This week is about acceptance and vulnerability.
I never dreamed, as a little girl, that my big sister would end her life at 26 years old.
I still struggle to speak openly about it. It just goes to show what a powerful effect depression can have beyond the person diagnosed. The more I heard “it’s just a phase” or “others have it way worse than your sister” the more I felt invalidated and isolated. I genuinely started to question my own reality and how bad it really was. I can’t even imagine how much more difficult it was for my sister. It has only made me see how desperately important it is to fully listen to someone without watering down their words with your own. There is still so many misunderstandings and confusion about mental illness. I really believe everyone should know basic mental health first aid.
I feel like my purpose in life now is to shine a glaringly bright light on mental illness. I feel that by helping others out of that dark place is the best and most powerful way to truly honour my sister.
So this week is about accepting my story even though it hurts. Even if it makes me tremble.
Monday, May 21:
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
When I wrote If Love Could Have Saved You I had just moved to Australia.
I was living in a pricey apartment by Bondi Beach and filled with anxiety because I couldn’t find a job. I really thought I’d have to return to Canada with my tail between my legs, feeling like a failure because I couldn’t make it on my own. To make matters worse, I became flooded with painful thoughts of my sister. In between applying for jobs, I started writing about it to finally get my thoughts outside of me. Before I moved to Australia I was living in a close-knit expat community in Beijing and I felt like everyone knew what had happened but it was never openly talked about. It loomed over me like this horrible secret that people whispered about and I didn’t have the courage to explain. It really made me shrink into a shell; I made myself so small and ashamed and invisible. So by the time I moved to Australia I felt like I broke free from the shackles of my old life. I finally had enough space between those people to tell my story publicly without dealing with their reactions. It took me almost two months to write that piece because I cried so much during it. It was an excruciating experience to pull those words out of me. I remember when it was finally finished and I shared it on Facebook. My stomach was in knots, I had no idea how people would react.
But the interesting thing is, that is the most popular, widely shared and commented on article I’ve ever written. I could not believe the number of people who personally messaged me about their own experiences with depression, attempted suicide or mourning the death of someone they loved to suicide. I cannot express how unbelievably healing that was. It made me realised how valuable and important it is for me to share my story. When we are vulnerable and honest we have no idea how much that could mean to someone else. Sometimes all we want is to feel connected, to know that we are not the only one. Sometimes just knowing this can be enough to save someone’s life.
Tuesday, May 22:
“Shame loves secrecy. The most dangerous thing to do after a shaming experience is hide or bury our story. When we bury our story the shame metastasises.”
My sister’s depression not only killed her; it confused, scared, frustrated and destroyed all of us. Things at home would go from horrible to amazing to not-so-good to awful to great. The pattern was erratic and unpredictable and felt like a long, relentless tease. We were always caught off guard but ever hopeful things would change.
When things were going well we’d all laugh and joke and say to each other ‘wow, thank God that’s over!’ But then months would tick by and there it would be again, stealing her light. I used to daydream that her depression was a tar-like substance infiltrating her veins and I just needed a needle to pull it out of her. In my daydream, it was a use a huge, thick needle and I’d stick into her arm as she’d scream, wriggling and crying in pain. Then I’d pull it out her arm and hold it to the light, observing this evil, thick liquid that was destroying my sister. I’d then inject it into the soil in the backyard. This daydream was so satisfying to have, I thought of it so often I felt like maybe it could come true.
When things got really bad, I’d vent to the people around me. The most common responses I got were “it’s just a phase” or “why is she depressed when she’s got everything anyone could want? I mean does she not know that their others have it worse?” (this made me want to punch them in the face). After a while, I simply stopped talking about it. I kept it inside.
At some point, you bury it deep inside of you because no one else gets it. But that – that is where things fester. That’s where it gets worse.
Wednesday, May 23:
“I wonder how other people are making it through life – where do they put their body, hour by hour, and how do they cope inside of it?”
Every single human being on earth struggles. I find this incredibly fascinating to see the different and unique shapes each of us takes throughout our journey in life. We all experience joy and sadness and grief and elation. At any given point, on any given day, each of us are somewhere on the spectrum of “normalcy” depending on our lives situation.
I like looking around at everyone in the room while I’m in meetings at work and wonder the kind of person they really are; are they struggling with anything now? Are they really happy?
Thursday, May 24:
“It is okay to be at a place of struggle. Struggle is just another word for growth. Even the most evolved beings find themselves in a place of struggle now and then. In fact, struggle is a sure sign to them that they are expanding; it is their indication of real and important progress. The only one who doesn’t struggle is the one who doesn’t grow. So if you are struggling right now, see it as a terrific sign — and celebrate your struggle.”
I find this so inspiring. It reminds me that all of us struggle in this life, every single human on earth. We all have our ups and downs. When we expect struggle and make room for it, it lessens it’s negative power over us. Instead we can use it as part of the building blocks to get wherever we want to go rather than fighting against it.
Friday, May 25:
“Something will grow from all you are going through. And it will be you.”
There are going to be periods in our lives that are so difficult and so unbearable. But these experiences are there to teach us something, they are there to challenge us. They are there to create us.
Saturday, May 26:
“It would be a terrible mistake to go through life thinking people are the sum total of what you see.”
I often stare at people I pass in the street (I probably seem kind of weird actually!) But I just love people. I find them fascinating. I like to create worlds and ideas about them. I like to imagine who they are, where they’re going, where they’ve been, if something really amazing happened to them, or something horrible. We all wear masks though, don’t we? We all play a role to fit and take them off when we come home. There’s so much more to all of us beneath the surface.
Sunday, May 27:
“There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.”
The classic Leonard Cohen. Whenever I read this I think: embrace your imperfections, your faults, your “cracks” – you are beautiful just the way you are.