Faceworld

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A friend and I recently joked about how discouraging it would be if Facebook had an online timer located at the top right-hand corner of the screen to keep track of how many minutes we spend scrolling through our newsfeeds every day.

It’s a frightening thought.

I think it’s fair to say that more than a few of us would be quite surprised to discover how much time we truly spend in Faceworld.

Even when I try to limit myself, I still manage to log a few hours daily: eleven minutes here, another seven there until, before I know it, I’ve accumulated an hour and a half online. If I don’t restrict my use, I can easily log another couple of hours on top of that, at the very least.

It’s too much.

I almost forget what I used to do with my free time, in the olden days, before social media.

God knows, over the past decade, my life in the real world has only gotten bigger, louder, crazier, more chaotic, laborious, time-consuming, demanding, and taxing on absolutely every single level imaginable, so how I manage to find any time to do anything other than what’s right in front of me is a mystery. It’s next to impossible to manage two existences at once.

But I do it.

And I’m not alone.

Many of us straddle these two worlds, occupy two separate lives, to some degree or another.

On a daily basis, we navigate a virtual reality that operates in symbiosis with our own, and coexist in a strange sort of superposition—here, in the real world, and online, in Faceworld, at the exact same time. When we focus our attention on one reality, the other collapses, in a manner of speaking. For me, on a personal level, it boils down to this:

The more I interact with one world, the less I connect to the other.

I spent last summer, in its entirety, in the real world. Outside in the garden. Barefoot in the sunshine, knee-deep in earth with the plants and worms, listening to the song of birds overhead, I gulped down the peace and quiet like cool water from a freshwater spring, and experienced a few golden moments of divine grace, impossible to articulate, but striking in its ability to make everything impossibly clear.

I gave nary a thought to Faceworld, to be honest, for months on end, so consumed by the real world I was. But now, in the dead of winter, those days are oh-so-far-away, and I feel compelled to check repeatedly on the state of both worlds, because it’s such a mind-blowing mess. America’s future lies in the hands of a madman. Folks are scared, confused, and angry, no doubt, but mostly, overwhelmed, since it’s no easy feat to protect and keep loved ones safe, healthy, and whole, in times such as these.

I’m distracted, unable to concentrate, fidgety.

I want to help, but I’m no help to anyone when I’m like this, all wound up, jacked up, and on edge. I’m confused, angry, scared, and the only thing I know for sure is that, if I listen carefully, I can hear my body, mind, and spirit tell me it’s time to unplug, get grounded again, and recharge.

Unplug to recharge.

I need to get some writing done, spend some time in the real world doing some real-life things, and take a break from the drama of Faceworld. To be honest, I’ve only got the energy for one world these days, so I’ve got to limit my time on social media and focus my attention where it really counts.

If I’ve got any gifts to offer, they’re useless, unless I actually intend to use them.

And I most certainly do.

So, for the foreseeable future, I will be abstaining from Facebook all day-every day until the SUPER HAPPY FUNTIME HOUR, which will be nightly from 8:00-9:00 p.m.

Maybe I’ll see you there!

Stay fierce.

 

 

(Facebook photo courtesy of http://www.pcmag.com)

 

Spin Doctors

Question: What is the main difference between Happy Holly and Depressed Darla?

Answer: Happy Holly is a master in the art of self-deception.

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Depressed people do not necessarily possess an overabundance of negative thoughts.

In fact, current research in social psychology suggests that depressed people tend to hold considerably more realistic perspectives than normal, non-depressed folks, particularly when it comes to the self. Did you know that?

Apparently, happy and healthy, so-called “normal” people are basically skilled spin doctors, who organically distort their own thinking processes, in order to uphold a positive self-image. I find this fact fascinating!

Happy Holly, and others like her, regularly employ little tricks to help maintain a reasonably high level of self-esteem. Depressed Darla, on the other hand, struggles with self-deception. It appears to be quite difficult for a sad, depressed person to manufacture the positive illusions required for happiness.

Makes sense when you think about it.

According to social psychologists, Shelley Taylor and Jonathon Brown (1988), there are three positive illusions that happy folks typically share: 1) they overestimate their better qualities and underestimate the less favourable ones; 2) they overestimate their ability to control events and influence outcomes; and 3) they are unrealistically optimistic about the future.

Essentially, Happy Holly is so damned happy, because she’s able to fully embrace the good and reject the bad in herself, she has a strong sense of agency accompanied by a firm belief in her ability to exert control over life experiences and, as strange as it may sound, she feels like she’s got a better shot than most at living the Good Life, as she defines it. Not because she’s narcissistic, or terribly arrogant, but because she thinks she’s a slight cut above the rest. She has to, frankly, because Happy Holly’s happiness depends almost entirely upon her ability to lie to, and deceive, herself about herself.

The key to happiness, it seems, lies within our ability to fool ourselves.

My advice then, should you find yourself down in the dumps, is to track down a pair of rose-coloured glasses and turn them inward. Don’t be afraid to see yourself as the magnificent creature you truly are. Downplay your flaws, highlight your best features, overlook—heck, outright deny, at least in the privacy of your own mind—any failures, but claim every last success. Live the poem, Invictus by William Ernest Henley, and affirm to your incredibly resilient self on a daily basis: I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul. Believe the entire universe conspires to assist you in manifesting your desires. And, above all else, hold yourself in the highest of high esteem, even if you must deceive yourself to do so. Be your own spin doctor.

Put a positive spin on YOU.

It may feel a bit weird at first.

If so, remind yourself loudly and often, “This is what normal people do. This is what normal people do. This is what normal people do. This is what normal people do….”

Soon enough, you’ll be smiling, too.

 

All Good Things

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Christmas is just around the corner, folks.

And, blessedly, only days later, we’ll celebrate the start of a brand-spanking-new year. Sweet baby Jesus, it’s about time!

I don’t think I’ve ever met a year that hit quite as hard as this one.

I’ll be glad to see the back of it, that’s for sure, and I don’t think I’m alone there. Amiright?

But even so, as hard and painful as 2016 has been—on far too many levels to ever count—I still feel a deep need to take a minute and gratefully acknowledge that somehow, in the midst of all the craziness and turmoil, a little bit of sheer joy and pure awesomeness still managed to find its way to me over the past 12 months. I got my ass kicked, for sure, over and over, but I also saw my fair share of victories, too…

#nomatterhowsmall.

Last January, I started to sporadically record good things that happened to me on tiny slips of paper and save them in a small clay mug I purchased in Hawes, Yorkshire, a dozen years ago. It’s been an interesting exercise. I have to admit, a lot slid under the radar, honestly, as I do have a tendency to start strong on a project, then get all caught up in life and forget about whatever it was I’d originally planned to do. Still, it was fun to go back and take a look at what made me stop and take notice.

It’s easy to see all the brokenness in the world these days.

Harder to find the beauty.

And so, today, in no particular order and for no reason other than to remind myself that I did experience at least a few fairly great moments in the midst of all the madness and chaos, I present to you…

50+1 Things I’m Thankful for This Year (2016):

  1. My new iPhone
  2. Our Christmas tree came down nice and easy… in February
  3. Glennon Doyle Melton (Author, Love Warrior) invited me to be her guest at a huge Momastery event in New York City (unfortunately, my flight was cancelled due to snow, but still!!!)
  4. Aspen Matis (Author, Girl in the Woods) agreed to meet for coffee and great conversation in N.Y.C. (damn that stupid snowstorm, grrrrr)
  5. A gorgeous gibbous moon one winter evening
  6. I took a trip downtown and caught all lights, busses, and transfers—no waiting!
  7. Successful red-tape negotiation and fast-moving lines in government buildings
  8. Eldest son’s reconnection with his long-time best friend
  9. Sexy new boots and warm winter coat
  10. The day my passport and tickets to New York arrived (and my birth certificate with my mom’s handwriting on it…)!
  11. On a bad day, my cousin-sister sent a precious message offering help, if needed
  12. Cast removed from youngest son’s busted finger
  13. Youngest son took his first trip to Florida (and returned home safely)
  14. Elizabeth Gilbert (Author, Big Magic) liked my Tweet!
  15. Found a gentle and kind new dentist
  16. Really good conversation with my mom
  17. Decision to take the summer (and subsequent academic year) off
  18. I turned 40! So did a few of my closest friends
  19. The cardinal and his mate who sat on the wire by my balcony and sang to me
  20. A strong mark on a difficult assignment
  21. One of my besties, my angel, gave birth to her third child: a bouncin’ baby boy!
  22. Unexpected message full of light and love from a poetess friend living in Seoul
  23. After tragic losses, two beloved friends gave birth to healthy Rainbow Babies
  24. A Facebook post from my friend, Jessica: You’re my Favorite Badass. She wrote, “This week, my favorite badass warrior superhero is Arwen Faulkner, who got knocked down again last year but got up again not only still alive, but wiser, more beautiful, and more loving than before (and who knew that was even possible)?”
  25. Windfall! Small bank refund
  26. Cousin-sister ordered us tickets to see Lauryn Hill in Montreal (couldn’t make it in the end, due to logistics, but oh man, what a gift!)
  27. Quit cigarettes!!!
  28. A productive Saturday
  29. Wrote a powerful short story (The Black Forty-Seven)
  30. Apparently I had a REALLY good lasagna and Caesar salad one night… worth mentioning…?
  31. Good conversation with a great friend left me feeling recharged
  32. A delicious heat wave to warm the bones
  33. Chickadees fed from the palm of my hand!
  34. An elderly neighbour from down the street stopped me to say that I’m doing really great, he’s not the only one who can tell—and he’s happy for me. So sweet!
  35. Angela’s suggestion to start a faerie garden that led to a summer full of fun
  36. Found a lucky toonie ($2) on a walk
  37. My kindred’s remission from leukaemia (however brief)
  38. Visit from a Mourning Dove (my dad’s spirit)
  39. A birthday gift trip from my mom
  40. A family member of Bronwen Wallace’s (1945-1989), poet/writer/activist and subject of my first book, sent me a pair of her earrings to wear for inspiration
  41. Cheryl Strayed (Author, Wild) liked my comment about “gobsmacked” on Facebook
  42. Almost got accepted into the Summer Research Internship Program at Carleton (Dean sent an email to congratulate me on my topic and say how close it was)
  43. My freshly painted apartment
  44. Daughter’s toothless grin
  45. A kind gesture from a loved one to help take some of the pressure off
  46. Co-created the #FacesOfPTSD campaign with four other incredible survivors
  47. Singer-songwriter, Jewel, tweeted in support of the #FacesOfPTSD campaign
  48. Received an advance reading copy of LOVE WARRIOR by Glennon Doyle Melton
  49. An early snowfall that sent Trigger Season packing
  50. Nothing like a new housecoat…

AND…

  1. It’s almost over: I survived!

 

Here’s hoping 2017 is full of new beginnings and an abundance of joy.

 

I wish you all good things,

Arwen

 

 

 

Survivor’s Guilt

 

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I think about her every so often.

I’ll be sitting on the bus heading to an appointment across town, or at home, chopping veggies for dinner, and suddenly, there she is—or, at least, a reasonable facsimile. We’ve never met, so I have no clue what she really looks like, how old she is, where she lives, what kind of car she drives, if any, or what she does for a living, but I have no doubt she’s out there somewhere.

Sometimes, I wonder if she wonders about me, too.

If so, does she blame me, because I didn’t protect her?

Barely seventeen years old and struggling to survive my own trauma, I wasn’t strong enough to save anyone else, but even so, after more than two decades (twenty-three years to be precise), it still haunts me at times, the idea that she exists, the knowing-in-my-bones of it, and the guilt, the shame, because I let it happen, not only to me, but to her, and any others who followed and suffered through my silence…

I let my rapist walk away scot-free.

Free to do it again.

I refused to report the rape to the police. Didn’t tell my mom. Instead, I just tried to put it behind me, move on, forget about it. It was 1993, after all, and the term “date rape” was not in widespread use. Most people still tended to believe that a rape between people who knew one another was basically a misunderstanding, not “real” rape, which was assumed to be committed by a stranger, and since my rapist was known to me, intimately, the very notion of filing a report and potentially testifying against him, a former lover, in a courtroom stuffed with stern, judgy people made me want to die.

I couldn’t.

It took years before I was able to own what happened to me.

Rape.

I couldn’t possibly have said it aloud in front of a judge and jury, God, my mother, and anybody else who happened to be present—the word and the whole ugly story and everything that came before—only to be disbelieved or, even worse, blamed. No way. I didn’t have that kind of courage or conviction.

Although contemporary statistics have proven beyond all doubt that the perpetrator is known to the victim in a vast majority of rape and sexual assault cases, we still inhabit a world where only a Perfect Victim is entitled to justice, and even then, doesn’t always get it. If I had told someone way back when, filed a report and testified, the boy who raped me might have gotten away with it anyhow. It’s probable.

We had a history and I was an imperfect victim.

Still, I feel guilty about her sometimes. I don’t know her name, but I know her pain, as sure as I know my own. Did she survive? Does she feel guilty as well, knowing, as I do, there must be others like us? I mean, if a boy rapes a girl and gets away with it, who does he grow to become, in all likelihood?

A man who rapes women.

According to Google, survivor’s guilt occurs when a person perceives themselves to have done wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not. Most often associated with accidents or natural disasters, I think it also applies in certain circumstances to victims of unreported rape who, in addition to the weight of their own pain, carry the added burden of responsibility toward potential future victims.

How ridiculous is that?!

A rapist walks free and we, the raped, hold ourselves accountable for future rapes by this rapist??? No.

No, no, no, no, no!

A rapist is the only one responsible for rape.

The boy who raped me is the only human being on this entire planet accountable for his actions.

But even so, every now and again, I think of her. I’ll be walking through the woods on a golden afternoon, or in the office, putting sentences together for an essay, and suddenly, there she is…

Love Warrior

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“I don’t know how to fix my marriage. All I know is that I need to tear down my own walls and face what’s underneath. I cannot save my marriage but I can save myself. I can do that for me and for my children and for every relationship I have now and for every one that comes in the future.”

Glennon Doyle Melton, Love Warrior

 *

I was a little afraid of this book at first.

Okay, I was a lot afraid.

I probably ought to admit that fact upfront if I’m going to be even half as honest as Glennon Doyle Melton was in the writing of the fierce tour de force that is her powerful new memoir, Love Warrior.

Why was I so scared?

Because I was terrified of what it would mean for me.

My husband and I have been working through a complicated separation for the past couple of years, spending lots of time in liminal space, the in-between, and so, as excited as I was to read Love Warrior, a small part of me fretted that I would turn the last page feeling even more discouraged and heartbroken about my own love story. And what if this book affected me so much it altered my own outcome? What if it made me want to go back and try once more? Or never again? What if…?

Sometimes the unknown can be pretty damn scary.

Once Canada Post had delivered my precious advance reading copy, it still took a few days before I was brave enough to actually crack open the cover. I did, however, carry it around with me everywhere I went until then, of course, because that’s what you do when you get your hands on a priceless treasure, you hold onto it. Maybe it sounds silly, but I knew Love Warrior was going to be kind of a big deal for me, like Carry On, Warrior only different, and I just felt like I needed to take my time.

Go easy. Don’t rush. Breathe.

I could have gulped it all down in one sitting.

Glennon is a natural wordsmith and it was that good.

Instead, I sipped Love Warrior slowly over the course of a couple days, savouring every single sentence, setting it aside every so often to stare into space, stunned by the beauty and raw honesty within. I don’t know how she does it, but somehow, Glennon, a master truthteller, is not only able to see through smoke and mirrors to the soul of the matter, but she also has an incredible knack for articulating precisely what has been discovered and making it personal to the reader, who feels as though they have been embraced as a confidant, witness, friend.

My girl digs deep. Gets on her hands and knees and claws to the bottom of the bottom of the bottom until she has excavated the bare bones of truth hidden underneath, far below the surface, dusted them off, and brought them out into the bright light of day. Reverently, she extracts the rich marrow for closer examination, and then generously, gracefully, shares what she has learned. Shamelessly.

Love Warrior is the story of a marriage and one couple’s efforts to rebuild after infidelity, but even more than that, it is the story of one woman claiming her own space and learning to finally feed herself once and for all. Through a refusal to abandon herself any longer and a commitment to face her pain, no matter how awful, Glennon began the arduous process of becoming who she was always meant to be by letting go of everything she never really was.

Unbecoming.

Glennon does not claim to be any kind of guru or marriage expert, nor does she offer unreliable advice, or even worse, “7 Steps to a Happier, Healthier Marriage.” This book will not suggest that you stay in a relationship and it won’t tell you to leave. But it will probably carry you into a fuller understanding and acceptance of yourself, encourage you to embrace your own truths, whatever they may be, and offer a more sage perspective on being in love than any you have likely ever come across before.

Although it will be described as many things, Love Warrior is, above all else, a call to love, Warrior.

A deeply intimate experience, Love Warrior is one of those books that stays with you long after the last chapter has ended, and it will come to mean many different things to countless people in the way that all exceptional books do. My dog-eared, underlined and highlighted copy can attest to how much it has meant to me. But even so, I find myself struggling to find adequate words to convey  how incredibly necessary this memoir was for me, and is, for all of us. I wanted to write something elegant, but instead, all I’ve got are these ramblings as my thoughts continue to settle.

Mind fully blown.

If you treat yourself to one special purchase this month, do yourself a favour and let it be Glennon Doyle Melton’s new memoir, Love Warrior. Do not be afraid. If you are, do it anyways, then go on and buy one for a friend, too. Trust me, it’s a giver.

Love Warrior was written for me. And it was written for you.

In truth, it is a love letter from Glennon to every single one of us stumbling around in the dark, trying to find connection and meaning, a reunion of body/mind/soul, despite the constant bombardment of messages designed to keep us lost and separate, scared and alone.

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“We aren’t different. We are exactly the same. We are individual pieces of a scattered puzzle and we are just a little lost down here. We are all desperate for reunion and we are trying to find it in all the wrong places. We use bodies and drugs and food to try to end our loneliness, because we don’t understand that we’re lonely down here because we are supposed to be lonely. Because we’re in pieces. To be human is to be incomplete and constantly yearning for reunion. Some reunions just require a long, kind patience.”

Glennon Doyle Melton, Love Warrior

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You can find Glennon chatting with Oprah about her new memoir, Love Warrior, and other awesome stuff on Super Soul Sunday on Sunday, September 11, 2016 at 11:00 a.m. on OWN. Details (here).

Or visit Momastery.com for an event near you! Follow the link (here) for more info.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

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I was 106 years old.

At least, that’s how it felt my first night on campus, wandering around sweaty and bedraggled amongst all those young, fresh-faced twenty year olds in my Mom pants, trying to locate my classroom in the Tory Building at Carleton University. I was almost late for my women’s Bridging class, a course basically designed to bridge the distance between me and a post-secondary education, and I was almost frantic.

Okay, so I don’t have Mom pants, but you get the picture…

Once located, I blew into the room with a bright smile plastered onto my face, despite the fact that I suddenly felt as though I might vomit right there on the floor in front of everybody. Casually, or so I thought, I slipped to the back, tripped over my own feet, stumbled awkwardly into a chair, and stole a few glances at some of the other women before clumsily extracting my pen and notepad from my backpack. Nobody looked convinced they would be able to sit through the whole three hours either.

Okay, so it’s not just me, I thought. We’re all scared shitless. Cool. My kind of people.

Angela, who sat to my left, quietly introduced herself, and added, “I’m totally freaking out.”

I liked her immediately. Forever.

During break, Angela and I swapped the nut-shell versions of our life stories and our reasons for returning to school, further solidifying our bond. But it wasn’t long before our friendship had grown to include every woman in the room. On that first night, there were about eleven of us altogether, but by the second or third week, our little group had whittled down to an even six: Raven, Elizabeth, Dana, Rose, Angela, and myself, plus our engaging instructor, Olivia.

Six is a harmonious number. Just ask Numerology.

Over the next twelve weeks, we became a community. We learned and struggled together, sharing successes and small victories; we encouraged each other, offered support and friendship, and shared one of the most important seasons of our lives. Once in a while, we met to break bread and share wine, and to whine about how hard it was to make such a significant change in our lives, what a challenge it could be to juggle our everyday lives with our education. We also discussed how amazing it felt, after decades of lying to ourselves, to discover how intelligent and capable and brave we actually were!

Because, well, we were, and we needed to pat ourselves on the back for it once in a while.

Angela had lived through hell and survived. I admired her ability to stay vulnerable and open to life, and adored the fact that she could make me laugh and cry (multiple times) in the same conversation.

Raven, although not the eldest, became a mother-figure to our little band of misfits. Many times, she was available to lend and ear or offer sage advice, and I learned to trust her natural wisdom implicitly.

Elizabeth seemed more reserved, initially, but once she opened up, she blossomed. Always thoughtful and kind, Elizabeth had a keen intellect, and we had many wonderful, thought-provoking conversations.

Dana always had the information. Unbelievably resourceful, kind, and genuine, in all areas of her life, Dana was also an incredible hostess, who went to great lengths to ensure her guests had a great time.

And Rose was doing school for her. She didn’t have goals or plans beyond Bridging, at least not as far as an education went, since she was fairly close to retirement and quite comfortable in her life, thank you very much, but she loved to learn and discuss the issues and always brought something new to the table.

Olivia—a.k.a. Oh Captain! My Captain!—changed my life. I will forever be gratefully indebted to her for being the first teacher ever to recognise my potential and urge me to fulfil it. Olivia made learning accessible and adaptable. She acknowledged our barriers to success and, rather than discount them, offered solutions and examples of others who had faced similar challenges and overcome them.

Although different paths had led us here, to this crossroads, for a short time we had landed in the same space, and it mattered that we had each other for company. Crossroads can be lonely times.

Our first class email from Olivia was titled, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”

Should I stay in my comfort zone or should I step outside?

It was a decision we all faced, and it was a comfort to face it together.

We covered a lot of material in a short amount of time. We researched and searched for journal articles on the university library database, learned about Peer review and how to cite our papers, studied some sociology, learned how to define hegemony, and wrote essays, among other things. But the most important things we learned, as far as I’m concerned, happened on a very personal level and had to do only with ourselves.

Our unlimited potential.

At our small class graduation, there were no dry eyes in the house, and when we met again a couple of weeks later to celebrate, we all cried again and promised to stay in touch. For the most part, we have.

I entered university with a confidence I had never known before, thanks to Bridging, and within one year, I had published my first essay in a national publication, the Globe and Mail. This summer, once again, I had to decide…

Should I stay or should I go?

But this time, school was my comfort zone, and the unknown was myself.

Again, I chose to take a leap of faith. As I take the next steps in my journey, a hiatus from formal education to further my goals as a writer, I take with me the love of these women and the strength, wisdom, and self-awareness I discovered in Bridging class.

Onward.

 

 

 

 

White Feathers

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Summer 2012. It had been about a year since my father died —directly from liver cancer, indirectly from years of drug and alcohol abuse—and I felt a sense of true freedom for the first time in my life.

For decades, I had chased after my dad’s love and affection, tripping over myself to get his attention, longing for him to acknowledge the damage he had done, to make amends for the pain he had caused, but it had never happened, and now the chase was over. No more what-ifs, no apologies. We had finally reached the end of our story, and I could make my peace with it at last, in my own way, on my own time. Dad had wounded me intensely with his regular absence, but his presence had hurt just as bad, and so his death was, I like to imagine, a release from sorrow and suffering for both of us. Contract fulfilled. See you on the other side.

My second marriage had just celebrated its one-year anniversary, my youngest child—one of four under the age of ten—had barely weaned off the breast, and I was submerged in major PTSD-related symptoms on a regular basis, including flashbacks, nightmares, and hyper vigilance, as well as anxiety and depression, so it was perhaps not the best timing in the history of the world to make a change, but I was restless and ready for a little something more. I figured that a formal education might be my next right thing. As it turns out, I was right.

I chose university for a few reasons. I wanted to open doors, to alter pathways in my brain by creating new ones, and to challenge myself in new ways. I needed to prove to myself, and to everybody else who had ever doubted me, that I could do it. Make my dreams real. I knew that my life could not support the structure and regular routine of college, with its daily classes and required attendance, but I figured I could handle a few hours each week on a uni campus. At least, maybe I could, most weeks. It was worth a shot.

I sat on my balcony one afternoon watching the sun tickle the leaves of a tree my landlord has always insisted is nothing more than an overgrown weed, closed my eyes, and asked God for confirmation. A sign. If I was meant to make such a massive change in my life, surely the Universe could send me some kind of smoke signal—yes, I am One of Those People who believe in God, the Universe, signs, and symbols—so that I could be certain I was on the right path. I opened my eyes slowly. Nothing. I waited for a several more minutes just to be sure.

Still nothing. Oh, well.

But then, suddenly, just as I turned to head back inside, a flawless white feather drifted down from the sky and across the yard to land at my feet. And I knew what I had to do.

I found daycare for Baby Girl and, once a week from September through December, I attended a women’s Bridging course for mature students, in order to determine my eligibility for school.

I passed with an A+ and got accepted to Carleton University, where I took two classes the following winter term, and then continued to do so for the next ten consecutive terms—nearly four full years—without a rest. Oh, sure, I had a week or two off classes here and there, but without fail, one or all of the kids (or myself) would get violently ill—maybe break a toe, require surgery, or contract lice—and before I knew it, my so-called break would be over, and I would head back to class more exhausted than ever.

In any case, I loved school, I really did, everything about it. I got excellent grades. Gave it everything I had and then some, often to the detriment of myself and, occasionally, my family, but I could not help it. Couldn’t half-ass it. I had something to prove.

Once I knew that I was capable of success, I pushed myself, harder and harder, adding more and more to my plate each year: a non-profit (creator of The Ottawa Journal Project), a magazine (senior editor at Anthem Little Magazine), research for my first book (the Biography of Bronwen Wallace)… But perhaps the fact that I hit a wall was inevitable. Over the past few years, my personal life has been a fucked-up series of ohnosoclosetogether storms, and I cannot always determine where one ends and the next begins. Joy has been elusive (to say the least).

I survived last fall by the skin of my teeth.

By the end of April, I had reached my breaking point, and I knew it, but refused to pay attention and registered for summer courses anyhow, only to withdraw in the eleventh hour, shell-shocked from another heartbreak, and empty, hollowed out, bone-dry.

Grief had run me down.

Actually, grief had knocked me on my ass, punched me in the face, then sat on my chest until I could no longer breathe, let alone, say “Uncle!” Grief gave me a hard stare, challenged me to acknowledge it, dared me to face it once and for all. I was afraid—okay, scared as hell, truth be told—but I knew that if I wanted to move forward on my path, I would have to let grief run its course. I could no longer avoid it.

I just needed to be brave, to listen to my body and trust in it, to love, honour, and nurture it for once in my life, rather than neglect, abuse, and ignore it, and if I did, grief would loosen its grip. I would be free. It all sounded fantastically simple in my head, totally doable when I explained it aloud to my friends. In reality, however, letting grief “run its course” has been a lot harder than it sounds. In many ways, I suppose I would still prefer to distract myself from pain than to face it, but I am working on this.

Summer 2016. Quite surprisingly, rather than sitting at my desk in the cool office to write feverishly all summer long, as anticipated, the majority of my time has been spent barefoot in the backyard, under an audacious sun and cloudless cobalt sky, tending to an ever-evolving faerie garden, playing in the sprinkler with my children and our dog, and growing baby grass, sweet peppers, and basil, among other things. Nothing fancy. But, oh, how we have all blossomed! Still, there is always room for more growth and pruning…

The seasons continue to change and, soon enough, it will be September again. I sat on my balcony last week contemplating whether or not to return to school this year. This time, I was far too exhausted to talk to God or consider signs and symbols, so I just spaced out instead. It was a huge decision, but I had been vacillating for what felt like aeons, and it was time to make up my mind. I knew what I wanted to do, what I felt like I needed to do, what was my next right thing, but that did not stop the critical voice inside from tearing into me, or keep the teeth of fear in my belly from gnawing holes in my dreams. Still.

As I watched my daughter’s smile catch the last sunbeams of the day, and quietly reminded myself that change did not have to mean failure, I observed a small white feather slide gently off the roof of our house and drift, drift slowly, slowly across the backyard to land delicately in the newly sprouted grass growing in the shade of the tree my landlord always insists is nothing but a giant weed… I knew what I had to do.

I reached for Baby Girl’s small hand and, together, we collected the soft white feather.

It has been five years since my father died, and in that time, I have rediscovered and reclaimed parts of myself that I had forgotten even exist. I am more like Arwen at ten than at thirty, and that is a very good thing, because it means I am finally becoming myself again, who I was before I became who I thought I had to be, back before I started denying Who I Really Am, in the beginning, when I was just me. Arwen.

Education has opened my mind to possibility again. New doors open every day. The dreams I have nurtured since childhood are beginning to manifest, piece by piece, and I feel like I have found my place in the world. I have begun to, as my friend Jessica recommends in a recent post, claim my space.

I will not be returning to university for this year.

Instead, I am taking time to focus on my family, my health and my overall sense of well-being, as I write every day, go for long solitary walks, and attempt to make a serious dent in my first book. Although I am not quite finished my degree, I know this is the next right thing for me. My path has never looked much like one anybody in their right mind would ever choose to travel, I know, but it is mine, and it is beautiful.

My path has a heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#FacesOfPTSD

#FacesOfPTSD is a grassroots campaign designed to change common misconceptions surrounding PTSD… Read to find out more!

lilacs in october

Not All Wars Take Place on the Battlefield

“To look at me, you’d think there’s nothing wrong. We could have a conversation and you’d never suspect that behind my friendly smile there’s a private war raging. Beneath nightmares and unbidden thoughts are wounds that haven’t yet healed, scars that never will

 arwen1

And so begins, Changing My Brain, the first essay I have ever written for a national publication, the Globe and Mail.

Grounded in the psychological concept of neuroplasticity, a brain’s ability to reorganize and create new neural connections to compensate for trauma, injury, or disease, my article was never intended to be merely a narrative confession. It was meant to be an eye-opener, an explanation, and an absolute declaration to the whole damn world, “This is who I am, that is how it happened, and here is what I intend to do to about…

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#FacesOfPTSD

Not All Wars Take Place on the Battlefield

“To look at me, you’d think there’s nothing wrong. We could have a conversation and you’d never suspect that behind my friendly smile there’s a private war raging. Beneath nightmares and unbidden thoughts are wounds that haven’t yet healed, scars that never will

 arwen1

And so begins, Changing My Brain, the first essay I have ever written for a national publication, the Globe and Mail.

Grounded in the psychological concept of neuroplasticity, a brain’s ability to reorganize and create new neural connections to compensate for trauma, injury, or disease, my article was never intended to be merely a narrative confession. It was meant to be an eye-opener, an explanation, and an absolute declaration to the whole damn world, “This is who I am, that is how it happened, and here is what I intend to do to about it.” I had just gotten so sick and tired of justifying myself to everyone who didn’t understand how I could behave this-way-or-that, or why I dealt with everything like such-and-such, where was my head, when would I get it together, and what the hell was wrong with me, anyways?!

Published in September 2013, Changing My Brain was the answer to all of that, and more.

In addition to openly discussing my history of childhood sexual abuse, rape, and domestic violence, the essay detailed my sincere efforts to heal myself by attempting to alter the regular pathways my brain cycled when triggered, a vicious Mobius strip constantly looping through painful, traumatic memories and flashbacks, feelings of perpetual fear, guilt, and shame. I had begun to map new routes in my mind, and while the old ones hadn’t overgrown yet, or disappeared entirely, as I would have liked, the knowledge that we can change our brains felt too precious and important not to share. I wrote through scorching tears, and after it was published, I cried again. Only about a hundred and fifty more times.

I thought I’d had my final “say” on the subject of PTSD.

As it turns out, I was wrong, there’s still plenty left to discuss…

Recently, Christine White (Heal Write Now) published a blog post concerning the lack of women with PTSD represented in online image search engines. A brief personal investigation confirmed it as fact. Apparently, according to Google and Bing, at least, women do not get PTSD, nor does the average Joe, despite solid evidence to the contrary. This is a dangerous misconception, because it has the power to alienate the vast majority of those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder: everyday people who do not wish to be invisible, discounted, or silenced. Women, for example, survivors. People like me.

An important conversation ensued on the Heal Write Now Facebook page. Dawn Daum and Joyelle Brandt (Trigger Points Anthology) joined in, along with myself and fellow Canadian, Jodie Ortega (Breaking the Silence), and within minutes, we had decided to spark the flames of change. We need your help! Join us. Please see below for a list of the ways you can help to make a difference…

What is the #FacesOfPTSD campaign?

#FacesOfPTSD is a social media campaign set to kick-off this Friday, May 6, 2016.

Survivors who identify as having PTSD will flood social media with photos of themselves, along with the tagline, “Not all wars take place on the battlefield,” and the hashtag #FacesOfPTSD. Our goal is to alter the current landscape of social media and search engines (Google, Bing) to include all trauma survivors, particularly women who are rarely represented, in order to reflect more accurately the #FacesOfPTSD.

TOGETHER, WE CAN MAKE IT HAPPEN!

Why the #FacesOfPTSD campaign?

There is a common misconception in our culture about who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and what it looks like. A quick Google image search will lead you to believe that the majority of those living with PTSD are men in uniform, when the reality is that women are twice as likely to develop it as men, and it can be acquired in a number of ways. Not all wars take place on the battle field.

How can you make a difference?

  • “Attend” and share the #FacesOfPTSD event scheduled for Friday, May 6th
  • On May 6th, share an image of yourself—or if you don’t live with PTSD but still want to show support, share one of the images posted on our page—and be sure to include the hashtag #FacesOfPTSD
  • Use any of the #FacesOfPTSD campaign images if you publish a blog post or any articles about PTSD

Know the facts:

Women and children get PTSD. Women get it twice as often as men. Children get PTSD. Men get PTSD and women in the military get PTSD, too, typically from sexual assault rather than combat

Let’s make a change!

It’s important to accurately represent the thousands of women and men living day to day, while doing the best they can to manage flashbacks, constant triggers and the debilitating medical and mental health effects of this disorder. It’s time to recognize the many #FacesOfPTSD.

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Related articles:

http://www.elephantjournal.com/2016/05/ptsd-isnt-a-he-facesofptsd/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dawn-daum/not-all-wars-take-place-o_b_9807110.html

#FacesOfPTSD / PTSD is Not a He