city of Victoria on Vancouver Island, and not much else of note happened between leaving Hope and arriving in Vic. I was rather eager to get to said city, because Best Friend Guy was there, and I still had a mad crush on him.

Even though a few good things came from my time spent in Victoria, I can say that it was by far the lowest, darkest, most scary point of my adventures / misadventures. Welcome to Mordor.

I remember that summer as August was coming to an end and September was drawing near, thinking of what September used to represent to me back in my Winnipeg: school starting again, shuffling through autumn leaves, cozy sweaters, the smell of woodsmoke, sitting inside reading books and watching the leaves fall, movies with friends. . .and on some level I knew that summer wouldn’t last forever. It was going to get cold, and I was living out of my backpack. Well, it was around the beginning of September when I arrived in Victoria, and you know how you can sort of feel autumn creep into your bones; how even when a part of you is clinging to those last few tendrils of summer, another  part of you knows that fall is coming, heralding winter approaching? This aspect of the Goddess is never easy to face, no matter how many “turns” of the Wheel you’ve been a part of. It never gets any easier. It means death.

There was one more Rainbow Gathering that summer, since September is still technically summer (at least on the Gregorian calendar), and I decided to go, mostly because Best Friend Guy said he was going, but also because I don’t think I was ready to let summer go yet. It was held on a beach by the ocean this time (the last one had been on a lake) on the Island, and I hitch hiked out there with a guy I became friends with, who went by the name of Turtle. We got there way after dark, and it was a crazy hike through the marsh to get to the beach, at least two hours from the highway, the darkness not making it any easier. We finally got there around three in the morning, and I was pretty shocked and disappointed that there were under ten people there. Not quite like the last two, that numbered in the hundreds. It was kind of foreboding, really. The whole gathering had a sombre feel to it, much like September itself does, if you compare it to July and August. I could feel autumn seeping in, though I tried to ignore her and tell myself “It’s still summer!” It’s funny, now that I’m more familiar with the Pagan calendar, and how the seasons changing are not quite like the calendar that most people in our culture reference. Because if you go by the Pagan calendar, the mood of that Gathering made perfect sense. Harvest time begins around August 1st, and when I learned that a couple years later, it made perfect sense. The seasons don’t just end and begin; they flow into one another, like water from different pools. There is a transition period.

So Crush Guy never did come to that Gathering, and neither did Peter, which disappointed me more than I let on, which was not at all, because I told myself (and others) that I practiced the Buddhist concept of “non-attachment,” not that I had any clue what that actually meant. What I thought it meant was not getting disappointed if the guy you have a huge crush on doesn’t come to the party that he said he would meet you at.

The beach was beautiful, but my disappointment was pretty raw, so leaving wasn’t really a sad affair like it had been at the other Gatherings. This one was different.

There was a girl there who I had become friends with, though in retrospect I really don’t know what she saw in me; I just became friends with anybody back then, so me questioning what I saw in her never happened. She went by the name of Blue, and she was, as she called it, “hardcore.” Army boots. Metal buckles. Lots of black and patches. Could handle junkies and street kids. Tough. La di da. Whatever. I, as it turned out, was not hardcore. This was, I gathered from her reaction when it was discovered, a bad thing – though for some reason not obvious. Maybe because I wore army boots too. With my tie dye.

I remember this one night, this guy Turtle, Blue and I had hitch hiked into Vancouver, and Blue had introduced us to some street kids she knew who were all-around sketchy people. I remember standing there with her, and she told me they had invited us to crash at “their place,” which was nothing more than an abandoned house. For whatever reason – maybe I was tired, maybe I was really tired – I just could not handle the idea of sleeping in abandoned house with some sketchy homeless people. Call me whatever you want, I just couldn’t do it. When I told her no, she kind of snapped on me an announced that I wasn’t “hardcore” enough, which upset me at the time because I wanted to be able to handle anything and everything with grace and awesomeness, the way I thought my sister always did. So she went with her friends, and Turtle and I found a “nicer” place to sleep, down near a pond, I think it was.

As we were lying there going to sleep, I talked to him a bit about how I had felt before, downtown. He asked me if I wanted him to do something for me, and I said yes, not really knowing what I was agreeing to.

He had told me before that he had training in martial arts, and that he knew some things about Eastern energy work. I had basically ignored him, maybe because I heard a lot of people talk a lot of shit back then, but down by that pond, he said he was going to do some “energy work” or something on me. I didn’t feel completely comfortable with it since I barely knew him, but I was far too nice back then to say anything.

I lay on my back and he sat beside me. I closed my eyes, and I felt him trace something on my forehead. And all of a sudden, I just felt this rush of pure energy enter my body and completely envelop me. Suddenly I was no longer drained, depleted, scared, stressed, none of that. It was shocking because it was so intense, and so real. And I can honestly say there was no “placebo effect” going on there, because I had had no idea what to expect, and a part of me had been resisting. It was pretty cool.

So, to resume: the Gathering over, we all hitch hiked into Victoria, and there I put down some shallow, dubious roots for the winter. What a mess.

It turned out that the reason Peter never came to the Gathering was that the beach was Native land, and the tribe was not happy with the Gathering being held there, so he didn’t go, out of respect. I wish I had known that beforehand; I wouldn’t have gone either.

The first thing I saw upon arriving at “the park” or “the square,” which was the unofficial hub of hippies / punks / street kids / drug dealers there, was Crush Guy sitting in the grass with a cute French girl, who later turned out to be his FWB (friend with benefits.) I ran up to him all excited, and he played it all cool, and she got all jealous, then I got all jealous, then I found out that sleeping with her was kind of a rite of passage to become part of this group of us that hung out together that winter, so I was less jealous, but hurt because he didn’t want a relationship because he was a manwhore, but all my friends said he totally liked me, blah, blah, blah. Like I said, boring story. The only cool thing about that part of the story happened after he left to go home for the winter. This was around December I think, so we had all been hanging out for a couple months, and I had never stopped liking him. He was taking the Greyhound home to Calgary, and another friend, let’s call her Sapphire, and I went to see him off at the bus station.

Me being the hopeless romantic I was (am), I cried a little bit, which shocked his hardened manwhore heart, and then he left and we waved goodbye, and that was the end of that.

A few days later, Sapphire and I were having one of our deep conversations. She had recently gotten this new Tarot-type deck called The Oh Cards. They’re not like a traditional Tarot deck, but more like an oracle; there are actually two different decks that make up The Oh Cards. One is larger than the other, and it has a word, or a couple words, printed around the edges of the cards. These words are be things like “Childhood,” “Love,” “Fear,” words that spark something in you. The other deck is smaller, and is only pictures – seemingly random pictures. The smaller card fits inside the larger card, as you draw one of each together, and the way they are drawn has a pattern, something to teach you.

So Sapphire and I were talking about Crush Guy leaving and how I was kind of heartbroken, and she asked if I wanted to do a reading. I agreed, and the two cards that I pulled kind of blew my mind.

The smaller card, the picture card, was of a person standing waving goodbye (or hello), and of a bus in the background. The larger card, the one with the word(s) on it, read Letting Go.

I never did see Crush Guy again. I tried calling him a couple times in Calgary, but he never returned my calls. Looking back, I kind of shake my head at how I let myself fall so hard for someone who “didn’t do relationships.” Nowadays, I know not to waste my heart on people like him, because guys, generally, are really straightforward. When they just want sex, that’s all they want. Oxytocin just doesn’t do to them what it does to women.

The Dragon Dwellers kind of went their separate ways once we got to the city, but a few of them come back into the story a little later.

A note here about Sapphire. She was this beautiful, sensual, short, fiery mermaid creature from Quebec with a French temper and passion to match. I adored her and was scared of her all at the same time. She was my sister’s age so I looked up to her quite a bit. We met over a crow feather, and we are still in touch today. She comes into the story more later.

So it didn’t take long to get drawn into “the group,” which was just basically everyone who hung out together in “the park” or “the square.” I really didn’t even notice when I first got there (again with the naiveté), but everyone I met there either sold drugs, or did a lot of them. A lot of them just sold weed, which I still don’t really see as a “hardcore drug,” but to say that I was hanging out with sketchy people, whatever they were selling or doing, is a definite truism.

This is one of the hardest parts of the story to recount, the most disturbing in some ways, and the scariest. Looking back, I can’t honestly tell you how I got out of that time without being raped, murdered or chopped into little pieces in a ditch somewhere. I thank my spirit guides, my creature-teachers, my angels and my ancestors – certainly not my common sense or worldly wisdom. My “everyone is awesome and trustworthy!” beliefs were about to get me into trouble.

Like I have said, I knew that winter was fast approaching, and I would need to settle down somewhere for the duration. Up until that time, I had been basically going wherever the wind took me, trusting in “my path” to guide me to wherever I needed to be. I believed in some sketchy “everything that is happening is meant to happen” destiny, so when I landed in Vic and winter was on her way, I decided that it was meant to be, and so I made some plans to stay for awhile. That didn’t include much planning; it was basically, “I am going to stay here the winter, sleeping in the big park down the road, and just hanging out and doing what all my friends happen to be doing. . .which in that town meant panhandling and doing lots of drugs. I never got into the drugs. Panhandling, I’m ashamed to say, I got quite into. It appealed to my so-called Buddhist beliefs at the time, but the reality was, I was lost and confused and didn’t want to get a job because that meant I was a sell-out. So again, hiding my low self-esteem and confusion beneath the “spiritual” veneer.

I remember well my daily routine, or lack thereof. At the beginning of my stay there, I was closest with a guy named Mike and a French girl named Mary Eve (pronounced “ehve,” not like Eve.) The three of us were basically living together in our various camping spots throughout the park, and of course it was a love triangle. I liked Mike, but he liked Mary Eve, and she didn’t seem to like anyone, at least not at first. I think I trusted Mike and felt safe around him (which was weird because he was really untrustworthy), and since I was still a virgin at the time, trust was a big thing for me in someone I liked.

So we would go sleep in this huge park called Beacon Hill that was down the road from the downtown core area, a beautiful spot that ran right into the ocean. There were tons of tall stands of trees and places to hide a tent, which we did for quite a while. We would walk there after sunset, smoke a bunch of weed, talk for a while, and go to sleep. It never got cold enough to snow there, only rain, so as long as you had shelter and a sleeping bag and stayed dry, you were fine. In the morning (or afternoon) we would get up and wander downtown, and then panhandle for a couple hours. Mike and Mary Eve started selling weed, but I never did because if I got caught, then it would show up that I had a court date I had missed. Not to mention the fact that I am a horrible liar and always have been, and would get myself all worked up into a paranoid frenzy if I were a drug dealer. So I panhandled and ate from “the food van” that came to the small drug-dealer park once a day around 6:00 PM. They gave out free sandwiches and juice and hot chocolate, and you could take as much as you wanted. We had all learned the soup kitchens in the city, too. How awesome.

So that was my life. Yes, I had moments when I questioned what the hell I was doing, and if I was happy, which of course I wasn’t. But I was still holding onto the belief that I was meant to be there, and that it would all become clear at some point as to why. And of course I was happy! I didn’t need material things like a house, food, or showers to be happy! I wasn’t that shallow! I was way more enlightened than the masses. And maybe I actually would have been, if I truly had been happy living a simple day-to-day life with no material possessions. But I wasn’t. If that’s the life for you, then go live it, I say, and live it to the max. Don’t let anyone judge you for it. But it wasn’t what I really wanted.

When I would have enough money, I would take the ferry to the mainland and then hitch hike the two hour journey to see my sister in Whistler, and that was probably the only healthy thing I did in that time. Get away from that hole I had dug myself into in Victoria. She always let me stay with her, but our relationship was kind of strained during that time. She was living in a different log cabin in the woods with her best friend, a girl from New Zealand. There wasn’t a lot of room and they were doing their own thing, so I always kind of felt like a fifth wheel, awkward and uncomfortable, smelling like a street kid and all jangly with city-energy, and ever so lost and confused, looking to them for answers that only I could give myself. I never stayed very long, always finding some reason that it was totally my destiny to go back to the city.

My sister had a made friends (yes, just friends) with an older guy who owned a property north of Whistler. I still don’t know what he does for a living, but he was, and is, pretty well-off. He was always off in Vancouver doing business stuff, and he would pay my sister to take care of his two Bouviers des Flandres, two awesome dogs that I grew to love, his large, beautiful property with the mountain view, and his beautiful house. I would go up with her sometimes and help out, and, holy of holies, shower. A few times I went by myself, and it was sooooo good; probably one of the things that kept me sane. A safe, warm, dry house with running water that I could drink and shower under! And do laundry! And sleep in a bed! And not worry about being woken up by the cops in the morning! Holy crap! Of course I felt like a huge sellout and hated myself. I was supposed to be non-materialistic, enlightened and hardcore. But clearly I wasn’t, and now, I see that that’s an awesome thing! I had standards. I had self-respect. I wasn’t okay with living in the gutter.

The guy who owned the dogs and the land and the house was a really generous, good guy, if not a little crazy, but only in a minimal, neurotic way that was mostly from living alone for too long and was actually quite funny. Once I decided I was done with living in the gutter and had moved in with my sister, he bought me a really nice pair of good winter boots that cost over a hundred dollars, just because we lived in the woods and I needed them. He was that kind of guy. He had money, you needed something, he liked you, he got it for you. Simple. As a result of his big heart, he had been burned a fair few times, and for a lot of money by one person in particular, but it still didn’t stop him from being generous. A really good guy. He’s still friends with my sister, and we hung out with him at her wedding a few years ago.

So my winter was basically a lot of back-and-forthing, which I loved because staying in one place was totally anathema to me then. Every time I got sick of the city and needed to be in the quiet and the green, I would hop the ferry and hitch hike up to see my sister in the woods. Then I would miss my friends, and head back down.

I met tons of people that winter in the city, and called them all friends. Some were definitely not my friends, some were more like acquaintances, and a few are still my friends today, though we haven’t seen each other in a long time. Sapphire is one, Rhiannon is another. (Peter kind of faded out of my life. . .I just creeped him on facebook, and there he is. He wasn’t for a long time. I’m not sure if I want to know him now, since my definition of cool has changed a lot.)

I met Rhiannon one day that was just like any other day, and I think that neither of us had anything better to do than hang out. We had seen each other before, of course, because the whole group of everyone kind of moved in circles around one another, but we had never hung out. I was, in her mind, a flaky hippie (and I totally was, for the most part), and she was, in my mind, the really cool-looking, interesting, beautiful girl with the beautiful black Lab puppy. Tall, with beautiful black hair, greenish eyes, and an exotic face. So this one day she invited me down to the ocean to smoke a bowl, which I agreed to, because I was in my “I-have-to-start-liking-weed” phase.

To explain: everyone smoked weed out there. I mean everyone. And since I was now living there and wanting to become completely enveloped by that world, I, of course, had to smoke weed to. But I hated it. It was horrible. It made me paranoid and it made me think too much, which I already did anyway, so it made me think way too much. I would tell this to people, and their response was always the same: just smoke more, and that will all go away. So, for about six months, I was stoned. Every waking minute of the day, I was stoned. Literally. I was determined.

But after six months of being a dribbling, useless mess that could barely walk, let alone talk or function in any capacity, I quit. And I didn’t give a shit what anyone thought. And it felt awesome. I think since leaving “paradise” and coming back to reality, I’ve smoked weed maybe three or four times, and I did it because I wanted to prove to myself that I could control my thoughts while I was stoned, that I didn’t have to become a gibbled mess. And I learned that I can, but it’s hard. Once I proved it to myself, I stopped. I think it’s been at least five years since I last smoked.

No one knew what to do with me anymore. My lack of smoking was actually the centre of more conversations than I can count. It’s like it was actually really, really interesting and baffling to those people. They would try to convince me to smoke with them using every argument you can think of. They would try to analyze me to figure out why I wasn’t smoking. It actually got really annoying after a while, to the point that even now I hate being around people who are smoking. If you want to do it, go for it; just don’t try and push your lifestyle choices on me. Maybe it’s because I’m an HSP, but when I’m around someone who’s stoned, I immediately start to get contact high, and I don’t like the feeling. And I don’t let anyone into my home who’s stoned or high. It upsets my balance, and my cats’ balance too.

I really believe that smoking weed is kind of like getting a tattoo (at least in some circles): all the cool people are doing it, you know. You have to do it. A little while ago my boyfriend and I were talking about tattoos (I have five, he has none), and he told me that once his brother (who has lots) told him that he has to get one. That really kind of pissed me off for my boyfriend’s sake. I mean, who says you have to get a tattoo? Because they’re cool? The point of a tattoo is that means something to you, something that you will honour for the rest of your life. Period. And if someone chooses not to do that, who is anyone to tell them that’s wrong? And who says you have to smoke weed? Is it just that same old truth that when one person quits something, it threatens the people who are still stuck in their addiction? But the universal argument of potheads everywhere is that weed isn’t physically addictive, only psychologically. Anyway, done rant.

So back to meeting Rhiannon. We went down to the ocean, sat, and smoked. And for two hours, we had the most amazing conversation. It just flowed out of us, beautiful and natural and true. At the end we kind of looked at each other, and it was like we were seeing each other for the first time. From that moment on, a beautiful friendship started growing. We had a million more awesome conversations like that first one, we laughed and were silly and shared spiritual ideas and thoughts and experiences, and she was totally there for me and I for her.

Obviously no friendship is perfect, and one thing I noticed that was sort of a bridge that I, at least, had trouble crossing, was the difference in our childhoods. She didn’t talk about hers much, but from what she said, I gathered she had been through some really rough times. There was an anger there, and a darkness, both deep. Her mom lived in Victoria, yet Rhiannon was living on the streets like the rest of us. I never asked her why, but obviously they didn’t have the best relationship. Sometimes she would go home to her mom’s and try to make it work, but she inevitably ended up back on the streets.

From the time I met her, Rhiannon had a mad crush on this guy named Bob (fake name), and it was fairly obvious he liked her too. At one point during the winter I took her up to Whistler (a big deal; I wouldn’t take just anyone to my haven) to hang out for a few days, and we were in a cabin of our own at that point. We smoked a lot of weed and talked endlessly about her crush and mine (I was still pining for Best Friend Guy at that point). Basically, we were being girls, and it was fun.

Once we were back in the city, she and Bob got together, and I was stoked for her, since she’d liked him for so long, and he really seemed to treat her well, and they seemed happy.

At first our friendship remained really solid. I remember this one day when I was sitting with her and Bob downtown, with my didgeridoo resting on the bench beside me. (For those of you who don’t know, a didgeridoo is a wind instrument that originated in Australia with the Aborigines. It’s generally long, almost as long as a person, and looks like a pipe, straight, with no holes or anything in it. You purse your lips in a certain way and blow into it – it’s called circular breathing if you can do it right – and it makes a really cool, deep sound that can be sustained for as long as you want. There is some disagreement as to whether women should play the didgeridoo, as in traditional Aborigine ceremony, it is only men who play; I wouldn’t play one now.) So a guy in town had made me one of bamboo, and I didn’t let just anyone play it, since it was special to me, my instrument. Anyway, this guy who was generally a creep came wandering up to us, and Rhiannon and I were talking and laughing together, so I didn’t even notice him pick up my instrument and start playing it. When I heard it, I glanced over and saw him staring at me with this nasty smirk on his face, daring me to do something about it.

This is one of those moments I’m embarrassed of now that I look back, but at least I tried to stop him. I asked him politely to stop and put it down, and he replied by shooting a string of swears and insults at me, and then he kept playing. I took a deep breath and asked Bob if he would help me out; he told me to just let him play it. In other words, he didn’t think it was worth getting into a fight with this idiot over it. So I, in all my dignity and maturity, tried to wrestle it out of his grasp, which obviously didn’t work, since I’m a tiny girl and he was a big smelly dumb guy. So I sat back down on the bench and stared straight ahead, angry and hurt, while he kept playing it until he felt he had made his point. Then he put it down, gave me one last dirty look, and walked away.

I started to cry, and Rhiannon covered my face with kisses and we went for food at this amazing vegetarian restaurant down the street. She always had money, since she sold weed.

So our friendship was awesome, but gradually I noticed she was distancing herself from me more and more. At first I think I thought it was because she was really in love, and it was kind of natural for her to start spending more time with her boyfriend than with me. But over time, I started to notice that something was definitely wrong, because every time I asked her if she wanted to go hang out, she would reply with, “I have to go sell.” She and Bob were inseparable then, always selling together, always together, always selling.

I decided I needed a break from it all, and went to see my sister. While I was there, we stopped in at the library, and I had resolved to ask Rhiannon what was up. I sent her an email telling her I was hurt, asking what was wrong. And her reply was not what I had expected.

Me in all my shelteredness, had expected her to say she was just really in love, or mad at me, or something, but instead, she told me that she and Bob had started doing heroin. Suddenly, it all started to make sense. She was addicted, so she had to sell enough to make enough to keep doing more and more. I can’t even say how I felt. Shocked. Hurt. Scared. Confused.

I told my sister, and that night I decided I had to go back to the city. Quite frankly, I think she was glad I was leaving at that point; I was a pretty big mess at that point in my life, really a draining person, and I know that I smelled. I had to show Rhiannon I was there for her, that we were a team and we would work it out. What I don’t think occurred to me in that moment was that maybe she didn’t want to quit and get better. That maybe me riding up on my white horse to save her wasn’t what she wanted. I couldn’t wrap my head around that.

When I got back to town I kept trying to get her to hang out with me so we could talk, but I kept getting the same answer: “I need to go sell.” I remember one of the last times I saw her, right around when I gave up. She was sitting beside Bob in front of this coffee shop, Blenz, on Douglas Street, the main road in Victoria. He was nodding off with his head on her shoulder, and I remember thinking she looked like a little girl and his mother, all at once. Then I walked away.

It took a while, but Rhiannon ended up quitting heroin with huge strength, and we figured things out and became friends again after a couple attempts, though we’re not as close as we once were. Having seen and heard how this drug and others like it have destroyed other people I knew back then, I’d say it’s pretty awesome that she did it. I’m pretty sure she’s made peace with her mom, too.

So while all that was going on, I was busy making some very bad choices in regards to the company I kept. I remember this one night in particular, I somehow ended up hanging out (alone) with this guy who sold hash and was a special breed of creepy. So somehow we ended up alone together after everyone had retired to their various sleeping spots, and he and I were sitting on a step somewhere on Douglas around two in the morning. I was still a virgin at this point, and I really had no idea how sex and everything related to it “worked.” I suppose, in my gormlessness, I had given him the message I was attracted to him, because he started sucking on my ear, which was just more weird than anything. We ended up taking a long walk to Beacon Hill Park where my friends Mike and Mary Eve were sleeping, and I remember as we were walking along in the darkness thinking, Wow, he could totally rape me right now, and there’s nothing I could do about it, and no one to hear me scream. Luckily he didn’t, and we made it to our sleeping spot, where I promptly laid out my sleeping bag and he sat there staring at me for half an hour, talking about some weird spiritual stuff and being generally creepy, which I tried to ignore and pretended to fall asleep. In the morning he was gone, and once again, I was lucky. . .not smart. Lucky.

There was this other guy that I remember thinking was this really cool person, and it turned out later he was a pimp. And yet another guy who I also thought was awesome, and he turned out to be a cokehead. What can I say?

Something interesting that has stuck with me, however, is the way that the group of street kids interacted. As I mentioned before, the majority of them sold weed and what-have-you, which is what you would expect. What you might not expect, though, is the fact that, among themselves, with no “higher authority” present, these “street punks” were actually extremely ethical, caring and honest (for the most part).

For example, most of the people who sold weed worked in pairs, and what really surprised me when I first got there is that they would actually take shifts that were agreed upon prior to their start. That way, everybody made some money each day.

I remember this one night that I met up with this girl named Lucy (in the sky with diamonds). She was all leather army boots, metal studs, piercings and black. . .and I was all decked out in my hippie gear. She was actually a really funny person. I had had a bad day and hadn’t eaten, and I sat down beside her on the street well after dark to bitch about how horrible my life was. Yeah. Anyway, when I told her I hadn’t eaten, she reached into her hat, which she had been panhandling with, and handed me enough money to get a burger at McDicks. This was a girl who did drugs and probably could have used that money for a number of other things. . .but she gave it to me because I was hungry.

Kind of makes you think about some of the well-off people you might know. Would they do the same for you?

So this part of the story has been mostly shitty to write. A lot of sad, scary and ugly things happened while I was there. I had always believed that most people were good and decent and trustworthy; living there proved me wrong. There are a lot of really messed up people in the world, and they’re not always where you expect them to be (more on that later.)

I think I’ve really compartmentalized this time in my life in my head, because it was so dark and hopeless. And I can’t say that writing this all out has been healthy. But I hope it has been.

I need to go kiss my cats now.

Blinded By the Light – Part Two

(So this post is turning out to be really hard to write, because I’ve spent more than ten years trying not to think about all this stuff, so suddenly trying to remember it all is kind of a challenge. So forgive me if I bounce back and forth, and if you think that I’m not really going in any sensible order, you’re probably right. Just thought I’d add that in.)

At our first Rainbow Gathering, or should I say on our way there, my sister and I met up with two guys around our age. They were from Ontario, and they had been friends for a long time. The thing about these gatherings is that most everyone is open and wanting to talk, share stories and adventures. I think we met up with them hitch hiking there, and all four of us kind of instantly clicked. I honestly don’t remember the other guy’s name, but the one that factors mostly into this story was named Patrick. Actually, that’s totally not his real name, but I guess I’d rather people not know who I’m talking about, in the very off chance that someone reading this actually knows who I’m talking about. So. Patrick he is. But his story isn’t exactly the kind you hear every day, so maybe all my attempted diplomacy is for nothing. Oh well, I tried.

Anyway, he was this really nice guy who I sort of sensed had a deep wounding to him, and damn, if I didn’t turn out to be right. It didn’t take long for him to share his story with us, and I, like you will be once you read this, was skeptical as to if it were true, but he seemed pretty honest. He told us that his entire family – his mother, father, brother and sister – were all killed in separate car crashes. After they all died, he decided to come out to B.C. to start fresh, to live simply. He had a ring on a chain around his neck that he said had belonged to his brother, and he always wore it to remember him by. So the four of us joined up, and we all went to the gathering together. My sister, I think, really felt for him, and she did a lot of “counseling” for him while we all hung out. It really seemed like he was shedding the pain of all his loss during the Gathering, and though I tried to align myself with my sister’s attitude (I was supposed to be enlightened by now, after all), his losses and the intensity of his emotion scared the shit out of me. I had never met anyone with as much pain, and I knew he was developing feelings for me. I thought he was cute, but like I said, it was really intense. I could feel these waves of emotion rolling off him and crashing into me; I sensed, even back then in my naiveté, that he was giving all the emotion he used to have for his family to me. . .and along with it came all the expectations and need for a safe harbour, a haven from the loneliness he had been going through. Call me shallow, but I was 17, had never been in a relationship, and I was ready to run for the hills. I’m certainly not saying that it wasn’t shallow; I’m just saying it’s how I felt. But I guess the more compassionate, mothering side of me wanted to help him, because his story was heartbreaking. And back then I didn’t know the difference between compassion and passion (thank you to my friend Lou’s ex-husband for articulating this for me; I’ve never forgotten it), or that feeling empathy for someone who needs a mommy does not a good relationship make. (I needed to learn this several times before I got it. Now that I get it, I don’t want kids anymore. Not sure what this means.)

Anyway, this Gathering was at the end of July, a few weeks after I had arrived in “paradise,” and I think that my sister and I both knew that the time was coming when I would have to leave the shelter of her presence and strike out on my own, do my own thing, find my independence. Since Patrick and I were sort of a couple and he and I both wanted to explore Vancouver Island, and my sis had to go back to Whistler for work, the writing was sort of on the tie-dye. So once the moon was waning and we all packed up to leave the Gathering, I knew that my time on my own was soon to begin.

We all hitch hiked out together, and I remember we got a ride in the back of a pickup truck. We were all sitting down, feeling the wind and the sun and soaking up the experience of the last few days, and at one point Patrick stood up, and we saw that he had his brother’s ring in his hand. He paused, said something like, “I love you, bro,” and flung it into the forest as hard as he could. My sister and I exchanged a look and a smile. It was pretty cool to see his heart healing, letting go of the pain.

So we got to our “parting ways” spot, and I’m pretty sure my sister gave Patrick a “take-care-of-her-or-I’ll-hunt-you-down-and-kill-you” hug as we said our goodbyes. I was already getting pretty proficient at wearing my glazed “all-is-one-and-all-is-good-and-I-am-so-beatific-you-could-twist-my-limbs-into-a-pretzel-and-stick-me-in-a-piece-of-Vedic-pottery” mask, but inside I was pretty freaked out to be On My Own for the first time in my life, even if it was with a nice boy who I felt intuitively okay about (who I had only known for about a week and who had some serious problems that were way over my head to fix).

So with a huge lump in my throat and my knees shaking under my bellbottoms, Patrick and I hitch hiked into Victoria, with no other intention than to explore it.

Our time there really wasn’t that exciting; we somehow always ate and found places to pitch our tent, and we did some exploring, but my actual memories beyond a few awkward kisses are pretty blurry. Knowing myself as I do now, knowing I have anxiety and am an HSP (highly sensitive person), so much makes sense that back then just made me feel scared and wonder what the hell was wrong with me. I just remember feeling panicky and in over my head as he would talk about losing his family and the depth of grief he had, and how he had wanted to commit suicide, but didn’t now that he had met me. It was becoming more and more clear that I had become his “salvation,” the place where he wanted to bury himself and all his pain, love and fear. . .and I wasn’t okay with that. At the time I thought maybe it was just in my head, that I was just being selfish and lacking compassion, but a couple months later, it turned out I had been right.

I think I lasted a little over a week with him, and I just somehow knew that I needed to break, that it was becoming a drain on me. He started calling me Jelly Bean, which was not a nickname I appreciated. Seriously. Blech. (That’s where the Belly Jean came from in Belly Jean Sticky Fingers, by the way. My friend Peter switched the letters around for reasons of silliness.) Call me selfish, but I was there to have fun and explore, not be tied down to a person who needed me to be his everything, and save him. I remember I needed to go to the bank so I could get fare for the ferry to get back to the mainland and my sister, and I kept hitting snags. I didn’t have a drivers’ license or a bank card, and because the branch I went to wasn’t my home branch they couldn’t access my account until they verified my signature, blah, blah, blah. Then I went back the next morning and they were closed because they had been robbed. I remember Patrick turning to me and saying, “It seems like something is telling you to stay here with me,” and I just remember thinking, “Like hell it is.” I knew I needed to get away from him. I finally got my shit together, and when we said our goodbyes he cried inconsolably, but I just felt it in my bones that I had to go; it was way too much.

Obviously we didn’t exchange phone numbers or addresses because neither of us had a phone or an address, and email wasn’t really an everybody-has-one thing back then, particularly among people who were living off the grid in various capacities. So parting ways was kind of a, “If we’re meant to meet up again, we will” sort of thing then. I knew that I could have suggested we meet up sometime and somewhere down the road, but quite frankly I didn’t want to. So I left, feeling really guilty but really relieved, too.

Now here comes another one of those kind of crazy moments in the story again. It was a couple months later, and I was still on the mainland, in downtown Vancouver. I’m not sure what I was doing there, but I was with a few people I knew, and we were just passing through. I was standing on a street corner talking with someone, and I just had this strange feeling. I looked up at one point, almost like I sensed something, and where I was looking down the street, I saw Patrick. I had no idea he was in the city, and he had no idea I was on that street corner on that day, at that moment. He was staring at me with disbelief, then he ran up, buried his face in my shoulder, and started wailing. In between sobs, he told me how he had missed me so much that he had gone on a crystal meth binge, and had kind of lost it for a while. Ummm. . .yeah. Once again, I was at a loss for words. I don’t even remember what I said to him, but I basically left as soon as I could. I don’t know what he ended up doing, and I never saw him again. Am I a bitch? Maybe.

It’s interesting, looking back, because at that time I was really getting into intuition and wanting to tap into my “sixth sense,” that knowing-without-knowing, and I always felt frustrated because I wasn’t as advanced or as far along as I wanted to be. Yet writing this, it occurs to me that sometimes we just kind of know that we can’t be what someone wants or needs us to be, that maybe they need something that’s beyond our skill or our energy to give them, and that maybe, even if we care deeply for them, it would be a detriment to us in some way to remain around that person, even when their need is deep and raw, but we need to take care of ourselves, otherwise we have nothing to give anyone. It’s obvious that Patrick needed something, some kind of healing, but I knew back then, despite my lack of wisdom and life experience, that I wasn’t the one to give it to him. So my point is, maybe I was more intuitive than I thought I was back then, even if I wasn’t seeing dead people yet; I just didn’t quite understand the whole scope of what intuition is. And maybe I wasn’t wholly without the ability to set boundaries; I just beat myself up every time I did it, telling myself I was a heartless bitch, or a weak person who just “didn’t have her shit together.” Interesting. . .

Another person that deserves to be mentioned here is a lad I’ll call Peter, though that isn’t his real name either. But it suits him. . .

Peter was a Metis guy who I met through my sister, and there was something otherworldly about him. When I met him, I was very much swayed by other peoples’ opinions, so I can’t honestly say what I would think of him if I met him today, but at the time I got very much sucked into the Peter-buzz. Everyone kind of loved the guy, because there was something, as I said, otherworldly and maybe unattainable, untouchable about him. Not to mention that he was incredibly sexy in his own way. But really, it was more the light that seemed to shine out of him that drew me to him. I ended up getting a huge crush on his best friend once I realized that in Peter’s eyes I would always be my big sister’s little sister and that’s all, but that’s basically a boring story that doesn’t deserve much space here. But I will say that Best Friend Guy and I fooled around in the basement of a church once, and it still makes me giggle. I am definitely going to hell.

Anyway, one night shortly after I met Peter, my sister and I were in his tent with him on a beach in Nelson, the town we were hanging out in before our second Rainbow Gathering. We were doing bottle tokes of hash, a first for me, and to say that I got kind of stoned would be like saying that it would kind of suck if you were walking through the forest one day and a crazed squirrel jumped out of the trees and attacked your face with his long pointy teeth. (I know squirrels don’t really have pointy teeth, but it sounded more dramatic that way.)

In other words, I was over the moon and then some.

When we had completed our hot box, we all came outside and stood around for a minute. I’m not sure what they were doing, but I was getting really, really high really, really fast, and I was having a hard time keeping up. I remember looking at my sister in the moonlight, and there were some bushes behind her, and behind her and all around her I could see these pictures of stuff – like cars and microwaves and McDonald’s and just the general shit that clutters up our minds and lives. It was spewing everywhere, even though we were on a deserted beach far from town and in nature, it was still prevalent, the materialism of our culture. The interesting thing is, when my sister and I talked the following day, she said she was seeing the exact same thing at the same time. I’ve always believed that drugs can open one’s mind to other faces of reality. . .but the problem is, sometimes you’re just really stoned, and it can be hard to tell the difference between a genuine awakening experience and just being gibbled. Which is why I choose, nowadays, to attain these experiences without the use of mind altering substances, for the most part.

So my sis and Peter wandered down to the water to watch the moon on the waves (he always had a thing for her, but he was my age, so I think it was weird for her), and I went back to my tent to go to sleep. This was what I decided to do because I wasn’t sure what else to do. I was feeling mighty weird, and as I lay there, it quickly became apparent that sleep was not coming anytime soon.

One of the biggest problems, as I see now, in my ideology at that time was that I refused to see things as anything less, or more than “One hundred percent positive, amazing, beautiful, meaningful, spiritual awesomeness!” Everything that happened was good, meaningful, and designed just for me to learn and gain positivity from. Because, after all, I lived in paradise now, remember? But how, you might be wondering, could you possibly live like that for any length of time? Sometimes things happen that are painful, or scary, or just plain piss you off. What would you do then? And to you I offer a really good quote from a really good movie: Never underestimate the power of denial.

I think the tragic flaw in my understanding at that time was that I had heard the whole “always-learn-from-your-mistakes-and-take-something-positive-out-of-every-bad-experience” philosophy, and maybe had taken it way too literally. Somehow I ended up thinking that it wasn’t so much that it’s good to find positives in all situations, but rather that, once I attained utopia, everything would be positive and magical and perfect. (Needless to say, I had a lot to learn about magic.) I think I wanted to believe perfection, safety, peace and beauty existed, that there was somewhere in the world where life was still magical. Maybe that’s a part of the seemingly inevitable disillusionment of adulthood; that things just don’t seem as magical as they did when we were kids. It took me a little while to realize that the magic from childhood is never lost; it’s just that being an adult really kind of sucks, so you have to get creative if you want to hold onto that childhood magic, and find it in different places than you used to.

So back to me tripping in my tent.

I lay on my back and closed my eyes, trying to quiet my mind, which turned out to be impossible. (That’s one thing I’ve realized, that every time I smoked pot or hash or did mushrooms or anything, my mind would race like crazy, and there was no stopping it, only changing its course, to a point, but never controlling it. I see now that this was part of my depression and anxiety, which is why I don’t smoke or do mushrooms anymore. Not fun.) I opened my eyes and was still seeing these loopy pictures floating by, and for the first few minutes (hours? Who knows) it was actually kind of cool. But then one negative, worrisome thought came creeping in; I don’t remember what it was, and suddenly the whole “vibe” changed, and I felt like I was plummeting, way, way down. And again, there was no stopping it.

Then things started getting kind of scary. I felt a weird sucking sensation between my eyes and up on my forehead, what some would call the place of my third eye. My first impression of this feeling would have been “bad,” but because everything that happened in my world at the time was “good,” I couldn’t accept that, so I told myself that my third eye chakra was opening, and I started to get all excited. I focused on the feeling, wanting it to expand, and it did. It seemed to move down my body to my throat, then my heart area, then on down.

By this point I was still telling myself that I was having a chakra / spiritual opening / awakening thing, that it was good and light and amazing, but something deeper and smarter in me finally stepped up and said, “This is fucking scary!” so I got up and opened my tent door and called my sister’s name out into the darkness.

She came to my tent and I was crying and blubbering and shaky-breathing, trying to explain what it felt like, and I really don’t think I did a good job of explaining it. She asked if I wanted to go sleep in her tent, and I said yes. What I really wanted was to not be alone, but I was afraid to admit it; after all, I was in utopia now, where bad and scary things never happened. I didn’t want to appear unenlightened, after all. Perish the thought.

So I went to her tent and lay there for a few minutes, but I couldn’t sleep, though the weird sucking feeling had stopped. I got up and went outside, still wrapped in my sleeping bag.

Peter was on the beach, spinning a staff he had made for himself under the moon. I watched him for a minute, again struggling against my shyness. The truth was, I felt like I had had some kind of weird spiritually violating experience, and for whatever reason I felt safe around him.

I asked, “Can I have a hug?”

He replied, “I would love to give you a hug.” I tried explaining what had happened, and he asked me if I felt good around him. When I replied with a yes, he let me go and reached around his neck to take off the necklace he wore. He told me it was something he had made for himself out or random things he had found, and that it was a piece of him that I could wear for the night if it would help me feel strong again. Pretty cool. I did wear it all night, and I did feel better.

To this day, I can’t say if what I experienced was some kind of negative spiritual experience, or if it was just a really bad trip, if one can trip after smoking hash. (I can, apparently.)

In the morning I woke up and, remembering the experience, it was hard to process how I felt. Emotionally exhausted, I would say, and not much else. Scared and confused. But, typical of my state of mind at the time, I started to try and convince myself it really had been a spiritually awakening experience. Maybe I didn’t know how to deal with whatever it really had been, whatever that was.

This was the point, I would say, when my adventure started to turn into a misadventure.

The beach we had camped on was actually a popular hippie spot just outside of Nelson. You had to walk down a set of railroad tracks for about twenty minutes to get to it, and even though we were on the railway’s private land, the police never came to kick us off. I’m still not sure why. By the time we left, there was a whole little village of smelly hippies living down there in their tents, feeling smug and superior as we looked from our beach at the lights of Nelson. We were so much more enlightened than all the drones living in town and not questioning reality the way we were, after all.

So as this beach started to fill up with more and more hippies, on the day after my weird experience a man showed up whose real name I will gladly use here, because if he’s still around being a pervert, maybe some young girl will read this and know to watch out for a gross old dude with weird blue eyes that kind of swim, like he’s done way too much acid, named Chester, who carries around an arsenal of crystals and calls himself a shaman. You’ve been warned, young hippie chicks. It doesn’t matter if you’re underage; he prefers that. He will try to have sex with you. He was at least in his fifties when I met him, and that was over ten years ago. He will tell you that you are the living embodiment of the Goddess and he the God, and that all of nature wants you to join together in the Sacred Marriage. For the good of the earth and all of humanity, you know. And what’s really scary is that I think a part of him truly believes it.

Anyhoo, I saw him that morning, all decked out in his “shaman gear,” crystal headdress and all that, and being the naïve person that I was, I found myself telling him what had happened to me, and he told me (like he knew) that it had, in fact, been a spiritual opening, and it was positive, blah, blah, blah. Yeah, right. Bluffing can get you pretty far when your audience / congregation is really fixed on believing a certain thing to be true. (Isn’t that right, all you pastors and preachers out there? Sorry for breaking away from the story, but it needed to be said.)

And I admit I was drawn to him, because back then I hadn’t learned that just because someone claims to be something doesn’t mean that they are. So many shameful admissions in this here post. But I know I’ve learned from it all and grown immensely, so I feel a little better about myself.

I remember a couple days after my weird experience on hash, I was walking down the main street in Nelson with a friend, and this dreaded hippie who was sitting on the sidewalk stopped me and asked if I was Rainbow. I said yes, and he said something like, “You’re that girl that Chester was saying is really spiritual!” I was like, “Oh, um, okay.” He asked me a couple questions about my experience and I answered him, and I remember as I was talking he was looking up at me with wide eyes and his mouth hanging open, and I got this strange feeling that he saw me as a spiritual guru or something. It made me really uncomfortable, but it was also a wake-up call to the total gullibility of these people. I mean, I could have been anyone, spouting pure garbage.

It was around the time that I started hanging out with this creeper that my sister decided to leave and go home to Whistler, and I noticed Peter sort of watching me from the sidelines. Not judging, just observing. And maybe it speaks to the connection I had with both of them that a part of me took a step back and went, “What am I doing? Can I really trust the people I’ve started associating with?” Which was of course answered with, “Of course you can! This is paradise, remember? These are all good people!”

So yes, I got sucked in, but not so far that I was beyond help, since I broke free eventually. And Chester (Chester the Molester we called him, not fondly) tried his whole “Oh-Goddess-join-with-me” routine, which I can happily say I didn’t fall for; I was still a virgin at this point, and I had vowed to myself that I was going to wait until I was in love. So ha ha, you old perv, I win!

It was around this time that I started calling myself Rainbow; it had been floating around in my head for a while that I wanted to change my name; the name I was given when I was born just somehow wasn’t feeling like me anymore; I felt like I was expanding beyond the limits that it imposed, and I couldn’t break the chains of what it meant to live under that name. A lot of it was some painful stuff from my childhood that was brought rushing back to me with force every time I heard the name, and my stomach would turn over, kind of like I had been kicked in the gut. So I started doing research, looking up all sorts of different names, and I chose Rainbow for the deep and meaningful reason that I thought it sounded pretty. Yeah. Needless to say, it didn’t last all too long. I went through quite a few names during that time; sometimes I would meet someone new, and just tell them a name that popped into my head that sounded cool, just to see what it felt like. It was like trying on a pair of jeans in a dressing room. Some fit better than others. I can’t remember them all, but some I still do. . .Rainbow, Sky, Rain, Starling, Errantry. Once I had left “utopia” in 2001, the urge to change it never left me, and I continued going through names, trying them on, though with less frequency and more thought. Fiamma lasted for quite a while; it’s Italian and it means “flame.” I discovered it when listening to this wicked band from Italy called Fiamma Fumana, at a summer folk festival in 2004. The name means “flame and fog.” Air to fire to earth. Snowden, Taryn, Nevada, Eowyn. . .too many to count.

So began my Rainbow phase, and I should note here that Peter never once called me by that name. He knew better. He knew it wasn’t me. But it was something I had to walk through to learn better. I believe that. It’s kind of been a process of elimination.

I stayed in Nelson for about three weeks, and at that time, that was an eternity. For me to stay somewhere longer than a few days meant it had to be pretty damn awesome, at least in my opinion. A lot of it had to do with Peter’s best friend, who I developed a mad crush on at the time. Go figure. We spent a night cuddling, one of the first times I ever did that, but we never kissed; I’m not sure why. Maybe my sister warned Peter and he warned his friend that I was off limits. But at any rate, I was a hardcore romantic, and Best Friend Guy was a manwhore, as I learned later. He ended up leaving town before I did, so that’s the end of that for now. It’s pretty boring anyway.

During the course of my stay there, I discovered that I had something of a knack for shoplifting groceries. I would strut (that’s right; I strutted) into the grocery store with an empty backpack, fill it with food (I mean fill it), and walk out without looking back. And I never got caught. Until I did. It was ironic. I had gone into that store every day for about two weeks and walked out with $60 plus of stolen food, and never got caught. Then one day, that fateful day, I walked in, took three apples and a croissant, and got caught, marched to the back room, had my picture taken, handcuffed, and taken to the police station, fingerprinted, given a court date, the whole thing. I was freaking terrified. All that cockiness was gone, and I was just a scared little suburban girl again. The court date was set for the end of August, which was about a month away, which meant I would have to either stay in town until then, or leave and then hitch hike back for the date. The idea of being restrained because of something like a court date railed against my wandering ways, and I somehow knew that I wouldn’t be able to hitch hike back for the court date. Too scared, maybe. So I made the totally awesome decision of leaving town and skipping the court date because I was scared of going to jail. Which meant there was a warrant out for my arrest in that province. How bizarre. And scary. And stupid.

After that day, I tried shoplifting one more time. Stupid, you might say, seeing as there was a warrant out for my arrest. And yes, you would be right, it was incredibly stupid. More so since because I got caught again, only this store owner just told me to never come back; if they had called the police my goose would have been cooked, with no red wine sauce on the side. And after that day, I have never, ever stolen anything again, and I never will. Not worth it, folks.

There were these two girls I met there, Justine and Nikki, and the three of us just connected in a way I can’t describe. I remember walking around town with them, down the railroad tracks, intimidating all the boys we passed, and there was this timeless beauty about the whole thing. The three of us only spent one day together, but we ate organic summer fruit and let the juice drip down our chins and our arms. We giggled and talked girl talk, and at one point we figured out that we were the Magician (me), the High Priestess (Justine), and the Empress (Nikki) from the Tarot deck. I never learned their last names so I have no way of knowing what became of them, but if I ever saw them again, walking towards me on some railroad ties in the summer sun, I would run to them with massive hugs and organic apricots to share.

Summer was slowly drawing to a close, and I had been in Nelson for a few weeks. I had started to think about leaving, but was waiting for something to tell me it was time to leave. I really was bad at making decisions, and still am, but at least I know that now and don’t try to pretend it’s a good thing. I ended up meeting a girl named Melissa who had bought a VW microbus from the ‘60’s and was going to pack it full of hippies and drive down to the coast. I got the official invite about ten minutes before they were leaving, the bus already full of eight other people and a dog, plus backpacks. I basically went, “Sure!” packed up my tent and my pack, and climbed in. We named the van Smaug because it was red, and we called ourselves the Dragon Dwellers.

I was headed oceanward once more.

Blinded By the Light – Part One

So I just got back from vacation, and one of the places we spent a bit of time was the coast in British Columbia, a place I frequented when I was 17 and had just moved out of my mother’s house. And it got me thinking back to that time, which is something I have steadfastly and consistently not done since that time in my life ended, which was when I was 19, which was in early 2001. Because the truth is, it scared me. It scared me that I could become so lost, that I could have been so naïve, that I could have put myself in the face of such dangerous and violating circumstances and still have such a hard time saying no, that the nice-girl smile was so firmly smeared on my face. It scared me that there were people as fucked up as the ones I had met in the world. Yes, my sheltered suburban childhood was abruptly shattered when I went looking for utopia.

So, like many other things I write about in my blog, it’s probably a good thing to talk about, face, process, learn from, and let go of. And also, like many other things I write about in my blog, I’m going to do all that here. So grab your patchouli oil, your tie-dye, your hemp and your bong, and take this cringing walk down memory rut with me.

The beginning-beginning of this story is actually way before the actual beginning, but I need to tell it from here so you understand why it all happened the way it did.

As I’ve mentioned before, my parents are divorced and I have never gotten along well with my mother. After my dad moved out and it was just our mom, my older sister and I, my sister was sort of the buffer zone between my mother and I. If she was gone, the room became palpably tense. If she was there, all was laughter and ease. So when she announced one day that she was getting on a Greyhound with nothing but her backpack, bound for the wild blue yonder with no fixed plans and no intention on arriving, the shock and “Oh crap” moment was multi-layered. I was fifteen, she was nineteen, and she was my world. Maybe because my dad was “gone” and my mother wasn’t “there” for me, but her leaving totally crushed me, yet in retrospect, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me, because I was forced to define my own personality, something I had avoided doing up until that moment. I worshiped her, so being her was good enough for me. It was uncomfortable, but much needed. This rose was long past due blooming.

So she left that summer, and my mother and I barely spoke anymore, and it only got worse as high school progressed. So the following spring break, when I was sixteen and my sister had been landed in the mountain/snowboarding town of Whistler for a while and asked me if I wanted to visit her, it’s pretty obvious that I said yes. My mind was about to be opened to hitherto unknown horizons of possibility.

My sis picked me up from the airport in Vancouver, where I was still dancing-eyed from my first flight ever (it was a cloudy night, a solid blanket of cloud, and once the plane was above them, the crescent moon lit the grey blanket to silver, and the stars were brighter than I’d ever seen. It was a new planet. I had a window seat.) We stayed the night in a hostel in Vancouver, then took the bus to Whistler the following morning. She wanted me to experience the ride, the transition from ocean to deep mountains, and damn, did I ever experience it. My eyes were opened.

From town we hitch hiked north, then walked onto a logging road where she told me with an evil grin we would be hiking up a mountain. I had a massive travel bag with me, so this was extra fun. But it was well worth it when we arrived. Understatement of the last eight millennium.

She was living in a tiny log cabin with a wood burning stove, on the side of a mountain, no electricity. There were still patches of snow on the ground, and lots of firewood. Candles to read by, battery-powered speakers for music, paper and pens and books and little pieces of art everywhere you looked. An eight sided window over the bed showed a sky I had never seen. And silence. A silence that’s indescribable when you’ve only lived in a houses that are always filled with hummings, beepings, clickings, distractions. A silence that’s closer to real peace.

And so there I stayed for ten days. My clothes quickly became saturated with the heavenly smell of woodsmoke, I explored the town and found treasures everywhere. People smiled knowing smiles and their eyes sparkled with secrets that I somehow knew too.I listened to new music and met people who, if you glanced at them quickly enough, you were sure were really gnomes, dwarves or faeries concealing themselves from you beneath their hood. And when it was time to go home, I cried like a baby.

That summer, and the following spring break, I went out and visited her again, and gradually a dream grew in my heart: that when I graduated high school, I would move out to B.C. permanently. One way flight. A new home. I couldn’t wait.

So I graduated in June of 1999, and I was still seventeen, being born in August. But I was determined to go. I worked for a few weeks prior to grad to save up enough for a plane ticket, and I was set. I thought.

My mother, obviously, had serious misgivings about me leaving when I was only seventeen, and I was a young seventeen if you know what I mean. So very, very naïve. But I was bound and determined, and I don’t think I would have stayed even if she had said I had to. In my mind, my hometown of Winnipeg was over, done, and paradise awaited me. I remember cleaning out my room, blithely throwing away things that had huge sentimental value to me then, thinking breezily that I was becoming a new person, that the old me was dead. I honestly thought that I would get out there and all my problems, my bad habits, anything that hurt or was less than perfect, would just magically disappear. Little did I realize back then that, as the Buddhists say, wherever you go, there you are. And I wish I’d kept those sentimental things. I’m just glad I didn’t throw away everything.

I planned my flight so I left on the new moon, July 12th, 1999. New beginning. My mom drove me to the airport in silence, a silence that I realize now was filled with her fear for her seriously naïve, young daughter who was sailing off into the Blue with no money and no life experience. My sister was meeting me at the airport on the other end, something my mom probably insisted upon.

My dad and a couple of my friends were there to see me off, and I remember feeling their sadness and being kind of baffled by it. I was too excited to be sad, and back then I don’t think I really knew the value of a true friend. I was looking ahead, not back.

So I flew and I landed and I almost exploded with excitement, but finally my feet were on the “soil” of “home” as I thought of it then. My sister met me at baggage claim and we hugged and she said, “Hello,” like I was a baby, fresh and new to the world. I totally was.

We hung around Van for a day, and at one point she asked me, “What do you want to do?” I think that was the first moment that I saw the other side (the shadow side?) of freedom: responsibility. I wasn’t in high school anymore, with everyone else making all the decisions about my time, my energy, my life. And I must admit, I didn’t have an answer for her. I had just sort of assumed that once I got out there, my “path” would just sort of unfold before my feet, the Universe (as I saw the Divine at the time) directing me to where I needed to be, who I needed to meet, with no conscious volition on my part. At the time I would have told you that that was the most enlightened way to live. Looking back, I see that I was just a girl who was shit scared to make any real decisions, and I was serenely covering it up under a thin veneer of “spirituality.” (I was soon to meet many, many other people who bullshitted their way through their lives in much the same way. . .and the reflection wasn’t pretty. But we’ll get to that.)

So I followed my sister back up to Whistler, partly because I actually wanted to, and partly because I was way too scared to be on my own. We hung out there for a couple weeks, swimming naked in Lost Lake, this amazing place (the nudey dock was on the opposite side of the lake to the touristy beach; they couldn’t see us, which amused us) and being forest dwellers, which I loved. The full moon approaching, we hitch hiked back to the city, hopped the ferry, and headed to Sombrio Beach on Vancouver Island for our very first Rainbow Gathering.

[Excerpt from The Oxford Hippie Dictionary:

A Rainbow Gathering (reyn-boh gath-er-ing) is a gathering of people, usually self-proclaimed neo hippies, held on the three days leading up to, the day and night of, then the three days leading away from, the full moon in the months of July and August. The Gatherings can range anywhere from a handful of people to the hundreds, sometimes the thousands in the larger gatherings in the US, and are usually held on a large public beach that is not frequented by the public. Many speculations exist as to why this is, one of the most common being that it is to curb the stench of unwashed bodies which is prevalent at large gatherings of neo-hippies. Sometimes tea tree oil just doesn’t cut it.

A communal kitchen serves everyone three meals a day, generally consisting of certified organic, healthy food, which many of the neo hippies are quite happy to eat on a piece of bark with a stick serving as a utensil. This food is often a bland beige in colour with a taste to match. Whether the majority of the neo-hippies are just pretending to like it, or that their taste buds have somehow been damaged by an unknown plague that afflicts them all remains a mystery. Kitchen helpers are all volunteers, as no money is ever officially exchanged at the Gatherings.

Nudity is accepted among both women and men, and a general “do whatever you want as long as you’re not hurting anyone” attitude is pervasive.
Hallucinogenics such as mushrooms and LSD are common, as is marijuana, hashish, and other mind-altering substances, mostly of the “natural” persuasion.

Alcohol is not as common.

The majority of the neo hippies pitch tents as their shelter of choice, but some will brings campers or fifth wheels, and of course the presence of VW microbuses from the 1960’s is always prevalent. Some of the more die-hard among those at the Gatherings will simply string a tarp between a few trees and sleep under it, while others won’t bring any shelter at all, trusting in “the Universe,” “Gaia,” or “Jah” to provide for them. (Luckily for them, their comrades are more often than not willing to share everything they have, including shelter. And if not, well, the hospital is only a four hour drive away, after you’ve bushwhacked through the rainforest for two hours to get to the highway with an acute case of pneumonia or exposure.)

Side note: “The Universe” as used in this context does not refer to ‘the totality of known or supposed objects and phenomena throughout space’ (from http://www.dictionary.com) as most people think of it, but rather a benign, sexless spiritual force that is constantly guiding, but never forcing, humankind to their various destinies; Gaia is a reference to the ancient Greek mother goddess of earth; Jah refers to the Rastafarian singular male God or the Holy Trinity, being Father, Son and Holy Ghost (Psalms 68:4, King James Bible.) The fact that most of the neo-hippies at Rainbow Gatherings are not astronomers, Greek or Rastafarian doesn’t seem to bother them.

There are not many widely organized activities at the Gatherings beyond the three standard daily meals and the nightly “drum circle.”

The aforementioned drum circle unofficially starts around sunset each night, and consists of everyone who owns a hand drum making a circle around the large central bonfire and drumming spontaneously together until the late hours. Unchoreographed dancing and fire spinning often accompany this activity.

Beyond these described activities, the neo-hippies generally keep to their own smaller groups and do whatever they please. Meeting other neo-hippies, bartering for handmade clothing, jewellery, drums and other instruments such as didgeridoos (an Australian aborigine wind instrument) is also a common practice.

Many times during a Gathering you will hear the unified cry of “Leave only your footprints behind!” no doubt as a respectful nod to Gaia. To any newcomers to the group, “Welcome home!” is often called out, meaning that at the Rainbow Gathering, everyone is loved unconditionally and wholly welcome. The pretentiousness of this saying appears to go largely unnoticed.]

So we hit up this hippie gathering, and yes, I am ashamed to say, I was one of the people eating their gruel off a piece of bark with a stick. It added some flavour to it, if nothing else.

I should probably state here that, despite my all-consuming sarcasm and rather excessive cynicism, there were some cool experience I had at these gatherings that still make me smile and think and wonder when I recall them today.

For example, at the first one we went to in July, on the first night that I heard the drumming, I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame. I can’t explain why, but something in me heard those deep bass tones and just went, “Yeah.” So I was sitting there in the firelight, listening to the rhythm, the pounding, feeling it in my bones and my blood, struggling to overcome my shyness and actually ask someone if I could try their djembe, wondering if it would be alright to ask that. I mean, would it be like asking someone if I could make love with their partner? I can attest that the bond between a person and their instrument (or an instrument and their person?) can be deep. So as I’m sitting there, I gradually started eavesdropping on a conversation between a girl around my age and a guy who was slightly older that were sitting near me. The girl was passionately explaining that she believes that when someone chooses to follow their desire, their passion, their “calling,” it’s not a selfish choice, but rather a gift to everyone around them as well as themselves. I sat pondering this for a few minutes, kind of struck by the irony that she was talking about exactly what I was struggling to do, and then the guy she had been talking to got up and left. I steeled myself and spoke up, telling her that I really liked what she had been saying. She immediately and effusively began talking about it again, reiterating what she had been saying to the guy a few minutes before. She paused then, and asked me, “What do you really want to do?”

I kind of sat there for a minute, struggling against all the self-doubt, then I blurted out, “I want to drum!”

She looked right into my eyes, smiled, and said, “I’ll be right back!”

She came back a moment later with a huge djembe, the exact kind I had been wanting to play, and handed it to me.

I hesitantly took it from her, but as I swung it around so it was facing the fire and I could straddle it like I had seen the other players do, it was like something I’ve done a million times before, as comfortable and natural as breathing. I just sort of started improvising along with the “song” that everyone else was already playing, not even really able to tell if I sounded good. But I found myself slip into it and become part of it, and what it sounded like didn’t really matter after a few minutes.

The drum jams at Rainbow Gatherings just sort of start and finish as they do; nothing is planned, it all just kind of flows, kind of like strawberry jam. As if to complete all of the synchronicities of the whole experience, when I stopped drumming I noticed a guy on the other side of the circle, who I had never met before, stand up and look directly at me. I looked back at him, flushed and elated, and he bowed and said, “Thank you.” I don’t think he had heard my conversation with the girl.

Other noteworthy experiences? At that particular gathering, I remember one, and it was small and doesn’t sound like anything when I retell it, but I think it was one of my first experiences in opening up to nature – really opening up.

I was sitting on a rock by the ocean, and back then the ocean was still a complete marvel to me (it still is, really), because I had barely ever been around it. I was transfixed by how powerful it was and yet how gentle, by the feminine beauty of it, yet the raw power it holds that can be terrifying (go figure). By the way that alone, a drop in the ocean is “weak”; yet when combined with millions and millions of other drops, the power of water can destroy stone, brick, whole cities. Interestingly enough, I read the exact meaning of what I was struggling to grasp several years later in the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, which is a book of wisdom:

Under heaven nothing is more soft and yielding than water.
Yet for attacking the solid and strong, nothing is better;
It has no equal.
The weak can overcome the strong;
The supple can overcome the stiff.
Under heaven everyone knows this,
Yet no one puts it into practice.
Therefore the sage says:
He who takes upon himself the humiliation of the people
is fit to rule them.
He who takes upon himself the country’s disasters deserves
to be king of the universe.
The truth often seems paradoxical.

I’ve always been really, really bad at expressing the things most close to my heart.

So anyhoo, I was sitting on this rock, gazing at the ocean, feeling the ocean (not physically), and I just remember feeling myself start to expand outside of my former borders, like I was being initiated into something bigger than anything I had previously known. Druids will know what I’m talking about.

Being a Virgo sun sign with Virgo rising and Virgo in Mercury, I really, really love (need?) the earth and the solidity of it, and I have to say that to this day, the ocean and I don’t really get along. It feels too wavey, too shifty, too unsolid energetically. It overwhelms me the way a wave crashing over your head and filling your nose up with salt water might overwhelm you. I can visit her, have an amazing conversation with her, learn from her, humble myself before her, but then I gallop back to my mountains and gleefully dig my roots in deep again before the stars come out. (Well, maybe a bit later than that, sometimes.)

Now, the dark side of Rainbow Gatherings – yes, there is a darkness beyond the gross food and lack of showers. Some people go to them searching for something they can’t exactly describe, and in that searching, they somehow lose themselves. Sometimes it’s from doing too many hallucinogenics. Sometimes it’s from not being mentally stable enough to do even a little bit of hallucinogenics (more about this later). Sometimes it’s from being really, really gullible and naïve and, maybe, not strong?

One of the last ones I ever went to was held at a huge, deep lake in the Kootenay mountain range, and a guy got really high on mushrooms and somehow decided that the meaning of life was on the other side of it. He swam out into the middle of it, and no one ever saw him again.

At this same gathering, two of my friends were told by a woman who claimed to be a shaman and had taken a name for herself from Aboriginal history even though she was white (side note: in my opinion, being a shaman is something you just are. If you have to call yourself one so you can convince other people, something isn’t adding up) that they were soul mates, and they were promptly attacked by a pack of dogs. It turned out later that they weren’t soul mates.

And the interesting thing is, when that Gathering was starting, all of my friends and I had a bad feeling about it. You know that CCR song “Bad Moon Rising”? Well, that about sums it up.

So my first summer was spent at Gatherings, in Whistler having awkward sexual interludes that never actually amounted to anything, and on the nude beach my sister introduced me to in Vancouver, which is called Wreck Beach. An interesting experience, but after careful consideration, I decided that I will not be naked in public places anymore, whether they’re officially called “nude friendly” or not. I don’t care if you call yourself a hippie or a nudist or an enlightened being or what-have-you; humans are still human, and men still stare, and it’s really hard to ignore their huge erections when they’re not wearing any clothes. Ew.

Wild blackberries grow all around on the coast where I first flew in that summer, and I think they were the main staple of my diet. Nothing bought in a grocery store will ever compare to that. Ever.

I remember that summer a friend asking me once, “How are you eating every day if you don’t have a job and you don’t have any money?” I smiled a glazed kind of smile and blathered something about the Universe providing, but in actuality, I have no idea how I ate on a regular basis that summer. Well, I did go through a short “damn-the-man” period in which I was stealing lots and lots of groceries from the huge grocery store (the fact that a huge corporation owned it justified the theft in my mind back then). It earned me the nickname Belly Jean Sticky Fingers (the first half of which needs explaining, but we’re getting there) and it ended after I got caught and arrested (we’re getting there too.)

Still, even though I look back now and shake my head at some of the beliefs I held back then (or at least grabbed, tossed back and forth a few times, then replaced), there were still moments in which I really had to question what I thought I knew about reality, and ultimately have made me a more open minded person. Because do any of us really know?

Example: I was hitch hiking one day, and it was a long journey; I don’t remember where I was going, but it was hot and I was thirsty, and all of a sudden I got a craving for an apple and ginger ale. The thought came and went, and I got a ride about ten minutes later. I hopped in the guy’s car, and after the usual “Hey, how’s it going? How far are you going?” he turns to me and says, “Are you hungry? Thirsty? Have an apple and some ginger ale.”

I shit you not.

Another time I was at the nudey dock in Whistler, hanging out with a mutual friend of mine and my sister’s for the afternoon. Among our conversations, we both said how our favourite “beach food” is bagels with hummus, purple grapes and cheese. About half an hour later my sister showed up, sat down, and opened her bag to produce. . .yup, bagels, hummus, purple grapes and cheese.

Maybe the Universe (?) does provide if you believe it will.

Between the In-Door and the Out-Door

I really want to keep up this blog, despite the fact that it’s summertime and my depression is all but nonexistent at this time of year, and I would much rather be at the beach, camping, prancing around my garden or dancing naked with lilac bushes under the full moon, than keeping up a seriously depressing blog. But then I remember that it’s not only depressing, it’s hopefully inspiring and comforting to people as well, so I return with resolve renewed.

And tonight I’m going to write about something that I have wanted to write about for awhile, and that is my sexual assault. I do it because I hope that it will be healing for me to get it out and away from me, and also in the hopes that maybe someone else who has gone through it will find some strength or hope in it.

It happened on March 16th of 2008. I had just come to the end of a very long, very confusing and arguably very abusive “phase” in which I had dated and become engaged to a guy who purported to be a Christian (and maybe he was; I don’t know), and had become one myself (I think). This is a story I’ll tell another time, but for now, there are a few things that need to be said.

I was raised by my parents to think, not to have faith. I had never been to church, and I never saw any reason to go. The whole concept that we’re born irredeemable sinners until Jesus makes us clean always struck me as kind of ridiculous. People aren’t perfect obviously, but I think most people are generally good of heart. Do I have an answer for all the evil in the world? No. I have my own personal theories, but they are not in line with traditional Christian beliefs.

When I was fifteen while at a bookstore, I picked up a book on Wicca, and it was like something said, “This is it.” Everything I read made perfect sense, lined up with what I already believed but didn’t have words for, and felt familiar, like I had done it all before. I practiced Wicca from that point until I was 24, and I also met a Cree / Ojibwa elder when I was in high school who adopted me and taught me many things that took root in my heart and soul.

When I was 24 I met the “Christian” lad, and so began my own personal Dark Ages. The next three years were spent with him trying to convert me, me respectfully telling him to bugger off, him breaking up with me, him wanting me back, him finally somehow convincing me to give my life to Jesus (brainwashing is a real thing, folks, and no on is immune), him then breaking up with me again, then proposing to me, then repeating this pattern countless times. And all this time, I had my “church family” telling me that marrying him would make “God” happy, because we had had sex. Why I stayed with him for so long before I was converted despite his obvious problems, I really have no way of justifying. I have co-dependency issues.

So, cut to 2008, when I was finally free of all this, after I finally dumped his sorry ass, whatever “God” thought about it. I was in a really spiritually barren place, yet not really in a bad way. Maybe barren like the desert is barren, which isn’t barren at all, if you know what you’re looking at. I was sick and tired of being told what to do, what not to do, what was right, what was wrong, and to be afraid, because Lucifer is always waiting, ready to pounce. So burn all your old books, throw away your Wiccan altar things, stop talking to all your old friends, and your family doesn’t know God, so best stay away from them, too.

But I digress. I was at ground zero, and I was ready to start rebuilding. I felt like a newborn baby, wanting to do what newborn babies naturally do: seek the boob. The mother. The safety, the comfort, the nurturing, the life-giving source. Where things always felt safe, real, and right. So I opened my phone book and found out that there was a place in my hometown where, every Friday night, there was a sweat lodge held. (If you want to know what a sweat lodge is, look here: http://www.manygoodteachings.com/sweatlodge-understanding.html) I eagerly decided to go, feeling like someone who was arriving in their homeland after years of being away.

I went to a couple sweats there before deciding that I was going to volunteer at this centre where they were held. I wanted to immerse myself in the Native ways again, and I wanted to give something back to the community.

Every sweat is “performed” by an elder, or someone who has earned the right to lead it. I can’t begin to explain what that means here, so I won’t try. Being given the teachings is something that isn’t taken lightly, and here is not the place, and I am not the person. Suffice to say that it is a position of deep respect and trust, much like a priest in a church.

March 16th was a Sunday (day before St. Paddy’s Day…I already had my ticket to see the Celtic rock band the following night, and was all stoked for green beer and dancing into the wee hours). There was a memorial being held at the centre for a woman who’s son had passed away, and I went to volunteer. The man who conducted the sweats worked at the resource centre, and he was there. I had come to trust him in a spiritual mentor kind of way, and had shared a lot of personal things about myself with him.

The service ended around ten at night, and he asked if I would stay late to help him clean up. I agreed, eager to help out and to talk with him. I remember feeling so alive, so re-awakened to my spirituality, happy and free and at peace, excited to be immersing myself in the Native ways again. I remember thinking that I felt like a child, or a flower with the sun shining on me.

But not everyone sees your light and wants to celebrate you. Some want to rip your soul out. Make no mistake. You have to be careful with who you shine your light around. You have to have a lid.

I won’t go into details, but he made a move. I tactfully turned him down, but he didn’t stop. Did I kick him in the nuts and run from the building? No. I let him do whatever he wanted to me, and I was in a daze, a deer in the headlights. Does that mean I deserved it? Fuck no. As my counselor said in the coming weeks, “Anything less than a yes is a no.” And he knew it.

It’s funny, when you’re in a situation like that, strengths and resources come to the surface that you didn’t know you possessed, along with a certain clarity. As I was lying beside him on the floor, I knew with a crystal-clear lucidity that the safest way out of this situation was for me to simply play dumb. I am the naive girl. I don’t like this, but it makes me sad, not angry, and my downcast gaze will break your heart as I whimper, “I thought you said it didn’t have to be sexual between us.”

At one point I went to the bathroom (playing naive gets you certain privileges), and afterwards I went into the foyer of the centre and just stood looking outside. It was the end of winter, and no warmer than -30. It was a bad part of town, the kind where people get murdered. My boots and bag were lying on the floor there, and it occurred to me that I could grab them and run for it. But what if I did? Would he chase me? It was four in the morning. There were no buses. Walking in that part of town was just a bad idea, worse than what I was going through in that building. So I turned and went back in.

I would have to say that the scariest part of the whole experience was feeling – actually feeling – my soul leave my body. I felt it retreat, withdraw, recoil. And I thought, at the time, Okay, this is how I’m dealing with this. Later I will sit down and call her, my personality, my life force, my spirit, back to me. Once I’m safe, I will let her know that she can come back, that it’s safe now. But later, when I did sit down and close my eyes and try and find myself again, the most scary thing was that my soul was nowhere to be found. She had caught the last bus out of town, and I had no idea where she went, or if she would ever come back.

So the night ended, and he drove me downtown to the library, where I told him I needed to go. As if I would have him drive me home. As we were saying our goodbyes, I could tell that the full weight of what he had done was hitting him, and he was scared. I very calmly walked away from him, head high and back straight, and I didn’t look back. My mind was on quietly, methodically, dismantling his life as he knew it. I was channeling my anger and all other emotions into that one purpose. Total warrior mode. No weakness.

I called up one of my best friends and told her more or less what happened, and she insisted I come over. She lived right across the street from me then, and I wasn’t ready to go home yet. It might sound weird, but the thought of seeing my cats made me want to cry. One thing I love about animals is their purity of spirit, their innocence and wide open love. Maybe I felt dirty, maybe I felt unworthy, maybe the thought of seeing them run to the door meowing at me because I had been gone so long would just make all my hardness crumble, and I would really feel what had just happened to me.

So I went over to her place and showered. She loaned me some clothes and made us some tea, and we talked all day and into the evening. I was in this weird state where I refused to let it “catch up with me.” I went to that St. Paddy’s show that night, I danced my ass off, and all the pictures of me from that night are of me smiling and having an awesome time. And I was, because I was determined to. But I was still in shock, feeling empty, like the most essential, animating part of myself was gone.

In the coming weeks the full force of it hit me, and I didn’t leave my apartment for 3 weeks, except to scurry across the street to the little corner store to get really overpriced groceries and chocolate. I felt lost, empty, and like something beyond value had been ripped out of me, and I was just standing there, powerless, empty, bleeding. I would have to describe it as the most vital, precious, deep part of me, something that had always been there so I never thought about it, was just suddenly gone.

There is an amazing organization in my hometown that offers free counseling to survivors of sexual assault, and I did 6 weeks of it, and it was incredibly healing. I told my therapist about this empty feeling, and it didn’t make it go away, but it gave me hope somehow.

There is something called “anonymous reporting” that one can do in situations like these. There was no physical evidence of what he did to me since there was no penetration (at least not that kind), so I couldn’t go to the hospital and get all those tests done. But with anonymous reporting, you give an official statement, in my case to a therapist, of what exactly happened and everything you know about the person who did it. Their name if you know it, what they were wearing, their build, their height, etc. Anything and everything. That being done, if another girl ever reports him, the anonymous report that I made on him will show up on his file, and he’s toast. Moldy toast with no butter. I also informed the board of directors of the centre what he did, and I later heard he got fired. I was very afraid for awhile that he would come looking for me, but thankfully he didn’t know where I lived, and I left town shortly after.

I know that some women choose not to report what happened to them, and that is totally a personal choice. For me, reporting him anonymously to the police and to the board of directors where he was held in such high regard helped release some of the anger I held. No one who does things like this should be in a position of trust and respect in their community. It’s just more assaults waiting to happen.

So that was five years ago, and the healing still continues. I think a big part of it is choice. You can choose to let an experience like this make you shrivel up, never trust again, never open yourself or be sexual again. Or you can choose to keep going, no matter what, keep probing the wound until the infection is gone, and the tissue is pink and healthy again. A woman I deeply respect calls it “beading a necklace.” You take the smallest things – a hope, a good memory, a sweet moment with a lover – and you start stringing them together to re-create yourself and your sense of self as a sexual creature, as a woman, as a human being.

It has affected me sexually and relationally in ways that I can’t really articulate, the wounding was so deep. As a woman, it’s a violation of a deep, deep part of you. I still feel different since before it happened, changed somehow that I can’t explain. But I keep believing that I can be whole again.

Until next time,
Blessed Be! )O(

Step Six: Engaging Activities

So I am FINALLY going to make this last installment in The Depression Cure string. Yay! Now I won’t feel so guilty when I’m avoiding writing posts for my website. Haha.

Obviously, we all gravitate towards activities we love and are passionate about. We all want to do what we love. But I think this can become complicated (like so many other things) when one has a mental illness.

For me personally, this becomes an issue when winter comes, and suddenly doing anything becomes a struggle, down to the simplest things like doing the dishes or taking a shower. I can be sailing along as summer goes by, gardening and horseback riding, studying various things that interest me, and then that slow, insidious downward spiral begins, and before I know it, I find myself lying in bed asking myself what the point is in getting out of it. And I’m not being existentially clever. So there is a fear there of really embracing the things I love, because before I know it, I can’t do them anymore. I feel like a helpless puppet on a stupid roller coaster, going through the high of feeling so free and light in the summer, the way normal people feel all year ’round, to the crushing despair of watching all the progress I’ve made just be sluiced away when winter comes. It really is not fair. I can’t progress. I can’t grow. There is continuity, no flow, no growth. I am always stuck, always behind, always either making up for lost time or waiting until I can live again.

I have a sun lamp, I take Vitamin D, I try to exercise.

I think that all living things have within them a drive that pushes them to live. You see it in how flowers reach for the sun with all they have. You see it in how all trees, all plants and all flowers just grow. With everything they have, it’s what they do. You see it in the lone dandelion that pushed up through the concrete sidewalk. You see it in how baby birds wait for Mom and Dad to come back to the nest with mouths open, eagerly anticipating food. They couldn’t tell you why they do this, they just do it. Water runs, fire burns, life…lives.

Humans are like this too. We strive for the light, we turn our faces to the sun (or the moon, in some cases). We move towards healing and love, we have a drive inside us that tells us to fight for our lives. I know this because I have been at the place where everything grows dark, where you stand there and face Lady Death, and She asks you, Are you ready for me?

There’s this scene in The Princess Bride where one of the main characters is mostly dead (if you’ve seen the movie you’ll know what that means and why it’s funny), and Miracle Max asks him, “What have you got that’s worth living for?”

Well, I can tell you that even the smallest bit of hope is like a candle flame in the darkness of giving up. I’ve seen it, I’ve been there.

So even though I can look ahead and I know that this monumental struggle is always waiting for me as fall turns to winter, I still seek the things that I love every time summer comes and the weight is lifted off my shoulders. Maybe it’s stupid and futile, but it’s an impulse that can’t be ignored. It’s life itself, calling me.

That’s all I really have to say on the subject.

Round Two: The Hospital

Okay, so I was going to write the last installment on the whole “Depression Cure” string of posts, but. . .yeah. Instead, I’m going to write about how I was in the hospital on the weekend. Again.

Where to begin? I’ve actually been doing fairly well lately, all things considered. It’s been getting warmer and springier outside lately, which always puts me in a good mood, and I’ve had tons of time to think and ponder and reflect and look forward and dream without the clutter and bullshit of a job that sucks the life out of me, so things were looking up. My boyfriend and I went back to reality for a few days, saw Cirque du Soleil (Amaluna), ate Indian food, stayed in swanky hotels, saw some friends of the human, animal, lakeous and mountainous variety. And I got a puppy, which has been a dream of mine since FOREVER. (Her name is AmaLuna Ruby, and she’s a Newfoundlander, possibly crossed with a black Lab, if you want to know. She’ll be 3 months on February 4th and she’s growing at a ridiculous rate. I love big slobbery dogs.)

So I’ve been on serious puppy patrol for a few weeks now, making sure she’s not peeing or pooping in the house, or chewing or shredding or ripping or tearing or breaking anything, or chasing my cats. I’m up before dawn to take her for a bumble in the woods near our house every morning (this from the girl who loves to stay up all night), and I’ve been saturated with warm puppy belly rubs, slobbery kisses, and general adorableness.

But I’ve had literally zero time for me, as I’m sure all new parents will tell you is the case. And for me, that spells badness. I need some time, every day, when I can just be. (In Chinese it’s called wu wei, the art of not doing.) It keeps my anxiety under control, it gives me time to think, to daydream, to get lost (or found) in a book, to write, to play piano, to breathe. I need to check in with myself daily, to sweep out the corners of my mind, to challenge any lies from that self-hating voice that have built up, to kick their collective asses and send them on their way. To water and nourish the good thoughts and encourage them to grow. If I neglect this, things get ugly fast. And they did.

I should mention here that I have serious trust issues. This is due, in part, to dating some serious losers, but it goes farther back than that. Even my first “relationship”, when I was fifteen (which I don’t really count, cuz hey, I was fifteen) was disastrous. I’ve just never felt comfortable as A Girlfriend. I feel awkward and like I have to be someone/something that I’m not. I make boys uncomfortable. I feel smothered when a guy constantly wants to hold my hand and suck face. I like my space. I’ve always been a tomboy and independent. I walk fast and I don’t like to slow down. And it seems that guys always want me to slow down, be softer, hold onto them, want their advice, stop dancing so hard, stop flirting, need them more than I do. But I hold the Artemis archetype. Turn me loose in the forest naked with my animal friends and a bow, and I have all I need. Sorry, lads.

Maybe it’s because of my parents and their seriously twisted relationship (which I will get into in another post.) It’s weird how nowadays, when someone says “my parents are divorced,” people don’t even really bat an eye. But what does that really mean? Do we feel that our families, our roots, were torn and broken? How has it affected us as kids? During our formative years? As adults? Sexually? Relationally? What do we we believe about love? Do we believe it’s possible?

So how, you might be asking yourself, do I find myself in a long-term committed relationship right now? And the answer is. . .with great difficulty. I have so many issues, fears and neuroses surrounding relationships with guys that it sometimes gives me a headache.

The particular issue that ultimately put me in the hospital this time (among other things) was the issue of me-time. I need a lot of it to feel balanced. But being A Girlfriend, I feel guilty for needing any. I think somewhere in my mind exists this Girlfriend Prototype that wakes her boyfriend up every morning with blow jobs and breakfast in bed, sends him off to work with fresh coffee and kisses, greets him at lunch in a naughty nurse’s outfit (holding a sandwich, very meaty), and when he gets home in the evening the house is immaculate, dinner is ready and very balanced, dessert is mildly dirty, and sex always ensues before sleep. She is always funny and witty but not too funny or witty, always comforting and nurturing while at the same time managing to be one of the guys, and can somehow walk that fine line between wide-eyed please-show-me-how-to-put-this-bookshelf-together-girliness, and I-can-play-poker-with-my-boyfriend’s-friends-and-almost-but-not-quite-win. She smells like vanilla and the dishtowels never have creases; her garden is always flourishing but her nails are never dirty. On the (extremely rare, of course) days she decides to be lazy and not wash her hear or get out of her pj’s, she still manages to look sexy and cute. The sheets are always clean but what she does between them is not; she makes amazing chocolate chip cookies and would be a good mother to his kids. What’s that quote? “A woman must think like a man, act like a lady, look like a young girl, and work like a horse.”

So my super awesome solution to this problem is to take no me-time at all, and then get more and more anxious and freaked out over nothing that I end up actually being in a really bad frame of mind.

In our house, there is a room for my me-time. My piano is in there, my cats love the bed, my altar and books are in there, along with all my art supplies. So it’s not like my boyfriend wouldn’t be cool with me taking time for myself. Yet still I don’t do it. Good girlfriends are supposed to be like a never-ending, gushing fountain, eternally pouring out love and energy and support to their boyfriends. Blah, blah, blah.

So, the end result of all this last Friday was that I needed to go to the hospital to feel justified in taking time to myself. It was kind of a pointless endeavor, since like everything else in this town, the hospital here is ridiculously limited, and there are no mental health people to talk to on weekends, so you basically just sit there and do nothing. And the majority of the nurses there have the bare minimum of training in regards to mental health, so there’s a lot of judgement and impatience flying around. When I got there the nurse said to me, “You either have to promise not to kill yourself, or I’m going to put you in a locked room. We’re too busy to be checking on you.”

And the pancakes. I thought pancakes were something that really couldn’t be gross, even in a hospital. I was wrong.

Step Five: Social Connection

It’s been awhile (again) since I posted anything in my blog. Funny how when I decide to start a website because I have oodles of spare time on my hands, suddenly life gets busy. We took a trip down back to reality to see Cirque du Soleil, see some old friends (human and otherwise), and generally have some fun, and I also got a new puppy, who has been keeping me busy and exhausted and happy. I’m writing this when I should be sleeping cuz it’s really the only time I can focus (Puppy being asleep behind the toilet where it’s cool. She’s a Newfoundlander and will need her own pool in the summer.)

So, social connection. At this point in my life, my boyfriend comprises my entire human social life, with occasional phone convos and facebook messaging with my awesome friends who are, unfortunately, far far away. This is probably unhealthy, but we’re in a very remote town in northern Canada, and the general social scene is comprised of drinking beer, hunting and skinning animals, and getting into fights at the bar. (Six more months, six more months, six more months.)

MY idea of a good time with friends is having tea or dinner with some fellow witches, then sitting talking till the wee hours about things that really matter, and doing ritual. If we can go to the beach, camping, snowboarding, horseback riding, swimming, or hiking as well, so much the better. Clearly, this town isn’t my thing.

Yes, social connection is important. But I would rather hang out alone than with people who I have to be fake around. So I adjust and I read a lot and draw and other “solitary” things, while always remaining open to the possibility of meeting someone cool.

The other side of this is that, after spending a long time struggling with depression and watching many people become alienated by it, I’ve developed some doozies of trust issues. I don’t like burdening my friends with all the shit I go through. Yeah, we’re told to “reach out” and all that, but when we’re feeling suicidal and hopeless, do we really want to do that, knowing it might push people away because it scares them and they don’t know what to do or say? Not to mention getting SERIOUSLY sick of well-meaning people spouting cliches at us, like “It’s always darkest before the stars come out,” and “Things will be better after a good night’s sleep!” It seems very clear to me that these people say these things more for their own peace of mind than for ours. Because no one wants to admit that something like MDD exists. Something that can’t be easily defined and fixed with a pill. Something that might even happen to you.

So I’ve really stopped trying to make friends in a way, because most people just don’t get it, and trying to explain it gets really old really fast when you get the same ignorant responses over and over again. Then comes the awkwardness, the dwindling social invites. . .because who wants to hang out with a downer? Maybe I’m cynical for feeling this way, but it’s how I feel. Maybe once I’m healthier I’ll feel better about making friends, because my darks won’t be so dark, and I won’t have to worry about scaring people. But should I even worry about this? Shouldn’t true friends be there no matter what?

Would I want to be friends with me?

yoga

As I mentioned in an earlier post, as part of the whole “depression cure” thing, I’ve started taking yoga. I’ve had about four or five classes now, and I wanted to share some thoughts I’ve had.

I had considered taking yoga quite a few times in the past, but I always decided against it. The only real reason I finally decided to do it is because there is literally next to nothing else in this town to do. I could have taken a zumba class, but my hunny and I wanted to do something together. So, yoga it was.

I never wanted to take it because I have some huge problems with buddhism. It’s just not the path for me, and yet, being a spiritual person, I tend to meet other spiritual people, and I’ve noticed that SO MANY people tend to flock towards it with seemingly very little understanding of what it’s actually about. I’ve seen people use (twist) its basic tenets to justify their selfish, childish behaviour (“It’s all about non-attachment, so we should have sex, and then I’ll never talk to you again, okay?” This tactic was actually used on me.) I’ve seen many, many people lose what I would call their souls to “buddhism.” I’ve seen people go from passionate, vibrant, full of life and all the complexities that make them interesting. . .to vacant, unemotional, one dimensional, flaky, confused, lost, and, in short, boring. Sure, peace and love are beautiful concepts, and who can argue that they are good guidelines to live by? But life is so much more complex and interesting than that, and love can be shown in as many ways as there are people. I don’t believe that walking downtown in some major city and giving hugs and flowers to homeless people and pimps is going to save the world. I don’t believe it’s healthy for me.

I went through a phase during which I believed that “love everyone” meant to walk around the world with your bleeding heart exposed and raw for everyone to come feast upon. Junkies, manipulators, pimps, drug dealers, sexual predators parading as self-proclaimed shamans, rapists and insane people disguised as hippies. . .I’ve met them all, and looking back, it’s a wonder I was never raped or murdered, with the stupid, risky situations I put myself in. My belief at the time to “love everyone” made me a beacon for every energy sucking manipulator in a fifty mile radius, and I remember physically feeling completely drained and confused to the point of being scared. “But,” I reasoned with an inward, glazed smile, “I’m loving everyone, and it will all be worth it when the world is healed.” And so I kept bleeding it out for everyone, with absolutely no boundaries or discernment. Wait a minute, a part of me said. Hold on. I flew out here to hitch hike around, meet good people, and be surrounded by physical beauty. How did I end up sitting in an amphitheater in a huge park at two in the morning with a heroin addict, a thief, and a guy who used to be a pimp? How did I end up on this deserted beach with a creepy old man who claims to be a shaman but who’s trying to get in my pants, and I’m only seventeen? How did I become a 24 hour buffet, and the caterer quit six months ago? The food’s been gone for ages, now they’re licking the empty dishes. . .and I can’t lock the doors and I can’t turn off the OPEN sign and I can’t restock because there’s no more food, and no more food is coming.

Free love is never free. It always comes with a price.

I should point out here that I’m fully aware that what I’ve witnessed may not be actual buddhism.

So maybe I just don’t get it, but the whole non-attachment thing doesn’t strike me as any way to live. The world we live in is BEAUTIFUL. There is so much to experience. There are flowers and rain puddles and spring, dance classes and paintbrushes and horse tails, pianos and glitter and sex, house music and dancing for six hours straight without drugs, wind and sun and stars and wolf howls, tears and mornings and tea, passion and excitement and dreams made into realities tangible. . .why would the world be so full of GOOD if we weren’t meant to enjoy it? Why would I ever want to detach from it all? Sure, maybe it would save us some pain. . .but it would also starve us of so much joy. So much satisfaction, so much motivation and expectation and thrill.

I think buddhists focus entirely on the spiritual, while ignoring the physical needs and wants as a path the enlightenment.

We Pagans, on the other hand, view the body and the physical as PART of the experience of being us. It’s no less “spiritual” to love this life and all the good, fun things that come with it than it is to want to transcend it. I just don’t buy that.

In what’s known as The Charge of the Goddess, one line reads:

“. . .Ye shall dance, sing, feast, make music and love, all in Her praise. For Hers is the ecstasy of the spirit, and Hers also is joy on earth; for Her law is love unto all beings.”

I met an elder when I was in high school, who is Cree-Ojibwah. She taught me many things, and I still think of her as my true mother. One teaching is the medicine wheel. It has four parts, and within those four parts are many, many meanings.

Medicine Wheel

. . .and it goes on. There are over seventy meanings of the medicine wheel, and they vary from tribe to tribe.

It’s a wheel. No direction is valued above another. Think of King Arthur’s round table. He made it round so no knight would be placed in a higher position than any other.

So to get back to my original point. . .I never wanted to take yoga because I don’t agree with buddhism. I didn’t want to lose myself.

But someone who also taught me many things, a woman named Bonnie, once said to me, “Take what’s useful, leave what’s not.” And so I thought, okay, I can do this, and it doesn’t mean I’m becoming a buddhist. It means I’m a witch who’s doing yoga.

And I have to say, some very positive things have come from it, and are continuing to emerge.

I think anyone who pursues a sport, an exercise, whatever, for long enough, will tell you that there’s a moment, however fleeting, that comes after you’ve trained hard enough and long enough. . .it’s a moment when you FEEL IT. I experienced that moment during Karate, in a horseback riding lesson, when I’ve been writing a story and I slip into the current and it all starts flowing. . .and I’ve experienced it in yoga now.

It’s a moment when, even for a split second, all your struggling to “get it” falls away, and you just, simply, get it. You stop overthinking it, and you feel it. You perform your kata like a flowing dance. You suddenly are aware of all the horse’s strong muscles striving beneath you and through you; you feel his mind working in time with yours. You stop thinking about where the story is going, and just let its current take you with it.

In yoga, in my second or third class, it was a moment in which I felt my body open up with the stretch I was doing, and I had a moment’s wondering if the movements in yoga aren’t just stretches or muscle-building exercises, but movements actually designed to open one up spiritually. . .as if one’s body could be a gateway to one’s spirit’s growth. I felt like my body was a channel, perfectly tuned to the right frequency to receive a flow from the Source/Creator/Lady and Lord. The channel was the pose I was in, and this flow was pumping into me, and there was no valve on this hose. Then the moment passed, but I think about it a lot.

In regards to the MDD, I find yoga is actually a really positive thing for me to be doing as well, in a way I didn’t expect.

I’ve always been something of a “fast paced” person. When I walk, stay out of my way. When I’m on a mission, it’s obvious. I like to get my shit done fast, with no interruptions or things slowing me down. When I have a plan or a goal, I get pumped up and I want to do it all at once. I hate waiting, and when I’m determined to do something, I make sure it gets done. This is definitely a trait in my family, at least among my mother, my sister and I. I have big dreams and big goals, and I get seriously frustrated and impatient when anything gets in my way.

So, having MDD is pretty hellish, since my entire life has ground to a pace about as fast as a turtle’s right now.

What’s worse is that it’s actually a relief.

In the past, I’ve felt like a runner whose ankle starts hurting her, but she pushes herself forward, again and again, until her body finally says enough is enough, and she collapses. But instead of staying down and getting help, she heaves herself up after a short rest, runs on for as long as she can, before collapsing again. And she does it again, and again, and again.

But ever since this past September, I’ve just stayed down and called the paramedics, already. I’ve let go. Not of my plans or of my hopes, but of doing it the way I was before. Because it clearly wasn’t working. What I was lacking was gentleness. Compassion. Forgiveness for myself for being less than perfect, less than what my mother and my sister always said I should be. For “wasting” my brains and not getting a masters degree, for just wanting to be outside with horses all day every day for the rest of my life. For having thorns among my roses, as all people do.

And yoga, taken as a metaphor, is just that. Yes, you are stretching and straining and strengthening. . .you ARE growing. . .but you take breathers. You let go. You reward yourself. You are gentle. You don’t push too hard. You trust in the accumulation of it all. You don’t worry if you look stupid or if you fart.

You return to child’s pose whenever you need to.

I think it can all be summed up in a line from a song by Sarah McLachlan:

“Peace
In the struggle
To find peace.”

Step Four: Enhanced Sleep

So I haven’t updated my blog in awhile. . .I’ve been working on making a website, and apparently that’s all my brain felt capable of focusing on. I also find it kinda funny that out of the six steps of “the depression cure,” sleep is the biggest pain in the ass for me, and the one subject I’ve been procrastinating over writing about. But I figured it was time for a little self discipline.

The concept according to Dr. Ilardi of “enhanced sleep” has several components – going to bed at the same time each night, getting up at the same time each morning, making sure one’s bedroom has positive associations, keeping your house cool at night, etc. He addresses the issue that a lot of people with MDD suffer from hypersomnia, or sleeping too much. Definitely the case for me. He explains that this often happens to people who may sleep through the night, but their sleep isn’t restful or rejuvenating, so they find themselves tired throughout the day as well. For me personally, I also sleep as a means of escapism when my MDD is bad. I get sick of the downward spiral, the future looks bleak and hopeless, so I sleep rather than allowing my thoughts to take me down those well-worn paths of “Why bother?” and “What’s the point?” and “Might as well kill yourself.”

Despite the glorious escapism that comes with sleep, there are other reasons that getting into a healthy orderly sleeping schedule is hard for me.
One is safety. I never really feel safe. Emotionally, physically, etc. You know that “trust test” that you do when you fall backwards and someone catches you? Yeah, I can’t do that. Physically can’t bring myself to, with anyone. Right at the last minute, I always stick a leg out and catch myself. Totally not something I think about, it just happens. But in sleep, sometimes (not often), I feel myself truly just let go, and it’s blissfully sweet. Usually, though, I wake up two hours after I fall asleep in a weird kind of hyper-vigilant state, even though underneath it I can still feel that I’m tired. Lately, I’ve been waking up at all hours of the night drenched in sweat. Like, totally soaked through my pj’s, the sheets, everything. No idea why. My doctor sent me to get a brain scan, and it’s not anything physical. So yeah, it remains a mystery.

The other factor is art. As my therapist says, “Artists tend to hate structure,” and it’s so true, at least for me. The best analogy I’ve heard on the subject of the muse’s unpredictable gifts was from a book on creativity by Julia Cameron. She equated it with having an exciting lover, one who climbs in through your window at night and keeps you up with passionate lovemaking that takes away all sense of tiredness or time. And the picture that society paints of The Artist is of a reclusive painter/writer/sculptor/etc, cloistering themselves from the world when the muse enters, until they’re ready to unveil their latest masterpiece.

I hate going to bed at the same time every night because night is magical. With night comes this endlessly spinning wheel of possibility and nuances, voices and stories that one can’t hear during the busyness of the day. What if I go to bed at 10:00, and the muse comes in at 10:02? It’s worth waiting for . . .

But the reality of art is much more disappointing to society’s romantic sensibilities. There is a lot of “chopping wood and carrying water.” There is a lot of work. Mundane, unromantic, boring work.

Yes, the muse does come knocking, bringing sweet gifts that feel like miracles, moments and flashes of inspiration. I have experienced them. Ideas that have sprung up in my consciousness that I know I didn’t “think of” on my own. I don’t know where they came from. I’ve had fully-formed characters walk into my head, sit down, and begin telling me their stories, urging me to write them down. I’ve had characters, in the middle of a story, veer off into a completely unscripted direction despite me running along behind them, asking them where the hell they’re going. I’ve heard them simply reply, “Trust me,” and watched as, later, this veering off has created a more complex and beautifully meaningful story than any that I could have ever thought up.

But these are moments. There’s something in between them. And that something is called work.

So maybe I need to get into this healthy schedule, maximizing my time in the sun every day, and trust that when the muse has something really cool to put upon me, she’ll wake me up, no matter the hour, and under moon and stars I will listen and write and draw, and the healthy sleeping schedule can go fly a kite. . .at least until tomorrow night.

Step Three: Sunlight

This step of “the depression cure” is kind of a bitch for me. I hate being cold and when I say “I love winter,” I generally mean from a cozy couch with a blanket over me, and a book and a hot chocolate in hand. Looking at it out the window. Doing the outdoorsy things in the winter that I love to do – snowboarding and hiking in the woods – take major self-discipline and many layers of clothing, and even then are usually accompanied by severe grumpiness for the first part of the day. And being Pagan, I try to experience the beauty in all seasons, not just the ones that are “easy.”

But it’s easier said than done. Taking a walk around the block to get some sunlight when it’s cold outside, when I’m already lethargic, low on energy, and experiencing mild-to-moderate anxiety, is more often than not too much for me. Sometimes I can force myself to go, but usually not. I have a sun lamp, and it can definitely help, but it’s never as good as the real thing. I take vitamin D as well in the winter, but again. . .nothing compares with the real deal.

When summer comes, I’m almost never inside, but I’m not one of those people that can just lie around in the sun. I need to be doing something, be it gardening, picking up horse poop, riding, walking the dog, mowing the lawn, swimming, whatever. So summer is really not an issue.
Winter is the real dilemma. I’ve moved away from my hometown, which is notorious for being one of the bloody coldest places ever. . .there is a corner downtown there that is the coldest spot in Canada. Seriously. All that winter fury condensed into one tiny intersection. Once winter comes, people just disappear. When you do see someone on the rare occasion you dare to go outside, it’s like your own tiny Christmas. And in the spring, people start emerging like bears from their dens, and the sense of freedom and life is palpable.
The problem is, unless you move to southern BC, it’s gonna be frickin’ freezing in the wintertime if you live more or less anywhere in Canada. My heart has led me, after many adventures, misadventures, and false starts to southern Alberta, and that’s where I’m going to make my home (7 months to go!!!) So how do I solve the winter dilemma? How many jackets and pairs of snowboard pants can one girl reasonably wear?

Step One: Exercise

As I mentioned previously, I am doing this “6 Step Program to Beat Depression,” and I’m going to to dedicate a post (or more) to each step as I do it, describing what it involves, how I am tailoring it to me personally, any struggles or insights I have regarding it, etc.

I decided to start with exercise, because it’s one of the steps that’s the hardest for me to begin implementing, and continue doing consistently. For some reason I get a lot of anxiety when I set out to do any physical activities, even ones I love, like snowboarding and horseback riding. I personally think it’s because I was a really sensitive kid, and I had a really scary, not to mention sexist gym teacher, and I remember the feelings of fear and anxiety and inadequacy that always accompanied the dreaded gym class. I never excelled at any “sport” until I started taking Karate, and I found out it came really naturally to me. Same goes for horseback riding. So I think the logical conclusion would be that I don’t play well with others. I still get anxious when I walk into a gym or a sport/class/type setting, so I’m finding different ways to get physical in my current situation.

I’ve decided to start by taking a short walk around the block, which raises its own issues in this town, because I really hate it here. It’s ugly and uninspiring and there are a lot of sketchy people. And the ones who aren’t sketchy tend to be extremely cliquey and will blatantly stare at you, mouth hanging open, as you go by. Yeah. One of those towns. (Luckily, I’m not here for much longer.) So ever since I got here about a month ago, I’ve been mostly living in my head and enjoying the wide array of fabulously cool landscapes there. But I have a body and it needs to stretch and move, so we have to compromise. So I’m taking this walk around the block every day, because I know it also gives me a much-needed immersion into glorious, rapidly-warming-up sunlight! (I love the sun, and that’s one of the other steps as well.) So I walk and try to find beauty, even when it’s very small.

I also work out with my yoga ball and 5 lbs. weights every morning. I’m working on building my core and thigh muscles because I need to strengthen them for riding (horses, that is, though it will help with snowboarding, too.)

My boyfriend and I are starting yoga next Monday as well, and I think that will be good for us both. (He’s much less flexible than I am, so it should be entertaining for me as well.) I’ve never been a huge fan of the eastern philosophies in any capacity, for the sole reason that it’s somehow become cool to be Buddhist (or at least to call yourself one), and in my observation, most people have no idea what they’re doing when they do so. I’ve seen people use the whole “non-attachment” philosophy as a means to justify one night stands. Yeah. And I personally disagree with many of the beliefs as well. But I know a little bit about how our bodies can be maps to our emotional and mental bodies as well, and it makes sense to me that we store memories and emotions in our body. And stretching and sweating it out can definitely be healthy in more ways than just physically. So that’s how I’m choosing to look at it. And it’ll be fun to do something with my boyfriend, since there really isn’t much else to do in this town.

I am also trying to hunt down a riding teacher, and looking into zumba or kickboxing as well.

I really do love being physical, despite my anxiety surrounding it. I love the feeling of stretching my body and breathing life into my joints and muscles. I love feeling strength building and seeing changes for the better. I love feeling capable and healthy.

So, a walk around the block, some delightfully anti-social weight lifting, and yoga with my hunny once a week. . .I think it’s a good, gentle start.
And above all else, I am forever keeping in mind that if I don’t do it one day, if I’m more anxious or down than usual, I am not beating myself up about it. I am not perfect. And I don’t have to be.

Later for now.

“The Depression Cure”

As I mentioned in my last post, I am reading a book right now called The Depression Cure: The 6 Step Program To Beat Depression Without Drugs, (a pretty ballsy claim, in my opinion) by Stephen S. Ilardi, PhD. It was recommended to me by one of my oldest and dearest and awesomest friends, someone whose opinion I totally trust. I didn’t even know what the subtitle was before I got it, and I’m not too worried about it now. I personally hate being on drugs (I take 40mg of Cipralex every day), since I’m much more of a “natural healing” kind of person and don’t even have Tylonol in my house, but I got to the point a few summers ago where it was necessary. I was lying in bed in the middle of the afternoon, struggling with all these negative and pointless thoughts, trying to separate the lies from the truth, while outside there were mountains and hiking trails and forests and glacier-fed lakes calling my name (I was living in one of the most beautiful places on earth at the time), and something in me suddenly said, It’s not supposed to be this hard. And I knew that I would have to sacrifice my ideals in this area, because if I didn’t, I would end up killing myself. I reasoned that it was a small sacrifice when looked at like that, and anyone who would judge me for putting creepy chemicals into my body could kiss my butt. (Yes, I was judged by some way-too-black-and-white-thinking hippies I know, and still am.) And I have had a doctor tell me I will probably be on them for the rest of my life; I have tried going off them, with disastrous results. But back to present day. . .I figured I would read the book, and even if I had to stay on the meds, I knew the 6 steps could definitely help things.

The 6 steps that Dr. Ilardi outlines are:

-Omega 3 fatty acids
-Engaging activity
-Physical exercise
-Sunlight exposure
-Social connection
-Enhanced sleep

What’s cool about this book is that the author really seems to understand what it’s like to have MDD, in that when he talks about implementing the steps into one’s life, he suggests giving yourself a couple weeks to prepare for the change. Like, “Starting on March 9th, I will start taking a zumba class at the rec centre.” I know for myself, having activities sprung on me (even things I love) can cause me to get anxiety, which will either mean I don’t go, or I won’t have fun. Having a two week window in which I can feel anxious, decide I’m not going, try to convince myself why I don’t even need to go, try to get my boyfriend to agree with me, then end up admitting to myself that it will be awesome and fun and even to get a little excited, will be really helpful.

So over the next little while I’m going to be writing more about the 6 steps, and how I’m putting them into practice in my life.

K bye.

MDD

I’m reading a book right now called The Depression Cure by Stephen S. Ilardi, PhD. and it’s pretty interesting. I will get into it more later, but for now, one insight.

The actual full name for depression is major depressive disorder. Psychiatrists and psychologists shortened it for simplicity’s sake…but it’s clearly done a world of damage. People hear you say, “I have depression,” and they think, “Oh, I got depressed when my favourite character died on Grey’s Anatomy, or I burned my dinner.. . .this person is clearly overreacting to some struggle that’s just a part of life. They need to suck it up, put on a smile, and know that things will be better tomorrow.” Blah, blah, blah.

Conversely, if you were to say, “I have MDD,” it could very well be the impetus for an open, honest conversation about what it actually is, which would leave most people with much more compassion for it, I think.

So from now on, that’s the term I’m going to be using. Yup.

Rutabagas.

Try

So I’m a huge P!nk fan, and lately I’ve been listening to some of her new stuff. There’s this one song of hers that continually seems stuck in my head at significant moments, like when I first wake up (which for some reason is when I feel the shittiest, depression-wise, throughout the day). I personally believe that sometimes we get songs stuck in our head because there’s a message in them for us (I’m not talking about songs like Gangnam Style here. . .songs with meaning). So I felt like writing out the lyrics here. It’s called Try.

Ever wonder about what he’s doing
How it all turned to lies
Sometimes I think that it’s better to never ask why
Where there is desire
There is gonna be a flame
Where there is a flame
Someone’s bound to get burned
But just because it burns
Doesn’t mean you’re gonna die
You’ve gotta get up and try
Funny how the heart can be deceiving
More than just a couple times
Why do we fall in love so easy?
Even when it’s not right

(Repeat Chorus)

Ever worry that it might be ruined
And does it make you wanna cry?
When you’re out there doing what you’re doing
Are you just getting by?
Tell me are you just getting by
Where there is desire
There is gonna be a flame
Where there is a flame
Someone’s bound to get burned
But just because it burns
Doesn’t mean you’re gonna die
You’ve gotta get up and try

~

Pretty self explanatory, I think. Yes, depression is much like a broken limb; you wouldn’t urge someone to “just try to walk!” on it. But there is a “try” in the mind…the choice to fight for one’s life.

“Don’t let your struggle become your identity.”
-Ralston Bowles

Bye for now.

Acceptance and Stuff

So I had this thought recently. . .

I think that anyone who has ever known that “something is wrong” (in any capacity) can tell you that there is a freedom and a relief that comes with finally knowing what it is…even when it’s not something we like. This can be true of being given the right diagnosis, finally, of finding out what’s bothering a friend, why your partner is acting weird, why your boss wanted to talk to you, etc etc etc. Limbo sucks. Not knowing how to proceed sucks.

In short, not knowing sucks.

For a long time – more than five years – I have had moments of deep, dark, all-consuming self-hatred as I failed to live up to my own standards and expectations again and again. Why was it that I would get a good job (well paying, “normal” hours, socially acceptable, etc), yet after a few months I would start finding it impossible to go in? Why would I call in sick when I wasn’t sick? But I did feel tired and upset and anxious, so maybe I really was sick. . .maybe if I just slept for today, I would be better tomorrow. Maybe I need a Monday to Friday, 9-5 gig like normal people have. Maybe I needed something more artistically stimulating. Maybe I needed something that paid better. Maybe I needed something more intellectually stimulating.

Maybe I needed something more fun. More corporate and refreshingly sterile and not messy. But then where’s the heart? More predictable. More changeable. More challenging. Easier. Less bitchy women who have nothing to do but gossip and backstab. More guys. Less boys. No coworkers. More young coworkers. More mature coworkers. Maybe I needed to get away from that guy I slept with. My boyfriend’s ex who glares at me. All the drama. Whatever.

Yet whatever I chose, whatever I changed, nothing stuck. I always got bored. Restless. Anxious. Afraid. So I could never save any money, so I could never do any of the “big” things I wanted to do in my 20′s. Get more tattoos. Travel overseas. Get a car. Take riding lessons. Live in the country. Get a dog. Get a horse. Get my own house on a handful of acres in the foothills. A grand piano.

And I must say, when I finally just exhaled and said to myself, “I have a disease,” there was a huge feeling of relief. So many of the questions that had previously been swarming in my head were finally stilled. Why haven’t you gone back to school yet? You’re so smart! (Funny how something seemingly positive can become destructive). Why do you work such menial jobs, when you have so much potential? All your friends have houses and condos and kids and dogs and cars and careers…why don’t you? You say you want all these things – travel and a horse and a dog and a life in the country with a garden – yet you are no closer now to any of it than you were when you were 19. . .why is that? What’s wrong with you? Why are you such a loser? You know
it’s only going to get harder and harder to make something of yourself the older you get, right? You’re just kind of a fuckup, defective. Some people just are, you know. Even though you’re from a good family who had all the support and opportunities in the world, you’re just determined to fail. I don’t know why that is. (This voice in my head was my mother’s, by the way.) But these thoughts finally slowed until they were almost gone.

A radical self-acceptance was dawning, of loving myself just as I am, with no illusions, no expectations to be or do more than felt be-able and doable. To not demand what felt impossible, exhausting, soul-destroying. To not force myself into roles that were self-destructive, to stop trying to be things that just aren’t me. The perfect daughter in my mother’s eyes is not me, because her perception of perfection is terribly skewed. The perfect employee in the average employer’s eye is not me, because I believe in self-care and conscious living, in getting enough sleep and not losing touch with one’s emotions, one’s soul, one’s inner self. I believe in sticking my toes in dandelions, and I really don’t care if my pants get dirt on them, or if I come back from my lunch smelling like horses. The perfect girlfriend in my own estimation for awhile was not me at all, because I am not an ever-flowing fountain that never needs refilling. I may strive to be compassionate, but I am far from perfect, and I have needs, too. I am not a goddess. Well, I sort of am.

So to finally accept my diagnosis was like, at long last, letting go of an incredibly heavy load that was far too much for me to carry. Accepting my limitations, because we all have them. I think when we’re young, we feel like we don’t have any, we feel like our generation will be the generation to change things, finally! That’s at least how I felt after high school…that our ideals and passions would change the world for the better, that society would become more human and less money-driven, that compassion and passion would gain respect and importance in the collective consciousness, and money and corporate bullshit and toxic lifestyles less so. That people would start to seek true happiness and not settle for the lies fed to them by society, by each other. I thought it would be radical and sudden and dramatic. Yet entering my 30′s, I see things differently now. There will always be people who conform to the rigid parameters that have been laid out for them already, people who will pour themselves into whatever mould they’re told is the “right one”, and not question. But then there are the people who question the accepted reality, the status quo. They don’t just swallow whatever they’re given – they think. They question. They don’t accept indifference, cruelty, ignorance and unhealthiness just because they are the norm. They strive to break free of those chains. They struggle to get past mere survival to thrive. They seek balance – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. And those are the people who are, to me, lights in the darkness, shapes and colour in the gray. And they, too, have been around forever, struggling against the dark in their own small or large ways. Every generation is bringing something new to the table, and it’s exciting to watch, and humbling to realize that my generation is no longer the new one coming out into the world. I equate it to the Aboriginal teaching of the medicine wheel. Each direction – east, south, west, north – all represent a different aspect of life. Childhood, adolescence, adulthood, elderhood. Spring, summer, fall, winter. White, red, blue, black. The teachings go on and on. And sure, maybe you’re having a blast in the east, but the time comes – and you feel it inside – when the wheel is turning, and you’re being pushed out, into the south. And you can’t do anything about it. You can deny that it’s happening and pretend you’re still there, but you won’t fool anyone. And we’ve all seen people who do this. The sixty year old woman at the bar dressed like a teenager, grinding on the dance floor and trying to pick up the freaked out bus boy. The elderly man who denies he has any health issues.

But. . .here’s the thing. Looking back, if I had been diagnosed when the depression actually started, when I was around fourteen, and I had accepted the news graciously and come to terms with the limitations of the disease so early on. . .would I still have done all the cool things that did in high school and my 20′s? Acted in plays all through high school? Went to drama camp? Flew to bc when I was 17 and lived out of my backpack for a year and a half? Hitch hiked all over the province? Lived in a cabin in the woods with no electricity or running water? Protested clearcutting? Lived in my tent? Worked in so many cool places? Lived in so many cool places? Took up karate, snowboarding, started relearning piano, fine-tuning my horseback riding skills? Dared to dream of working with horses one day, of writing a book, of playing music onstage? Because the thing is, with accepting this disease as part of my reality, I have lost so much hope. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the consistently balanced mood or the energy to go to school, or have a career where I have to be “on” for hours at a time. To be honest, the future looks pretty fucking bleak to me right now, and sometimes the thought of dying makes me feel relief, or at best spawns nothing but indifference in me. Because all those cool things I did were always tempered with anxiety, fear, and paralyzing confusion and pain, which is why there has never been any consistency in my life. Nothing flows for very long; it always collapses. And I guess I know that, if I didn’t have this bullshit disease, I would have already accomplished so much in my life, and would just keep going, growing, exploring, learning. . .I would be a force to be reckoned with, instead of a crippled girl. . .stuck. I can only accept so much. It’s the nature of all living things to fight for our lives when they’re threatened, so as long as I’m here, I can’t give up the hope that one day, things will be better than this emptiness that is all I have right now. But am I just deluding myself? It’s said that when people are in life threatening situations, they will cling to any hope to keep going. . .even when they know that hope is delusion.

(More Than) A Few Words On Passion

So I got to thinking about the issue of passion after I wrote my last post…art can be a mirror. And reading said post back to myself, and examining my thoughts in general, I’ve realized that passion is something I think about a great deal of the time. I’m not talking about sexual passion here, but things in life I’m passionate about. Which leads me to think about my parents.

I don’t know if all kids reach a point where they put their parents under the microscope in order to decide which traits of theirs they want to emulate, and which they want to discard, but I definitely did, and continue to. And one of the biggest things I’ve noticed about my parents is that they really didn’t have an all-consuming passion for anything. After they had my sister and me, for all intents and purposes, they ceased to be people. Maybe this was normal in the ’70′s and ’80′s, because the widespread myth that parenthood completes you was still accepted much more than it is now. Whatever the case may be, the example they provided for us was extremely bland. My mother stayed home with us, cooked, cleaned, sewed, and my father worked. He truly hated his job (which was teaching) and was, in some ways, more of an absence than a presence.

But it’s not like they were never interesting people. My father was raised on a farm in the middle of Bumfuck, Manitoba, and despite the fact that his entire community believed that farming was The Way, The Truth and The Life, he left said lifestyle and moved to The City (a point of contention between him and his parents for the next 30 years…seriously), and he even backpacked around Europe in his 20′s. My mother was born and raised in Freiburg, Germany as well as Italy (her mother was German, her father Italian), and when she was in her 20′s, she moved to London to work as an au pair. She then came to Canada for a year, with the plan to head east to west, ending in BC, and then fly home again. BC was what she wanted to see the most, her promised land. Instead, she got as far as the prairies, met my father in Winnipeg, and ended up marrying him, having two daughters, and staying for 30 years, despite her family’s serious disapproval of marrying someone who wasn’t “her kind.” In other words, German. (Yes, the fact that her parents were not “of the same kind” is not lost on me.) They never once came to Canada to visit her, and I’ve never met anyone from her side of the family to this day; she won’t talk about them at all.

When she was 19, she got pregnant and decided to keep the baby, despite her father kicking her out of the house. She moved in with her sister and worked 3 jobs to support herself and her son, who she named Michael. After a year of this, she realized she couldn’t give him the life he deserved, so she gave him up for adoption.

Those two short paragraphs above are literally almost everything I know about my parents’ pasts. Is this weird? I don’t know. But what I do know is that I see two people who were interesting, adventurous and brave. What happened? How did flying overseas, challenging outmoded paradigms and blazing trails beyond social acceptance change to peanut butter sandwiches, Sesame Street and parent-teacher conferences…and nothing more?

It’s true that I’m not a parent, and I’m sure there are many things about it that I don’t understand. But I still firmly believe that you don’t have to stop being a person in order to be a good parent. I can see how it could happen, especially back twenty years or so. But becoming aware of this change in my parents has made me even more resolved to not go down the same road, whether I ever have kids or not. I think that a lot of people get older and just grow complacent. They forget the fire of their youth, the reason behind what they were passionate about, what they were willing to fight for and sometimes even die for. Comfort becomes more important, maybe too important.
When I was 18, I heard about a clear cutting protest on a small island in BC, and I didn’t give a second thought to packing up everything owned (which fit into a 100L backpack at the time), and catching the next ferry out. I pitched my tent and I poured myself, body and heart and soul, into the cause. There were real discomforts (no showers, no electricity, no laundry, no heat, and any and all of our food was donated by the community), and real dangers (angry loggers who were just trying to feed their families, who could at any time resort to physical violence…and they did on several occasions). Yet never once did I waver in my commitment. This year I’m turning 32, and if I ask myself honestly if I would do it again…I would. Though now I see with a broader perspective, and I realize that there are different, maybe better ways to protest clear cutting than a bunch of neo-hippies living in the woods on a tiny piece of crown land that sits between a raped piece of earth and a logging road. Yet our presence did two things: it was a physical barrier to more logging, if only a temporary one, and it raised awareness for our cause.
I often think about this scene from Fight Club, a movie I wasn’t overly impressed with (but this one scene is awesome.) It’s the part in which Brad Pitt is driving the stolen car with Edward Norton beside him and the two members of Project Mayhem in the back seat. As he steers the car into oncoming traffic, he asks, “What would you wish you’d done before you died?” to the car in general. Without pause, the two in the back reply, “Paint a self portrait.” “Build a house.” And Edward Norton replies, “I don’t know.” I really think we should all be able to answer this question without missing a heartbeat.

So maybe passion and the courage to put one’s physical comfort aside for a greater good are “easier” in youth, but they can and should be consciously cultivated as one grows older. As one’s perspective naturally shifts and broadens in some ways, the things one is passionate about should still be held onto and fought for with uncompromising fire. To quote one of my favourite movies:

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race, and the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering – these are noble pursuits, and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love – these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, ‘O me! O life! Of the questions of these recurring, of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities filled with the foolish. . .what good amid these, O me, O life? Answer: that you are here – that life exists, and identity. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.’ That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”

Winter Weaving

Well, winter is swiftly passing (though for me this time of year always seems to drag by impossibly slowly, so by the time spring actually comes, I’ve almost forgotten what grass is…I don’t know if I’m alone in this), and I figured I would update my blog in case anyone actually reads it. And for myself too. Yeah.

This is the first winter in which I went into it with my eyes wide open, fully aware and with no illusions about how bad it can get, how low I can go, and as prepared for it as I could possibly be. Armed with a sun lamp, vitamin D, the two more epic cats in the history of cat-kind, a yoga ball and lots of dark green veggies for the depression (not to mention the super duper pills my doctor prescribes for me…that was sarcasm. I hate taking them.), kava kava, ridiculous amounts of free time, and herbal tea for the anxiety, and yes, a helluva lot of compassion and gentleness for myself when I’m less than perfect and less than what I expect of myself, which is basically all the time.

The irony of it all is that compassion and self love are two concepts that I’ve struggled with since my early 20′s, when I became a self-proclaimed hippie, flew out west and lived in a tent in the woods for a year and half, and first heard of such an idea. Considering what it would mean to apply it to myself, I was shocked to discover how much self loathing I carry around, definitely more than the average person. Which then became the catalyst for some seriously deep soul searching, some intense asking of my favourite question, “Why?” And the root of a whole new vista of self knowledge that I won’t get into here. But the point of this paragraph is that self love and compassion have eluded me over and over again, like trying to chase down your own shadow. I guess I thought that I would be sitting there on a rock by the ocean one morning, smoking a cigarette in the lotus position while the sun rose and all my fellow hippies were still sleeping, and Compassion and Self Love would just slide into my skin as easily as the passing wind, and my eyes would brighten and suddenly everything would become so clear, and from that moment on my life would be forever changed. All my self hatred would dissolve in the salt water at my feet, I would start taking my dreams and goals and creativity seriously (but not too seriously), I would start eating well, start exercising regularly, teach yoga, find a boy who worshiped me, travel overseas, wear those pants that only come down to the tops of your calves, make your ass look amazing and your legs look capable, and sandals that support your arches. I wouldn’t be gangly anymore. My dreads would be perfectly even and would have beads and treasures hidden deep inside them. I would spend my 20′s traveling the world and then, at the glorious onset of my 30′s, probably on an airplane over the desert somewhere, would come to the neatly packaged conclusion that my real calling in life is to _______________ (insert some kind of natural healing career here), and would then begin a conscious journey into attending university to achieve the schooling necessary to do this. I would have supportive friends who came over for potlucks with strawberry and blackberry wine, bright scarves, attentive lovers who were drawn to my inner light but could never touch it, an old upright piano, a calico cat, and an apartment that was built in 1901 with a Victorian couch. My futon would have suns and moons and stars on it, and when my friends would sleep over we would talk far into the night, and once I had fallen asleep they would lie on their backs, staring at the sarong draped across the ceiling with the perfume of incense wafting down into their nostrils, enchanting them, making them wonder, with the music that softly played. Loreena McKennitt, Sinead O’Connor’s Gospel Oak, Ravi Shankar.

The reality of it, however, is that Compassion and Self Love finally came to me when I was too tired, too beaten down, too broken, to do or to be anything else. I was in the hospital with no one and nothing, and I wanted to die. Because I left the bright scarves, the turn of the century apartment buildings, the potlucks and sleepovers behind, in my quest to find the mountains and the fierce rage of snowboarding, of house music and Jager bombs, or situations that I could describe as sick and fucking epic, and when I found it, all that was in myself that didn’t align with it just fell away, and writing this now, three years later, I still barely remember who I am. Because I sacrificed it all to feel, for one safe and steady moment, normal. What I considered safe and steady, what I considered normal.

And now, I would give almost anything to feel like myself again.

But the funny thing is, I’m not only that girl from Osborne Village anymore – the one who dances at The Toad, the one who eats at Massala and Wasabi and who remembers Out of the Blue when it was cooler, and who has an account at Movie Village. I see myself as a tapestry, woven of so many bright, so many muted, complex threads. Can’t I be a Villager and a snowboard chick? Can’t I love the energy and the pulse of the city, and be a horse person too? Can I love the painting that happens with the written word, and be moved to indescribable levels by music, by art, too? Maybe it’s about integrating our images of ourselves with all the new things we’re learning and becoming every moment, and never limiting ourselves to what we used to be, even five minutes ago. Not worrying that no one has ever done it like this before.

I’ve felt, for my whole life, that I don’t have deep roots, or a strong sense of who I am or what I’m about. So maybe I’ve been shaky from the beginning, so no wonder I feel so lost. But lately it’s my passions that I keep coming back to as a touchstone for who I am. What is it I believe in? Like, really believe in? Down to the bone? What is it in my life that I feel like I’d die if I didn’t have? The things that make life feel worth living? What are my morals, my ethics, even when the world around me seems so devoid of them, or like no one cares? What do I care about? And you start to shape your life around these passions.

I think that as we grow older a refining process begins to take shape within us. We don’t lose our passions…we just start to see time differently. We start to ask ourselves, what matters most? What do I want to put my time and energy into? What do I want to grow in this garden that is my life? What will I cultivate? Because we can’t give 100% to all our passions (if we have as many as I happen to). We each have to create our own medicine wheel, and balance out what goes within it. How much Deer, how much Dolphin? How much piano, how much dance? How much sketching, how many horses, what colours will they be? And so on. Kind of like a recipe.

So every day, no matter how big the snowbanks are or how short the days, I remind myself that January is almost over, and that spring is on its way. Reminding myself of what’s true, even when all evidence is to the contrary.

Bye for now.

Up To The Date

I haven’t written in awhile, but I noticed yesterday that someone actually finds this blog interesting, and it kind of inspired me. So I guess I’ll do an update on what’s going on with me.

In a few days I have an appointment to see about going on long-term disability/assistance…and I hate it. Hate it. But seeing as I can’t work, I don’t really have any other options at this point. Starting a new job, I’m always really positive and energetic, but after a few weeks, this lethargy always sets in, and I find myself constantly exhausted, restless, anxious and bored. Then I start feeling anxious before going to work, particularly on Sunday evenings/Monday mornings, so I start calling in sick…and it just gets worse from there. I’ve never actually been fired, but I have left almost every job I’ve ever had because of this. It’s not that I don’t want to be working, because I do. I really do. I love the idea of having a job I’m passionate about, of going in to work every morning excited (well, most mornings…let’s be honest here, no job is perfect), and leaving every day knowing I’ve made an actual difference in the world, even if it was just one person, or one animal, one plant, that I helped. That’s always how I’ve been: idealistic. Which maybe contributes to the depression. I’ve always seen things for what they can be, not for what they are. I see potential.

Apparently this is a Virgo trait. More on that later, though.

So while in some ways it will be a relief to have some money coming in consistently, no matter my state of mind, this decision has left me feeling frustrated, angry and sad beyond description.

My goal has always been to have a small handful of acres in the foothills of this beautiful province I live in, with a view of the mountains. I want my own horse, two dogs, my cats, and a healthy relationship. I want to take a trip somewhere every year, my top three places being Ireland, Hawaii, and New Zealand. Then Italy, the Ukraine, and Germany (that will be my pilgrimage to where my ancestors come from), then China, Australia, a road trip of the States on a motorcycle, Pompeii, Alaska, Easter Island…the list goes on.
But the issue now is. . .if I’m on disability for the rest of my life. . .will I always be just scraping by? Doomed to live in an apartment, feeling like a caged animal, when my heart is running through forests and gazing at mountains under starlight and riding bareback along beaches and traveling the world? In short, are my dreams unattainable? At the age of 31, is the life I’ve been hoping and attempting to plan for over? If so. . .then what’s the point of any of this?

People say that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, and in 99% of cases, I wholeheartedly agree. The only case in which this is not true is when someone has an illness that isn’t going anywhere.
If I can’t live the life I want, then quite frankly, I don’t want to live at all. Call me dramatic, immature, overly idealistic, whatever. But that’s just how I feel. I have every right to be happy, just like everyone else does. Why should I be any different?

Some Insights

I just found these two quotes randomly; I’m not sure who said them, but I found them very succinct:

“People think depression is about being sad. They think it’s just when you ‘feel down’. It’s not. It’s like a darkness that creeps over you and fills you. It drains all your emotions. It takes everything from you, and leaves you feeling hollow and numb. It’s not sadness. It’s not anger. It’s hopelessness. Imagine waking up and there being no color. Walking outside and feeling no wind. Eating a meal and tasting nothing. Holding someone and feeling completely alone at the same time. When you’re depressed, it’s not a bad mood. It’s a numb, empty, hollowness that seems to never leave. It’s feeling alone in a room full of people. You feel like there’s no hope left.”
-Unknown

And the second one:

“It’s like drowning, while everyone around you is breathing.”
-Unknown

Impressed

So recently I was talking to my counselor, and she told me something that I didn’t know, and that really impressed me.

We were discussing how I want to go back to school (university), and yet I have all kinds of misgivings because I know how the depression has affected me in the past during the winter, so how could I realistically plan to succeed at years of school if I can’t get out of bed for weeks at a time during the winter?

Well, apparently, awareness and compassion for this disease are growing. It turns out that most universities offer free tutoring for people with depression, PLUS you can also sign up and have a note-taker assigned to you. This is someone who, if you’re unable to make it to class because of your disease, will attend your classes and take notes on the lectures given by the prof.
And on top of all that, there’s a program in BC that one can enter and, if your doctor signs off on you having depression, you can have a couple thousand dollars paid for your tuition. Not a lot in the big picture, but still.

:)

Summer!

Because my depression is exacerbated by winter’s cold, lack of daylight, and the “shut-in” feeling one gets when it’s -40 outside for months at a time, summer comes as a giddy, giggly, almost-brings-me-to-tears-with-relief kind of happiness.

However. . .before I can get to this happiness, this lightness and simplicity, I have to cross a difficult yet blessedly short bridge known as Anxiety.

I don’t know for sure why I get anxious when the weather starts to warm up, the grass turns green, the flowers come out and the days lengthen, but I do. I have a theory, though. After months and months of darkness, struggle and “lowness,” suddenly the weight of depression is released and I feel myself floating on warm currents, starry nights, the smell of bonfires, days at the beach and whole weekends spent camping. . .and life is suddenly very, very simple, happy, fun and easy. Outdoor concerts, festivals, swimming at the lake and eating popsicles, road trips and all-nighters. And, up north, sun 24 hours a day, a natural phenomenon that gave my depression a huge kick in the ass and sent it limping on its way. The need for sleep and food decreased during my first summer up here in the land of the midnight sun, and I felt myself reaching new levels of confidence, spontaneity and joy at the simplicity and goodness of my life, gardening, camping, hiking, playing with my horse, being outside all hours of the day and night. So when the crash of winter hit me the following November, it sucked about ten times as much.

But I digress. Suddenly flowers are smiling at me and sunshine is laughing in the trees, which are all blooming and budding with so much promise and energy, gentle rains and fierce thunderstorms sweep me away and beauty is everywhere. And my nervous system short-circuits. I get anxious and have what feel like mini-panic attacks. Life goes from one extreme to the other. And it’s a good change, the best change. . .but still a drastic change that elevates the chemicals in my brain, alters the hormones in my body, and leaves me feeling overwhelmed.

So I suppose I could just get stuck in this anxiety, never go outside, and fear days at the beach, camping trips and traveling, for no discernible reason. I have been down that road. I went down that road and didn’t come back for 8 years during my twenties, and missed out on so many amazing opportunities. But live and learn.

Or. . .I can take what I’ve learned about alchemy, and “slip into spring”. . .let the fast-flowing river of summer’s heat, long days, and the promise of life and fun and lightheartedness sweep me away. I can choose to trust. To not be afraid but to trust in myself, my capabilities, my wisdom, my intelligence, my connection and relationship with my Earth Mother , to ground me and keep me aware and awake. And to trust in the river’s flow, that it’s all part of the cycles of life and the Wheel of the Year, no less valid or real or healthy than the dark and sedentary nature of winter, when we all retreat into our hibernation and heal from the past year’s disappointments, integrate its lessons, and dream the new year into existence, full of promise, wisdom, love and joy.

So I’m surrendering to the flow, breathing through the anxiety, and reminding myself of the fun, goodness and happiness the coming months promise me.

More About Anger

I don’t think I really got back around to finishing my original point in my last post about anger…I tend to get sidetracked when I go on rants.

As I was saying, Freud, who, yes, has said many inaccurate things, did say one thing that really rings true for me: Depression is anger turned inward.

It makes sense. Being raised in a home where I was made to believe that I was “all wrong,” and where my feelings, my need to be respected, listened to, and cherished, exactly as I was, were never met…the anger couldn’t go anywhere but inward. And so as an adult I have an incredible amount of self loathing and self abuse going on under the surface. . .if I let it. It’s something I have to struggle with minute to minute. Every time I try something new, every time I stretch out of my comfort zone, that voice rears its ugly head, telling me how stupid, how worthless, how flaky, ugly, unworthy, hopeless I am. What a failure. What a loser. It gives examples. It has PowerPoint and whiteboards and Sharpies.

And so for me, the challenge is to turn the tide. Start pushing the anger back in the direction it should have been going all along. But again, we’re back to finding constructive, healthy ways to do this. I am not talking about pointing the finger, constantly blaming and hating and raging. I’m talking about release. I’m talking about honesty, about getting to the root of where this self loathing comes from.

In the past few years, I have come to the slow and painful realization, that I am never going to get the long-sought-after affirmation from my biological family of my inherent awesomeness that I’ve craved for so long. I think we all need that as children, but we don’t all get it. I know I’m not alone in this. But I do think that my situation was unique in that even the things about me that most would view as “gentle eccentricities” were completely stomped on by my mother – things like dressing like a cowgirl every day, which from my Tickle Trunk included long jeans in the summertime (you can’t ride a horse in shorts, you know), a plaid flannel shirt, my cowboy hat, rubber boots, and those little fuzzy gloves that you buy in the fall when it starts to get cold out. She found this exasperating. I had an invisible grey horse named Quinten who lived under the poplar trees in our backyard, and I rode him every day. He would run alongside our car whenever we went anywhere. My walls were plastered with horse posters – artistic images, charts describing breed, height, weight, tack. When I was ten I drew up blueprints for my future riding stable. Toy horses, books about horses, drawings of horses, My Little Pony…you name it, I had it.

But my mother made it clear that “there’s no future in horses,” and she denied me access to my greatest passion. Instead I had to take piano lessons, swimming lessons, four types of dance, gymnastics, and all the comments about how she wanted my sister and I to be a doctor and a lawyer. (Apparently I would have made a good lawyer, since I “love to argue.” I don’t love it; it just became necessary.)

So to make a long story short, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that, while it may not be ideal, what needs to happen now is that I have to be the one to affirm my intrinsic awesomeness for and to myself. I can’t keep waiting around for my mother, my sister, a boyfriend, to do it for me. I never got it in my childhood, and I’ve made some poor choices in friends and boyfriends as a result. I’ve trusted people who were ultimately abusive, unsupportive, and just out to take. Mirroring the pattern of my childhood. We all recreate what is familiar to us. I read somewhere that it’s very common for children, who have recently been removed from abusive homes and put into foster care, to escape the first chance they get and return home. They were abused. They were mistreated. But it’s what they know of as “home.”

We need to choose to break the chains.

Relationships

Like many other people, I want to find a meaningful, healthy, loving, supportive, fun, awesome relationship. A partnership.

Unfortunately, dating someone with depression is apparently difficult, stressful, frustrating, and a lot of people encourage others to “not even bother.” Um, ouch.

Relationships are hard and complicated, even with people who don’t suffer from depression. People are complex, contradictory, and full of “stuff.”
I am complicated, and I am high maintenance. I sometimes have suicidal thoughts that go beyond just a fleeting moment. During almost every winter of my adult life, I have been unable to work and sometimes unable to get out of bed. (As an interesting side note, the only winter that this didn’t happen was the one during which I was snowboarding my ass off.)

So does all of this mean I am unworthy of love, not worth the effort? Too much? Not enough? Crazy? Our culture certainly creates the underlying belief that people who are less than “normal” should be avoided like the plague. I don’t think so. Maybe I just need more understanding, more patience, more compassion. Maybe I need a guy who is willing to listen and understand.

And like everyone else, I am “doing the work.’ Digging up my demons, working through my issues, finding the roots of all of this pain.

I was doing some research this evening, and I came across something that someone named Joost Steffensen Osted. He has been married to a woman with depression for five years, and I found his account of it to be honest, compassionate, and very down to earth. I thought I’d share.

~

I dated a woman with depression once. She is now my wife.

There is nothing to prepare you for what it means to date a woman with depression. The experience at its worst can leave you fearing for your sanity. There is only one way to deal with it: remembering that depression is an illness.

Yes depression is an illness. An illness that is erratic and often fatal. It can last years or it can last a lifetime. It can be fairly stable or be accompanied by violent mood swings.

Essentially unless you are prepared to spend time with a person with a severe illness there is no point in dating a person with depression. The illness is not going to go away. You either learn to accommodate for it or you had better get out.

However, to be fair there is often no way to know whether a person is depressed when you meet them. Depressives like everyone else like to go out and have fun. They like to meet people. They like to be normal. Sometimes they cling so hard to the illusion of being normal and healthy that they will simply not tell you that they are depressed.

It certainly took my wife a long time to come out with it. Our first year was tumultuous and too personal to describe in detail. My wife exhibited a lot of behavior that I could not place. At times I felt manipulated at others let down. But I loved her and eventually I figured it out.

We have been together for five years now and she is still depressed, but doing much better. We have set up a system that allows her to control her illness most of the time in such a way that it effects her and our life to only a minor extent. Extremes still happen, but with ever decreasing regularity as we hone our skills. Here are my main tips for how to act when you’re dating or are the partner of someone with depression.

1. Like I said before. Always remind yourself that depression is an illness. The more you start to realize that what I say is true the easier it will be to deal with it. Once you know in your heart depression is an illness you will stop feeling anger and resentment towards your partner. You will stop feeling manipulated. Only once you accept that depression is an Illness do you have the right mindset to really help.

2. Learn about depression. There are many different types of depression. Familiarize yourself with them and learn your partner’s diagnosis, learn about his/her medication, learn about his/her coping mechanisms.

3. Once you are familiar with your partner’s depression start observing him/her. If you studied the Illness well enough it should soon become obvious whether the diagnosis was correct. You’re in the ideal position to observe your partner’s behavior and get to know the signs of the illness intimately.

4. Talk to your partner. Depression has both a chemical and an environmental component. If things in your partner’s life or past made him/her depressed you need to know about them and help him/her find the right help (counseling) to get him/her through them.

5. Get to know your partner’s medication. There is a lot of information out there (on the web), a lot of it experience based. Learn about the medication while being critical of the sources. It is critical that your partner take the medication in the way prescribed. Not taking anti-depressives the right way or forgetting to take them can lead to extreme physical and mental reactions. Withdrawal is no picnic. Keeping tabs on your partner’s drug taking might seem like overreaching, but is often critical.

6. Learn the early warning signs. My wife has a whole slew of little signs that tell me she is getting nervous or that she is retreating into her dark place. Recognizing these as soon as they start, acknowledging them and combating them can make the low more shallow or prevent it from happening altogether.

7. Know your partner’s triggers. A lot of things that seem trivial to me will set her off. Knowing what they are allows me to know why my wife is reacting the way she does. For example my wife is extremely averse to conflict. If at any time I become too argumentative and I see my wife retreating I simply back of. This is not her manipulating me, but a symptom of the Illness. If I wait for the right time and change my tone of voice I can discuss my grievances with her later.

8. Know what makes your partner happy. It is not always possible to pull your partner out of a depression. After all it is a serious issue. However in some circumstances doing things that make your partner happy can relieve the hurt. In my wife’s case food, music and animals or a combination of the three help her cope or even come out of a depression. Patience and creativity are important. Did I mention its an illness?

9. Adjust your lifestyle to the depression. Try to eliminate stressors. My wife had trouble with absenteeism, often not being able to get out of bed and go to work. In the end she became self-employed. She now controls her own hours and does work she loves. She now seldom cancels an appointment. I changed my job to be able to be on hand in case of an emergency. Our apartment is on the ground floor and all our knives are blunt (seriously).

10. Make people around you aware of what’s going on. By telling people about the depression we were able to create a support network. There are some people who distrust the concept of depression but they usually come around. Most people however are supportive from the get-go. Depression is more common than you might think.

11. Develop trust. Trust is often lacking in people with depression because of the past experiences that are often the root of their depression. Establishing trust can take a long time. Trust helps you rely on each other. It gives you comfort and security. When dating someone with depression it is very important never to compromise that trust. You have built a house of cards. Don’t make it come crashing down.

12. Love. Dating a depressive is hard. The only way you’re going to do it is if you love your partner.

My life since I met my wife has been a roller coaster ride. The experiences I’ve had have been incredible both in the positive sense and in the negative sense. When I met my wife I thought she was the most extraordinary person I’d ever met. And that is what she turned out to be. The things I learned since we first kissed surpass everything I knew before.

It was a struggle, but the struggle is worth it if you find the right woman.

I shudder to think what I would have lost had I not dated someone with depression.

~

I don’t like his implication that “depressives” are not “normal and healthy.” What does normal mean exactly? And I don’t think anyone is 100% healthy in their thought processes anyway.

I don’t have violent mood swings. I am about as steady as the next person for half the year. It’s only in the winter that I start to struggle.

Maybe it’s time to move back to the mountains.

Can You Catch It?

I want to comment on the lack of awareness, acknowledgement and support that sufferers of depression have to contend with.

Over the winter, as with most winters, I had to take some time off work because I was “couchbound.” It ended up being about three weeks that I was away, and during that time, I couldn’t help but notice the complete lack of communication from my coworkers. Had I been out because of, let’s say, cancer treatment, the flowers and cards and well-wishers would have been pouring in. The messages telling me how strong I was, how brave, how amazing.

Yet suffering with depression, a disease that can also be fatal, one suffers primarily alone.
At my place of work at the time, shortly before I took my leave of absence, we all received an email on a Monday morning from the powers-that-be, declaring that week to be Mental Health Awareness Week. Said email encouraged all of us to do some research, learn about the issues, talk about them in the workplace. The whole week went by, and it was never mentioned.

One of my oldest and most awesome friends is currently battling Lyme Disease. In fighting this shocking and rare disease, she is flooded with support, encouragement and love – from me as well, and I will be the first to stand up and say she deserves it. Yet I have to wonder – why is it that when someone with a disease that affects the body speaks up about it, fights it, and wins, they’re concerned brave, a survivor – yet when someone with a disease that affects the mind speaks up about it, fights it, and wins, they’re basically treated like they have the plague? Can I catch it? Should I not get too close? Best not talk about it or respond.

It baffles me. The literature is there. Readily available. And given the staggering numbers of people who do suffer from depression. . .why is there so little awareness about it, so little support for the brave people who battle it every day, as it tries to rip from them all of their enthusiasm, their passions, their soul, their relationships, their love of life?

Maybe people are afraid of saying the wrong thing. I can only speak for myself when I say this, but – knowing I have your support and your encouragement, knowing you’re not afraid or put off by it, knowing that you can look beyond the disease to the person I really am, would mean the world to me to hear.

Anger

Many people see anger as a “negative” emotion. I strongly disagree. The only time that ANY emotion becomes negative is when we choose to express it so that is destructive in some way. Love can be destructive. So can anger.

Anger is healthy in and of itself, because it lets us know when and where our boundaries have been crossed. It is another tool for our knowledge of ourselves.

Yet anger long repressed, long denied, or simply anger that one has been long unaware of, can become toxic. Such is the case with my and the anger towards my family.

I have made the conscious decision to NOT let this anger lie buried and simmering under the surface as it has been for so long now. So I am slicing open the wound, and letting it bleed. And I am using several tools to do so.
I see the anger that has built up into rage as a poison that needs to be siphoned out of myself. I write about it, raw, unabashedly. I punch pillows. I scream. I sing along to angry music as loud at the top of my lungs (when my roommates aren’t home.) Sometimes I just write, stream of consciousness, letting it all pour and pour and pour out of me. And when I’m done all of these things, I feel lighter, more hopeful somehow.

Life is made up of light and shadow, life and death, summer and winter, spring and fall, day and night, sun and moon, roses and thorns, reaping and sowing. If we look at nature, we see our inner worlds reflected. Light and dark. Love and hate, anger and joy. We all have the light and shadow within ourselves. This is as it should be. But it’s only when we ignore the shadow, when we pretend it doesn’t exist or that we’ve transcended it, that it becomes dangerous, destructive and “negative.”

I think they key is to witness our shadow-selves. Pull up a chair at your dinner party and make room for your anger, your rage, your shadow-self. Pour it some tea and listen to what it has to say. Let it sit right beside happiness and joy and all the comfortable emotions, because that’s really the only way we will ever be whole.

Peeling An Apple

I had this realization about depression awhile back, about how the thoughts that it “feeds” us are lies. I don’t know too much about the scientific, neurological process of how depression affects us, beyond the whole serotonin and dopamine stuff, but I do know how it feels. I know the utterly hopeless thoughts that sneak into your brain unbidden, and the slippery slope that you so quickly slide down if you buy into them even a little bit. It’s like feeding the monster. . .don’t.

So, for me, it’s a “constant vigilance” kind of thing, because for every thought that passes through my mind, I have to stop, examine it, and figure out if it came from the “real me” or if it’s the depression talking. I liken it to peeling an apple with a knife. It’s that fine a line between your own thoughts and the lies the disease is feeding you. It’s exhausting and I get right sick of it sometimes, and I hope it will get easier. I will be talking to my doctor shortly about changing my meds, because I don’t believe that life should be this difficult.

A Quote

I’m not sure who wrote this, but a friend shared it with me recently. It describes, far more succinctly than I can at the moment, what we go through.

“If you follow me on twitter you already know that I’ve been battling off one of the most severe bouts of depression I’ve ever had. Yesterday it started to pass, and for the first time in weeks I cried with relief instead of with hopelessness. Depression can be crippling, and deadly. I’m lucky that it’s a rare thing for me, and that I have a support system to lean on. I’m lucky that I’ve learned that depression lies to you, and that you should never listen to it, in spite of how persuasive it is at the time.

When cancer sufferers fight, recover, and go into remission we laud their bravery. We call them survivors. Because they are.
When depression sufferers fight, recover and go into remission we seldom even know, simply because so many suffer in the dark…ashamed to admit something they see as a personal weakness…afraid that people will worry, and more afraid that they won’t. We find ourselves unable to do anything but cling to the couch and force ourselves to breathe.

When you come out of the grips of a depression there is an incredible relief, but not one you feel allowed to celebrate. Instead, the feeling of victory is replaced with anxiety that it will happen again, and with shame and vulnerability when you see how your illness affected your family, your work, everything left untouched while you struggled to survive. We come back to life thinner, paler, weaker…but as survivors. Survivors who don’t get pats on the back from coworkers who congratulate them on making it. Survivors who wake to more work than before because their friends and family are exhausted from helping them fight a battle they may not even understand.

Regardless, today I feel proud. I survived. And I celebrate every one of you reading this. I celebrate the fact that you’ve fought your battle and continue to win. I celebrate the fact that you may not understand the battle, but you pick up the baton dropped by someone you love until they can carry it again. I celebrate the fact that each time we go through this, we get a little stronger. We learn new tricks on the battlefield. We learn them in terrible ways, but we use them. We don’t struggle in vain.

We win.

We are alive.”

Because

So I decided to start this blog for a couple reasons.

One is that, as a long-time struggler with clinical depression, I know first-hand how much ignorance exists surrounding this disease.

Secondly, I also know how very, very little acknowledgement there is of it as a “valid” thing.

And so, I hope that this blog will help people gain understanding and compassion about it, and realize there’s no reason for it to be a taboo subject.

Also, I would like people to feel free to ask questions about it, talk about it, and yes, we can all help shed light on a subject that is so misunderstood and swept under the rug.

And even if no one reads this, if people find it too depressing (LOL), writing about it within a medium that just might be witnessed by other people will help me feel less alone with this disease.