House of cards

We all have our “story” and our beliefs. What we know to be true about who we are and what we are…a story that is crafted and honed to solid and held to with fierce determination at times as truth. But what happens when the story we have always carried with us, the story that has shaped our actions and continues to is faulty? What do you do when you realize that you’re not happy and you’re not able to enact the changes you know you want to and need to in order to facilitate a healthy direction in your life? What do you do when you come to the truth that the only thing that is stopping you is your “story”?

I have spent my whole life taking emotions and feelings and controlling them. Making them go away or be muted so that I can function and be strong and do what I need to do. Starting with a temper that I was told I had to learn how to control in my early teens. A well-meaning discussion that set the groundwork for me. The rage inside me that was from something else… untouched and even unacknowledged… it came up as an uncontrollable temper in my pre-teens and continued to get worse as I got older. By the time I was 13 or 14 I had kicked holes in walls, bitten through pillows and destroyed more belongings in my fits than I wanted to think about. Always followed by remorse and hating myself for what I had done. Regret, So when I was told I had to get it under control I did just that. I would seethe and pace and see red but I wouldn’t lash out physically or verbally. It took a while but I learned to control it. I still felt it but I didn’t express it.

So it began. The rage turned inwards. I became anorexic, then bulimic when I realized that starving myself might actually kill me. My Dad passed away when I was 14. I had to be strong and supportive for my Mom. So I was. My relationship with her fell apart and I moved out at 15. I needed to be self-reliant. So I was. The years passed and I went from a sloppy teenager to a married woman with an almost compulsive organizational streak. Sexually assaulted shortly into my first marriage I took that experience and pushed it down. I wasn’t going to be someone who was changed or “damaged” by that… It wouldn’t affect me. So it didn’t. Outwardly.

Highly structured and detail oriented. List making, budgeting and meal planning to perfection. I did it all… worked around my husbands schedule, made all the meals at home, baking from scratch…always “yes” to every volunteer request at school. PAC president, hot lunch coordinator, scout leader, walking school bus and crossing guard – you name it, I was involved. Single parenting through most of it. People asked me how I did it all and made it look so easy. My answer was always the same “I just do – I love it”. And I did. My boys were, and are, my driving force and my greatest joy. I loved it all.

Every now and then through cracks would appear. Nights of tears that wouldn’t stop. Old behaviours that would rear up and I would have to struggle to control again. Eating habits always barely held in check. Compulsive exercising to try to achieve a body that I wouldn’t despise in the mirror.

Two marriages down. The constant in my life always being that my boys were my life to me. Oddly enough, I didn’t strive to control them ever. Instead, wanting to instill and impart in them a strength and a self-reliance so that I would know they would be ok. Raising them to question and ask and not just accept norms at face value. I wanted them to be independent of me and to even question my directions and guidance for them.

Then losing Willie.

My “story” that I am strong enough to get through anything, that I am in control of my emotions and that I can deal with it is shattered.

The walls of my house of cards, held together by sheer will that I want them there tumble.

As the months flit past the structure of my life unravels

Leaving only the foundation I started with – me.

Bare and raw and flawed.

The foundation that my life and my beliefs have been built on is cracked and unstable.

Now open to be seen. My “story” laid before me to see finally. The base belief that has shaped my actions and the story that I have lived with my whole life apparent to me. A consciousness that in order to move forward, this is what needs to be processed and what needs to be examined.

Awareness that the groundwork needs to be done to ensure that as I rebuild, it’s with a core that’s strong and whole and healthy.

The rest of my life to be lived without boundaries. Undefined by limitations place by myself or others.

I am not my story. I am simply….Me.


It’s been 2 years from the day that Willie was first admitted to the hospital in an attempt to help him with his mental illness.

I have been counselled so many times to let go and move forward and not to dwell in the past. I’ve made gains in that area and I recognize that fact. The truth is that I am moving forward… I have spent the last 2 months not thinking about or looking at Willie’s medical records or hospital reports in an attempt to put some distance there. Before that I had fought long and hard to get all the copies that I could and to really uncover all of the ins and outs of his care – that I didn’t already know or have access to. I did get almost everything, save for some redacted files from the government agency that he saw for care.

I spent weeks going over the documents, almost obsessively. I know now that it was my way of searching for that one thing that if done differently would have saved him. A pointless search. Nothing can change what is and no matter what, this is the truth that we all have to live with. So I put them away and put my focus on moving forward and healing and letting go of the search for a “why” his treatment couldn’t stop him from killing himself.

Now, a couple of months later, I feel a stirring that something is unfinished. Willie’s journey and story isn’t over and I am again feeling like I can’t just let it go. I know for certain that some of his care was less than what it should have been and that actions were either taken or not taken at times that impacted his treatment direction. I know that those actions were perpetrated by specific medical persons and not just a matter of “policies” or “the system”.

So now, I need to decide whether me taking action will change anything for anyone else moving forward – because it won’t help Willie. Is it worth the turmoil and the stress and the pain I anticipate it will cause me? For an uncertain outcome and possibly more frustration that, in the end, no one will be held accountable for actions that contributed to Willie’s treatment being less than it could have been…

That’s the question right now and one that will take some time to decide I think.

Time for a chat

I have had a few people ask me recently if I still talk to Willie. I do, but in my own head, and very rarely. In the early morning hours this morning, amidst many tears, I talked to him… out loud and for a while. Now don’t worry, I’m not going crazy, he didn’t talk back or anything…

I told him many personal things that have been on my mind about losing him and about his passing. I shared with him how wrong he was when he told me that while losing him would be sad, that I would “get over it and be happier”. I explained to him that while I understood his decision and accept it now, I’m not – and never will be – over it and happier without him here. That he was wrong in that.

I tried to explain to him how hard it has been for me to keep going without him; that the pain of accepting that he killed himself has brought me – many times – to contemplate the same way of ending the pain inside of msyelf. I told him how thankful I am that he left me that note that he did and for what it said. That his words have gotten me through some horrible moments and helped me make the choice to stay. I thanked him for leaving behind his journals so that I could understand what drove him to what he did.

I asked him to forgive me for not being able to save him from himself, because I am having a very hard time with that. And I told him I don’t blame him and that there is , in my mind, nothing for me to forgive him for. He did what he felt was the only thing he could do to end what he was living with. He may not have been right – or he may have been, we’ll never know – but it was what he believed was right. And because of that, I don’t blame him for his choice.

I told him that I love him… and I remembered what his voice sounded like when he used to say it to me. Memories are all I have left now…even though they may not be what I want to move forward with instead of him, I am thankful for them.

Ink and the journey

Having just acquired a new tattoo, I’ve been doing some thinking about the symbolism that it carries for me, as all of mine do.

I was chatting with a friend the other day and she is very tattooed as well and the discussion came up about ink and she made the comment that I get tattoos when something is ending… I replied with “or beginning” and a smile.

An ending may be something coming to a close, but endings also leave a space where something new can begin. This latest tattoo for me was less thought out that any other but in retrospect is the most symbolic of renewal and belief in beginnings.

This month marks 2 years since my son became openly mentally ill and we began treatment and searching for a way to help him be “better”. Losing Willie just a few months later was the ending we hoped we would never have to face but it happened…and we are left to rebuild and move forward with our lives. This is an ongoing struggle for me in trying to live with grief and discover a way to grieve and mourn him but also acknowledge that my life goes on and that I need to live it and experience it. The grief can exist with joy and with happiness and that’s a lesson I am just starting to live.

Experiencing times these past couple of weeks when the tears came forward during conversations and having them expressed and pass shows me that I am learning to live with it. I am starting to not only feel glimpses of balance between sadness and joy but to start to seek out things that will bring more joy into my life.

My new tattoo was part of that. Having wanted to have some work done to restore a little Om tattoo on my hip (my first tattoo and fading now) I decided that instead I would add onto it; symbolizing a rebirth linking this time in my life and a tattoo that was done to celebrate when I had first decided to live true to myself. A full circle feeling in a way for me. That first tattoo, my Om, was done when I left my first marriage at the age of 28… a time that I had made an incredibly hard decision and when I realized my own strength and ability to really know my Self and do what I needed to for my life and my children’s lives.

This latest tattoo… the lotus flowers added to the Om speaks to that cycle of knowledge that the strength and my Self are there… I had just lost sight of it all in my grief. Lotus flowers are traditionally symbolic of many things, rebirth and perseverance being a couple that I relate to well…

Artwork and ink done by Dave @ Empire Tattoo, Victoria BC Canada
Artwork and ink done by Dave @ Empire Tattoo, Victoria BC Canada

Missing and remembering

At work today, during conversation with someone, I was asked how many kids I have. We had been talking about family fun and moving and all sorts of things and it was just a natural part of the conversation, I said I had 4 boys and I smiled as I said how great they are and how much I have loved having all boys and the craziness that comes with that dynamic. We chit chatted some more and they went on their way and I went back to my office.

As I sat down and smiled it occurred to me that I had just done something that I hadn’t done before …. I had remembered Willie and had thought of him with happiness. Remembering him and feeling happy that I had him, not just sad that I have lost him. To be able to look back and be thankful that he was with us, for however short a time… and not just focus on the pain of having him gone now is a big step.

But tonight I find myself again sitting with my thoughts and missing him. The missing is palpable… like how you miss someone who has gone away for a week…missing him like you do with someone who is going to be back soon and you can hardly wait. Missing him with a feeling like it’s not permanent. I want the simple things, like walking in the house and seeing him sitting on the couch… playing some game on his iPod or listening to music or telling me to get out of his room when I go in to ask him how he’s doing. I want him to ignore me and shrug and glance up at me again and give me that look like “what? you can go now” when he wants me to leave him alone. I want to hear his laugh again like when he was, for those very brief moments, himself again and not the angry and quiet teenager fighting mental illness.

I see young men on the street sometimes that look like him and I used to look away and try not to see them because it hurts so much. But now sometimes I stop and stare and blur my vision a bit and pretend that it’s him and think what it would be like to see him again and for just a moment I push away the reality that he’s dead and I let myself see him as if he were there, walking down the street… and I let myself “have” him again, just for a moment. I know it’s a horrible game I play on myself but it gives me a second or two of not having him gone… even though I know he is.

Life goes on without him but it’s wrong and it hurts.

Decisively indecisive

There are times when life throws you curve balls and you find yourself trying to duck and not get hit too badly. Then you get up and try to dust off and pull it together and regroup. That’s pretty much where I’m at right now.

After Willie died I made the decision to continue on the path I had started of living true to myself and that included making some tough choices. Those choices included moving cities and jobs and leaving behind people that I love and care for. I know they were the right decisions though and I’m content and happy with the choices I’ve made.
The move was somewhat long distance and that precipitated paring down my belongings to what would fit in a couple of loads of my car.

I found it very cathartic and almost freeing. To slash and burn essentially. Harsh looks at what I loved – really loved – in my physical belongings and only keeping those things. It became apparent very quickly that very few “things” really meant anything to me,. I did have times when I wondered if grief and shock were clouding my decisions and whether I would regret some of my brutal purging later. Now, more than a year later, I know that I don’t regret any of it.

So I find myself now at an odd cross-roads here in my new direction. I struggle with a feeling of being unsettled and not feeling “right”; with my surroundings as well as other aspects of my life and self. I have very little furniture but what I do have doesn’t feel like “me”. While I love my apartment, it has a feeling that it isn’t reflective of who I am. I have always had a tough time with feeling uncomfortable in my own skin even and that is now reaching proportions that are disturbingly intense. My clothes feel “wrong” on my body. Like a costume that I wear. I am conflicted about whether I want to be alone or to have arms around me at night. Solitude or companionship, the option is beyond me.

I go shopping and look for bookcases and chairs and dressers and come up empty. I wander stores looking for shirts or skirts or shoes and walk away with nothing. Searching for a picture to hang on my wall is endless hours of browsing followed by no purchases being made.

My forays into replacing my belongings and clothing “me” are filled with second guessing and an inability to make a judgement on even the simplest of things. Picking out a t-shirt is an impossibility for me right now.

I’ll be out and starving and can’t make the base selection of what to eat so I just won’t eat anything.

I have always been one to be able to do what needs to be done. I make decisions.Being the Mom, I was the one who never faltered with what to do. So why now? Why can’t I even pick out a pair of boots without analyzing whether my choice is “right” or “wrong”?

It came to me today when I was thinking about Willie and how his mental illness progressed and the care that he had, or didn’t have. I have done more than my share of thinking about the “what-ifs” and the possibilities that could have been had something been done differently. I have gone over every minute of every day that I can recall from the few short months that we struggled to get Willie help. Dissecting options that we came through and trying to uncover whether things would have turned out differently had our actions been different. We all have things like this in life but in this case, it is life or death that I second guess.

I know that we can’t go back and change things. I also know that there is no way to know if any of the choices would have made any difference at all. The worst realization has been that no matter how many times I question all that has happened, Willie is dead and that will never change.

So that brings me to where I now find myself. In the midst of finally feeling like I’m finding my footing again and where moments of joy are peeking back into my life… where I am starting to see that life will always be lived with grief as a companion but not as the weight it is now… in the midst of this sliver of hope and belief in healing I find myself frozen my fear. Fear that comes from deep down that somehow I DO believe that it was one of my decisions that carried us on the direction that ended with Willie giving up and ending his life. In the face of that, I am scared to make any decisions now, no matter how trivial or meaningless. Crippled by being afraid to make the wrong decision and then have to face the repercussions, I instead make no decision at all. I function at work just fine but in my personal life, it is starts and stops of functionality.

So for now, I try to take the advice that resonates. To be kind with myself. For now, that means that I will simply accept that this is how the grieving process is affecting me at this time.

I am choosing to be decisively indecisive. That’s the only choice that I can make right now.