An open note

It’s been a rough day today, and a lot of the feelings that are here are angry ones. Some days just are growly, nasty and cranky and today is one of them. I woke up this morning and was just “off” from the moment I got up. A little anxious, a touch of a bad mood and short tempered, just not a great feeling day. Couldn’t quite put my finger on why but that’s not unusual so I didn’t give it much thought. My thoughts as I went to work were along the lines of trying to shake it off rather than give it any weight and to push the nagging “why” away and just be fine. A couple of hours later and it hits me. Another date that hurts. I’m not going to go into what the date is but suffice to say that there are a lot of them in my life and I would be more than happy most days for my memory to not be as good as it is. A curse more than a blessing, trust me on this one.

 

I know what some people are already thinking – “oh great, here she goes again, trudging up anniversary dates that if she would just shut up about and let them go unmentioned, it would all be fine and she would be better. the only reason she’s feeling and hurting and that these days keep being an issue is because she keeps on MAKING them issues”. Those people can, quite simply, fuck off. Thank you very much. To anyone who is fed up with listening to me or dealing with me or with how long my grief is messing with me, do you think I love this? Don’t you think that I would love to just blissfully meander along like nothing has happened? Don’t you think that I would much prefer to just be happy and not be hurting inside?

I can hear the answers… “Well, you can be. Just don’t dwell on it. Just let it go. Accept it and move forward.”

Oh my goodness! I had no idea I could just decide that the death of my son wouldn’t get me down and that would be the end of it all  *this is sarcasm for those of you who may be sarcastically -challenged* – well NOW I can be okay again and all is good. Thank you so much for enlightening me.

Fuck you.

I have spent my life pushing things that hurt me away. Tucking them down deep, so deeply that I actually believed that they didn’t hurt – or have any effect on me. I can assure you that I am genius level expert at that. Seriously. I got that. Guess what? All that stuff eventually rises to the surface and it gets harder and harder to re-bury it. Guess what else? As I’ve discovered, if you let it bubble up and stop pushing it away and start to deal with it, it loses the power it holds on you. It gets worse at first. Oh, so much worse. It can get so bad that you push it all away again – and again – and again. You see, you can pretend it doesn’t hurt when you don’t acknowledge it, and that can go on for a really long time. A lifetime almost, if you start young and get good at it (trust me on this one, I know from experience). But the tricky part is that it does hurt, just not in ways that you can identify so easily. It comes out in different ways for different people, and at different times it looks differently too.

Hurt and pain demands to be acknowledged and it will be, in whatever way it can figure out. It’s taken the death of my son and the proverbial bandage being ripped off to show me that it’s way easier in the long run to dredge the bad stuff up and let it have the light shone on it than it is to keep denying that it even exists. Because it does and it’s not going to just go away on its own.

Sure, it may be much more easy on the people in my life if I kept the lid on it all and was “fine” but that’s not the truth. I’ve done that for most of my life. Not just for other people, but for myself too. It’s easier to not deal with issues is how it seemed. Sorry if it sucks to be in my life right now and the truth is that no one has to be here but me. There’s the door, you’re welcome to walk out of it and don’t let it hit you on the ass on the way out, buh bye. I wish you would stay but understand if it’s too much. Believe me when I say that there have been (and still are ) many days that I wish I could walk away from my life as well. So far, my track record for not checking out is good and I plan on it staying that way.

The truth is that the time is here now to pick it apart and look at it all and feel it – really feel it finally – and not run from it. Because it chases, and it always catches me anyways. I’m tired. It takes too much out of me to pretend and to keep the masks on – even in front of myself – especially in front of myself. I can’t do it any longer. I don’t want to do it anymore.

Not every day, or every moment of every day sucks. The good and the happy times now far outweigh the depression and the grief-filled-crying-mess-feel-like-giving-up days. That wasn’t the case a couple of years ago and I am aware of that, and grateful for that. I can’t promise that I won’t have a meltdown in an otherwise great day though. I can promise you all that it will pass and that sometimes it will pass in moments or seconds. Tears come up quickly at times, but they also pass just as fast sometimes too. I am just as easy to make laugh as I am to cry. I can also promise that sometimes it won’t pass that easily. There will be times when it will suck, for days on end and it will drive you just as crazy (almost) as it does me. But it will pass – and it will pass easier the more it is expressed. I know this because I’m seeing how that is true.

Feeling the things that hurt and cause pain is nasty. It sucks and it’s shitty and that’s the best way that I can put it today so that’s where I’ll leave it. Out in the open and visible.

Ripples and Differences

After Willie died, one of the things that played over and over in my mind was the usual grief fueled mantra of “something good has to come out of this” aka “this has to have some meaning, it can’t just be what it is (which you don’t even know what it is)”. It is the mantra of every grieving survivor of loss – more so of those who have lost someone in a tragic or sudden manner, especially someone young.

I clung to that like a life raft at times. That someday, somehow,in some way, his death would have meaning and it would serve a purpose. A purpose that would bring happiness or solace to a person’s life in the same magnitude that it had brought pain and sorrow to mine and my family’s. That it would be a catalyst for change in policies and systems that needed it the most. A wonderfully rose-coloured view that gave me what I needed at times to get through nights that blazed with lonely hurting. A wish that, I knew, held promise like a sieve holds water.

Aside from this blog, which to be honest, I frequently consider shutting down because it feels like it doesn’t have any reason to be, I haven’t done anything. Aside from this blog.

There are parents, friends and family members who have created fundraisers, walks, awareness building events and the like as their way of making the death of their person “mean something” or “do some good”. They speak or give presentations or write for publications that shine a light on the tragedy or the injustice that caused their loved one’s death. They expose and discuss and petition for change in the gaps in resources, funding, hospital beds, out-patient services, access to care… the list is endless and varied. They open the lines of communications, they give voice to those who can’t speak anymore. They shine a light on the things in the shadows. All great work and yes, sometimes, changes are made and impacts happen.

I’ve seen the almost manic pursuit of trying to realize the dream of making their loss into something that make sense. Of have it not be for nothing… because if it doesn’t have some good come of it, then what? What is it but a senseless and unfair death that shouldn’t have happened? What do you do with that, how do you figure out how to live with that?

You just do, because the truth is that no matter what difference you make, it will never make the one difference that will make it better for you. It won’t bring them back. Reality check – it also may never stop it from happening to someone else. Life isn’t always fair and death is part of it and sometimes, you just can’t do anything about it. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do what we can though. Reaching out, connecting and shining a light can do things, sometimes.

But you know what it can do, what is has done, for me sometimes? It has shown me that thinking on the small and personal level is where it matters, for me. If I think about the massive shifts in policies and resources in the medical system that need to change – it’s overwhelming and literally depressing. The realist in me says to give my head a shake if I think that any significant changes will EVER be gained. What can be gained though is smaller and yet, so much larger in so many ways.

Having someone message me after an entry and tell me that they don’t feel alone; like they are the only one who feels how they feel…. having an acquaintance come to me in person when we run across each other and share how she never knew that we shared this commonality of grief until she saw my blog entry via social media… having a friend reach out when her daughter expressed suicidal thoughts because she knew that I had been there and that I knew what she was going through…hearing the strength in her voice after that conversation and knowing that sharing DID make a difference to her.

These are the ways that differences are made, that some good is found in the bad. We may not be able to do much, but we can make sure that we aren’t silent. We can ensure that no one ever has to feel like they are alone. Sometimes, all we have is the ability to share and come together, and the power of that is immeasurable. So, we talk and we share and we can’t hide; because people who need someone live with enough shadows as it is, we need to be the light for each other.

P.S. I came across this before and it’s worth sharing. Impact, we all have it, and yes, the ripple effect works for hope and hurt.

What’s between your legs? And why does it matter?!

A conversation happened today in which the subject of the events going on in the US was being discussed. I was present but not part of the discussion but when a remark was made that we didn’t need to worry , up here in Canada, and especially here in this city because, after all… there weren’t really that many gays. As a matter of fact, this person said, she didn’t even know anyone who was gay. Well, hold on there…now I was part of the discussion, thank you very much.

After outing myself and being open that I have many friends and chosen family who live in the states and that they have very real and very founded fears for themselves and their lives, not to mention the potential ramifications on their employment and basic human rights, I explained that it wasn’t something that was just an issue in the states. That as a gay woman, in an openly lesbian relationship with another woman, safety IS something that is a consideration, even in Canada.

I was told bluntly that, as a “straight looking feminine woman” I don’t look like a “real gay person” and therefore, I don’t have any reason to be afraid for what is happening in the US since the election. Sadly, this is not the first time – or the last probably – that this sentiment is voiced.

As a Femme dyke, I know that I am very often misread as being straight. I also know that I am always quick to openly correct someone when that assumption is made known. One reason for that is for that exact point – because I don’t look like what some uninformed or unexposed people would expect a gay person to look like. So, in my little way, in my predominantly safe area of the world that we live in, I try to do what I can to expose people.  It’s often frustrating and feels like one step forward two steps back as I see a stranger being dismissive or worse yet, seeing someone who has been working to understand and accept suddenly come out with a remark that is born of long standing beliefs that are, clearly, not as changed as I had hoped.

Later in the day, a small remark from a co-worker about someone who may or may not “be a man” sparked a remark back from me that asked the question “what makes a person a man or a woman. If they say they’re a man, then they’re a man”.

I was frustrated and upset from the earlier conversation and would normally have let this go but not today. So here’s my little roller coaster of “nope, not dropping this one today”, it’s time for a bit of a rant…

*disclaimer, this is in no way comprehensive, it covers just what I ranted about today in person with my co-worker, notably, masculine/feminine and the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation*

What defines a person’s gender? Or their sexual orientation? Or their self identity? Or, or, or….? Spoiler alert, aka the short answer: Not you.

The terms masculine and feminine are not gender specific. They are simply terms that are used to categorize certain traits, mannerisms and characteristics of behaviour and appearance or presentation. Yet they are so often used in such a limited, and limiting way that it’s harmful.

We are taught from as far back as we can recall that a person is labelled as a boy or a girl because of what they are born with between their legs. Along with whatever parts are visible is the expectation of how they will dress, behave and what what roles in society they will fit into. All based on genitals. That’s a lot to live up to based on physical presentation. So what if what a person is, who they are, is not what society says they should be, based on what is between their legs and on their chest?

What do you do with the little girl who wants to ride dirt bikes and play ice hockey instead of ringette? Or the little boy who loves to match his socks to his shirts and draws intricate doodles of flowers. Both of these examples by the way are of children that I knew when my kids were in school, and in both cases, it was the parents who were far more judgemental than the other kids.

Ok you say, some people are gay and that’s ok. Ah, but what if these little kids aren’t gay? What if they are what they are in their expression of themselves and it has nothing to do with who they will be sexually and/or romantically attracted to when they grow up? A person’s gender identity and their sexual orientation are not the same thing.

How do you classify a masculine woman; one who identifies as a woman, has the commonly accepted physical aspects of female (pssst, I mean a vagina) but who is more masculine than feminine in her dress and mannerisms.

How do you classify a feminine man; one that has a penis – so he must be a man (because that is, of course, how you determine these things after all) but his mannerisms and way of dressing or acting would be more commonly called feminine?

Then add in the aspect of sexuality and sexuality orientation.

What if that masculine woman isn’t a lesbian like you thought she would be when you slotted her into that category in your mind? Because all women who dress and act more “like a man” must be lesbians. Just like that woman that you see in feminine dress and make up must be straight. Maybe, maybe not – on both accounts. Oh but what if that pretty, feminine woman has a penis? She might, or she might not. How would you know, and why would it make a difference to what you see her as. What matters is how she sees herself and how she lives her life.

What if that man who is so feminine, and who you assume must be a gay man, isn’t? What if he’s a straight man who is, just simply, more feminine that what you think a straight man should be like? Oh but wait, what if he has a vagina? But then again how would you know, and what would it matter.

So many what if’s! So many varieties and options and possibilities! What if you just accepted a person as just that: a person. My sexual orientation has nothing to do with how I interact with someone in day to day life. Neither does my self identity of gender. Unless we are looking to hookup or date, it just doesn’t matter. It’s really that simple.

You may now unbuckle and get off the roller coaster. The tilt-a-whirl is just around the corner, I’ll meet you there for the next ride 😉

Site sharing

My new little foray into more image and less words for the expression can be found at my new blog site, such stuff as dreams. Still very much keeping up this site, but sometimes a picture can speak louder than words and sometimes words just aren’t needed so this new exploration fills that gap for me :).

For those of you that aren’t on my Facebook feed or haven’t seen it, a little invite to come stop by and see what it’s about.

Also, I know there is a lot of cross over from this blog but just in case you haven’t wandered over to my lolabits blog site, come have a look at the different perspective of life there :). We all have aspects of ourselves, these are a few of mine.

Lola

Do What You Can

It was 5 years ago this week, last Sunday to be exact, that I had a note given to me by my son, Willie. It was in response to an argument we had had that evening and in that argument I had said to him “What is going on with you?!” You see, he hadn’t been himself for months. Many months. He had  been moody and sleeping most of the time when he wasn’t at school (which he had also started to skip – which was unheard of before). He snapped at his brothers more than the usual bickering that was fairly common-place in a house of 4 boys. He had been mostly communicating through grunts or eye rolls or silence and even that was escalating to slammed doors and him storming out of the house. Standard “teenage” behaviour but it just didn’t sit right with me. On this evening in particular, he had responded to a simple question – about something so trivial that I don’t even remember what it is – with a completely out of control reaction. His voice was shaking by the end of his tirade and my son was close to tears and standing in front of me, clenching his fists and fighting to not breakdown. I uttered the phrase that I did because, honestly, I was at a loss as to what he was going through and I knew that it wasn’t something as easy to explain away as him being 15 years old and full of hormones.

His response was quiet. He stood in front of me and said simply “I can’t tell you.” So I said what the first thing that popped into my head. I told him to write me a note; write it down instead of telling me face to face. I told him that it was okay if he couldn’t talk to me but that he had to let me know what was up. He just nodded and walked away to his room. No slammed door, no stomping, he just walked away.

A few minutes later he came out with a piece of paper in his hand and he walked into the kitchen and placed it on the counter. He looked at me as he walked past me again and told me it was there and I could read it – or not – he didn’t care… and back to his room he went. As soon as his door closed I was up and in the kitchen and had the paper in my hand. It was a concise and bluntly worded note to me. You know the phrase about blood running cold? That note did that. As a mother, to read it, scared me. I wasn’t sure what I expected; maybe a nasty rant about how annoying I was to him or how controlling or strict I was or how much he hated the rules of the house… I don’t know what I thought I would see, but it wasn’t what I saw. Instead, it was a clear and simple request for help.

In it, he said, amongst other things,  that he was sure that he had a mental illness but he didn’t know what kind. He said that he was suicidal and had been for a long time – that it wasn’t just a phase. He said more, and he ended with asking for help. He said, literally, “I need help”.

5 years ago, I believed that I could find him the help that he needed. I believed that there were resources that would be easily accessible and that those resources would be able to help my son get better and that it would all be ok. I had, after all, just recently gone through a medical issue with my oldest son. Just the year before, Willie’s oldest brother had developed a large tumour in his neck. We went from the walk in clinic to being fast-tracked in the ER to seeing an oncologist within 24 hours. Biopsies and surgery ensued and all was good. Not great, there were glitches here and there and I had to advocate more than once for him and be a bit pushy but we navigated it and he got the care he needed. The end result was a larger than anticipated scar after surgery and being told that the pathology report was the best kind of “we don’t know for sure but we are certain it’s most likely not malignant” that we could hope for. 6 years down the road now and he’s doing great and there is no cause to think that Christumour (our pet name for his lump) will ever come back. All good.

So, when Willie came to me with what was, essentially, a medical issue that needed to be dealt with, I thought that I would go to the doctor, bringing the note with me like some sort of written version of a snapshot of “what IS this?” ailment and that we would be sent to someone and voila! He would get care and treatment and it may not be easy or quick or without glitches, but that it would happen.

5 years later and I hate to admit it but I don’t believe that anymore. I don’t believe that the “glitches” we ran into were anomalies or that we just had bad luck with finding or accessing resources. It’s a long story and maybe someday I’ll put it all together and try to make sense of it but the short version is that I’ve come, not to bitterness, but to reality about the mental health care system that we have.

I see a lot written and promoted about changing “the system” and about increasing resources or access to resources for people who are dealing with mental health issues. The more I see, the more I am aware that it hasn’t changed and that, in all likelihood, it won;t.

I’ve struggled over the past few months with a sense of despair almost in coming to terms with this. Partly because I did what every person who loses someone does. I thought that living with grief would be easier, better, I don’t know what, if Willie’s death “meant something” or if something came of it that would make it at least not be in vain. The standard reaction that happens that is the attempt to not have a death just be what it is; reality and a part of life.

The fact is that, on a large scale – the scale that we all want to see change -, there won’t ever be the changes that are needed to really make a difference. Part of that is due to the fact that mental illness isn’t treatable like a physical illness. Rarely is there anything like a conclusive test that can ascertain what is “wrong” and even more rare is it that medical professionals have any sort of proven treatment protocol that they can prescribe. Part of it is due though to the sheer size of the system – both the way it is and the way it is needed to be. Frustrating but true. Reality bites. Not liking how badly it sucks doesn’t change it from sucking.

So instead of being dragged down even further than this time of year is already dragging me by this reality, I turn to the idea that was presented to me a couple of years ago. At a mental health resource day that I was invited to attend, one of the youth mental health workers gave me this advice (I’m paraphrasing here…) Honey, all we are doing is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We may not be able to stop it from going down but we can make it a bit better, however we can, while it happens. While saving the ship that is mental healthcare is beyond what each of us can do, we can each make an impact on someone, sometime, somehow.

Do what you can; be kind, be a shoulder for someone who needs one to lean on, reach out , or reach back to someone grasping for help, be an ear for someone to bend to lighten their load a bit if they need it, be an advocate, be what you can to someone who needs someone. I am trying to focus on making a difference where I can and not thinking about where I can’t.

The Impact That We Have

You never know how something you say can affect a person. This is one story of that truth.

I was back at work for the first time since my son had died. I worked, managing a fitness facility on-site in a corporate environment. My job was one where I saw the same people, day in and day out. I was at a number of sites with the company that I worked for, but this day I was at what was one of my “home sites”. A place that I had been at for over 6 years and one that I knew everyone by name. Aside from managing the site, I also worked the desk, taught classes, did one on one training sessions with clients and generally was around, a lot. My nature is one of being very open and sharing. I talked about my kids and life and connected with the people in the gym. They shared about their lives and kids and spouses and the usual banter was always ongoing. Many of the people in my facility were more than just clients in a sense, I had known them so long and we had shared so much. I may be an introvert but I love connecting and I loved my job and my sites.

I had missed work and even though I knew I wasn’t up to teaching, I wanted to get back to trying to have some sense of normal after Willie passed. So, about a month after, this was my first time back. The plan was for me to come in for a few hours and just see how it went.

Just before the lunchtime rush started, the first few regulars started to trickle in. There was the awkward, not-sure-whether-to-ignore-the-obvious encounters. I smiled and went along with it. There were the openly almost weeping sad, pitying faces that I hated more than anything at that time (and still do). I hugged and cringed inside and got them on their way.

Then there was one of the regulars, I am going to call him Sam. Sam was someone who was quiet and polite. He had been a regular and we knew each other by name. We had chit chatted but he had never been really talkative beyond the standard level of polite conversation. He generally kept to himself and, while never rude, was never one to actively reach out to start a conversation either.

This day he came in and walked to the desk to sign in before going to get changed and start his work out. He was clearly a bit taken aback to see me and he smiled and said hi, like he always did and he signed in. He paused a bit but then just turned and went into the change-room. I let out a breath I didn’t realize I had been holding and realized that maybe this was not such a great idea to have come into work.

A few minutes later, Sam comes out, towel and iPod in hand. He starts to walk past the desk then stops and turns back. He asks if he can talk to me for a minute, in private.

What Sam shared with me with was this: He didn’t know details, just that my son had died, by suicide. He didn’t want to know details or what had happened. He just wanted to tell me that it wasn’t my fault. He said that ever since he had heard, he had wanted to reach out but wasn’t sure if he should. He shared that he had been a teen that had struggled with depression and suicidal ideation. He had wanted to die. His parents had told him how much they loved him and how it would get better and that he would be okay. He told me that, in those times, it didn’t matter to him what his parents said. What anyone said. He said that he made it out of that and he is alive and glad that he didn’t kill himself. He said that what I needed to know was that it had nothing to do with his parents. That they didn’t stop him, they didn’t help, they didn’t impact it. That if he had killed himself, it would not have been because of lack of them trying or it not being “enough”. He wanted me to know that he had been how my son had been. He wanted me to know that it wasn’t my fault.

He was shaking and holding back tears while he talked to me. We both were. He shrugged and ended with a simple “there was nothing you could have done, it’s not your fault” and he walked away.

I was more touched by this than he could have known. He probably still doesn’t know.

He wasn’t someone saying they knew how I felt… he was someone sharing how the other side of this loss felt, in a way that I hadn’t thought of.

I can’t imagine what it took for him to open up and share that part of himself. I hope he knows, somehow, just how much it meant to me, and how much it still does.

The connections we make and have mean more than we are aware of at times. We may think that a kind word or action (or a harsh one) has no impact but we are wrong. Don’t hesitate to reach out, it just may make a difference more profound than you imagine.

Thank you “Sam”, and I’m glad you made it too.

Words are not easy today

So instead of new words, and thoughts, this.

It’s World Mental Health Day today. A day that is to bring awareness and understanding and support for mental health issues. Instead of the writing I had thought about doing on change and needs and the like, a little something different.

So many people I know struggle and live with personal mental health issues or the impact of those they love who have their own battles.

Today, words are coming hard with emotions on their heels so I’m pulling some older posts that tell what I can’t today.

Hold each other today, in our hearts and souls and bodies if you are able to.

 

https://truthfreedomjoy.wordpress.com/2013/12/26/inside-the-mind-of-mental-illness/

 

https://truthfreedomjoy.wordpress.com/2016/02/01/did-you-know-2/