Death, Grief, and the Journey towards Reconnection

Death and grief. I am no stranger to them, unfortunately. By high school, I had lost count of the number of funerals I had attended. Most were distant relatives, some were friends of my parents, but a few hit closer to home. When I was eleven, my maternal grandmother died, followed by my grandfather nine years later. In the tenth grade, my best friend was in a terrible car accident and spent her last days in a coma. On the evening of my dad’s birthday, she took her last breath. One year later (to the day), a boy that lived down the street from me died from leukemia. In the twelfth grade, a boy who was a year younger than me died of suicide. 

Barely on my own, in my early twenties, I lost my paternal grandmother, my nonna. She lived thousands of miles away in Europe. Despite only visiting her four times and not speaking the same language, she and I had a strong connection and an unbreakable bond. 

But losing a parent is different. It is utterly soul-crushing. It leaves a massive, vacant hole right in the middle of your being. Someone who half of your genes and DNA came from is there one day and then just gone the next. Even when their death is not unexpected, nothing you do can ever prepare you for this kind of loss. 

After experiencing so much loss, it was a strange feeling to realize I didn’t actually know how to grieve. Perhaps being exposed to death from such a young age, I learned to bury those feelings deep down into the depths of my soul? Or, maybe it is because we are so conditioned to not see death and made to feel guilt for acknowledging our feelings?

I went about grieving for my dad in the same way as I had always done before. Over the first couple of days, I felt sad, I cried, I thought all of those things we’ve been taught we’re supposed to think: At least he’s not suffering anymore! He lived a good life! He was a great man and is always here with us in our hearts.

I convinced myself I was OK and that I had fully moved on. 

But it was bullshit. I hate that I said those things to myself. I wish I had let myself scream all the things I felt in my heart instead of mindlessly repeating the things we’re taught that we are supposed to say.

So, why do we do this? Why do we try to move on as quickly as we can? And why do we tell ourselves these things? Is it so we can feel better? Or is it simply a way to appease everyone else around us? To make sure no one else is uncomfortable? To make them think we’re OK even if it has only been a week, a month, or a year? Our avoidance of death only makes us bury our sadness and grief even deeper down inside rather than actually confronting it and feeling through it. Why is it OK to let those suffering a loss struggle with their pain alone just to ensure no one else feels uncomfortable?

It seems as though, instead of dealing with the death of someone important and letting ourselves feel and grieve, we are conditioned to just push it all down. We focus on moving on instead of sitting in the uncomfortableness and honouring our feelings. 

Many cultures have rituals and ceremonies to heal from loss. They allow time and space to grieve and often commemorate and celebrate the life that was lost. But it feels like in our modern western society, we are expected to just bounce back and move on as quickly as possible without more than a few days worth of thought. And if we don’t bounce back right away? Well, then we should keep our grief to ourselves and only let it out when we are all alone. 

So when and why did it change? Does it come from our lack of connection with the environment we live in? Or from our lack of compassion for other animals, both human and non-human? Like all beings with a brain, nervous system, and soul, we are made to feel. But so many of us are conditioned to not let ourselves actually see and feel what is around us. 

Eighteen months after my dad died, I noticed my seven-year-old son was having difficulty processing his feelings. He was constantly on edge and very reactive. When I tried to talk to him about how he was feeling, he would shut down completely. And I was worried. He was learning from me how to avoid and bury his feelings instead of acknowledging and honouring them. Having never learned how to confront and deal with my own emotions, I knew I was not the best to help him. Seeing how he was being affected, I sought the help of a grief counsellor. Sitting in the first meeting with them, she gently asked about my dad. As I struggled to stop the tears brimming on the edges of my eyelashes from spilling over and cascading down my cheeks, I felt my lip quiver and heard my voice shake. With a compassionate look in her eyes, her voice barely louder than a whisper, the counsellor said, “I think it might be time for you to get some help too.”

The realization hit me like a tidal wave – I had been struggling to get through day after day, balancing perilously on what felt like the sharp blade of a knife. Instead of living, I was barely hanging on. That afternoon, I made the call for help. 

Here I am, eight months later, trying to work through my grief, but I still find myself falling back into old habits. I am trying to release the stranglehold I have on my emotions and allow myself to actually feel them, but easier said than done. I want to give myself the grace to sit in the uncomfortableness of my grief and to reconnect to my creative side. As a teenager, I wrote poetry to make sense of my emotions, as an outlet to release my pent-up emotions. But somewhere along the way, the connection was disrupted. Every once in a while, I get a glimpse of it, but it is usually fleeting.

I am trying to plug back in through writing. Writing is healing. It is my process, my therapy, my life. When I feel that nervous electricity surging in my chest, I know it is time to sit down and write. Writing is my towline to the surface, a way to break free and emerge from the undertow that has been pulling me down.

This is the work I am meant to do, but it is HARD. Though there is still so much to be done, I am starting to feel like I can breathe a little. No longer fighting to hold the floodgates closed and merely letting go of the grief one drop at a time, the pressure is slowly being released. 

By repairing the disrupted connection, I can start to rescue the girl who has been buried under a pile of emotions and negative feelings for far too long. She is not there yet, but maybe one day I can finally set her free. 

Meds, Meds, Wonderful Meds

So why, oh why do I feel so…dead? 

In 2015, I was diagnosed with moderate depression and severe anxiety. It was a relief. I finally had a reason why. Why I felt unbalanced, why I had heart palpitations, why my mind was always racing, my hands shaking. Why I would lose it and snap all of a sudden. Why I had zero patience and was always annoyed with everyone and everything around me. It wasn’t just me, who I was, or how I was born. I wasn’t a terrible person. There was a reason for it all, and I finally had a name for it. My doctor asked me if I wanted to try medication, and initially, I declined. I knew I wanted to exhaust other methods first. I started counselling once a week and was also learning about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I started writing again and taught myself to paint. I had creative outlets and felt like I was on my way up. Until I wasn’t. It was when I found myself at what felt like the bottom of the ocean again, looking up and barely able to see the light, that I realized it was time for medication. 

About two weeks after starting my medication, I felt good. Not great, but better than I had felt in I don’t know how long. And I felt even. I no longer had deep dives into the abyss, and I could smile and laugh again. No longer on edge, I stopped snapping at every little thing. I had a new outlook and saw people and situations from a different perspective. I felt compassion and offered others grace. Life was good.

A year later, my husband and I decided to try for a second baby. I knew I could stay on my medication while pregnant, but I was in a good place, so, with the support of my doctor, I was weaned off. Three months later, I was expecting again.

Fast forward 4 years, and somehow, I found myself in the depths of despair. How did I get here? When did this happen? Depression is sneaky. I didn’t feel it, see it, or hear it coming. It was a sudden realization that I was back down in the darkness, the weight of the water pushing me down, and there was no way out. After months of unsuccessfully trying to swim to the surface, I again asked for medication. 

The little white pill was added to my morning routine, in between brushing my teeth and getting dressed. Slowly, I felt myself rising to the surface. Aaahhh…Relief. I was almost at the surface. I could see it. But I never got there. Just below the surface is where I remain. When I have the strength, I can breach just long enough to take a breath, but not long enough to relax and feel the sunshine on my face. The constant push-pull of being trapped in nothingness is exhausting. The lows are gone, but so are the highs. There is no laughter or love, no joy or excitement. No feelings, good or bad. Emotional numbness is what the professionals call it. And while I feel slight ease of not being on the bottom, it is still a grey, lonely place to live. 

So now what? I guess I’m back at the beginning. Time to try a new medication, a different therapy, a new counsellor. The fight to break the surface and climb on that lifeboat continues. I know help is just above the surface, I’ve reached it once before, and the fight is worth feeling the warmth of the sunshine on my face again. I have promised myself I won’t stop fighting, and I hope that if you are also struggling, you won’t stop either.

Just Write Already!

Wow. It’s been a hot minute since I’ve been on my blog. Or maybe more like four years, but who’s counting? I’m really not sure where the last four years have gone, even though a lot has transpired since my last post. Here’s an update of what has been going on!

In the last four years, I completed my Professional Editors Certificate, moved to a new city, had a baby, and lost my dad. It has been an absolute whirlwind, and I lost and regained my focus too many times to count.

But here I am again, this time, with more clarity, wisdom, and direction than ever before. As always, I’ve got a list of about 9,327 things that I want to get done and maybe a spare 25 – 30 minutes a day to get them done. But I’m working on them. And that is what matters. Over the last few years, I put myself under a lot of pressure, and I felt like I was spinning in circles, trying to get everything done at once but going nowhere. So, I slowed down, refocused, and now feel like I’m on a straight-ish (albeit slow) path to meeting my goals. 

Since completing my editing courses, I have once again regained some direction and purpose (career-wise). I am slowly starting to pull in writing and editing work as my schedule permits, and my goal is to be freelancing full-time within the next two years. 

Three years ago, we moved from the Lower Mainland of BC to the beautiful Okanagan. I’ve always had a gypsy soul and have never stayed in one place for too long. In late 2017, I woke up one morning with a restless desire to move to the Okanagan. I told my husband we should move, and he looked at me incredulously and was more than likely thinking, Oh, here we go again! We were expecting our second child and had only moved into our home about a year prior (after waiting 3 months longer than scheduled for construction to be completed). I’m sure he thought I must be joking. But I wasn’t. The urgency I felt was immense. This was one of my ideas that I just wasn’t going to let go of. 

After some thought (and perhaps a little gentle prodding, subliminal messaging, and not-so-subtle encouragement from yours truly), the idea started to grow on him. However, we needed to figure out how we could make this work. The company he worked for had a base in Kelowna but it was rare for a position to become available, and if one did, it was highly sought-after. I’m sure he thought the opportunity wouldn’t come up, but I knew in my gut that it wouldn’t take long. Low and behold, about a week later, a job posting came up, and he applied for it. Within a month, the job was his, the plan to move was set in motion (thank you, intuition!), and it has turned out to be one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.

Our second son was born a month after our move and came into this world like a tsunami. He is incredibly bright and so active that it is near impossible to keep up with him. From the moment he arrived earthside, he has been a force to be reckoned with. As most parents do, while I was pregnant, we came up with a list of names that we liked. After he was born, we chose the one that we felt suited him most. His name is of Polish/Czech descent and little did we know at the time, it means warlike. He has a strong, determined personality (and a bit of a temper), so it looks like his name suits him just fine. He definitely keeps us on our toes, and I just know he will have an impact in this world! 

Aaannnddd…I am also writing my memoir, titled The Butcher’s Vegan Daughter. I started playing with this idea back in 2019. During my pregnancy and in the period shortly after, I sort of stumbled upon veganism (I’ll save the story of those circumstances for another time). The more soul-searching I did, and the more I learned, I realized that this was the path I was meant to follow. However, being the daughter of a butcher and having grown up the way I did in a small prairie town, I found myself in the middle of a bit of an existential crisis. Around the same time, my dad’s health had taken a complete nose-dive—he hadn’t been well for a few years prior, but 2019 was the year he really took a turn for the worse—I decided to write my book. At the time, writing was my outlet and coping mechanism. When my dad died in October 2019, everything creative that ever flowed from my soul ceased. I stopped painting and stopped writing. I just couldn’t bring myself to write anymore. It was too painful. And I continued on like that for almost a year and a half. 

But a few months ago, I realized I needed help. I hadn’t allowed myself to grieve for my dad and finally admitted that I didn’t even know how to. Now, after some counselling and deep, difficult soul-searching, I am finally back writing. I have no idea how long it will take me to get this book done, but the important thing is I’m working on it again, and it’s been one of the most cathartic experiences of my life. 

When I write, it feels as though my soul has been jostled from a slumber. Creating fills my heart and eases my mind by reminding my brain to deal with my feelings instead of just burying them. Recognizing this has been such a blessing and one I never want to lose sight of again. So, I’ve made myself a promise – I will never, ever stop writing. In the same way that I feel pulled to new places and new adventures, I feel a constant yearning to write. To fulfil my soul, I must honour the desire and passion I have to create.

Coming Out From The Depths

It’s been a few weeks since my last blog, and a lot has changed. First off, I want to thank everyone who read my blog post, and who reached out with a comment or message. It really meant a lot.
I’m still struggling a bit, and probably always will, but I have been able to start to turn it around. Writing that post, was the turning point. It was a way of holding myself accountable and not letting myself sink back into the darkness – now that it was out there, I couldn’t just do that.
One of the biggest things I’ve realized since hitting ‘Publish’, is that I need to take things slow and go easier on myself. I have always lived at opposite ends of the spectrum – I’m either super high-strung, full of energy and doing things at a million miles an hour, or, I’m a bump on the couch, barely able to have a shower. Realizing this and keeping it in the forefront of my mind, has been instrumental in helping me stay afloat above the depths of depression. I’m working hard to be in balance – somewhere right in the middle of that spectrum.
I mentioned in my last post about having lists of things that I wanted to get done each day. I’ve realized, that while lists can be helpful, the way I thought about them was detrimental to my mental health. I would write lists of everything that I wanted to get done, and if I didn’t accomplish those things, I would feel overwhelmed and awful, like a failure and like a disappointment. That would start the downward spiral into negative thinking. Somehow, I felt that if I wasn’t running at 100 miles per hour, kicking ass and taking names, that I was useless.
Since recognizing this pattern, I’ve been able to slowly work on changing that thinking. Recognizing it for what it was, was the first step. I still make lists, however, I’m working on changing how much weight I put onto the importance of knocking every single thing off those lists. I spent the entire first week after my last blog post, just painting. I painted three large canvases, a smaller one and a few small watercolors. And I did them because I wanted to and felt inspired to do them, not because they were on one of my to-do lists. What a difference. The whole experience of creating them even changed for me. It was very eye-opening and gave me a whole new appreciation for creating.

Hawaii commission
I think the Depression and Anxiety was able to start taking a hold of me again because I was stressing myself out. I was putting so much pressure on myself and started to feel like I did when I was working in a corporate environment that had outrageous expectations of what individuals should be accomplishing in a day. That familiar feeling was coming back and it was awful. Once I let go of those expectations (by writing the blog post), it made such an immense difference.
Shifting one’s thinking is a huge task, and it is obviously still a work in progress, and I’m sure it will be for the rest of my life – staying aware that I don’t need to be super-human and get a ridiculous amount of things done in a day. Years of thinking and feeling this way won’t go away in a day, or a week, and will probably take years to reverse. I’m learning to listen more to my heart instead of my head and do what I FEEL needs to be done instead of what I THINK needs to be done, and I’m much happier for it.
I’m hoping to get a handle on it all, and to not be MIA from my site and blog, or social media for weeks at a time, but for the past few weeks, this is what I needed. I needed to slow down and do one thing at a time.  This self-publishing/ marketing/ blogging/ website/ social media journey that I’ve embarked on is all brand new to me and a huge learning experience.  I’ve GOT to cut myself some slack for that.  (After all, I’m no spring chicken anymore either, and learning new things isn’t quite as easy as it used to be!)  I have things that I want to get done, but I’m learning that when I start to feel overwhelmed, I need to take a step back and reevaluate where I’m at.
I also have to add that I do still waver every once in a while about publishing that post, and about it being ‘out there’ – it was a pretty heavy topic, and here I am, trying to promote a children’s book. Every once in a while, a thought about “What will ‘someone’ think if they’re looking at buying my book and they see that blog post? What if it turns them off buying it? What if they think ‘blah, blah, blah’…..” pops into my head. Then I realize that some people may not understand, and may wonder why I decided to post that on my website, but also, that probably for that one person, there may be 10 or 20 who are like “I get it” and who totally understand, because they’ve either been there themselves, or know someone else who has, and it’s those connections I’m hoping to make. There is no shame in mental illness, and we need to keep talking about it, even if it might make ‘some people’ uncomfortable. It’s too important not to talk about.
On a more positive note – I have some really great news to share – my book has been published and I’m just waiting for my proof copies to arrive (fingers crossed that will be this week!) As soon as I have a look at the physical copies, they will be available for purchase!

Teddy cover
Thanks again for reading, and for following along with me on this journey I’m on. Sending Love and Light to you all.

The Bad, The Worse, and The Ugly

I’m struggling. Struggling with my depression and anxiety.

I had been struggling for a really long time, but I didn’t realize that’s what it was, until I was diagnosed by my doctor almost two years ago. DING! A light bulb went off! I was relieved that I had a name to put to it, and that it wasn’t ‘just who I was’.

I was trying to manage it (as best I could, which in retrospect, wasn’t that well), but after a pretty traumatic, life-changing event, I fell even deeper. Deeper than I had ever been before. I felt like I lost everything. Like I was worthless. And I became very isolated. I shut everyone out. I was adamant that I didn’t want to go on medication, that I could do it myself. I tried everything under the sun – holistic treatments, natural remedies, therapy, self-care, exercise, nutrition…..etc. and after a year and a half of struggling really badly, and being as deep as ever in a ‘black hole’, I reluctantly went on medication. WOW! It was life changing! What a difference! I had energy, motivation, a vision for where I wanted to go, creativity…and most of all….I had FEELINGS! WHAT?! I know, crazy, right? I no longer felt numb and would no longer burst into tears at the slightest thought! (Please know I’m not trying to push meds on anyone. Everyone is different and we all need to figure out what works best for each of us. For me, this is what finally worked, though it may not be the answer for everyone who is struggling.)

For about 4 months, I was on a roll – I started the self-publishing process of my first children’s book (which I had actually written while in the depths of depression), started marketing it on social media, opened an Etsy shop for my artwork, started my website, written my first blog post and I was creating paintings and drawings like mad! I was full of energy and felt that I was knocking it out of the park everyday! I was EXCITED for where everything was going! I felt fantastic, better than I had since I can’t even remember when.

After about five months, things were going so well, that I decided to speak to my doctor about going off the meds. My husband and I are still (3 years later) trying for our second child, and the meds I was on are not compatible with pregnancy. I’m quickly climbing the hill to 40 (I’ll be there in April), and we have decided that we will call it quits if we are not expecting by my 40th, so the clock is ticking!

So, at the beginning of July, I started to wean myself off my meds, following my doctor’s instructions, and everything was going well. At the beginning of August, after a week or so of being completely off of them, I was still feeling great! Perfect!

Um, yeah. Not so much. Suddenly, everything went off the rails. Within a couple of days, I started to feel completely exhausted again, both mentally and physically. Because of that, my motivation was completely gone. I would make lists every morning of the things I really wanted to get done: write another blog post, update my website, edit, print, photograph and list some of my new artwork on my Etsy shop, make more art, start on my idea for my second book, post on social media, etc…..plus the regular, day to day stuff that had been so easy to tackle when I was feeling fantastic – clean the house, do a load of laundry, etc….but alas, those lists are still sitting on the counter, staring at me. (Don’t worry, with the help of my husband, the house is clean, and the laundry got done). Not being able to be productive and feel like I was accoplishing things, I really started to sink. I could literally feel myself slipping back down into a black hole. And it scared the crap out of me! Like almost overnight, I became irritable, irrational, and sad. Extremely sad. Beyond sad. Actually, sad isn’t even the right word for it, because it’s not a typical sadness like most people think. I think for me, it best described as becoming emotionless and hopeless.

So here we are – I’ve been especially struggling the last week or so. And my family is feeling it. And it sucks. My almost four year old asked me the other morning “Mommy, why are you mad? You look mad.” And here’s the thing – I was just making breakfast for him, I hadn’t even said anything. But he can see it in me. He can see it written all over my face. I wasn’t mad, but I guess my face must’ve been saying a lot more than I did. It absolutely broke my heart to hear him say this. It kills me that he can see that in me. I immediately did my best to get out of my own head and focus on him, and on not having ‘that look’ on my face. I had to be mindful of it all day, and everyday since, and it is exhausting.

It took everything in me today to get going, and even more to write this, but here it is. This is me in the raw. All of this is the reason I wrote the book Teddy the helpful ladybug. This is the reason I paint and draw and create. I have to remember that. It feels so good to do the things I love, but some days it’s just so much easier to sink into the couch and stare mindlessly at the television.

But guess what? I’m not going to let my depression and anxiety get the best of me this time. Last time, I wasted almost a year and a half in the solitary confinement of my own head. I would sit and let the thoughts get to me. I would let depression tell me I wasn’t good enough. I would let the anxiety make me feel so afraid that I was physically shaking. No more. I’ve decided that as of today, I’m telling my anxiety and depression to F*CK OFF! I’m not going to let it get the best of me anymore, or let it take any more of my precious days away from me. Now that I know how good it can feel to be mentally healthy, I want to get back there and I’m going to fight my hardest. I’m not giving up.
I’ve been really struggling with whether I should publically share this; I’m trying to do all these ‘great, happy, feel-good things’ and have been feeling pressured to keep an upbeat, positive persona on social media, and to portray that everything is all sunshine and rainbows. To pretend like everything comes from a bright, beautiful place; but that’s not the truth. Well, it’s not MY truth. It’s hard to share this when I’ve convinced myself that I can’t…afterall, I’m starting to promote a children’s book about love and kindness and being helpful. How does this fit that? I’ve decided that it doesn’t matter whether anyone else thinks it ‘fits into it’ or not. This is me, this is who I am, this is what I’ve been through…this is my truth. This is where all my creativity comes from.

I decided today that I’m fighting back. I’m putting myself out there. I’m going for it.

I decided today that I wanted to share this to be able to just stop hiding, and stop pretending that everything is perfect. I wanted to just be open and honest. I know what it’s like to think that you are all alone and to believe that no one understands or even cares, and I don’t want anyone else to feel that. You are not alone. There is help, whatever it may look like, and there are people that love you and will cheer you on. Even though most days it doesn’t seem like it, there are lots of ‘Teddy the helpful ladybug’s’ out there – those who want to love, help and encourage you. Those that want to lift you back up when you can’t do it yourself.

I’m also sharing this for myself. I wrote this so on the days I feel like sinking back into my black hole, I can come back here and read this. No more hiding, and trying to become invisible.

In the words of Levi Lusko, from today on, I’m going to “Run towards the Roar.” (Special thanks to the wonderfully inspiring Jessica Janzen Olstad for introducing me to this quote!)

I hope in the future to be sharing more ‘happy’ posts, but today is just not that day.

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