The Best Of All Of Us

Yesterday someone in my Facebook network shared this photo and it really got me thinking:

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When I was growing up, I always thought my parents’ separation was a BAD THING. I’ve written before about it here in this space, about how I was so angry at my father for leaving, so angry at my mother for letting him leave, so angry at my step-siblings for the time they were able to spend with my father, time that I could not. For a long time I was a mean-spirited, hateful girl who grew into the same kind of woman.

Thankfully, things change and time (usually) heals all wounds.

You’d think, as one who strongly subscribes to the theory of “everything happen for a reason”, I would’ve calmed down a bit and let life progress as it should instead of railing on and on about how my family did me wrong. It honestly wasn’t until Dave and I started dating that I realized that this one, big, BAD THING that had happened was actually one of the best things to occur in my life. Why? Because my father moved to Prince Edward Island when I was seven years old and still lives there to this day. I moved in with him for a short amount of time when I was twenty-two. Of course, being a young adult, I needed a job. When I finally got one in Charlottetown it was where Dave worked. Aside from a few muddled years apart, the rest, as they say, is history.

But this isn’t about Dave. Not this time.

It’s true that if my parents hadn’t split up and my father hadn’t moved to PEI where my stepmother’s family lives I never would’ve met my husband. I mean, maybe, I might have, some other way, some other time, but I doubt it. I guess it’s possible. The chances would have been slim, but maybe still possible.

What I do know for a fact, however, is that if my parents hadn’t separated when I was four years old I one-hundred-percent, for-sure, without-a-doubt would not have met one of my most favourite people in the world; without whom my life would be very different indeed. Without her, my life would be a little duller, a little less fun. If my parents hadn’t separated and my father hadn’t met my stepmother, I wouldn’t have the privilege of knowing and adoring my little sister, Saundra. Without a doubt, if the BAD THING hadn’t have happened, she wouldn’t have happened either.

This is about her.

Saundra was born when I was six years old. I don’t remember my father telling me about her impending arrival. Honestly, how I remember finding out I had a little sister goes like this: My father came over to pick me up from my house one day and told me he was taking me to meet my new baby sister. I was a little confused, but I went with him to the hospital. She was in one of those glass, incubator-ish, crib-like trays (technical term), with a name card on the side. She was pink and tiny and wrapped tightly in an equally tiny blanket.

We met twenty-four years ago today.

Today is her twenty-fourth birthday.

Regrettably, I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with Saundra as we grew up. I wish I had. My father and stepfamily moved to Ontario shortly after she was born and then to PEI not long after that, and I remained home with my mother, 300-plus kilometres away. As I’ve touched on before, I usually only saw my stepfamily for roughly six weeks during the summer months. Six weeks out of a year is not enough time. I think we both wanted more, but distance – and life itself – would not permit it.

But, again, things change. Thankfully, Saundra and I have spent more time together as we’ve grown (although not nearly as much as I’d like) and our similarities have paved the way for a close bond to form between us. Even though we don’t see one another or speak as often as I’d like, I love and appreciate her more than there are words to explain (but it wouldn’t be like me not to try).

I might not know all there is about my sister, but of this I’m sure: She is the best of all of us.

She gets her kindness from our father, something he instilled in her from the very beginning of her days. From her mother she received her intelligence, her raw and demanding desire for knowledge. She has Andrew’s big heart, as vast and deep as the fathomless sea. From James, she acquired a sense of unbridled ferocity, ready and willing to defend anyone or anything she believes in or loves. She gained her strong sense of determination and her love of children from Sarah, and there are three kids (almost four!) who are incredibly blessed to have her as their aunt.

I’m not sure what she got from me. Sometimes I think it’s my love of all-things-nerdy, like books and films and tea and all those random things that come from the off-beaten path. Sometimes, maybe, I think it could be my strong sense of empathy and how I just feel everything so damn much because, sometimes, she does too. Maybe still it’s only those physical traits she has that we both have, traits we received from our father, the same hands and the shape of our eyes and how we can crook our left eyebrow like it’s nobody’s business.

I’m not sure what she got from me but I know one thing’s for certain – she is the slyest and surest of thieves, for she’s stolen my heart completely. She damn-well does it to just about everyone she meets and you just can’t help but let her. She is disarming and selfless and a force to be reckoned with. She is laughter, love, and light made real. She is our brightest, shining star.

Everything happens for a reason. Without the BAD THING that happened to me, I wouldn’t have one of the BEST THINGS that ever happened to me.

Sisters

Happy birthday, you wise, beautiful girl. My goodness, I just love you so.

When It Gets Dark Enough

More often than not in this space, even though I try to avoid it, I talk about serious things. I try to keep the mood light, but sometimes – okay most times – it just doesn’t work out that way.

Two days ago, one of my childhood heroes passed away. I’ve read that he took his own life. As his death has positively dominated both the airwaves and the Internet, I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that I’m talking about Robin Williams.

I’m not usually one who gets caught up in death. This especially applies to the deaths of people I’m not close to, as is the case with celebrities. As I’ve mentioned before, when my grandmother died I was out of the province and didn’t even come home until I absolutely had to (which was for her funeral). I try not to think about death because I truly consider myself to be one of the most sensitive people on this planet. If I think about death and dying for too long I start sobbing and am never able to pull myself together afterwards. Sobbing equals headaches, and hurts, and sore, puffy eyes, which is why I try and distance myself from it.

Robin’s death has had a huge affect on me. Truthfully, and it sounds strange to me that I’d even thought of this, he was the one celebrity whose death I always knew would hit me hard. For some reason I’d asked myself that question before: “Who is the one celebrity who I’ll be really upset over when I hear they’ve died?” The answer was always, always Robin Williams. I’ve been a fan of his since he was Batty Koda in Fern Gully. I was eight years old when the film was released and I just adored Batty. He was so funny, so out-there, and so loveable, just like Robin himself.

My love of Robin and his work only expanded once I saw him as Peter Pan, the Genie, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Jack. As I grew older and his roles seemed to switch gears into more dramatic ones, I only loved him more. I loved him as Sean Maquire in Good Will Hunting, as Chris Nielsen in What Dreams May Come, and as Jakob in Jakob the Liar. While in university, I became obsessed with his standup routines. When I was living in England for a semester, far away from most civilization in a 11th century castle, his Live on Broadway kept me sane during my isolated downtime, if that makes any sense at all (truly, you’ll know what I mean if you’ve seen it).

But now he’s gone. The story so far paints the picture of an amazingly funny, but amazingly depressed man. He struggled with both drug and alcohol addiction. He’d had some stints in rehab over the years, most recently a month ago. From what I’ve read, he was found hanging from a belt in his closet after trying – and failing – to cut his wrists. He left no note to explain his actions.

I think what hurts the most is that Robin, a man most of us thought as happy-go-lucky, wasn’t. I hate to make assumptions, but to take one’s life one has to be deeply depressed. Happy people don’t kill themselves on a whim. I know this because I’ve been both – depressed and happy, cycling through these emotions for most of my life. Right now I’m happy and such happiness only amplifies my desire and will to be alive, but I know exactly what it’s like to feel the opposite. I know exactly how it feels to so strongly wish to be dead and to desire complete and utter oblivion.

Despite my current state of happiness, I would be a fool not to admit there is a sense of fear that dwells just below the surface of my skin, wondering when my depression will return. Originally I’d wrote “whether my depression will return”, but I deleted it. It’s not a question of whether – it will return. It always does.

I am all-too aware of how people view me in my daily life. Just this weekend a friend of mine mentioned when she turns thirty she’s going to cry for two weeks straight. My response was to tell her it really isn’t as bad as all that; that turning thirty is actually quite enjoyable (as in my experience, it has been). Another friend of ours piped up to say that of course, turning thirty was enjoyable for me – I’m married, have a good job, etc. From the outside, I must come across as having nailed down this thing called life, maybe I even have one that’s enviable to others, but I truly don’t feel that way. I try and live a simple existence because I know how fragile life can be, how quickly it can change and twist and turn.

If you’re a frequent reader of this space, you know all about the abuse I endured for two years of my life. What I rarely talk about is the afterwards. The fallout. The months of living alone, the trying to pick up the pieces, the nights of sleeplessness, the aggression and fear and anger I took out on my own body because the pain was in there and I had to get it out somehow. Things I never told even my mother or my best friend. Wearing long-sleeved shirts and making sure I was covered at all times so no one could see the bloodied cuts and scabs that crisscrossed my arms and shoulders because I knew no other way to release the pain than to cut it out of me.

At this time, though, no one saw how depressed I was. They thought that because I was free of my abuser, I was happy. Many times people told me it was nice to see me smiling more; laughing more. Many times they told me my attitude had taken a complete 180, when the reality couldn’t have been less true. On the outside I was happy. On the inside I was dying. In public I was a smiling, normal twenty-five year old. In private I was a mess, barely keeping myself together.

Things turned around when Dave and I began dating. I don’t like putting my happiness in the hands of anyone but myself, but he did help me recover, whether he intended to or not. He has never made me feel unsafe, afraid, stupid, or unloved. Since we’ve been together my depression returned for a short time (when I lost my job), but not nearly as bad as it had been in the past. I don’t expect it to never come back just because I now share a great life with a great man. Depression doesn’t give a shit if you’re married or single, a parent or not, employed or jobless. Look at Robin: from the outside his life seemed amazing, but obviously there was something extremely wrong. He might have seemed like the brightest of stars, but we tend to forget stars are unpredictable. Stars become supernovas. Robin’s star shined so bright it burned right out.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that the old adage is true: “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” Just because someone is smiling doesn’t mean they’re happy. Just because someone is laughing in front of you doesn’t mean they aren’t in tears the very second they’re alone. Depression is very real and very scary and the stigma around it must be shaken and quickly. If you’re feeling down and afraid and bleak, please talk to someone. Please reach out. Please don’t live your life in fear. Please don’t think that leaving this earth is the only option you have. I know it might not feel like it now, but there are beautiful things here in this life and you’ll never know just how close they might be if you leave it all behind. You might not believe it, but there are people who love you and who will miss you more than you know. I’m not saying the sadness won’t ever return because I’m almost one hundred percent sure it will, just try and remember it won’t last forever. I refuse to believe depression is a constant. Change is the truest thing I know.

There’s a saying that I clung to during my times of despair: When it gets dark enough, you can see stars. It helped me remember that even in the blackest of nights there is beauty and light shining eternally, and even when I felt down so deep I couldn’t see there would still be light to guide me, if only I’d look up.

So look up. Keep searching for the light, because it’s there. I promise you, it’s there – you only need to look up.

 

If you or someone you know is suicidal and needs help, I urge you to contact the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention to locate a crisis centre in your area. 

I Belong To Me

From my late teenage years to my early twenties I was obsessed with Cosmopolitan magazine. I never missed an issue and I saved all of them inside an old travellers trunk in my closet. When my collection and I finally parted ways, right before I left on my semester abroad during the winter of my third year of university, I swear I could’ve supplied an entire hospital’s worth of waiting rooms with reading material. I think I had roughly seventy magazines in my collection, all of which were put out with the recycling the day before I left.

After my return home, I kept reading Cosmo. I can’t remember whether or not I collected them, nor can I remember when I stopped buying them altogether. What I do remember is the last time I opened one: I was at the gym, right around my 25th birthday, and I needed something to read to get me through a particularly grueling treadmill workout. Since I used to enjoy Cosmo so much and my females-only gym was full of them I picked one up from the pile, revved up the treddy, and started reading.

To my surprise, I couldn’t even make it to the middle of the magazine before throwing it to the floor in dramatic disgust.

It was the same old Cosmo I’d always read and enjoyed, but something had changed. At first I couldn’t put my finger on it, but then I realized it was me. I’d changed. I wasn’t who I used to be. I was no longer a young woman desperate for tips on How to Please a Man! or What Look He Likes Best! I no longer cared what the male population of the world thought of me, nor did I believe it to be my responsibility to make a man happy. Maybe it was because, at the time, I was nearing the crux of my relationship with my abuser and there was an ever-present rage simmering under the surface of my skin, just waiting to turn into an angry boil, and there was nothing I wanted less than to discover the best tips and tricks to keep my man interested when what I really wanted was for him to disappear into oblivion.

That was five years ago. I haven’t picked up a Cosmo magazine since, but last year I subscribed to the digital edition of Women’s Health, thinking it would be more up my alley. As you know, I’m pretty fitness-oriented. I run, I eat well, I occasionally partake in strength training (I know, I know, I should do more of this). Surely Women’s Health would have more articles relevant to my interests, right?

Wrong.

Okay, sort-of wrong.

Women’s Health does have a predominant focus on fitness. Yes, it’s cover models are still usually well-known celebrities, but they’re normally displayed appearing fit and confident, not sexy and stuffed into a dress that’s more akin to a sausage casing. Each issue has a section called Scoop!, highlighting fitness, health, nurtrition, weight, and beauty – all areas of interest to me. It has a fashion section. It talks about vitamins and common women’s ailments and how to treat them. Women’s Health does indeed have more of the information I tend to look for in a lifestyle magazine, unlike Cosmo’s primary concentration on what women can do to better appeal to their romantic partners.

BUT!

Women’s Health is not just a magazine. Like most every brand these days it also has a Facebook group, to which I used to subscribe (key words in that sentence: used to). I unfollowed the group just yesterday. Why? Because, even though there’s no real focus on it in the magazine itself, the group does share articles more-or-less up the Cosmo reader’s alley, including, but not limited to: Deciding What To Do With Your Pubic HairMen’s Biggest Turn-Ons (and Turn-Offs!), and, my personal favourite, 13 Things You Should Never Say to a Naked Man. For a magazine meant to promote and focus on the health of women (it’s called Women’s Health, right?), it seems quite concerned instead with how men view us females, as well as what we should do to receive positive male attention.

Needless to say, I also won’t be renewing my magazine subscription next year.

The good news is that while some women seem to accept these types of posts without complaint, a lot of women who follow the group do complain. A lot, actually, and loudly. They don’t like being told how to please a man, nor should they. They are vocal in asking why the content has been posted. There are voices speaking up against this weird status quo of women only existing for male benefit and I feel extremely uplifted when I read their comments. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in thinking, “What the actual fuck does this have to do with my health?” because believe me, I existed for a loooong time trying to make men happy and guess what? It never made me happy. It was only when I stopped doing it that I found my own inner happiness and, after that, a healthy, well-rounded relationship with a man who loves and respects me and doesn’t give a shit what I look like or what I wear as long as I love and respect him back. Full-disclosure? The skin on my face currently looks like that of a thirteen-year-old instead of a thirty-year-old, and he still says I’m beautiful every night before I go to bed, sans makeup. That’s love, guys. Believe that. Believe me, I don’t put on my makeup every morning for his benefit or anyone else’s but mine.

This is getting long, as my posts are wont to do, but I just have to say this: I don’t only have a problem with magazines that try and make women feel like they need to do x to get y. I have a problem with anyone or anything that does. Women don’t need to do anything for anyone but themselves. Like I said, I don’t put on makeup for anyone else but me. I like eyeliner a lot because I like how big it makes my eyes look, but you know what? I like my face without it, too. I don’t wear pretty dresses or leggings as pants (don’t judge) because I want others to admire my toned legs, I wear them both because they’re so damn comfortable and honestly, pants with zippers and buttons fit me funny because of my never-ever-going-to-be-flat-because-it’s-not-in-my-DNA belly. I don’t owe my husband, my father, my brother, or any unknown man on my morning bus ride anything. Any man is entitled to look, but he better know I don’t do anything for him. I do it for me.

Somebody, somewhere, tell me that someday women will finally achieve full autonomy; that we will be confident and respected because we’re people. Tell me magazines will stop pushing the message that if I don’t know how or I’m not willing to learn what my husband/lover/boyfriend/whatever wants from me I’m less of a person somehow. Tell me shit like this will stop happening because I can’t take it anymore. [Insert deity of choice here] give me the strength and the wisdom to raise any potential daughter I might have to respect herself first above all others and know without a doubt her body is her own and not a prize to be claimed. Give me the strength and the wisdom to raise any potential son to know women do not exist solely for his pleasure and her respect must be earned and not taken, either through violence or by the whispering of sweet nothings in her ear.

It’s 2014. Hell, it’s almost 2015. Let’s move on, shall we?

Note: The title of this post was directly stolen from, yes, a Jessica Simpson tune. Whatever, I love her, haters to the left.