This summer I saw a grief counselor. I spent a lot of time in high school raising money for a cancer support centre in Oshawa (Hearth Place...for anyone who after reading this is looking for help!) The place was headed up by a friend's Mom who struggled with cancer for years before succumbing to the terrible monster while we were in high school.  By that point, only a few close friends had been personally touched by cancer.  It was somewhat rare. Now it seems every other person is dealing with cancer.  Six degrees of separation is down to only one or two these days.

Anyway, I decided to take advantage of some of the services the place had to offer since it was in town and I knew that it had provided a lot of help to a lot of people over the years. I believed in the place from the start but I wasn't really going for me.  I was going to see what options there were for my Dad and also hoped that I could contribute something of value to my family to help them deal with everything.  I thought maybe even just being around other people who had a clue what it was I was going through might help everyone cope a bit better.  My father had not yet passed away but I had accepted by this point that he was going to die.  It took some of the rest of the people in his life a little longer to accept.  That's the funny thing about cancer.  It's never a sure thing: there are so many treatments now and it's so darn rampant, that it's almost become a right of passage.  But it's also this stressful thing that lurks in the darkness.  Every time you close your eyes you wonder if this is it.

The doctors were pretty clear about what my Dad's short future held, as much as the brain tumour guide they sent us home with after St. Mike's anyway but because so many people we'd know had been struck and made it out alive, after watching the battle first hand last a decade in some cases,  it was easy to hold false hope too.   While the surgeries were happening, I was busy on the internet trying to get as may clear answers as possible: what to expect, at what kind of pace he was expected to degrade, how we could minimize his suffering, what different dosages of certain medications could tell us, how much time he had left.  On top of it all, during this time, we were still in the phase where we had to pretend that wasn't the case.  Not in a repressed, 'He can't be dying!' kind of way; which of course we all felt as well but the doctors had warned us that the stress of imminent death would likely worsen his condition and in the case of the brain, if we wanted to make the most of the time we had left with him we literally had to live in the moment.  In other words, we couldn't tell my Dad he was going to die.  We had to walk into the room with a smiles on our faces, not get upset and pretend as though he was only sick but that in the end, he'd be just fine.  Obviously, this wasn't an easy thing to do knowing in a few days time we were going to walk out the door and take Dad home to die in his bed.  All of this was especially difficult as my father had already transformed into another person: he was childlike now, had very little balance and a particular sense of humour: no sense whatsoever of the 'inappropriate'.  Traces of himself but not the real deal.  Of course, there were funny moments here and there.  One afternoon, my brother took him for a ride in his cruiser.  Walking back towards the help, impatient as ever and feeling 'FINE', he fell and my brother luckily broke his fall (he just about cracked his head open on the cement walkway leading to the house) with his foot.  'So Dad, how was your day?!  How was the drive?'  'Well, it was great.  But it would have been better if your brother didn't kick me in the head on the way into the house!!!'  We were much the same, playing along with his temperament, encouraging him to eat more if he wanted to, to fish to play golf to do anything and everything he wanted while he could, but, in the meantime, we were all holding back the tears and the words we wanted to say, the questions we wanted to ask, the undying love we wanted to impart and we just went on pretending it was any other Tuesday: everything was hunky dorey.  Eventually, it all became a little more than I could handle on my own.  It became too much for anyone to deal with on their own.  Each of us took turns having breakdowns.  Mine hit me like a ton of bricks.

I'd seen a counselor a couple of times before but wasn't wowed by the process of it and it didn't make me better in and of itself.  I remember it easing the conscience of a lot of the people I was leaning on for support. Because the truth about grieving is there as much guilt to the process as there is sadness.  You feel guilty that you aren't letting people in.  You feel guilty for asking too much, for being a downer.  You feel guilty about being weak.

The first time for me was after a couple of my friends died rather young.  I was twenty two at the time and found myself in lecture halls writing their names over and over on my notebooks because I couldn't hear anymore. I couldn't listen to anyone talk about anything, it didn't make sense.  This was all that mattered anymore.  They were dead.  We would all die too.  What was the point?  Suddenly talking about existentialism and international relations felt masturbatory and I wasn't in the mood for it. Anyway, I didn't have any ambition left, no appetite, no sex drive or even a life drive at that point.  I wanted absolutely nothing and getting out of bed in the morning was becoming increasingly difficult.

I was pretty messed up about it all, seeing both of them everywhere. Not in a scary ghost way but in the kind of way where I couldn't accept that they were gone. Deep down I already knew what I needed to do and was unconvinced that going to see some university counselor was going to make it any clearer.  I studied psychology and philosophy: I had the tools and the know-how to talk myself down from the ledge but somehow when real life is happening to you, all of that goes out the window.  Before I knew it, I wasn't me anymore and I could feel the Julie in me slipping away into that black hole of depression. I didn't care anymore about love or friends or family or enlightenment or anything. How could I? We were all going to die. And sooner than we think. And having been so sick for so long as a kid I partly felt guilty that life had taken these two great 22 year old friends of mine in such horrific ways. Should have taken me instead. But, you can't go on living that way - I'd done my share of reading about depression already by that point - one foot in front of the other, day-to-day -to-day. So, I caved and made an appointment at the University and I spoke to a psych student, only a few years older than me for a couple of hours a couple of weeks in a row.

Going into the appointment, I half expected the black leather sofa, mohogany cabinets full of books, framed diplomas from this school or that, and paisley curtains. Maybe even a particularly beautiful area rug.  I expected him to have thick rimmed glasses and a  beard and to ask me questions and YES, to answer yours: I've obviously seen too many movies! Instead, we were in a white room that looked a lot like the reading rooms in the library. Plastic and metal chairs and a fake wood desk with a desktop computer and a grey telephone. The man asked me nothing. He told me to talk about what I've been going through, what had happened. What I expected to get out of counselling sessions with him.  The first time I didn't cry. I told the story matter of factly: my friend died. I was fucked up about it. I couldn't concentrate. I was ruining my personal relationships and thinking about dropping out of school or at least taking a year off. Then another friend was in a horrible car crash and escaped as the only survivor, including the three other passengers in her vehicle and the truck driver who struck them. She was in a coma for a month and then died too on the operating table. We weren't extremely close but we were starting to be. I felt lost. I felt that life was unfair and I wasn't sure I wanted any part of it anymore. What was the point? I was reading way too much philosophy and only weeks prior had conditionned myself to see the world in a very different way than before: fearlessly it all fell to pieces quite literally. Particles of matter moving around aimlessly – nothing mattered any more than anything else and everything was suddenly simple and clear to me. We were one, all of us. Every experience, every breath, every life, every death. And then death knocked at my door and my feet slammed back on the ground and I felt like a pretentious bullshitter chasing down my own kind of God so that I could have something to believe in. The church had never done it for me. And believe me, I'd tried that too. At the time, I couldn't see the comedy in this ultimate test of faith. I should have and a few weeks before, I probably would have but once Ian was gone and the funeral was over and done and I was back in Vancouver where no one knew my old friend and no one could undestand how sad I was that I'd never see him again (it happened very suddenly in a swimming pool and he was cremated before I got back home) I was just a scared child, feeling alone and little crazy.  What did I expect to get out of counselling?  Fuck all.  And I expected about as much out of life itself.

Eventually, I allowed the counselling to be what it should be: an outlet for talking to oneself.   Permission to be selfish. No one really goes in looking for advice, they just need to hear themselves tell their story out loud.  It permits you to distance yourself from your own inner pain and brings you back to the bigger picture.  You don't have to feel guilty about suffering.  Until you're talking about it aloud, until you can describe to someone who you once were and the fear you're feeling now over losing some big part of yourself, you can't get better.  You need to get it out of you.  And as long as it's there, locked up inside, you can't get better.  It'll eat the rest of you alive too if you go about it that way.

Truth be told, I probably should have been talking to a therapist for a large part of my life with all the crap I've been through. Sometimes the people you're with make you feel strong enough to deal with anything that comes your way.  Friends can be magnificent for that and yet, it's also an unfair facet of the relationship between two people to lean too much on their supporters.  It's not what you want to share with people you love.  Of course, yes, people who love you will always be there for you but no, friends are NOT for leaning on when times are tough.  They are only reminders of the things to look forward to later.  They are the people you CHOOSE to LIVE WITH. Family is different.  And friends can be like family sometimes,it's true, but in my opinion anyway, there is something all-together mean about dragging your friends into your depression.  It's hard not to feel for deeply when your friends are down and out.  It's hard not to sympathize and want to help but we all know that there is nothing to do but get through the feelings.  We all know that the battle is within us and that no matter how many times we hash the same awful  stories to our friends over and over again, they still won't be able to do anything to help apart from reminding you that they exist and that they're there to have fun with whenever you're ready.  Anything more than that evokes that 'guilt' thing I spoke of earlier and a breach of trust.  Both parties feel guilty.  One for making their friends feel so bad, the other for being unable to solve the problem for you (because a true friend will WANT to do that!)  

There is also a weakness associated with asking for help, especially from the people hat you love and trust and respect that I've never been partial to. I'm kind of a boy that way. I don't like to cry in front of people. I don't like to talk about feelings. I make jokes so that nobody ever digs any deeper, I make light of the serious because if I don't, I'll drown in the suffering. It's not phony and I don't even think it's a defense mechanism (Freud might disagree, who knows...) for me, it's a choice. I used to call myself the ETERNAL OPTIMIST.  My goal in life was to make people happier. To do good. To love well. To understand. To laugh.

Then, out of nowhere, I wasn't able to laugh at my life at all anymore, I was losing my father and a lot of other things too simultaneously (we're friends...I'll spare you the details!) but mainly, I was losing the last of my faith that there would ever be a happy ending.  And I didn't want to bother my friends anymore, they'd already been at my side through piles and piles of other crap leading up to the cancer.  I didn't want to drag them down with me and I could tell that's where this was going.

Things were bubbling up and bubbling over inside of me and I'd already exploded on a couple friends over minor infractions (as though anything whatsoever was their fault) and as soon as I saw myself putting my stuff their shoulders, rather than dealing with my baggage, I sought professional help. It wasn't so much for me but it was to be a better person.  I was smart enough this time around to not repeat the same mistakes.  I also wanted to be able to ask questions for how I could help my own family get through this impossibly difficult time.  Anna Sapershteyn told me something years ago: 'People need to learn to own their own shit'. But the brain is a funny thing. It tricks us into all manners of madness and folly. It fools us with the notion that we are right when often we're wrong. It has a self-destruct button that is so easily set off by the slightest disappointment. Mine does, anyhow. But I had surpassed all that. I was already done with living. Tired. Exhausted. Too much bad. No good. And I felt like a homeless orphan because my family had too much to deal with to be there for ME and of course I wasn't expecting them to. There were bigger things happening but I was also going through some pretty heavy stuff and I didn't know where to turn.

So I called, made an appointment, sucked up my pride and saw Ted one morning at ten o'clock.  I was going to own my own shit, even if it killed me.  I knew I probably wasn't ready to talk about any of it yet, it was all too fresh.  My father was still at home.  Still upright.  Still eating.   He asked me why I'd come to see him and I told him the truth. This happened. Then this. And this and this and this and this and this...he sat there with his jaw dropped and I felt guilty for complaining but only for a few minutes, impossible to feel unlike a whiner when you've got so many complaints and so little gratitude.  I knew the cliches applied: 'La vie c'est pas du gateau' (Life isn't a piece of cake). I already knew all of that and I was naive anymore.  I also knew people who were going through things a Hell of a lot harder than what I was dealing with but I couldn't shake the cursed feeling inside of me. For the first time in a long time, I felt like a victim. Like it wasn't fair. People were unkind.

How did some end up with far simpler existences? Happy families. Love. Profound friendships and careers they reveled in. Mine was the kind of solitary story you write tragic books about (and for that I was grateful, of course) but I didn't want to be ME in my story anymore. I couldn't take one more bit of bad news. When I finally got around to talking about what it was like for me going through all of this stuff I started to cry uncontrollably. Not out of sadness. Not even out of pain, really. It was more overwhelming and inexplicable than that. For the first time, maybe ever in my life, I was listening to myself tell a stranger who I was, where I came from and where I was going and it was too much to hold in any longer.  And by the end of the hour, I knew I'd made the right decision by calling.

Ted let me cry. And he said everything I was feeling was perfectly normal. More than normal. Sometimes we need to hear that from someone that we don't love (because our friends and families can't be trusted in those circumstances!) It's not even about being 'normal' perse, because you don't feel normal when you're going through all of these things; you feel isolated and separate from the rest of humanity and truth be told, you're probably NOT normal while you're going through them.  You become effectively crazy.  But we all need to hear that it's okay to be feeling all that you're feeling while you're feeling it.  That you're not alone in feeling empty - the whole damn world feels the void - why do you think counselling is such big business!?  Ted proceeded to tell me a story about his own life. He lost his father and his brother in the span of a week: à la Joan Didion. He talked about how awful it was, how alone he felt.  How there seemed to be no purpose to go on living without them.  How he almost lost everything in the process.  Somehow it put things into perspective for me in a way that I knew I could only do in my own head.  He made me feel less alone.  He didn't make it better.  He didn't make any of it better but he made that light in my head go on reminding me that 'this too shall pass'.  And while you're in it, you feel like you might drown in there.  You certainly don't see an end in sight.

Everyone has their own bag of shit to deal with.  Full of madness even the Brothers Grimm didn't bother to teach us as children: I'm not talking murder and betrayal, I'm talking about those 'life' things that happen to everyone eventually: the human traumas that makes you question the point of anything at all. For some people it's just loneliness for others, it's evil for some it's just the plain lack of justice in any of it.  There are days when optimism seems impossible, futile and plain foolish.

There's always a reason to be sad and there's always going to be. If they'd have just said that from the beginning, I'd probably feel a lot less dissappointed now than I did in the beginning. But it's enlightening all the same. And that's because of the way I feel today. I feel alive. I wouldn't say good or bad or even alright but I feel alive.  I feel like I'm fighting my way through.  I feel older.  I wouldn't call myself an optimist anymore but I'm shedding a bit of the cynism.  Enough to remember the things that I love.  The people that I love.  Enough to taste my dinner and wash it down with a nice glass of wine.

Ted told me one other thing that stayed with me throughout the time my father was ill and again following his death: 'You'll be surprised at the people who are there for you through all of this and those that aren't. I couldn't believe it. And be ready, the ones you think are going to be there, they're going to be the first to disappear. And it's not because they don't love you but some people just don't know how to deal with death.  These types of things make you realize who your friends are.'

He was absolutely right and it wasn't all a negative experience. In a way, I was happy of the people that weren't around and glad of the people that were. Friendships were solidified in some cases and idealism was negated in others. I saw the best and worst in people. I sometimes felt at home just being in the presence of the right person at the right time - occasionally that person was someone I didn't know very well prior to any of the 'crazy' and going through that together has cleared a space for them in my life that didn't exist before.  There were other moments, I couldn't be around anyone but myself (hence the house in the woods...). Anything more seemed too intense.  There was a long period this year where I'd tested the hypothesis: if you don't have human relationships, then you've only got your own pain and suffering to deal with. If you're alright with yourself, you should still be able to realize a pretty satisfying life: I tried with writing and guitar and piano and cooking.  I was right and being alone was necessary to the healing process and it took forcing myself to do those selfish things just for me to remember who I was.  But there was also an element of humanity that integral in regaining some element of faith.  There was also a time where I needed to clear the cobwebs and tell people what I thought.  Sometimes I didn't have the nicest things to say.  Other times, it was just to say 'I love you' when I had the epiphanies of knowing who I did and didn't love.  Life is short, after all.  And we are all connected whether we want to be or not.

Which of course brings me to the end of this meandering journey through my brain: death. It's always present. It's on everyone's minds a lot of the time. Sometimes we push it out because we're afraid of it, other times we long for it because anything else seems too much or not worth the trouble. Death's going to follow us around for a long time, part of the family. It's not going anywhere no matter how much living we do. Apart from birth, it's one of the few experiences we've got in common universally. You're born and you die. And everything in between is a whole lot of emotional wonder. Wonderful because of it's beauty and heaviness and ability to move us to the poles of pleasure and pain with the flick of a switch. In one year I have felt love more profoundly than I've ever felt in my life and I have felt it's equal share of horror and pain. The best and the worst of it all. And the rôle of death has taken on a different meaning. It's just the end of the story. Nothing more, nothing less. It's not something to fear or chase or even avoid. It's just there and when it's ready for ya, it'll get ya.

I think there are two different parts to living. One where we're alone a lot, reflective, looking at the world we're in, where we've come from, where we're going, where you're going and where you've already been. There's the personal struggle with the universe that we all share: the reasons we look for love and the reasons we seek out the pain and suffering too. And then, there's the debauchery part. The living part of the program. Above, we wouldn't consider 'living'. Thinking somehow gets shoved to the sidelines in today's society. There's just too much to do to wonder why things are the way they are.

Those of us who take the time to look in once in a while, generally fair better in the scheme of things.  So let me be  the stranger that tells you you owe it to yourself to be selfish.  You owe it to the people you love too.  You've got to sit down and look at your story.  And it might be a horrible story at points.  Tragic.  Bloody awful but it's yours.  If it's not bad, you probably haven't done enough living yet.  And until you're ready to look at it front to back, to read it out loud and to analyze yourself as a main character, you just can't get better, plain and simple.

That's what I think.

Don't lose all your faith. There's always a little to hang onto if you put your mind to work. And don't deny anything that you're feeling ever. It doesn't give you a licence to be a dick but it ought to take away a bit of the judgment that we're beaten over the head with as children.  And if more people felt okay to express what was really going on inside of them without the fear of what 'others' might think of them if they say or do this or that, we'd be getting somewhere.

So true.  La vie c'est pas du gateau.  Life's just slightly more complicated than that.   Life's not covered in sparklers and icing.  It's not there just for weddings and birthday parties and first communions.  You could never make one with so few ingredients as egg, some flour and sugar and oil just won't do.  Life's a lot harder to digest too.  Sometimes it can take years, decades even.  It's sole purpose is not only to be eaten or even shared.  And yet, sometimes we all wish it were a little closer to cake.  At least then we'd always know that at some point, we'll get yet another shot at having our wishes come true.  No.  Life just ain't that easy and it sure ain't a piece of cake, but then, no one said it would be easy...and anyway, easy usually means 'too good to be true.'


L'Etrangère à Paris

 Back to Paris.

Unpacking again. I'm always unpacking, it seems. Nesting and re-nesting. There's less stuff every time I do it and I wonder where it's all gone to.

It's Sunday so that means Bastille Market. Men yelling, old women budding-in, young farmers in charge. I love it. I want to see my Egg Guy and my Shallot Guy and my Hummous Guy and of course my Italian guy. I've missed the fresh mozzarella and confit tomatoes and artichokes. I fill my bag quickly now, not like before. I buy two bunches of tulips for 10 euros instead of 2 for 14 what most of the florists are charging today. I don't feel like a tourist at all here. I feel like I know my way around. Paris was always the place to come to get lost. Now, here I am: giving the taxi driver directions and talking back in French to anyone who tries to mess with me.

Yesterday there was wine and music in the streets. A bottle Coteaux du Lyonnais with two glasses, half drunk at the sardine-can-Sunday place I adore most in Paris.   If you're smart, you rush to the bar, try to score a spot leaning on the aluminum to get a good look at the menu and most importantly the bartender's attention.

Surrounded by old French men - with gold-rimmed glasses and wool hats drinking varieties of whites and reds, washing down their charcuterie and aged cheeses - we chat about this and that and guard our spots from the throngs of folks desperate to sit or at least lean. The rest of Paris, it seems is waiting outside eating oysters off window ledges and garbage cans, anywhere they can get a spot, trying to breathe the air outside a little and they can: the Aligre Market is quiet today, everyone is at the Bastille.  There's a kid's park just at the corner.  Only in Paris...

We took our wine to the park and smoked cigarettes and watched children in Argyle sweaters play while a young man jumped rope and an old man did Thai-Chi. Mostly, we were just shooting the shit and waiting on the rain. It was a nice afternoon. But it didn't end there. There was frip shopping but it felt so much more leisurely than before too knowing which places were open and closed on Sundays. I know which stores I want to see and I know which roads to avoid all-together. And, sometimes on a Sunday, if you're really lucky, you'll get a free concert in this walkway or that, ours with an old lady with flowers in her hat jancing a jig while the singer, an old man chimed along with a perfect English accent and a band full of horns to back them both up I want to fill their guitar case full of all my euros but I've barely got any to spare. Anyway, I have a rule when it comes to musicians: I'll give them a coin if they play one of three songs.  Most do and you can't please everybody all the time. 
When the bottle's done and our bladders are full, we push through the stampede to get to the washroom.  You need to take the back exit, go outside. Yes, that hole in the floor out in the courtyard with the closet door, that's it.  Men are putting down their glasses and zipping up their flies and girls are doing everything they can not to pee on their shoes.  There is something charming about the toilets here - maybe because it's a challenge - like the first time you finally figure out what 'chasse-d'eau' means and why there is a warning about it above the basin.  This time, I know enough to dive out of there as quickly as possible to avoid the involuntary shower.  I carry toilet paper just in case and I know that I will find no soap.  No towels.  Just a bunch of happy Parisians getting back to their meat-spreads and cheese trays.

I felt comfortable at the bar later on too. Comfortable enough to drink my supper and push my way to the toilets. I should have had lunch or something but the day's gone and I'm full on vintage clothes and macarons from Carrette, on coffee and wandering through cobblestone streets and empty churches. The first drink goes down easy. The second and third and fourth do too with laughter and tears and good conversation in a couple different languages.

By eleven, I'm drunkenly reversing my path, knowing that this is to become my usual commute: Gentilly Bus to RER.  RER to Chatelet. Chatelet to the 1, careful not to bump into anyone on the crowded rolling walkways of shoppers and students. The 1 to St. Paul. St. Paul to Place Des Vosges by foote. I'm becoming conscious of how the days are going to play out. Who I'll see and what I'll do. What's important now. The quiet of having no television and a computer that barely works. Books. And of course the piano. I think my neighbours hate me already. Every time I play there's a knock on the door and I just don't answer. I can play if I want to. All I've ever wanted while I was here was a piano. From the very start, it was the thing I missed the most.

I'll have to find a new place come June or July – they're rennovating the whole place and moving everyone to the 13th. I wonder where I'll be then. But for now, I'm here and I've got a fridge full of groceries and my kitchen smells like basil and thyme and coffee. It's grey out there so I'm staying in today to hang my laundry dry and make a savoury Tarte Julie with all the goodies I got from my favourite guys at the market. I have an oven for the first time since I've been in Paris so the sky is the limit. Well, that and eleven hours of straight drinking with old friends in old places...


Better than Baskin Robbins

A lot of things have happened this year that I want to talk about but can’t.  Not because they’re embarrassing - I don’t care about that - but because people will get hurt.  I’m not a secretive person and I like to write about real life.  I don't typically hide details about my life from anyone.  In the short life I’ve had so far, I’ve learned that secrets don’t do us  much good – they’re just our way of trying to preserve some phony ideal about who we’d like to be.  At the same time, I've also learned that it’s not my place to out people who want to keep their private lives private.  Not everybody wants to live the way I do, not everybody has to, either.  Not everybody wants their dirty laundry out there in the open for everyone to see – some people still feel shame and judgment and guilt, three emotions I had to shed fairly early in life.  Not everybody can laugh about their own misfortunes the way I’ve learned how.

So, what’s new that I can talk about?  I made it through the holidays with a red dress and a smile on my face but the anxiety attacks caught up with me again just after Christmas.  The season was a lot harder than I anticipated.  I had to quit my job because the thought of any responsibility in that moment was more than I could bear.  I had a lot of out-of-nowhere nervous breakdowns, mostly in the car or at the cabin, mostly private.  There is thing that kept happening.  I could feel the tension bubbling up in my belly, it would move to the right side of my neck rather quickly.  Tears came and went the way hunger pangs sometimes come and go.  If you weren’t paying attention, you might miss them all together – if you let them take hold, you might eat yourself alive.

There was one afternoon where I felt as though life was pushing me over the edge while laughing at me.  I lost it on a few people I shouldn't have.  It happens.  Do I feel bad?  Not so bad in hindsight.  I think I’ve held it together pretty well until now, considering.  Do I wish I would have acted differently?  No.  I’m done wishing that.  We act how we act and as long as we are doing our best, that’s all we can ask of anyone.  We do what we do.  Life is not the projected fantasy in our heads of what we ‘might have’ done and the players aren’t the people we ‘dream of’ being with.  Life is what it is and the people in your life are there for a reason.  Period.  If they aren’t there, they aren’t part of your life.  What’s important is how we treat them, how we act and how we love one another.  I’m more sure of this now than ever.

But try telling that to a romantic.  It’s tough and somehow, I suppose because my parents were so different, I ended up with both traits.  I have dreams of people on occasion, of how easy everything could be, would be, should be. The sad part is that the ‘what-you-want-out-of-life’ bits and the ‘who-you-want-to-spend-your-life-with’ bits aren’t always complimentary.  Friends can do unforgivable things.  Romance can get lost in expectations.  And even though sometimes it can all seem so easy, so clear, life’ll always find a way of making a big mess out of your happiness if you forget for even a moment to appreciate all you’ve got, all that you’ve had, all that’s to come. 

A friend once told me that love is the most selfless thing in the world, I argued with him at the time but it turns out he was right about that and after this trip, I now truly understand what he meant. It wasn’t so long ago I was writing a love letter to my friends.  Toronto had taught me so much about so many people.  It taught me that I was surrounded by heroes and superstars and even a little magic.  It taught me that everything would be alright.  I wouldn't write that letter today.  Not because my friends aren't still wonderful people (they are) but because I don't feel a lot of love anymore.  I just don't.

So many bad things have happened – death, heartbreak, car accidents, lies, family feuds, logistics gone awry and I've found myself giving up on everything I've ever believed in, feeling hopeless and alone and like there was no point to anything.  I’ve since looked up the definition of depression in the dictionary and I have exhibited not one but all the signs this year, voluntarily self-destructing.  I smoke more.  When I drink (which albeit is rare) I drink in excess.  I lead a generally unhealthy lifestyle and why?  Because I've stopped caring.  I can vividly remember the last time I felt this way – ready to trade it all in for Nozick’s Time Machine.  I was fifteen and I wanted to die.

I was in and out of the hospital a lot.  My medication wasn’t working and I couldn’t make it up a flight of stairs at school without having debilitating attacks.  My doctors were telling me and my family that there was no chance for me and that I wouldn’t likely survive until my eighteenth birthday.  You can’t imagine how fucked up this is for a fifteen year old.  Most kids at this age are looking forward to the boys they’re going to kiss, the parties they're going to crash and the friends they’re going to make.  Not me.  I was busy planning my own funeral and wishing there was some way of separating the mind and body so that I didn’t have to go but didn’t have to stay chained to this malfunction of a vessel either.  What was the point?  I’d have chosen the dream over reality if given the choice, hands down.

A few months later, there was a mistake made at our pharmacy.  I opened my usual bag of medication at the kitchen table and noticed that the colour of my inhaler was a slightly different shade than I’d remembered.  Upon careful checking, we learned it was.  Turns out for the past 2+ years, I’d only been on an infant’s dosage of the stuff.  No wonder it wasn’t working and everyone thought I stood no chance.  In the meantime, because of the downward spiral in my health, doctors also had me on a lot of steroids for my asthma.  My face puffed out like a blowfish from the moonface.  I put on weight everywhere, not because of food consumption but because of swelling.  I felt more emotional and irrational and than your typical teenager and I was constantly shaky: had trouble sleeping or relaxing or sitting still.  At least a dozen times a day, every day, I wanted to die.  But it was an illusion – it was human error that put me here, not fate.  I wasn’t going to die.  I was going to live and this would make me stronger.

Lately I’ve had that same feeling again.  I understand a bit more what it is that gets to me - it's not friends letting me down.  It's not loneliness.  It's not relationship trouble.  It’s this lack of control.  It's being forced to bear the grunt of the responsibility for the things we do (both positive and negative) while somehow pretending to ourselves and others that we could have done differently but the truth is, most of the things that I’m upset about this year I haven’t been able to control one bit.  I know that I shouldn’t let them get to me so much because I haven’t done anything regrettable: I’ve quite literally done my very best.  This is not to say I haven’t made any stupid mistakes – I have made those too, mostly in those random moments of inebriation – and like a normal year, there are moments where I simply should have known better and acted differently.  But I’ve never been one for regrets and in my experience, we are who we are because we make errors in judgement.  If we never made them, we’d have no opinions about anything and we’d learn nothing at all.  Seriously, though, the major ones – the ones that give me that shoulder crunching, heart palpitation, crawling out of my skin feeling – those are the moments I’ve got no control over and they’re the same moments that are pushing me to self-destruction.  But why?  How could I be so weak to lose myself in things I couldn’t control?  Leaving this week, I've finally come to understand why.  Judgmental people.  And I don't need any more of them in my life, period.  I don't need to be 'shamed' and I don't need to be criticized for my decisions - for the same reason I don't need praise for my accomplishments.  Because I am an adult now and I am doing my best.  And no, I'm not perfect but Holy Christ - you're one to talk.  From now on, I'm going to laugh like a hyeena when someone judges.  I'm going to walk away.

A while ago, I was talking to a good friend with whom I have somewhat of a complicated history.  He’d been through a fair amount of the same type of stuff – doubt in oneself, betrayal, frustration, reality looking a little more like a Jerry Springer episode than the dream he’d once imagined.  He was drinking more these days and generally just unhappy with his life.  But he was surviving and successful in what he'd set out to do and I was proud of him for that.  I asked him what exactly he had done to get to that point of being beyond it all.   He told me that I was the person who made him feel better about everything.  That I made him smile and that even if he couldn’t piece it together to see me, he thought about me often.  He told me not to forget who I was in all of it and to have faith.  It was the best letter I’d ever had from anyone and it made me feel like a million bucks when I didn’t have a centime to spare.  Some might argue that things only got worse from this point forward.  That’s because they did.  And thinking of that person believing in me, that I had somehow made his life better, it helped a bit.  It made me feel less alone on the planet.  The way I've felt when the kids I've looked after have learned the word 'love' (all words for that matter) and have found their own ways of expressing theirs for me. 

In one of my father’s lucid moments, he asked me to ‘take care of everybody’ for him as though there was some way I’d end up being stronger than the rest of them, more wealthy, more able.  I held it together for as long as I could but the more out-of-control things got, the less I believed in myself.  It made me think of that mother on the airplane needing to put on her own mask first before she could help her kids as her plane was going down.  For a while there, I think I’d lost myself all-together in all the bad news and I really couldn't help myself, let alone my family or friends or co-workers or anybody. 

I’m leaving for France in a few days.  I’m somewhat excited to go back.  There are things and people that I miss.  There are places that I want to touch again.  There is something powerful about standing in the same place your ancestors stood.  There is something even more powerful about standing in the Musee d'Orsay Thursday nights in the wintertime when there are hardly any other people around.  There are things that I know now that I didn’t know the last time I was in Paris that will change the place for me, yet again.  Some details that will make it easier to go on, others make it incredibly tough to imagine tomorrow.  Mostly, I’m just scared and I feel like I’m letting my father down so far.  I want to give him what he asked for.  But I'm not doing that here.  Not yet, anyway.  Not like this.

Saying goodbye to a few friends last week with absolutely zero control over my emotions, I quite literally burst into tears a couple times.  It came out of nowhere.  It was partly heartbreak, I think.  It came also out of a fear of never seeing these people again – that this goodbye was the goodbye that would last because sometimes you know that you can’t go back.  I wasn’t entirely sure that I had reached that point yet but something in me had definitely changed.  Toronto had changed.  The place that had once been a ‘new beginning’ had its own bad habits and reasons to flee now.  I felt terror that I’d hurt any one of those people that I loved unintentionally because of my circumstance and/or anxiety attacks.  And most of all, I knew that these tears came out of a sincere gratitude and appreciation for having the kind of people in my life that could make me want to hold on to anything at all.  I was scared to say goodbye to that because I’ve never felt this kind of love before for anyone but my own parents.  And then it occurred to me – I’m so darn upset because these people are my family.  Because like brothers and sisters we might bicker and gossip about each other, we might yell and scream and act like total imbeciles but there is love there and a lot of it.  We might even take out all of our anger out on one another but that’s only because we know we can.  Sometimes we do it for the attention, other times we do it because we're so angry at the way things are that we need to blame it on someone.  A true friend understands that and lets you.  He/she forgives the next day with a hug or a beer or even just a laugh.

So, to my Father, I’d like to say, I’ve done my best and I’m going to keep doing my best but I can’t promise anything until I learn to look after myself again and I miss you so much that sometimes it’s awfully hard to focus on me.  I once felt untouchable, indestructible, tough as nails.  I’m going to get that feeling back because it reminds me of you and the way you lived your life – unapologetically, confidently, fearlessly.  It reminds me of feeling protected and cared for; like a daughter should feel.  And if I can’t keep you in my life, I’d at least like to keep that feeling so that one day, I can give it to someone myself.

Friends and Family, I’m working on finding a way to be strong without having to lean on you.  You sure do make excellent support systems but that’s not what I want to share with any of you and although I know ‘that’s what friends are for’; really they’re not for that at all.  They’re people to share and enjoy living with.  I had this weird thought earlier this winter in the woods.  I was standing in a forest and looking up at the trees.  The snow had fallen and everything was so calm and beautiful, I was overwhelmed with a lust for life for just a moment.  And then I recalled a discussion from a first year philosophy course; that cliché we all know: "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"  I was a big fan of Berkeley at the time and this question hit home.  Well, standing there alone in the forest, I realized that no one I cared about was seeing this tree.  If I didn’t tell someone about it, no one would even know that I had this epiphany out there in the woods on my own and while maybe that shouldn’t matter, it did matter.  I felt like I didn’t even exist.  Without you – I was nothing.  And that’s when I realized that no matter how far I pushed everybody away in hopes that minimizing the social would bring about some calm inside of me, it just wasn’t living if I couldn’t share it with you.

Knowing you exist should be (and will once again be) enough to hold me up straight and I need to be able to stand up on my own to be able to share with you anything of substance in this lifetime and you all deserve it all.  Thank you for never letting me fall.  I trust you all.  I love you all.  I’m thankful for every one of you – strengths and faults and all.

Future, I’m not expecting much here.  I’m not asking to win the lottery or have a million kids.  I’m not asking for a white knight or true love or anything perfect.  I’m not asking for a big house and a lifetime of travel.  I’m just asking for what I need.  And like Mick Jagger said way back when: ‘You can’t always get what you want but if you try sometimes, you might get what you need’.  Well, that’s all I’m after and I'm going to keep trying my best.  I’d like to get what I need and to suffer less so that I might appreciate more often all that I do have.  My Grandmother taught me how important it was to appreciate the little things and it's kept me happy this long.  Time to get it back again.

Past, I’ve tried to ditch you, suffocate you, ignore you, replace you, forget you, erase you.  It hasn’t worked.  You follow me around like a lost puppy and you re-appear at the most peculiar of times.  Often it makes me wonder if chronology isn’t simply an illusion, if it’s not at all like you just ‘feel’ real in my present; maybe you are still there.  Maybe time doesn’t move only forward.  Maybe it really can move backwards and sideways too.  I carry you with me everywhere I go.  I’ve tried to learn something from you and I’ve also tried to put you behind me.  I’m going to try to be more conscious of you, more thankful, more understanding of your place in my life.  Put it in a book.  Or two.  Or three.

Present: Alice Morse Earle probably said it best.  "The clock is running. Make the most of today. Time waits for no man. Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That's why it is called the present."  I remember hearing someone pull out this quote from their back pocket at a fundraiser I’d organized back in 97/98 for cancer research and support services and thinking it was a little corny but a little true.  Usually the things that are corny are that way for a reason…because there’s a little more truth to them than we’d like to admit or because they give us that fuzzy feeling that makes us feel like everything’s going to be okay and we all know that’s not really the case. 

But sometimes it is the case.  Sometimes we can just feel in the pits of our stomachs like everything is going to be okay.  Like we’ll survive.  Like we’ve had something worth suffering over – love, for instance.  If we never felt it in the first place, we’d never feel loss or anger or pain.  No human emotion exists without its counterpart. 

There is no fear without courage. 
There is no pain without pleasure.
There is no hatred without love.
There are no friends without enemies.

There would be nothing to lose if I didn’t have you in the first place.

So, to answer my Doctor’s question: no.  I would not like to take anti-depressants because I think I’ve got a pretty solid head on my shoulders and I think I’ve just been dealing with a rough hand here, truly.  I’ve got a little faith left that things will get better again, even soon.  I'm going to try different methods first: solitude, meeting new people, having my eyes open, st. john's wort, melatonin, literature, music and being true to myself.  Sounds like a solid recipe to me.  Better than something that's going to permanently fuck with my brain chemistry.

A good friend of mine came up to see me in the woods and had a word of advice for me from a Vipassna Meditation that changed her life: ‘This too will change,” she said.  “Because everything changes always and that’s one constant that we do have.”  I was both frightened and comforted at the same time by this thought and knew instantly that depending on whether you’re in the good parts or the bad parts – even this meditation could change value.  But what it is, always, is true.  This is the nature of human existence.  Impermanence, fluctuation, struggle, uncertainty.

I'm not a religious person but there is something about religion that makes sense to me.  It's the faith quotient, I think.  So while I can't promise to give myself over to the Bible or to Jesus or the Greater Good - I can and will try to be more conscious, to have more faith in the experience itself, to feel comfort when it's there for the taking and to be less shocked and dissappointed when life is so much harder than I believed it would be.  I'm going to make myself a new Sunday ritual.  And it's going to be better than Ice Cream.

In my book, the hero struggles for ten years because he is obsessed with knowing the answers to life’s greatest questions.  Towards the end of the book, he gets those answers and it doesn’t change a damn thing in his ‘story’.  Life is what it is.  It’s a pile of things that don’t make any sense while we’re living them and although we try to put our faith in the hope that one day, we’ll find those answers, that things will make sense and be easy, we’re missing the point and forgetting what makes it all so precious in the first place.  Why is it so hard to think of this when times are tough?  I don't know.  But that's part of the puzzle too.  Human drama.

Yes.  Today is a gift.  And I’m not going to try to open it and spoil its magic and possibilities because I have a hunch that those two things are the whole point of it all anyhow.  I’m going to hold that wrapped box under my arm and just live for a while, conscious to put a little less hope into what might be inside and be comforted, if only by my discipline and strength in being less hasty, in making it last, savouring it all.  I’m going to be thankful that I’ve got a present at all.  Anyway, I’m certain that there’s something great in there but I think I’m finally smart enough to know that it doesn’t really matter what’s inside. 

After all, it’s the thought that counts.