By wavelet or tsunami….

My heart is too soft. It is too broken. Words spoken, and even unspoken, wound me too easily. When I’m tired and ‘overdone,’ I am my own worst enemy. This week, I have been feeling what I like to call “crunchy” inside. It’s a discomfort, a niggling, painful, ache of a ripple that sits in my heart and makes me restless. All week, I have felt rubbed raw, as if my skin were not covering my bones. The world seems too big most days. Last week, I was good. What, I wondered, made the difference?

I’m sure, to my colleagues and friends, I might seem stand-offish (is that even a word?) or distant or grumpy. Inside, though, there is an anger that simmers and cannot be dampened. It rips me apart from the inside out. What is it and where does it come from? Why has everything irritated me? Noise, harsh or condescending words, a misplaced comment or question that makes me doubt myself (yet again). . .all of it piles up inside. Why this week, and not another? Why the sudden tidal pull or sea shift?

Ironically, it was sister Stacy who helped me figure it out tonight. We had supper together and she said. “It’s that time of year again. It affects you even when you don’t think it does, or when you think that enough time has passed to forget about it….” I almost started to weep. Of course. I had thought I had ‘beaten’ grief. No. It seems that, despite my intention to spend this Christmas season surrounded in more light than darkness, grief has had other plans. All week, my emotions have raged inside….so that I’ve pulled myself inwards like a turtle, listening to classical music at lunch in my office to re-centre myself between parts of the day. No point being around people when you’re so raw. Tears spring from nowhere, and then people wonder if you’re depressed or out of your tree. Nope. Just sad. Just missing people I loved….and dreading the empty space of two weeks off, without a routine to distract me from memory.

Driving home after supper, I wondered why today was the hardest day thus far this week….there have been other hard days over the past years, but today seemed harsher than most. It was the date. December 11th. I had forgotten. It marked the beginning of my mum’s final decline. It marked her departure from her life and her entrance into a palliative ending in hospital. It really marked the end of her being able to converse with us. She died on December 18th, but the week leading up to it is seared into my heart and mind. It seems, even though I had forgotten the date’s importance in terms of bookmarking the season, my body had not. It’s been presenting me with ittle sleep, a restless mind, and sharp stomach pains. Not the flu, as I’d imagined or rationalized, but grief rising up.

I think of C. S. Lewis’s lovely “A Grief Observed,” which helped me through both of my parents’ deaths. Maybe I need to re-read that this week. I’m not sure where the anger comes from. It’s not directed at anyone else but me. I wonder if it means that I wish I’d had more time with her, or that I feel angry that I can’t recall the sound of her voice or her mannerisms, or maybe I blame myself for something I can’t understand. My friend, a poet, says that grief is sometimes like a ‘wavelet,’ while at other times it’s a tsunami. There is no rationalizing it. Letting go of that expectation might help too. You’d think six years would be time enough to move forward. I have, but the words we didn’t speak likely haunt me when I don’t even think they do.

Maybe I just need to be quiet inside and try to find Mum again in a new way, where I can forgive myself and her. Maybe, as my sister wisely said tonight, I just need to be kinder to myself….to realize that none of this has to make sense, but that it must need walking through, to air out the memory, to dispatch it outwards so that I can gather up stars again….

Remember to hug your loved ones during this holy season, friends…

A friend and colleague stopped me in the hallway at school this morning. I was frenzied and behind schedule. There was an ice storm last night, so I was late to work. The ice bubble that covered my little Toyota Yaris was like glue. It took longer to bite into it with my scraper than I’d expected. There were swear words and mutterings. I don’t like being late. I berate myself more than anyone else could. I’m my own worst enemy. Anyway, Dan stopped me in the hall and said, “Eva Olsson’s giving her talk tonight in the Valley.” I thought, “Oh, my morning has been horrible. I have lots of marking to do this week and a play to work on this weekend. I have a new writing group starting on Sunday. How will I find time?” But, as the day went on, I kept thinking….”Kim, she’s 90. She is a Holocaust survivor. Your ‘stuff’ can wait.”

So, I asked my sister to come along and we headed out to the Valley for 7pm. The next two hours changed my life and my view of the world. I love history. It was my minor at university. I learned about the Holocaust, but there is something raw about listening to a survivor. Just nineteen when taken to a concentration camp, Eva Olsson’s story is one that shakes you to the core. She speaks to school students each year. She’s 90, but you’d swear she was more like 66 or 70. How she tells her story over and over again is the question. How could you live through that sheer hell, that inhumane and evil torment, and still have a heart that opens and forgives so widely? It amazed me. If she can forgive the Nazis and Hitler for what they did to her, and to her family, how can I have issues about ‘little things’ on a daily basis? Her talk jerks you out of your self-involvement, asks you to question your own thought process in life. Eva says that no one should use the word “hate.” You can say “dislike,” but not “hate.” What she tries to do is to educate and banish hate, person by person, talk by talk. She succeeds.

Visiting schools, she speaks about the scourge of bullying, and of bystanders who are just as bad as the bullies. She calls on parents to raise children with love. She calls on teachers to speak up against bullies and to be role models. She says that, for her, each day is Remembrance Day. She thinks of her mother in the corner of a cattle car, on their way to Auschwitz-Birkenau, weeping. She recalls the women and children who waited, in clumps, outside the showers, not knowing that they were going to their deaths. Hearing these stories, not from a textbook or documentary, breaks you.

Born in 1924, she was a Hungarian Jew. (It makes me think of my uncle, Jeno Tihanyi, who escaped from Hungary during the Hungarian Revolution back in 1956. He escaped from the Communists, and I remember being amazed by his stories of hiding and escaping….but even those stories can’t even compare to Olsson’s horrors.) In May 1944, she and her family were taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau. She lost family members, as quickly as Mengele could direct people either to the left or right, separating the weak from those who were healthier. She spoke of human hair being taken and made into pieces of fabric, and of the ‘surprise soup’ fed to the prisoners and consisting of human hair and bone. Her recollections are far worse and harrowing than anything I had read or studied at university. Her talk was far more potent than any viewing of “Schindler’s List” or reading of Anne Frank’s diary.

Eva says, at the beginning and end of her talk, that she only hopes to reach one heart. From what I could tell tonight, in that old school gym, she touches far more than she expects to….and that ripple, one can hope, will shift outwards to our daily interactions with our fellow humans.

Be kind, she says. Be generous, she encourages. Speak up against injustice. Do not be a bystander….because, if you are a bystander, you are am accomplice. How can we not listen to her story? Recognize her bravery? Applaud her spirit and heart?

I wish everyone could hear her talk….I think the world would be a better place.

Bless her.


You can read more about Eva’s life here….at http://www.evaolsson.ca

Everyone has an opinion; the media storm over the Jian Ghomeshi story is everywhere this week. It seems to be the topic of conversation in lunchrooms across the nation. The most interesting thing about it all is that social media has played a huge role in the evolution of the story, and the revelation of truth telling. The variety of articles, posted through newspapers and on blogs in Canada, the United States, and England, is staggering. Earlier in the week, after his Facebook post, it seemed more about how a celebrity radio host might have been wronged by an ex-girlfriend who harboured a grudge. Then, when the CBC started literally stripping images of Ghomeshi off its website and walls, well, you sort of figured it had to be much bigger (and darker) than that.

From Tuesday onwards, the onslaught has been intense. From Twitter to Facebook, to The Toronto Star and The Globe & Mail, and even to CBC and CTV, the horrible stories began. Stories of women being physically and sexually assaulted spread like wildfire. The comments online, though, were startling. So many seemed to question why the women hadn’t reported the assaults. It made me cringe. At the surface, it was a story about a handsome, charismatic radio host who wrote amazing essays and engaged in stimulating interviews. Underneath it all, there are questions of feminism, social media, and how we treat victims of sexual assault in this country.

Back in the late 1990s, I had the honour of working with a great group of feminist activists here in Sudbury, Ontario through LEAF National (The Women’s Legal and Education Action Fund). We organized a yearly event, every October, called The LEAF Person’s Day Breakfast. The funds raising from that event went towards funding ground breaking court cases, nationally, that supported the rights of girls and women. Officially, part of the mission statement is that LEAF “litigates and educates to strengthen the substantive equality rights of women and girls, as guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Year after year LEAF is working to gain intervener status at the Supreme Court of Canada. Our history includes intervention on hundreds of cases where interpretation of the law promises to increase or decrease the substantive equality of women and girls. LEAF also advances public understanding of women’s equality rights through education programs administered by its branches and through its speakers’ bureau.” (www.leaf.ca) It’s a full-time job to stand up for, and protect, the rights of girls and women.

This week’s horrid events have proven that. Some of the posts online are horrific. I have heard at least two or three acquaintances wonder whether the women who have spoken up in the Ghomeshi case have alternate motives in coming forward. People sometimes seem overwhelmed by the illusion that Ghomeshi seems to have created. Now there is some talk that perhaps he didn’t even write his own famous essays, that a staffer may have done so instead. The image, the face, the voice, all was seemingly a conjecture of pop culture and social media. It reminds me of the story of the Emperor and his New Clothes, or of the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain. So much of what we see in media is smoke and mirrors, a creation of what we think is some kind of perfection. One person online commented “How did we not know this about him?” as if he were a friend or relative when, in fact, he was just a voice and face that was nationally known. If proven guilty within the court system, then the entire thing will show that he used his celebrity as a screen, so that he could hide in plain sight. This is true, sadly, of many people. What we see on the surface may not be the real person. They may portray themselves to be charming and intelligent, but underneath they may not be. What we see in a person at work, for instance, may not be the person they are at home, in their personal life. In this particular case, the result is heartbreaking. The result is a string of women who were hurt, assaulted, victimized, and now might be re-victimized in media unless we speak up to stand with them.

What have we learned, I wonder? I hope that, at the very least, the conversations around this topic will encourage anyone who has been assaulted to report that assault, but I truly fear that the nasty online commentary, from men and women both, the shaming of victims, will drive those women further underground. What they need now, though, is support. Their voices need to be heard. The violence against women has to be stopped, plain and simple. In the darkness of what’s happened this week, in all the sensationalism and rumouring, the kernel of truth is there: men who hit women are criminals, regardless of their name, face, voice, or title. I think, too, that we need to be more mindful of how pop culture creations, in their personas, are just people after all is said and done. They should not be glorified or iconized. They can be just as good, or as bad, as any other human being. In this case, perhaps the distracting glare of celebrity helped to hide so many heinous acts. I’m sure that will all come out in the courts, which is where this case needs to be tried.

This weekend, I’m thinking of all women who have been sexually and physically assaulted. I applaud them for raising their voices, for speaking up even in the face of derisive and truly hateful comments. That takes such bravery. I also think, though, that we need to consider how we are raising boys into young men, and how our culture portrays and treats girls and women, because so much of that will influence where we are headed in the future. Further, we need to teach our girls that they are worthy and strong and deserving of great things….and that it is not acceptable for any man to hurt them.


This week’s tragedy in Ottawa, the brutal slaying of Corporal Nathan Cirillo, just 24 years of age, has hit all Canadians hard. There’s no way you could not be affected by his death. It was cruel and heartless. He was guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, at our country’s National War Memorial. This memorial is sacred to Canadians, a place where the National Remembrance Day ceremony is held every year. Here is the place where the poppies are forever captured, carved beautifully into stone. The arch, with its stark reminder of soldiers we’ve lost to war, and to peace keeping, is clearly visible against the Ottawa sky. November 11th is a few weeks off, but this tragedy marks us like no other. Here was a young man, a reservist member of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders from Hamilton, who was a single father to a young son. He rescued dogs. He seems, in all the photos, to smile widely and openly, enthusiastically living life. By all accounts, he was a kind and generous soul. To think that he was guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, an honour for any member of Canada’s military, sends shivers down the spine. He was recognizing the sacrifice of those who had gone before him, and all of us.

This time of year naturally gets Canadians to thinking of our losses. The poppy pin emerges, blossoms bright red on lapels of coats and blazers, schools hold services, and we cast our thoughts to history. In recent years, the war in Afghanistan has made Remembrance Day more poignant, as we watched one soldier after the next die in foreign lands. There is hardly a hometown in this country that hasn’t been touched by the tragedy of war. The motorcades down the Highway of Heroes, and thousands of Canadians standing along roadways to pay respect to fallen soldiers, became a too common sight. This week, though, seemed unbelievably cruel. First, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, 53, was struck and killed by a car in Quebec. It was a targeted attack. Then, too soon afterwards, there was Corporal Cirillo’s death in Ottawa. There is no justification for these acts. Whether we think there was mental illness involved, or whether ISIS/ISIL was involved, the loss is no less tragic for either soldier’s family and friends. They have been taken too soon, and on our own soil.

Despite the horror of those two acts, and of Corporal Cirillo’s death in Ottawa in particular, what struck me was the bravery of those who tended to the wounded young solider. When others might have run into buildings for shelter, the story of Ottawa lawyer, Barbara Winters, who ran back towards the sound of gunfire and found Cirillo on the ground next to the monument speaks volumes of how love and light can dispel darkness. She held Cirillo in her arms, tried to revive him, but repeatedly told him, “You’re a good man. You’re a brave man. Your family loves you.” She told him that his parents were proud of him, that he was brave. Then, she said, “You are so loved.” As he struggled to survive, Winters gave him comfort, let him feel loved and cared for. She offered presence of heart at a time when presence of mind might have been hard to find. She, and the other first responders last Wednesday, at both the war memorial and in the Parliament Buildings, showed such bravery. They thought not of themselves, but of others first. Kevin Vickers, too, played a vital role in saving lives within the House of Commons. I wonder, in such a wretched and terrifying circumstance, in the midst of such horror, how many people would rise above their own human fears to reach out, with heart and hand, and lift up or protect others. The bravery these many people showed and embodied astounds me.

Nothing anyone writes will solve this. Our hearts, as Canadians, are deeply torn and saddened. We pray for the families of those lost this week. We think of how they must be feeling and wonder at their strength. I think we must all wish this had never, ever happened. The Cirillo family released a statement on Friday night that said, too beautifully and poignantly, “Nathan was Canada’s son. He belonged to all of us.” Yes, he did, and our hearts break now because of it.

With blessings for those who serve Canada, and for our beautiful country….for it truly is our home and native land. May God keep it peaceful, glorious, and free, a place where peace is honoured and valued.

peace, k.

I’ve thought a lot about the beheadings of the journalists, aid workers, and tourists in the Middle East lately. I’m a proud member of PEN Canada, which is related to PEN International. The organization is made up of writers who envision a world, as the mission statement says, “where writers are free to write, readers are free to read, and freedom of expression prevails.” Living in Canada, it’s almost too easy to take these freedoms for granted. You forget sometimes how blessed we are to live in a country where it’s okay to read what you want to read, or write about what you want to write about. These barbaric beheadings just pull me back to the realization that writers have the power to speak up, and out, about issues that aren’t always popular. Even if you disagree with a blog or newspaper article, you have the ability to access and read it, for the most part. For people in some countries, like China, Iraq, Syria, and many others too numerous to name, the act of thinking, questioning, researching, and writing can spell out a time of great torture, or even a horrific death sentence.

The first time I heard of PEN Canada, I was working on my Master’s degree in Literature at Carleton University in Ottawa, way back in 1994-95. Moving from Sudbury to Ottawa was a wake up call in terms of consciousness on a more global level. I met people from everywhere, opened my mind up to new ideas and questions, found my infant sea legs as a poet and writer, and was able to hear a number of well-respected writers read their work on campus and in local bookstores. It was a buffet of ideas for my mind. As I began to publish my own poetry, I applied and was accepted into PEN Canada’s folds. It was important to me, to become a member of PEN. The more I read about the injustice done to writers and thinkers in other countries, the more upset I became.

Before I even joined PEN Canada, though, I read Seamus Heaney’s collection of essays titled The Government of the Tongue. Part of its deep impression on me actually led to the naming of this blog. In the collection, Heaney wrote of Eastern European poets who had struggled with oppression. There is one essay in that book that speaks of a writer who had to bury his poems in milk bottles in his back garden, so that people wouldn’t rifle through his house, find his writing, and imprison him for questioning his government’s dictatorial and cruel policies. That stuck with me. For over twenty years, the image of a poet burying poems, all to avoid persecution, still sends shivers down my back. I can’t imagine living in a place where the words I put on paper could be so threatening. Still, all the more important for us to realize the sacrifice those journalists made in covering wars and humanitarian crises in places far from home. They knew that just shedding light on certain dark corners of inhumanity could help to dispel it. Not in a magical, instantaneous way, but in a way that made people around the world more aware of what happens in other places. Sometimes, growing awareness is the start of spreading light.

Some of it seems so hard to believe, to see those men silhouetted against desert and sky, speaking words scripted for them when that is the last thing they would have chosen to do. They would never have spoken those words without being under duress. I can’t imagine the dread they must have felt, but I am impressed, every time I see those horrible clips on the news, without ever seeing the act itself, with the calm they seem to embody. How could they be so very calm in the face of such horror?

Each week, it seems, there are others named…threats sent across the Internet or television. For each man, for each aid worker or journalist or tourist, there are families of people who love them dearly. I pray for them. So, today, in the face of all the chaos in the world, I am thinking of the brave work that James Foley, Steven Sotloff, and David Haines did. I will also think of Herve Gourdel, a French tourist who was kidnapped and then killed as a pawn in a deadly game. How this will end is anyone’s guess…but I’m afraid it will continue. There seems, lately, to be less and less compassion in this world, less humanity. (I can’t imagine anyone’s creator would want any of this to continue.)

As readers, we must continue to pick up and read books that others might think are controversial. We must fight against any crusade to ban books, speaking up for the words that convey thoughts on paper. As writers, we must stand united with organizations like PEN International and PEN Canada. We must try to support fellow writers who simply cannot speak up because of fear of torture and death. For we know, as writers do, that our words are powerful and dangerous, but we also know, with hearts full of sadness and hope, that our words might someday change the world in some small way. Ripples move outward from the centre, and so we must cast our words out from our own quiet, sure centres and then watch the ripples extend–lighting up dark spaces and minds, forever hopeful that speaking up, that the seemingly simple act of writing down our thoughts, in the face of terror, is something worthy and important to the world.

Below, I’ll leave you with PEN’s statement on the executions. It speaks for itself; powerfully so.


“Since March 2011, well over 100 citizen journalists have been killed in Syria, most by government snipers, or as a result of torture. Increasingly, they are being targeted by armed opposition groups like Islamic State. Dozens who have done nothing more than to witness, report, film, and photograph acts of violence have been arrested and many have been subjected to enforced disappearance. Writers and journalists are amongst those at risk of political and sectarian violence from government forces, pro-government militias and armed opposition groups, both in Syria and neighbouring countries.

PEN calls on all groups detaining journalists to immediately release them. Freedom of expression is particularly important in times of war, as only through access to a wide spectrum of reporting can people come to understand the reality of what is happening. Without the evidence that journalists gather, documentation of human rights violations including war crimes and potential crimes against humanity is made more difficult, leaving victims and their loved ones without access to justice in the future.”


One of my mother’s oldest and dearest friends died last Friday. So, after work today, my sister and I went to the wake. It was a bit of a memory trip, to be honest. Frieda Squires worked at the gift shop my parents owned in the late 1970s and early-mid 1980s. She, along with the women of Cedar Gift Shop, Mrs. Fox and Ora, spent a lot of time mothering us as we grew up while our parents worked long hours in retail. The original store sat where Peddler’s Pub now sits. Somewhere near that front bar, there is a wide set of stairs that was covered over, stairs that led down to a plethora of parkas. They were popular in the gift shop trade back in the day, covered with fluffy furs and beautiful beading. Stacy and I weren’t supposed to, but we often scuttled down into the centre of the coven of circle racks, feeling the fur collars and cuffs, surrounded by bright colours and warmth. Parkas were the thing back then, but they were also very expensive, so we had to use stealth mode when we wanted to play hide and seek down there.  (We both knew the back hallway leading to the freezing cold bathroom must’ve been haunted, so we avoided going there without one another.  We weren’t stupid.)

The other thing I remember are the German chocolate bunnies wrapped in foil at Easter, and the marzipan candies at Christmas.  They were leftovers from the previous owner, a man named Mr. Sloan.  I remember meeting him once, but I was more impressed by his marzipan, his sharp German accent, and his love of (and respect for) Hudson Bay blankets and parkas.  Then there were the soapstone carvings, the moccasins, the Canadian kitsch.

Above all of this, though, I remember Mrs. Squires.  She had a fabulous laugh, a kind and warm smile, and when we were old enough to work at the shop when it moved to Southridge Mall in our early to mid-teens, she trained us on cash and the art of dusting.  She had an eye for display.  I think, looking back now, that my love of art and beautifully and uniquely crafted things was born in my parents’ gift shop.  Mum and Frieda dusted consistently, creating little vignettes of crystal vases, or gatherings of little paintings.  They were artists.  Best of all, though, were the Christmas windows on Cedar Street.  Mum and Frieda would plan and plan, ordering big ornate sparkly snowflakes that they could hang from the ceiling in mid-November.  There were cotton ball snowdrifts, little twinkly faery lights edging the window, and a heavy European nativity scene.  Each seasonal change meant a shift in the window-scape.  They would sit with coffee and cigarettes in the downstairs office, gossip about having caught a chronic downtown shoplifter, talk sales, share news of their kids, and plan out the new window design.  It was a kind of art, really, their friendship.

After Mum died in 2008, I reconnected with Frieda.  We often shared telephone conversations, and she shared her memories of Mum.  When Dad died in 2011, she called more often.  They had shared the same birthday, she often said, so she felt very connected to him.  While we spoke together, we grieved, we laughed, we reminisced.  It was tumultuous, but I’ll remember those conversations for the rest of my life.  Sharing my memories of them with her made them seem less distant from me, less far off.

Speaking with her daughter today made me miss my youth.  Those years were hard working ones for my parents, but they were also full of laughter and shared storytelling.  I wish I’d known then that things would not always be so simple.  I might have valued that time more, if I had known.  Talking to Frieda’s husband, Ronnie, was like being pulled back in time.  “Is that you?  Kim and Stacy?  Look at you two, all grown up and pretty.”  Then, he went on to tell us about the time the four of them had gone to the casinos of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  “Your mum was there, sitting next to me, quiet as a little mouse, playing the slots.  Then she won the $5,000!  She was so excited!”  What? She won big money?!  All of those years that I spent, driving Mum and Dad to early morning bus pick-ups, or collecting them late at night before going to work at 7:30am, she never once mentioned winning it big.  :)

So, there in the middle of the funeral home visitation room, I laughed out loud, squeezed Ronnie’s hand and told him we were sorry about Frieda’s going.  In the midst of that sadness, of missing a woman who was like a second mother figure to us, I felt more connected to my own mum than I have in a long while.

It’s funny, when you get to thinking about it, the little ripples of memory and serendipity that tug at the heart when you least expect it.

I figure, based on Mum, Dad, and Frieda’s long-term friendship, they’re off somewhere having a drink and a laugh.  Maybe, just maybe, they’re winning it big.  I hope so.  Missing all three tonight, but feeling them in my heart.  Solidly so.  Thankfully so.

peace, friends. .and remember to hug the ones you love.


I’ve been sitting on this post for a couple of days now. I always know I need to write when something niggles at me, nudges me to speak out. Goodness knows that there has been more than enough written about the death of actor and comedian Robin Williams this week. Some of it seems written in tribute to his body of work, which is fair and just. Much of it speaks to how we deal with depression and mental illness as a society. What has struck me most, though, is the multitude of voices that seem to speak of mental illness, depression, and suicide as a “choice” that is “selfish” and even more about a person’s “need to escape.” I find all of this reprehensible.

I’m not a therapist or psychiatrist. I don’t pretend to know the clinical terms. I do, though, deal with depression on a day-to-day basis. It’s a black dog that I know all too well. It’s forced me, at times, to take medical leaves from my work as a teacher. It’s broken me, baptized me in new ways, and made me, somehow, more thankful for the small moments of grace in my world and life. It is, though, nothing to make light of in conversation or writing. It is a torture. It is a trial. Often, it is about clinging on to small moments of grace so that you don’t feel you’re going over a virtual edge.

All of this social media buzz, about how some people say that Robin Williams made a “choice,” makes me feel angry and ill inside. If people knew the depth of depression, of that void of emotion, they would not make these generalized, whitewashed assumptions. When you’re in such a dark space, as I have been in my life, you know that it becomes so dark, so devoid of light, that you cannot imagine there being a place in space where you will feel even content or peaceful again. There is no emotion there, not even the supposed sadness that people speak of so casually. The mental anguish is intense. It offers no respite, when you are at your worst with a disease that does not give you a moment’s rest. Sleep is disturbed, which often means that you aren’t thinking clearly. Most likely, you already aren’t thinking clearly, which is why you can’t sleep. Thoughts are repetitive, your own self-talk intensifies and becomes very negative. You pull into a hermit-shell, avoiding friends, losing friends, unable to stand being around large groups of people. You isolate yourself because you cannot handle anything else. In fact, anything else, outside your small space of home, takes too much energy. Those who battle with severe depression or other forms of mental illness often use every little bit of energy pretending to be okay. Being with others drains you. Pushing energy outwards, to look as if you’re okay in public, ultimately means that you end up making yourself worse at home, where you are truly alone. It’s a vicious cycle.

And here’s the kicker. It doesn’t go away. Whether on medication or not, in therapy or not, it haunts you, in true black dog fashion. I’ve had three major episodes in my life thus far, that I’m aware of, but I know the warning signs of when I’m at risk of encountering a new wave. It’s then that I have to do the most work, being more and more mindful of my every thought and action, questioning my motives and mind, wondering if my brain will do a two-step on me and crush me with heavy boots. Even when you’re out of the dark shadow of depression, it still lingers, so that you are constantly monitoring your own mental health. It is, to be frank, absolutely exhausting.

There is, always, the link between creativity and mental illness. It’s unavoidable. At a recent writing retreat, I had a brief conversation with a couple of other writers regarding the connection. We all found some truth in that premise. When you are creative or artistic, you see the world in a different way. For a poet or writer, the world seems ripe for the taking, images and characters painted in your mind transport themselves to page in ways that even you can’t explain, as a writer. In fact, one of the other conversations I had at Sage Hill revolved around the notion that if writers were to think too much about the creative process, too often, it would drive them a bit around the bend. We recognize, I think, that the act of writing is a gift, but also a craft and art. You may not know how you get these ideas in your head, but you know that it takes a lot of time shaping them into something worthy of sharing with others. Besides all of that, though, writing, as a creative act, requires you to spend a great deal of time on your own. Friends of writers must know that we are not always the most consistent of friends. It is not because we don’t love our friends and family, but because our heads are almost too busy inside themselves. Maybe this is why creative types are more apt to deal with mental illness. Again, the academic literature is out there, and I know there is great debate among creative types, but this is sort of how I view it all. I personally don’t create well when I’m dealing with an episode of depression. It usually shuts my creative side down, so I don’t subscribe to the “I’ll be a better writer and creator if have to struggle and suffer” school of thought. It’s too simplistic. It’s also too damning. Found this little interview online, and it speaks to the complexity of the relationship. Interesting to consider, if nothing else.

My dance with depression is sometimes elegant and balanced, but at others, when things get too intense, it looks like a mad tango with the devil. No one in their right mind wants that.

So, when people write that Robin Williams “chose” to do something “selfish,” to “escape” and “unburden his family” of his pain, I shake my head and get very, very angry. Of course that is how some must view it, but restating such nonsense only serves to reinforce the stigma that mental illness arrives with in our lives and in our society. I don’t think I’ve ever written more honestly about my struggle before, on my blog. I may have alluded to it in small ways in previous posts, but I feel it’s crucial that we speak up and out, to banish that stigma that — at times — seems even more dangerous than the very black dog that torments us. I had thought that Clara Hughes and her cross-country tour of Canada this year would have helped to decrease stigma, but from what I read online, I’m not so sure anymore.

I am saddened that mental illness and severe depression has taken another victim. He walked in darkness, tried to fight the black dog, but left us with a legacy of light and joy. If anything this week, I wish all of my fellow friends, seekers, and creators, those who are walking within the shadow of the ancient black dog….I wish you peace and contentment, at the very least.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 201 other followers