It Wasn’t Courage That Kept Me Alive…

My Mom calls me “Sunshine”.

By nature, I am an OPTIMISTIC person who adores people. I like to engage in conversation, share kindness, give hugs and openly express love. I enjoy LAUGHING, having FUN and being SPONTANEOUS. I have been like that my entire life.

Unfortunately for the past year and a half, I didn’t sleep.

For most of those 18 months I thought I was a FAILURE and FRAUD.

For almost 446 days I regularly fought suicidal thoughts.

How could this happen to my Mom’s ray of sunshine?

Well, the same way someone gets Crohn’s disease – the body attacks itself. My brain wasn’t healthy and was attacking my physical, mental and emotional self. It could be genetics or just bad luck but like Crohn’s disease, it’s not my fault and it wasn’t due to being lazy, having a bad attitude or an unhealthy lifestyle.

It could have been triggered by exhaustion from the intense schedule leading up to Jog4Joy, which led to what I thought was Seasonal Affective Disorder but by the time I realized it was a deep, clinical depression and intense anxiety and panic attacks it was too late.

The illness stole my voice and I was unable to ask for help.

To most of the outside world I was functioning fine. I went to work. I did a bit of running. I post on social media.

I seemed normal.

To the very few who knew a bit about my inner world and illness, when I wasn’t working, I was crying and inconsolable or I was sitting in the dark numb and zoned out. I was very ill.

I am one of the fortunate to have risen from the ashes and share the last year and a half with you.

In that time I lost friendships, missed out on many celebrations and being a support system for loved ones who were terminally ill or suffering grief and pain in their lives. I wasn’t able to be the friend, aunt, sister, daughter, cousin or mentor I knew I could be if I was healthy.

I lost income and financial stability and gained debt.

I lost my ability to write or ask for help.

I no longer knew who I was because my connection to instinct and self disappeared. I couldn’t access the Tina I worked so hard to become.

Any decision was stressful…

Any task monumental…

What I easily handled before, I could no longer deal with on any level (mentally, emotionally or physically). Answering emails/texts or returning phone calls took everything I had until eventually I no longer responded…I apologize if you were one of those people

With mental illnesses, stigma states you are weak or selfish if you commit suicide but it’s not the person ending their life; it is the ILLNESS, just like any other deadly disease.

With Chrohn’s disease, the immune system attacks healthy parts of the digestive track. With mental illnesses, your unhealthy brain attacks itself and sends confusing thoughts/messages. Essentially, your thoughts are diseased.

I am no more courageous for being alive than someone who lost their life to mental illness.

It wasn’t courage that kept me alive…it was chance…or perhaps luck, medication and some key people in my life.

Just like someone with breast cancer may survive while another may not, so it is with mental illness.

IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH LOVE OR COURAGE. IT HAS TO DO WITH HOW MUCH THE ILLNESS HAS PROGRESSED.

If there is a silver lining in all this perhaps being so severely ill reminds me of the depth of the illness and I can begin to share what I learned…

Today, I feel COURAGEOUS for sharing my story because throughout that time I let many people down, including myself. My actions were not consistent with my work ethic, values and morals. By sharing, I also risk the judgement from employers, colleagues, clients and others.

I am not 100% but I am a thousand times better than what I was before and I continue to improve. I still have triggers that affect my anxiety, but speaking up helps. Thank you.

Ultimately, I am susceptible to this illness and will always be at risk. I don’t like it but that is my truth which I have to face daily. Just like any other illness or disease there are ways to keep healthy but they don’t guarantee immunity. Exercise, healthy, nutritious food, proper sleep, limited alcohol consumption and a balanced social life are important to my health. I am also on medication which was absolutely necessary for me.

This blog has taken me months to complete because I had so much anxiety mixed with guilt and shame, trying to explain what happened to Jog4Joy. The illness stole my ability to organize the event, which was especially heartbreaking to me…I am passionate about Jog4Joy and continue to feel the cause is extremely important and worthy of continuing.

IF YOU REGISTERED, THANK YOU FOR SUPPORTING THE EVENT BUT FOR THIS YEAR, YOU WILL RECEIVE A FULL REFUND. 

My hope and belief is we can revive Jog4Joy. It’s my heart-project and I don’t want to let it go because it feels like I’d be giving up on mySELF and others who are ill and suffering.

My mental illness almost killed me; I can’t let it destroy my dream.

The fact is 1 in 9 women will get breast cancer whereas 1 in 5 people (men and women) will get a mental illness in their lifetime…200,000 people have Crohn’s disease in Canada whereas the numbers are expected to be in the millions for mental illnesses. The bottom line: our chances of mental health issues are far more likely yet as a woman; I am more comfortable stating my breast health versus my brain health. THIS HAS GOT TO CHANGE.

If you are suffering and can’t speak up, I understand. Please press SHARE and allow these words to speak for you. You are not lazy, weak, stupid, fucked up or useless. Your BRAIN is ILL and needs MEDICAL ATTENTION just like any other part of your body that requires attention when it is sick.

I highly recommend watching this brilliant TED talk that explains mental illness from a raw, truthful and intelligent 17 year old’s perspective.

Thank you for being here.

With a smile,

Tina

 

I Don’t Like You…Or Do I?

Last week I challenged myself by meeting with a woman whom I didn’t think I liked.

Life is funny. I mentioned to a friend, this woman was one person I really didn’t want to run into and the very next day she entered my life again after not seeing her in years. We used to work together and at that time I was influenced by a certain person and his opinions of others. I didn’t know if my negative thoughts about her were based on how I felt or how he felt.

The TRUTH is I didn’t know her and I never did so I decided to meet with her to form my own opinion.

This is what I learned:

She made incredible SACRIFICES for her son to ensure their relationship is strong before he graduates. This meant changing jobs so she was more available to him physically and emotionally. It affected her life financially but as she spoke, it was clear that the money was secondary to the relationship she’s built with her son as a result of her DECISION.

He wanted a Mom that wasn’t stressed out and had time for him. She LISTENED to his needs and took ACTION.

She went back to school and got her Masters.

She’s traveled to almost every continent with her son…something she wanted to do before he graduated.

She was single for a long time and decided if love wasn’t for her, she was okay on her own. She refused to lower her standards. (I love that!) Things shifted and she met a wonderful man that clearly makes her heart smile.

We had a great chat about love, family, friends, jobs, dating and personal struggles. We laughed a lot and our emotions got the best of us at times as we spoke about people we loved.

I was honest with her.

I told her my opinion had been tainted and I was so grateful we met so I could connect with her from a REAL and AUTHENTIC place instead of a past and convoluted perception.

I left that night with such RESPECT for her and the CHOICES she’s made in her life. She is no doubt a strong woman with clear goals. She is driven and knows what she wants. She is also kind hearted, open, loving and cares deeply for the people in her life.

Perhaps there were things in the past that I didn’t agree with when I worked with her; honestly, I don’t remember…it’s in the past and I know I’ve changed since then so maybe she has as well.

Life is short. Time is precious. Everyone has a story if you pause and listen. We all make mistakes, face challenges and learn our lessons. None of us are perfect and by practising compassion and empathy we can meet in the middle and build a connection that’s real. Feed the TRUTH and starve the impressions, misconceptions, judgements and lies. I’m sure glad I made that conscious choice.

With a smile,

Tina

 

 

Teach Compassion and Empathy

When I was a child I was fascinated with books about slavery or WWII…I couldn’t understand how one human being could treat another human being with such cruelty, violence and disregard. I didn’t understand racism or hatred, (I still don’t)…and I wept for the horrific trauma people suffered at the hands of other people.

I was an extremely sensitive child and the human spirit and experience interested me. As a child I used to pretend to be blind. I’d cover my eyes so I really understood what it felt like to count your steps to make sure you didn’t trip over something…or feel where the toothpaste was and if I could put the paste on the brush and properly reach my mouth.

Once I felt like I had a good understanding of what that felt like I’d move on to spend a few days with only one arm…how do you eat, get dressed or tie your shoes if you only have one arm…same with only having use of one leg…how do you climb a tree, kneel down to weed the garden or get upstairs to go to your room?

How did things CHANGE? How did I FEEL?

I chose physical challenges as a child because that was something I could ‘mimic’ and my maturity didn’t understand mental health or emotional challenges.

I believe my depth of empathy and compassion was deeply rooted based on my childhood experiments.

I had an experience last week where I needed COMPASSION and EMPATHY from the person I was speaking to on the other end of the phone. It was a large corporation and I received standard, generalized answers…I was not being heard and felt completely frustrated that the other person couldn’t or wouldn’t tap into the ‘human’ element of our conversation. I got very upset and ended the call abruptly. I was angry, scared and distraught.

This was indeed a large corporation but ultimately it is still an individual on the other end of the phone. It is a person who could put themselves in my shoes and show some COMPASSION. They may not have the power to do anything but they do have the power to offer words of KINDNESS.

The next day I called again and it was a completely different experience. The woman on the other end of the phone clearly had a big heart and perhaps had experienced similar circumstances and therefore understood my situation. She still explained to me the rules of the company but spoke with a kind and gentle heart and that made all the difference. She also made the effort to try to change some things for me and as a result we resolved the situation.

The difference was night and day because one person showed COMPASSION and EMPATHY and the other did not or could not. He has his own life story / perception but what a different result we both would have had that night if he had shown more COMPASSION.

Whether you are in high heels or dirty ripped jeans…whether you make $250,000 per year or $25,000 per year…whether you drink wine at a lovely restaurant or Lysol in the back alley…a human being is a human being.

Practice and teach compassion and empathy and our world will be a very different place.

I would like to express a very special THANK YOU to Natalie and Susan for their KINDNESS, COMPASSION and SUPPORT that day. I am humbled by your kindness, lifted by your helping hand and extremely grateful for your compassion.

PLEASE CHOOSE COMPASSION: Teach it, act upon it, share it and experience how good it feels. One day, you will receive what you have given.

With a smile,

Tina

 

Open Your Heart…Open Your Life

I love people. I don’t always love what they do or cruel words they may say, but I am a people person and I enjoy hearing the stories of others and learning from their experiences.

Last week was Halloween. I am in a prime area with lots of kids showing up at the door. I engaged with each one of them through a compliment and conversation asking them about their costume and getting them into ‘character’. I love kids and it was such a FUN night. My friend decorated and we visited until the next knock on the door…

Two fellows stopped by collecting food for the food bank through www.trickoreat.ca. They were university students. My friend and I gave them some canned goods then casually said they should stop by later for whatever was left of the candy…and a glass of wine.

Well, later that night there was a knock on the door and there they were! I was quite surprised…why would two university students want to hang out with two women twice their age?!

It was great fun…we had an interesting conversation about their schooling, history, art, psychology, bullying, their family history etc. We had snacks, a glass of wine and it was the perfect way to end the evening.

Some may think I’m foolish for opening my home up to two strangers…some may think I’m being a ‘cougar’ since they are young men in university…others may think they wanted something else other than the lovely conversation we had between the four of us.

I choose to live in a world where I can open up my home to a person I don’t know and they will leave as a friend…and that is exactly what happened…hugs out the door…smiles all around…it was a fun and interesting night. I am grateful they took us seriously and came back to say hello.

We continue to keep in touch. Isn’t that great?

Isn’t that what life is about…connection of the human heart?

Open your door. Open your heart. Open your life and you will receive great gifts.

With a smile,

Tina

 

The Power Of Kindness – A Full Circle Moment

Yesterday, I had a good reminder that you never know how you affect someone’s life…that the smallest of gestures to YOU could mean the world to THEM.

I was introduced to a lovely woman now in her late 20’s and she told me she remembered me as a teenager. She was a young singer at the time taking lessons with another teacher in town.

She said:

“My teacher knew I was so taken by you. I read about you in the paper and I wanted to meet you…so I emailed you!”

Apparently I responded and invited her and her mother to join me at my CD release party. I don’t remember doing this because for me, it was such a simple, easy and ‘small’ thing to do.

She drove in from Cache Creek to Kamloops for the performance, a 166 km round trip. Apparently during my performance I gave her a ‘shout out’ and thanked them for coming to the show. She was thrilled!

She said she never forgot that night and how I took the time to invite her and made her feel special at the event by acknowledging her.

So simple, yet here we were 14 years later and she remembers it vividly and was so happy to meet me again after all these years.

This time SHE gave me the GIFT because I needed a reminder that what I do and who I am affects people in positive ways. She reminded me that your ACTIONS and WORDS today could have a true impact on someone and catch up to you years later.

Don’t you want to be remembered for being kind, loving and supportive? I sure do…in the end, that is your legacy…

Don’t underestimate the power of kindness and if someone has impacted your life, please tell them.

Life is short and life is precious.

Let’s EMBRACE each other today; give each other SUPPORT and share our LOVE and KINDNESS. If you have something to give (and we all do), give it away…it will come back to you eventually…in this example, it took 14 years…but the timing was perfect!

Here is a portion of one of my favorite songs called “Seasons of Love”. It’s been a bit of a mantra to me ever since I heard it years ago:

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter and in strife
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, a year in the life?

How about love?
How about love?
How about love?
Measure in love

With love and a smile,

Tina